According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Known pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths. Three pathogens, Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma, are responsible for 1,500 deaths each year, more than 75% of those caused by known pathogens, while unknown agents account for the remaining 62 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations, and 3,200 deaths.
The nation's food safety system suffers from unnecessary fragmentation, inconsistent legislative mandates and authorities, and chronic underfunding. APHA advocates for increased attention to the structure of federal food safety activities, and the resources needed to support these activities.
Currently, 38% of the fruit, and 12% of the vegetables, and 9% of the meat and poultry Americans consume each year are imported. Imported foods have been increasingly associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness. In addition, emerging pathogens such as Cyclospora, Cryptosporidium, and E. coli O157:H7 are increasingly associated with new food vehicles such as lettuce, sprouts and unpasteurized juices.
Basic Facts About Food Safety Regulation
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets and enforces standards through inspection, for all domestic and imported foods except for meat, poultry, and processed eggs. FDA also ensures that all animal drugs and feeds are safe, properly labeled, and result in no human health hazard when used in food-producing animals. FDA sets tolerance limits on the amounts of drug residues that can be found in or on food.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) enforces standards, through inspection, for the safety of red meats, poultry, and processed eggs.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets tolerance limits on the amounts of pesticide residues that can be found in or on food. EPA does not conduct food inspections.
- The USDA is required to inspect meat, poultry and processed egg products continuously, every day and every shift. FDA has no such requirement. Inspection frequency of plants producing FDA-regulated foods may vary from once per year to once in ten years.
- States are responsible for inspection of food-producing facilities that market within state boundaries, such as restaurants and institutional food-service facilities.
Suggestions for Improvement
The American Public Health Association (APHA) supports the creation of an single, independent food safety agency in which all federal food safety inspection and enforcement activities could be centralized (Policy Statement 9907, "Ensuring the Safety of the Food Supply in the United States"). APHA believes this is the most effective way to address the fundamental inconsistencies, overlaps, competing priorities, and gaps that exist in the regulation of both domestic and imported food products by federal agencies. APHA makes the following additional recommendations to improve the nation's food safety system:
- Strengthen domestic food safety standards and require imported food producers to meet food safety standards equivalent to those required for domestically produced food. Provide the necessary scientific resources to develop performance-based standards such as the USDA Salmonella performance standard for meat and poultry, when appropriate.
- Harmonize existing statutes to provide recall, civil penalty and other authorities to all federal food safety activities.
- Invest adequate resources to develop information systems that provide public health officials with the necessary information to develop sound food safety policy. Increase funding for new and existing systems for foodborne illness and chemical hazard surveillance.
- Increase border inspections and penalties for violations of food safety laws.
Related APHA Policy: 9907, 9805, 9303