While state legislators work on a variety of issues related to food, one of the foremost concerns is food safety. In recent years, legislatures have reviewed many aspects of food safety, from the adoption of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration food code to state implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. From 2018 to 2021, states introduced thousands of bills related to food and food safety, reflecting states’ interest in providing oversight and increasing public safety.
Every year in the U.S., about 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Congress and the states continue to explore policies that will provide safety without compromising choice.
In 2010, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most comprehensive food safety legislation since 1937. The law changed many of the regulatory structures designed to protect the public from foodborne illness and updated the FDA’s authority to regulate foods. The FSMA enables the FDA to proactively regulate the food industry by designing measures that prevent foodborne outbreaks from occurring. Most important for the states, the FSMA directs the FDA to build an integrated national food safety system in partnership with state and local authorities. State adoption of the FDA Food Code is a key part of ensuring states’ food safety regulations reflect updated data surrounding food safety issues and remain current with other federal laws.
Given the volume of meat and dairy consumption in the U.S., many states have sought to enhance safety of the products being sold to consumers. For example, states have considered requiring disclosures for carcasses and certain cuts of meat being offered for sale and have limited the sale of meat to exclude animals like deer and horses. States have also bolstered requirements regarding meat and poultry processing and inspection. Pasteurization is used in the dairy industry to kill bacteria and increase the shelf life of milk and cheese, but a fair number of consumers prefer unpasteurized dairy products to reap the benefits of healthy bacteria. States have increasingly considered legislation to allow the sale of unpasteurized milk and dairy products, while also introducing legislation to increase consumer safety by requiring labels on unpasteurized products that clearly indicate the product contains raw milk.
As plant-based products have grown in popularity, states have increasingly considered legislation related to the labeling of meat and dairy alternatives. For example, states have sought to regulate the language that can be used to identify alternative proteins by enacting “truth in labeling” laws that prohibit products from containing the word “meat” if they are not derived from livestock or poultry. While cell-cultured meat is not readily available for purchase yet, states have already looked to address how these products can be labeled, such as by enacting bills to prohibit cell-based products from being represented as meat.
Beyond food safety, states have also acted on issues such as food waste and donation, the labeling of food products as noted above, and cottage foods, among other areas. State action around food waste has largely focused on shielding donors from liability arising from food donation, adjusting labeling to communicate safety dates and diverting food waste from landfills.
Cottage food laws provide regulatory relief to small, kitchen-based operations, allowing vendors to sell their products absent food safety requirements required for commercial food kitchens. The laws provide guidance to homemade food producers and provide for some exemptions from the food safety requirements that apply to food made in commercial kitchens. Many of these bills eliminate licensing and inspection requirements for homemade food and beverages, while some establish labeling requirements for products that have been made in a home kitchen. Some of these bills also address the online sales and shipping of cottage foods.
In recent years, states have introduced legislation to enhance the safety of food delivery services. For example, states have sought to require food delivery platforms to transport food in a manner that protects it from contamination and to ensure that delivery drivers are trained on specific aspects of food handling, such as maintaining proper food temperatures. Further, states have considered legislation to prohibit food delivery drivers from smoking tobacco products while engaged in food delivery.
As the retail food landscape continues to evolve, states are facing new threats and opportunities. In response, they are looking to established regulatory frameworks to help keep consumers safe.
Expand the following tabs to learn more about the Food Code and see what version of the Code your state is currently operating under.