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How Far Has Food Safety Come in 150 years?

Posted by Alexandra Tarrant, Public Affairs Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
May 03, 2012

Throughout the year, and this month in particular, USDA celebrates 150 years of existence. The legislation that established USDA was signed on May 15, 1862, by President Abraham Lincoln. At that point, food safety wasn’t a major concern for the People’s Department.

The turning point for domestic meat inspection really came in 1905 and 1906, after Upton Sinclair published The Jungle. The details of the book described unsanitary working conditions in a Chicago meatpacking house, putting meat consumers at risk for disease. This led to the passing of legislation providing for meat inspection. Over the years, Congress passed the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) enforces.

Inspection changed from a sight, smell, and touch approach to a more science-based method when Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) was implemented between January 1997 and January 2000. And science and technology improvements have allowed our inspection to evolve as well, with the implementation of new policies like testing ready to eat meat and poultry products for Listeria monocytogenes, applying stricter Salmonella and new Campylobacter performance standards to raw poultry products, and declaring that six additional serogroups of pathogenic E. coli (in addition to E. coli O157:H7) are adulterants in non-intact raw beef.

FSIS is in the process of fully implementing a dynamic, comprehensive data analysis system called the Public Health Information System, or PHIS. This system will allow the agency to collect, consolidate and analyze data in a more efficient and effective way, ultimately leading to better protection of the public’s health and a more preventative approach toward inspection.

For more information about FSIS’ history over the years, visit

Category/Topic: Health and Safety