In order to ensure the safety, cleanliness, nutrition and honesty of the food supply (and cosmetics) of the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). Responsible for checking everything from food and cosmetic labeling to genetically modified (GM) foods, CFSAN inspects, monitors, and regulates over $200 billion worth of cosmetics and food annually.
History of Food Regulation
With admirable foresight, President Teddy Roosevelt oversaw the first law regulating the safety of foods in 1906, although regulation of food labels did not begin until 1913. Strict food labeling laws similar to those we recognize today were enacted in 1938 with the passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C). The FD&C authorized the creation of standards that identified foods by quality and identity, and by 1957 many common foods including cheese, eggs and cereals were all covered. Nutrition labeling was standardized in 1990, and seven particular health claims, such as fiber, sodium, osteoporosis and hypertension, were authorized in 1993.
A sweeping food safety initiative began in 1997 and provided for inspections and tracking to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. Particular safety regulations for the seafood industry, shelled eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables and juice processors were widely distributed. Of particular importance was the creation of a national database that tracks bacterial DNA fingerprints; known as FoodNet, the database helps researchers identify outbreak sources.
In 2003, CFSAN introduced its Adverse Event Reporting System (CAERS) to record reports of adverse reactions to products from consumers and health professionals. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act was enacted in 2004 and required that major food allergens, such as eggs, shellfish and tree nuts, be clearly identified on the label.
CFSAN’s Recent Accomplishments
In 2004, CFSAN worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates pesticide and other contaminants in the environment, to warn pregnant women against eating fish with high concentrations of mercury. Due to both agencies’ efforts, pregnant and nursing women now avoid the most mercury-laden fish and help prevent neurodevelopmental defects in their children.
In 2008, when it was reported that Chinese manufacturers had included the poisonous chemical melamine in baby formula, CFSAN issued an advisory that no such chemical had been found in U.S. formula. Through its subsequent investigation, CFSAN assured parents that U.S. infant formula was safe.
In December 2010, makers of certain caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including Four Loko, voluntarily stopped supplying their product after CFSAN issued a warning letter identifying the product as “unsafe.”
With the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011, the agency’s focus shifted from reacting to contamination to preventing it. As a result, in August 2012, the agency warned tattoo artists and customers that some of the inks and pigments used to color tattoos may become contaminated with fungus, bacteria and mold.
In April 2011, CFSAN proposed rules requiring restaurants to include nutrition and calorie information on their menus. Along with other public health initiatives, it is hoped that proper menu labeling will help curb the nation’s obesity epidemic.
CFSAN tracked a Salmonella outbreak back to tainted cantaloupe using DNA fingerprint matching from FoodNet in August 2012, and issued a recall across seven states within one week of beginning the investigation.
Interacting with CFSAN
CFSAN offers a wealth of information to the public through its website, such as recalls and safety alerts, outbreak information, noteworthy events and hot topics. Frequently requested materials and guidance documents may be found in their electronic reading room, and for particular assistance, consumers may contact the agency directly.