Food Safety:

New Initiatives Would Fundamentally Alter the Existing System

RCED-96-81: Published: Mar 27, 1996. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the federal food safety system, focusing on recent federal initiatives to improve meat, poultry, and seafood safety.

GAO found that: (1) the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are primarily responsible for regulating food safety; (2) both agencies inspect meat, poultry, and seafood plants, but are constrained by resource limitations; (3) FDA plans to inspect each food processing plant once every 8 years, or once every 5 years when it can use state inspection resources; (4) Congress has increased the mandates of both agencies since 1989, including requiring FDA and FSIS to help develop and oversee new food labelling requirements; (5) while the agencies' budgets have increased, their staffing remained constant; (6) FDA, FSIS, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which maintains a voluntary seafood inspection program, are implementing hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) programs, which emphasize the detection and prevention of microbial contamination and increase the role of industry in ensuring food safety; and (7) HACCP initiatives represent a fundamental shift in the government's approach to ensuring food safety.

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