The NCSL Blog


By Doug Farquhar

State legislatures introduced 756 bills related to food in 2018—from mobile vendors to labeling to edible cannabis—with 170 laws enacted and 18 resolutions adopted.

NCSL released its annual report on Food Safety Legislation for 2018. This report summarizes every enacted and adopted bill on food safety from the 2018 legislative sessions.

Food donations was the predominant issue addressed, followed by food service in schools and restaurants. Several state legislatures looked at nutrition, either studying food deserts, addressing obesity, taxing sugary foods or ensuring vulnerable communities had access to healthy foods.

The variety of topic areas and the number of bills reflect states’ primacy when it comes to food safety. States have primary authority over food safety unless or until the federal government enacts laws or regulations that supersede state food safety laws.

This provides states the ability to decide the food safety rules for food sold within the state. The state can determine when and where food may be sold, the type (or lack thereof) of safety requirements for particular foods, and who may sell the food.

  • Can non-hazardous baked goods be sold without state oversight?
  • Can food be donated to food banks?
  • How should mobile food trucks be regulated? What food products should be labeled?
  • Should food deserts be addressed?

Most of the critical concerns regarding food are regulated by the states.

The federal government does provide guidance on food safety through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Model Food Code. The code, followed to some extent by every state, provides similarity among state codes and recommends safety precautions for food establishments in preparing, serving and selling food and beverages.

But the states themselves must adopt and enforce the provisions of the food code; the federal government cannot mandate that states regulate food safety. Food safety in this country, for the most part, is governed by the states.

Since 2014, state legislatures have introduced more than 23,500 bills related to food and food safety, enacting over 600.

A database of state legislation on food safety and other environmental health concerns from 2009 to 2019 can be found at the NCSL Environmental Health Legislative Database. This report was funded with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and NSF International.

Doug Farquhar directs NCSL's Environmental Health Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.