Making the U.S. Food System Safer for Americans

Dates of Project: August 2002–September 2014

Field of Work: Food safety

Problem Synopsis: Every year, one in six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food, and an estimated 3,000 people die. Federal, state, and local government agencies are in charge of keeping the nation’s food supply safe, but, too often, contaminated foods slip through because the systems to protect consumers are fragmented and inefficient, with many agencies regulating specific foods and operating under different rules.

Fragmented federal leadership complicates efforts to strengthen the food safety system. No single agency or individual in the federal government is held accountable for coordinating comprehensive preventive strategies to reduce foodborne illnesses.

Synopsis of the Work: Eleven grants to academic institutions and Washington-based nonprofits aimed to strengthen the nation’s food safety system. Although the projects addressed different areas, they all contributed to a shift from a largely reactive approach of responding to dramatic foodborne illness crises to one focused on risk-based prevention and resource allocation throughout the food system—from farm to fork.

Among the areas of focus: identifying the pathogens that had the greatest impact on public health, strengthening the food safety information infrastructure, and helping the FDA implement the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act.

These grants provided “safe forums where strange bedfellows—the food industry, consumer groups, and researchers—could get together in a dialogue about food safety research issues and the policy implications of the research.”—Senior Program Officer Pamela Russo, MD, MPH

Key Results

The grantee organizations reported the following results:

“A scientifically based ranking of risks moves us away from a system that chases highly visible media events—outbreaks and recalls—and makes sure we don’t lose sight of what’s harder to see—what happens every day in restaurants.”—Michael Batz, MS, Executive Director of the Food Safety Research Consortium