Food safety generally means reducing or removing the potential for foodborne illness caused by microbiological pathogens, chemical additives, and environmental contaminants. Public health advocates seeking to improve health through access to healthy food need to be informed about how food safety considerations and legal requirements affect efforts to improve access to healthy food. Food safety concerns can come up with various food sources, including unprocessed fresh produce, donated foods, school gardens and farm to school programs. A wide range of federal, state and local laws impact food handling and food safety.
In early 2011, Congress passed the federal Food Safety Modernization Act to improve food safety and management, and to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Many state and local governments have their own food safety requirements as well. Even in the absence of federal or state law adequately governing public food safety concerns, many food vendors have developed and implemented voluntary food safety guidelines. These guidelines recommend that farmers develop a food safety plan, train employees in proper food safety management, and document farm practices to reduce the risk of dangerous bacteria or toxins in farm products.
A common concern with food safety considerations revolves around the potential liability if someone gets sick or is injured from food that is served or sold. Liability risks associated with food safety issues may be particularly important as some states impose a higher liability standard, or strict liability, on injuries or illnesses caused by the consumption of food. At the same time, federal and state Good Samaritan food donation laws provide some protections against liability from injuries or illness caused by the consumption of donated food for those donating and receiving food donations.