Local, state, federal, and international agencies all have a role in ensuring food safety and quality in the United States. These agencies regulate the use of chemicals and technology based on scientific research and testing. Food and food processes are tested beginning at the farm, through storage and processing, and finally at the market. Some monitor only one kind of food, such as milk or seafood. Some work strictly within a specific geographic area. Others are responsible for only one type of food establishment, such as restaurants or meat-packing plants. Together, these agencies make up the U.S. food safety team.
The four major federal agencies that have a role in the food safety regulatory system are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS).
Food & Drug Administration: It is FDA’s job to see that all domestic and imported foods marketed in interstate commerce (except for meat and poultry products) are safe and wholesome. Feed and drugs for pets and farm animals, cosmetics, and medicines also come under FDA jurisdiction. FDA also ensures that products are labeled truthfully with the information that people need to use them properly.
FDA investigators and inspectors visited about 8,600 facilities in 2018, with a decline due to COVID between then and 2022. Inspections are designed to verify that products released into commerce are safe and labeled truthfully. If a company is found violating any of the laws that the FDA enforces, FDA can issue a mandatory food recall, or the firm can voluntarily correct the problem or recall a faulty product from the market. A recall is generally the fastest and most effective way to protect the public from an unsafe product.
Food Safety & Inspection Service: FSIS protects the public’s health by ensuring that domestic and imported (non-game) meat, poultry, and some egg products are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled. FSIS shares responsibility with FDA for the safety of intact-shell eggs and processed egg products. States are responsible for the inspection of meat and poultry sold within the state where they are produced. FSIS is responsible for the inspection of meat, poultry, and egg products transported and sold interstate. They also inspect federally permitted meat, poultry, and egg establishments.
Environmental Protection Agency: EPA licenses all pesticide products distributed in the United States and sets standards on the amount of pesticides that may remain on food. The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act requires the EPA to consider the public’s overall exposure to pesticides (through food, water, and in-home environments) when setting the standard for pesticide use on food. EPA is also responsible for protecting against other environmental, chemical, and microbial contaminants in the air and water that might threaten the safety of the food supply.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as the Marine Fisheries Services: NOAA or NMFS, conducts voluntary seafood inspection services for fish, shellfish, and fishery products. It is on a fee-for-service basis and offers a variety of inspection services. Quality and safety standards for fish and seafood vary widely from country to country, and inspection of processing is a challenge because much of it takes place at sea. Mandatory regulation of seafood processing is under FDA and applies to exporters, all foreign processors that export to the United States, and importers.
Other Agencies: The Agricultural Marketing Service, Federal Grain Inspection Service, Packers and Stockyards Division, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA oversee the USDA’s marketing and regulatory programs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the Department of Health and Human Services engages in surveillance and investigation of illnesses associated with food consumption in support of the USDA and FDA regulatory missions. The Federal Trade Commission, through regulations of food advertising, plays an indirect role in food safety regulations.
Several other federal agencies have smaller but important regulatory responsibilities in food safety. For example, the Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is responsible for overseeing the production, distribution, and labeling of alcoholic beverages.
Three of the primary state agencies responsible for food safety inspections in South Carolina are the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the S.C. Department of Agriculture, and the S.C. Meat and Poultry Inspection Department.
DHEC: This agency has the responsibility of ensuring that food prepared for retail sales in restaurants and grocery stores is safe. DHEC permits and inspects retail establishments such as restaurants, grocery stores, food trucks, school cafeterias, convenience stores, and other food service operations. DHEC provides training to assist retail establishments with information regarding food safety and makes inspections to determine the level of compliance. DHEC does not permit or inspect foods prepared in a home kitchen for sale to the public.
South Carolina Department of Agriculture: South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA) regularly conducts statewide inspections of food and cosmetic manufacturers, processors, warehouses and other food storage facilities, and food salvage operations. Labels for foods and cosmetics manufactured or sold in South Carolina are subject to review and approval. Consumer complaints dealing with foods and cosmetics are investigated.
SCDA also inspects producers of hemp products. Part of the inspection includes sampling for federally defined THC levels.
S.C. Meat & Poultry Inspection: (SCMPID): The mission of this department of the Clemson Livestock Poultry Health program is to protect the health of consumers by providing a comprehensive inspection service to assure that meat and poultry products within South Carolina are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled.
All fully inspected meat and poultry processing plants must have sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOP) and hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) programs. Slaughter establishments must use humane handling standards. Inspection personnel routinely monitor and verify establishment activities. Microbiological sampling and testing are essential features of the inspection program. Antibiotics and a variety of toxic chemicals are routinely monitored.
- US. FDA (March 28, 2018). What We Do. https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/what-we-do
- US. FDA (January 1999). The Food and Drug Administration: An Overview. [WWW document.] URL http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/fdaoview.html
- National Research Council. Ensuring Safe Food From Production to Consumption. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1998.
Document last updated on 7/23 by Adair Hoover.
Originally published 12/99