Food safety has become an increasingly important topic among American citizens. The broadening of public interest in regards to food safety can be attributed to a number of variables, including concern for the health of oneself and loved ones.
The public’s concern over food safety became notably apparent after the proliferation of foodborne illness cases in 2006 and onward. The cases preempted the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011 — the most sweeping reforms to food safety laws in over 70 years. The enactment of the law mandated additional sources of information on different food safety issues.
Following is an overview of publicly available resources on a variety of food safety issues. Given the diverse nature of FDA, USDA, and CDC food safety responsibilities, each site contains agency-specific information on each one. Common topics of discussion between sites is present, but infrequent.
Foodsafety.gov is the federal government’s primary information vehicle, which gathers and disseminates food safety information provided by other government agencies. According to the site, “The federal government will enhance foodsafety.gov to better communicate information to the public and an improved individual alert system allowing customer to receive food safety information, such as notification of recalls.”
Topics of interest within the site include food safety news, recalls and alerts, food safety advice, risk indicators, food poisoning, and other information. A wide array of blog posts on specific topics, such as “Frozen Food and Power Outages” and “Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures,” provide practical advice to prevent foodborne illness. The site also offers a search tool that displays common search inquiries from the public.
The federal government’s leading food safety organization, the FDA provides an abundance of information. Food safety is the first selectable option when upon navigating the FDA’s website, which also includes information on recalls, outbreaks and emergencies, foodborne illness and contaminants, current regulations, agency functions and responsibilities, and various research topics.
The navigation window displays the latest product recalls, an option to report adverse health concerns, safety alerts, news releases, and information about the FDA. Two food safety resources — “Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition” (CFSAN) and “Resources for You” — offer the ability to download PDF files and access articles pertinent to proper food safety practices.
After selecting “Food Safety” underneath “FDA Initiatives,” what follows is a brief synopsis of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Information on the law’s implementation supplements this synopsis; including “final rules” (amendments) and the option to search archival information by date. Another noteworthy feature is the ability to subscribe to e-mail updates on the implementation of the FSMA.
Food safety topics are less abundant on the USDA’s main page, which is likely attributable to the USDA’s lesser role in food safety activities (about 30 percent of total food volume). Instead, the agency places more nutrition-specific information on the main page.
Upon selecting “Food Safety Modernization Act,” which can be found within the “Popular Topics” menu, a large selection of subcategorical topics appears. In addition, the site includes approximately 800 words of text, which articulate the USDA’s roles (such as food processing and food distribution), specific food safety initiatives (such as E.coli “zero tolerance” policies and development of a public health information system), public education and outreach information, and future public health investments.
Additional sources from both the side menu and below the text allow navigation to different food safety topics. Fact sheets, food cooking and temperature guidelines, food safety steps, and other basic information are provided.
A food safety research-oriented site, the “Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC)” includes a plethora of food safety studies, peer-reviewed publications, research projects, reports, and funding information.
A noteworthy resource available on the USDA’s food safety site is the ability to chat online or talk by phone with a food safety expert (available weekdays between 10 am and 4 pm EST.) Also available is the option to send an inquiry via email to the USDA food safety hotline.
Of all sources, the CDC provides the most limited amount of food safety-related information. This is likely due to the CDC’s collaborative food safety roles, as opposed to the directly influential roles of the FDA and USDA.
The CDC’s main page displays current outbreaks and offers the ability to navigate to each one and read additional information. To research additional food safety topics, it is necessary to conduct a custom search from the home page. Upon entering a search for “food safety,” recommended articles and supplementary topics are provided. You also have the option to navigate to the CDC’s food safety site, http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety.
Once on the CDC’s food safety site, a simple visual interface appears and contains a few different topics of interest, including: the CDC’s food safety roles, communication resources, food safety challenges, and the ability to research “Foodborne Illness A-Z.”
Further information can be found according to the demographic. Industry, health departments and professionals, and consumers can seek out additional information.