Foodborne illnesses cause hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths in the U.S each year. The severity of these diseases and the frequency with which they occur highlight the need to evaluate how well the current food safety system protects the public’s health. While food safety is regulated by several agencies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees approximately 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, including all produce, seafood, and cheeses. Food safety experts and the public have criticized the FDA’s food safety system and questioned whether it properly safeguards Americans from foodborne diseases. Congress asked the IOM to examine the gaps in the current food safety system under the purview of the FDA and to identify the tools needed to improve food safety.
The IOM determined that the FDA lacks a comprehensive vision for food safety and should take a risk-based approach in order to properly protect the nation’s food. In addition, the FDA should provide standards for food inspection so that states and the federal government follow the same rigorous methods for inspections, surveillance, and outbreak investigations. Most notably, the IOM recommends that Congress take legislative action to provide the FDA with the authority it needs to fulfill its food safety mission. Americans will continue to suffer from foodborne illnesses unless the FDA reevaluates and reworks its approach to food safety management.