Mankind has not just recently begun to think about food safety for a better world. Food safety practices were founded or mentioned in some ancient cultures. In 375 BC, Chanakya (an Indian teacher, philosopher, and economist) mentioned food adulteration in his book “Arthashastra,” whereas the Egyptians have preserved and labeled food thousands of years ago. The Chinese, Greeks, and Romans have also used similar food safety procedures.

However, food safety, sanitation, and hygiene legislations were developed when food production began shifting from the home to manufacturers, protecting commerce rather than public health. In the 13th century, food laws were developed to reduce fraudulent practices and adulteration in food trade. In 1202, the Assize of Bread and Ale Law was proclaimed by King John of England to prohibit the adulteration of bread. Hundreds of years ago, in 1266, the UK parliament prohibited unsafe (unwholesomeness) food. In 1785, the first U.S. Food Safety Act (the Massachusetts Act against Selling Unwholesome Provisions) was established; a high percentage (up to 50%) of foods (e.g., tea, coffee, milk, etc.) sold in Canada and the U.S. were adulterated at that time.

In the early 1900s, foodborne diseases (e.g., botulism, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, etc.) were at the highest incidence and prevalence, with the highest mortality rates in all over the world. Therefore, in the 19th and 20th centuries, food safety and sanitation legislations were more abundantly adopted. In 1906, the U.S. Congress enacted the first food safety and labeling regulations, and after World War II, consumers finally started to pay more attention to food safety. They wanted their governments to establish specific regulations and standards to ensure safe food for all. Therefore, many countries developed food legislation that brought us to the current situation in today’s world. The following are a few examples of important dates for food safety, after 1940, in the U.S. and some developing countries:

United States: In 1957, the Poultry Products Inspection Act. In 1958, the Food Additives Amendment. In the 1960s, the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) concept was first developed by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Pillsbury Company to ensure safe food for the astronauts. In 1967, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. In 1973, HACCP becomes mandatory for low-acid canned foods. In 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act. In 1980, the Infant Formula Act. In 1990, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. In 1996, the Food Quality Protection Act. In 1996, the Food Quality Protection Act. In 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Modernization Act. In 1997, HACCP becomes mandatory for seafood. In 1998, 1999, and 2000, HACCP becomes mandatory for large, small, and very small meat and poultry manufacturers, respectively. In 2001, FDA instituted a voluntary HACCP for Grade A milk and milk products. In 2002, HACCP becomes mandatory for the juice industry. In 2007, the FDA Amendments Act. In 2011, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law. In 2019, the Blueprint for a New Era of Smarter Food Safety was introduced.

Bangladesh: In 1956, the Food Act. In 1997, the Fish and Fish Products Inspection and Quality Control Rules. In 2011, the Animal Slaughter & Meat Quality Control Act. In 2012, the Applied Nutrition Research and Training Institute Act. In 2013, the Food Safety Act.

Egypt: In 1941, the Combating Fraud and Deception Law. In 1986, Regulating Controls on Imported Food Goods. In 1995, the Sanitary Requirements for Potable Water. In 1995, the Food Preservatives Regulation. In 1966, the Food Control Law. In 2000, Requirements for Poultry Slaughterhouses. In 2001, Labels for Dairy Products. In 2001, the Pesticides Residues and the Heavy Elements in Food Regulations. In 2003, the Regulation for the Examination and Control of Exported and Imported Commodities. In 2003, the Registration of Food Products Regulation. In 2002, the Examination of Structures Operating in the Field of Fish Exports to the European Union. In 2001, Regulation on Conditions and Measures Necessary for the Exportation of Fish and Marine Products to the European Union. In 2006, requirements and conditions for poultry and birds slaughterhouses. In 2006, Regulating and Monitoring the Importation of Frozen Poultry, Meat, and Fish. In 2007, Requirements and Conditions for Orange Preparation Centers Intended to Exportation. In 2008, the Organically Produced Food Regulation. In 2009, the Trade and Sale of Birds and Chicken Regulation. In 2009, the Committee for Increase and Development of Dairy Production and Industry was established. In 2011, Import of Frozen Meat and Live Animals. In 2011, the examination of structures operating in the field of fish exports to the European Union. In 2012, the Import of Meat Regulation. In 2012, the Poultry Slaughterhouses Regulation. In 2015, the Food Additives for Use in the Food Industry. In 2017, the National Food Safety Authority was established.

Ethiopia: In 1996, the Health and Nutrition Research Institute Establishment Council of Ministers Regulations was established. In 2013, the Food, Beverage and Pharmaceutical Industry Development Institute Establishment Council of Ministers Regulation. In 2013, the Meat and Dairy Industry Development Institute Establishment Council of Ministers Regulation was established. In 2010, the Regulation to Establish the Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority.

Ghana: In 1973, the Standards Authority Act. In 1992, the General Labeling Rules. In 2012, the Public Health Act.

Guatemala: In 1992, the Food Enrichment Law. In 1998, Unpasteurized Cow’s Milk Standards. In 1999, the Food Safety Regulation. In 2002, the Safety, Pasteurization and Rehydration of Milk Standards. In 2003, the National Food Board was created. In 2005, the National Food and Nutrition Security System Law. In 2005, Obtaining a Sanitary License for the Milking, Collection, and Transport of Raw Milk Rules. In 2014, the Hygienic-Sanitary Inspection in the Country of Origin to Establishments for the Production, Processing, or Collection of Unprocessed Animal and Plant Foods Interested in Exporting to Guatemala Regulations.

Georgia: In 2001, Sanitary Rules and Requirements for the Safety of Food Materials and Food Products. In 2003, Sanitary Rules for Enterprise Processing Hazelnuts. In 2003, the Canned and Preserved Fish and Other Seafood Products Standard. In 2012, Special Hygiene Rules for Food of Animal Origin. In 2015, Special Rules for State Control of Food of Animal Origin. In 2013, Rules for Sale of Food and Animals at Agricultural Markets. In 2014, the Food Fortification Regulation. In 2013, Requirements for Labeling Food Products. In 2014, Sanitary-Hygienic Rules for Food Tare. In 2014, the Law of Georgia on Labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms. In 2015, Rules for State Control of Food/Feed Safety. In 2015, the Milk and Dairy Products Regulation. In 2015, General Principles of Traceability in the Areas of Food/Feed Safety, Veterinary, and Plant Protection. In 2016, Controls on Imports of Food/Feed of Non-Animal Origin. In 2016, the Provision of Food Information to Consumers. In 2016, the Labeling of Beef and Beef Products. In 2017, the Product Safety and Free Movement Code of Georgia. In 2017, Regulations for Fruit Juice and Similar Products Intended for Human Consumption. In 2017, the Regulation on Hazelnuts. In 2018, the Georgian Government on Risk Assessment, Risk Management and Risk Communication as Part of Risk Analysis was established. In 2018, Rules for Destroying Food/Feed.

Honduras: In 2000, the Inspection of Meat and Meat Products Regulation. In 2001, the Inspection and Sanitary Certification of Milk and Milk Products Regulation. In 2005, the Inspection, Slaughter, and Industrialization of Poultry Products and Products Regulation. In 2008, the Inspection and Certification of Animal and Fishery Products Regulation. In 2010, the Food Fortification Law. In 2011, the Food and Nutrition Security. In 2016, the National Agri-Food Health and Safety Service was created. In 2018, the Registration for Importing, Processing and Exporting Establishments of Products and By-Products of Animal and Plant Origin Regulations.

Kenya: In 1955, the Meat Commission Act. In 1971, the Fish Industry Regulations. In 1972, the Meat Control Act. In 1972, the Hotels and Restaurants Act. In 1978, the Food Hygiene Regulations. In 2000, the Dairy Industry Regulations. In 2001, the Coffee Act. In 2002, the Food, Drugs, and Chemical Substances Act. In 2007, the Meat Control Regulations. In 2007, the Safety of Fish, Fishery Products and Fish Feed Regulations. In 2011, the Tea Act. In 2012, Food Labelling, Additives, and Standards Regulations.

Mali: In 2002, establishing the Reflection Committee on Food Safety. In 2002, establishing the Conditions for the Production, Processing, and Marketing of Milk and Milk Product Law. In 2003, the National Food Safety Agency Law was established. In 2004, a National Food Safety Council was created. In 2005, a National Council for Food Health Safety and Rural Development in the Northern regions was established. In 2008, the Sanitary and Hygienic Protection of Poultry Farms and the Control of Poultry Products Law. In 2011, instituting the Control of Foodstuffs of Animal Origin and Animal Feed Law. In 2015, the Consumer Protection Law.

Nepal: In 1967, the Food Act. In 1970, the Food Rules. In 1993, the National Tea and Coffee Development Board Act. In 1999, the Animal Slaughterhouse and Meat Inspection Act. In 2001, the Slaughterhouse and Meat Inspection Regulation.

Nicaragua: In 1990, Requirements for Pasteurized Milk. In 1990, the Regulation of Sanitary Inspection of Meat. In 1991, Regulations for the Export of Industrialized Beef. In 1991, Regulations and Operational Rules Governing Trade and Exports of Coffee. In 1998, the Nicaraguan Meat Corporation Law. In 2000, the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement. In 2000, the Chicken Meat Regulation. In 2000, the Pasteurized Whole Milk Regulation. In 2004, the Nicaraguan Integrated Food Safety System was created. In 2005, Standards on Minimum Quality and Safety Requirements for Mango. In 2006, Standards on Quality and Safety Requirements for Extra Hard Cheese. In 2006, Standards for the Preparation and Sale of Food on Public Roads. In 2006, Good Hygiene and Operating Practices during the Industrialization of Food Products. In 2006, Standards on Quality and Safety Requirements for Tomato Sauce. In 2007, Standards for the Environmental Control of the Establishments of Fish and Shellfish Processing Plants. In 2008, the Standard on the Requirements for the Transport of Food Products. In 2009, the Law to Promote the Dairy Sector and the Glass of School Milk. In 2009, the National Agri-food Traceability Program was created. In 2009, the Standard for Sanitary Control in Primary Aquaculture Production. In 2009, the Standard on Sardines and Similar Canned Products. In 2010, the Standard on Sanitary Requirements for Food Handlers. In 2010, the Standard on Citrus Jam. In 2010, the Standard on Fish and Fishery Products. In 2012, the Standard on Quickly Frozen Breaded or Overflowed Bars, Portions and Fish Fillets. In 2012, the Standard for Pasteurized Milk. In 2014, the Standard on Import Requirements for Goods of Animal Origin. In 2014, the Standard on Safety Requirements for Peanuts. In 2017, the Standard on Characteristics and Specifications of Meat Sausages. In 2017, the Standard on Specifications of Raw Cow’s Milk. In 2016, HACCP in Nicaraguan Freezer Ships was implemented.

Nigeria: In 1955, the Inland Fisheries Regulations. In 1976, the Food and Drugs Act. In 1992, the Consumer Protection Council Act. In 1993, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control Act. In 1993, the Food, Drugs and Related Products Act. In 2005, the Processed Food Registration Regulations. In 2018, the Pre-Packaged Food, Water and Ice Regulations. In 2019, the Milk and Dairy Product Regulation. In 2019, the Fruit Juice and Nectar Regulation. In 2019, the Food Irradiation Regulations. In 2019, the Food Fortification Regulations. In 2019, the Food Advertisement Regulations.

Niger: In 2004, the Potability of Drinking Water Standards. In 2011, the Quality of Certain Imported and Local Food Products and Derivatives began to be regulated. In 2011, the Hygiene Inspection of Animal Foodstuffs and Foodstuffs of Animal Origin began to be regulated.

Senegal: In 1965, the marketing of live lobsters intended for local sale or export began to be regulated. In 1966, the Control of Food Products and the Repression of Fraud. In 1969, the Control of Fishery Products. In 1991, the specific technical provisions relating to the premises for processing and packaging fishery products intended for export were established. In 2011, the import of tomato puree into Senegal began to be regulated. In 2014, the temporary ban on the import of fresh tomatoes from areas infested with the leafminer was lifted. In 2014, the National Laboratory for Analysis and Control was established. In 2015, the National Committee for Fruit Fly Control was established, organized, and began operation. In 2015, the Regulations of the Food Technology Institute were established. In 2015, the Rules of Organization and Operation of the Urban Drinking Water and Sanitation Project were established. In 2015, the National Committee for Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures in Senegal was established.

Tajikistan: In 2003, the Canned and Preserved Fish/Seafood Products Standards. In 2004, the Consumer Protection Law. In 2007, the Requirements for Water Quality of Uncentralized Water Supply, Sanitary Rules, and Regulations. In 2010, the Poultry Farming Law. In 2012, the Food Safety Law. In 2013, instructions on veterinary and sanitary requirements for conditions of storage and processing of meat and meat-based products, milk and dairy products, fish and fish products, and eggs.

Uganda: In 1957, the Food and Drugs Act. In 1994, the Coffee Regulations. In 1994, the Coffee Development Authority Act. In 2000, the Dairy Industry Act. In 2005, the Food and Drugs Regulations. In 2008, the Fish Rules. In 2018, the National Bureau of Standards Regulations.

Understanding bacterial growth and inventing food processes and technologies (pasteurization for milk, refrigeration, cooking, canning, fermentation, salting, etc.), alongside food safety regulations, standards, and practices have also improved food safety and reduced foodborne illness. However, new trends, including globalization of the food supply (e.g., 80% of food consumed in the UK is imported while the U.S imports about 15% of its food supply from other countries), the complexity of food production (intensification of agricultural production), increasing numbers of vulnerable individuals (pregnant women, elderly, young children, people with weakened immune systems, etc.), changes in food consumption (demand for fresh produce, fish, and animal source foods), the emergence of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens (Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, etc.), and climate change (high temperature, drought, rainfall/flooding, etc.) make food safety the center of national and global attention. It’s estimated that foodborne illnesses [resulting from consuming contaminated food with microbes and chemical toxins (e.g., pesticides, heavy metals, veterinary drugs, mycotoxins, etc.)] are making 600 million people ill and killing 420,000 people, including 125,000 children under 5 years old, per year worldwide. Food-related risks also cause millions of people to get noncommunicable diseases (e.g., cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc.).

Foodborne outbreaks and illnesses can significantly affect consumers (damage their confidence in the system, diminish productivity, and cause premature death), and destroy tourism and trade, especially in developing countries, since most developing countries are located in very complex regions where they face diverse challenges due to economic, cultural, and social conditions. Food safety is a prerequisite for national, regional, and international trade. Food safety is also an important tool to achieve the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Because food regulations and standards can significantly vary between countries, depending on food safety capacity, as seen above, this might create trade barriers. Trade associations (e.g., the International Dairy Federation) and other international organizations [e.g., the International Standards Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization) want governments to harmonize their food standards. Therefore, in 1955, FAO and WHO conducted the first joint FAO/WHO conference on food additives because of the public health concern about the use of chemicals in food. In 1963, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) was established. CAC protects the public health (guarantees safe food for everybody, everywhere) and ensures fair practices in the international food trade through harmonized and voluntary food standards, guidelines, and codes of practice. As of 2017, CAC has developed 78 guidelines, 221 commodity standards, 53 codes of practice, 106 maximum levels (MLs) for 18 contaminants in food, more than 4,130 MLs covering 224 food additives, 5,321 maximum residue limits (MRLs) for pesticide residues covering 303 pesticides, 623 MRLs for residues of veterinary drugs in foods, and 12 risk management recommendations covering 63 veterinary drugs/groups of veterinary drugs. CAC membership represents about 99 percent of the world’s population (contains 188 member countries and one member organization (EU) and 229 observers, of which 57 are intergovernmental organizations, 156 nongovernmental organizations and 16 UN agencies). The importance of CAC lies in bringing experts from all over the world to provide their food safety expertise in developing its science-based food safety standards, guidelines and codes of practice. For example, the U.S. (the U.S. CAC program is an interagency partnership housed in the USDA) chairs some CAC committees including a) food hygiene, b) processed fruits and vegetables, and c) residues of veterinary drugs in foods.

The global food safety standards have a great impact on developing countries, even for those who do not export to a great extent. Developing countries must ensure that locally produced food is safe for both domestic consumers and international trade. Also, they must have food safety systems that are able to inspect imported food to ensure food safety. These systems must also be able to monitor food traffic, through national borders, to prevent the importation of unsafe food. Developing countries must be equipped with adequate food safety laws, as well as technical and administrative infrastructure, to be able to harmonize their food safety systems with Codex Standards or importing countries (e.g., U.S., EU, etc.). A wide range of actors, including international food safety organizations, donors, human rights ombudspersons, consumers, civil society, governments, academia, and the food industry, must work together to achieve harmonized food safety systems in their own countries.

Even though harmonization is highly desirable for global food trade, its implementation, in reality, may be difficult due to the many challenges, such as the diverse level of development of national food control systems (as mentioned above). It is also important to mention that each country is permitted to develop and adopt a more stringent standard than international standards to protect their consumers’ health if the standard is based on scientific principles. This article is intended to provide readers with information about the history and status of global food safety systems and encourage developing countries to harmonize their national food safety systems with international food safety standards and those of developed countries so they can protect their own consumers by ensuring that locally produced and imported food is safe, and to be able to export to international markets.

Barakat Mahmoud, Ph.D., is an international food safety expert with 30 years of experience in food safety. He has provided technical assistance in food safety in several developing countries in Africa, Asia, Central America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.