No one entity can protect food safety on its own. In FSMA, FDA clearly stated that the role of industry is to produce safe foods. FDA’s role is oversight in their jurisdiction, to ensure that industry is doing its job. Ensuring that food is safe requires a collaborative approach; government, industry, and consumers must work together to achieve the common goal of protecting public health. The fact that multiple agencies and inspectors have regulatory oversight over food safety at U.S. retail and foodservice establishments can create some definite challenges to achieving this goal, however.
At both the state and local levels, for example, health departments are responsible for inspecting and regulating foodservice establishments within their jurisdictions. At the federal level, FDA regulates food safety, including food processing, distribution, and labeling.
Furthermore, FDA’s 2022 Food Code (10th edition) and the Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards are a framework for safeguarding public health and ensuring that consumers’ food is unadulterated. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspects and regulates meat, poultry, and some egg products and plays a vital role in federal regulation. The CDC promotes food safety in retail environments.
Launched in 2000 by leading consumer goods companies, the Global Food Safety Initiative is a non-governmental global group organized after a number of food safety crises occurred. With the goal of reducing food safety risks and increasing consumer confidence in the delivery of safe food, these companies began requiring that manufacturers do more than the legal minimum required by the individual country of origin or destination, so they adapted an accredited certification model and a series of best practice standards applicable to their suppliers. “When retail and food establishments are required to follow different food safety regulations depending on their location, it can cause confusion, frustration, and loss of trust for operators and staff, which can ultimately result in unsafe food safety practices,” says Melissa Vaccaro, a senior food safety program specialist at the National Environmental Health Association.
According to Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, professor, extension specialist, and chair of the department of food science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., challenges are especially significant for national and regional retail and foodservice chains. “These organizations often have stellar food safety programs which they try to implement uniformly across all of their operations. But, challenges can occur when inspectors on either side of a state line enforce different regulations, or when different jurisdictions interpret state food codes differently within a state.”
Every four years, FDA publishes a new version of the Food Code to ensure it’s updated consistently to help jurisdictions adopt uniform food safety standards; however, many jurisdictions continue to use older versions because the timeframe to adopt a newer version can be long. In some cases it can take years, says Ashley Eisenbeiser, MS, senior director of food and product safety programs at FMI–The Food Industry Association, headquartered in Arlington, Va. In fact, one state, South Dakota, is still using the Food Code from 1995.
The variability and patchwork of Food Code adoption across the United States creates a significant challenge for retailers that have to know and comply with each jurisdiction’s requirements in which they operate, Eisenbeiser adds. California is the only state that hasn’t adopted any version of the Food Code, which is voluntary.
Although FSMA rules don’t apply to retail food establishments, they do apply to most suppliers and manufacturers of food sold in stores, including the suppliers of ingredients and products used to prepare food in retail delis and fresh prepared departments in stores, Eisenbeiser says. Supplier programs play an important role in assuring food safety and that food is purchased from approved sources. FSMA includes a new Traceability Rule in section 204 that establishes additional traceability recordkeeping requirements which will become effective January 20, 2026.