Food Safety

By Sarah Clarahan, former student, Iowa State University.
Created February 2010 and reviewed November 2012.


Food safety is a worldwide issue affecting hundreds of millions of people who suffer from diseases caused by contaminated food. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it "one of the most widespread health problems and an important cause of reduced economic productivity." According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, about one in six Americans, or 48 million people, gets sick each year from a foodborne illiness. The CDC estimates another 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from a foodborne illness each year.

Safety measures and risk indicators are regulated by many different government agencies: the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), which regulates meat and poultry; the United States Department of Commerce, which regulates voluntary waterfoods inspection; and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates all other categories of foodstuffs.

Food safety is a continued concern for many Americans. There are several things that consumers can do to ensure their food is safe. Basic practices such as washing hands before and after handling food, having a clean work space and making sure food is stored at the correct temperature will help prevent illness and keep food safe. Several government programs have been implemented over the past couple of years to help ensure that the products consumers buy from the grocery store are clean and properly handled. For example, the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program, implemented in March 2009, requires labeling on all meat, vegetables and some nuts as to their origin. Requiring product origin labels not only informs customers about where their food is coming from but also provides traceability. In the event of a recall, having products labeled will make the recall process easier and facilitate quicker notification of consumers.

The processing of meat or fresh produce are prime opportunities for contamination if proper handling techniques are not used. The best way to prevent contamination is to make sure that the work area is clean and limit the contact the food may have with other substances, such as water. Proper canning and freezing techniques should be followed to confirm that the products will fulfill the expected shelf life.

One emerging issue in the livestock industry is the growing demand for locally raised meat, yet there are not enough USDA-inspected processing facilities in close proximity. Only USDA-inspected facilities are able to sell small-scale cuts, such as steaks. A recent solution to the problem is the idea of mobile processing units; these are large refrigerated trailers that are fully equipped to slaughter large animals.

More information on food safety can be found in the links at right.

steak and vegetables on a grill
    Photo courtesy of USDA FSIS.

Food Safety Resources

Links checked November 2012.