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A Brief History of Food Safety Regulations in the United States

In honor of National Food Safety Month in the United States, InduSoft is looking at some of the ways that food safety regulations have improved the quality and safety of food here, and around the world. Many food safety standards in the United States have correlating standards in other countries, and any food processing or manufacturing plant must often adhere to international standards for food safety in order to sell products globally.

The first food safety regulations appeared in the mid 1800s as the government began to regulate pharmaceuticals. They first introduced the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the first compendium of standard drugs for the United States in 1820, and followed it with the Drug Importation Act in 1848, which placed restrictions on foreign drugs that often had adulterants.

By the end of the 19th century, laws such as the Tea Importation Act were passed to begin inspecting goods coming into the United States, and in 1898 the Committee on Food Standards was created.

The 1900s saw many advances to food safety regulations, including the Biologics Control Act, and studies of chemical preservatives and colors to determine their effects on human health (the Certified Color Regulations were introduced in 1907).

1906 was an important year for food safety. When Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, he originally meant to call attention to the plight of workers. Instead, he created a huge outcry about the practices of the meat packing industry. That same year, President Theodore Roosevelt introduced the Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act as a response to public concerns about adulterants in food.

When a toothache syrup created for teething children was found to contain unlabeled morphine that killed many infants in 1913, the Gould amendment regulated that ingredients be “plainly and conspicuously marked on the outside of the package in terms of weight, measure, or numerical count.”

The Food and Drug (and Insecticide) Administration became a separate entity from the Bureau of Chemistry in 1927, and was shortened to the FDA in 1930.

In 1938, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FDC) Act of 1938 was passed. This regulation included requirements such as showing drugs to be safe, tightening regulation on mislabeling or misleading ingredients, set safe tolerances for dangerous substances, set standards for identity, quality, and container fill for foods, and authorized inspections and court injunctions.

In 1944 congress passed the Public Health Service Act, which regulated biological products and control of communicable diseases.

By 1953, the Factory Inspection Amendment required the FDA to give manufacturers written reports of conditions observed during inspections and analyses of factory samples. 1958 was also an important year, as the Food Additive Amendment passed, which  prohibits the approval of any food additive shown to induce cancer in humans or animals. Also in this year the FDA published the first list of substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

In 1962 the Thalomide crisis prompted stronger support for regulation on drugs, and the Consumer Bill of Rights was passed, mandating that consumers have more information to make their choices. By 1969, the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health was recommending systematic review of GRAS substances. Saccharine was removed from the GRAS list in 1971.

1982 saw the introduction of the Tamper-Resistant Packaging Regulations, which still affect many in the food manufacturing industry today.

The FDA officially became an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services in 1988. In 1990 they introduced the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, which required all packaged foods to bear nutrition labeling The food ingredient panel, serving sizes, and terms such as “low fat” and “light” were standardized under this act. The “Nutrition Facts” were mandated on packaging in 1992.

In 1997 the FDA Title 21 CFR Part 11 regulations were introduced to require the keeping of electronic records on food manufacturing.

Food safety shifted in the early 2000’s to reflect bioterrorism threats, and also developed a focus on obesity and heart health. In 2003 food labels had a requirement to include trans fats. A year later, the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act required food labeling for food that might contain proteins derived from the most common allergens: peanuts, soybeans, cow’s milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, and wheat.

The Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011 allowed the FDA to hold imported foods to the same standards as domestic ones.

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