Faulty handling of a product at any point in the system can transform a safe product into one that can cause serious harm. Producers, shippers, importers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, handlers, and consumers all influence the health risks associated with food products. Consumers play a particularly important role in the control of microbiological risks, both in their food handling practices and in their demand for an effective, efficient food safety system.
Food safety issues also involve the interplay of domestic and international legal, political, scientific, social, and economic forces. Intense debates about desired levels of protection and about the appropriateness of different control measures can arise as parties discuss the scientific bases for risk decisions, public expectations, and relative costs and benefits of intervention in different ways and in different components of the food system.
Science must play a vital role in food safety decisions through risk assessment, that is, the identification of hazards and the determination of the likelihood and severity of risk under given conditions of exposure (IOM, 1997). Hazards are biological, chemical, or physical substances that can cause adverse consequences. Hazards associated with food include microbiological pathogens, naturally occurring toxins, allergens, intentional and unintentional additives, modified food components, agricultural chemicals, environmental contaminants, animal drug residues, and excessive consumption of some dietary supplements. In addition, certain methods of food preparation in the home can contribute to increasing some of these hazards. However, a hazard does not pose a risk in the absence of exposure. The susceptibility of the consumer and the magnitude of exposure determine whether those hazards cause immunological changes, genetic and developmental changes, cancer, or death.
Hazard identification is the basis for estimating risk. A food safety risk is the probability of harm to health resulting from a food-related hazard at a particular exposure to a specified person or group. It is important to recognize that safety is an intellectual concept, not an inherent biological property of a substance; safety has been defined as the judgment of an acceptable level of risk. Thus, "safe food" involves a subjective evaluation of social issues and values, as well as a scientific assessment of risk (Lowrance, 1976; Miller, 1997).
HISTORY OF US FOOD SAFETY REGULATION
In the United States, regulation of food safety was largely the responsibility of state and local officials until the first decade of the twentieth century. Nineteenth century legal theorists questioned whether the US Constitution gave Congress the authority to legislate matters of health and safety. The emergence of a national market for food, combined with shocking stories of practices in the food industry, spurred the federal government to reassess its responsibility to ensure food safety. In response, in 1906 Congress passed the Meat Inspection
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