Remco Products Inc.

The Birth of Food Safety, the FDA and CGMPs

Lately, we’ve been talking about Current food Good Manufacturing Practices—CGMPs for short—because they are the set of regulations that apply to just about every food processor not regulated by the USDA. CGMPs have also been getting quite a bit of press lately since we may see an update as a result of FSMA. We released an earlier blog article and a white paper on the topic for those who want to learn more.

But did you know that many of the regulations that guide the production of today’s food were largely spawned by the works of investigative journalists? These journalists were referred to as “muckrakers,” and they exposed government and business corruption.

food safety and 1900s meatpackingOne of the most well-known of these journalists was Upton Sinclair, who spent seven weeks working undercover in the Chicago meatpacking district on a research mission to expose the injustices and hazardous working conditions faced by meat industry workers. In Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, his vivid descriptions of the unsanitary practices of the meatpacking industry captured the attention of the American public and President Theodore Roosevelt.

After reading The Jungle, Roosevelt sent a pair of advisors to assess the truthfulness of the novel’s depictions—and their report swayed the President to believe that Sinclair had provided an accurate representation. Shortly after Sinclair’s works became widespread, the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed in 1906. The passage of these regulations marked a turning point in federal food safety and was the beginning of what we know today as the FDA.

Although Sinclair had hoped that his accounts would improve working conditions for America’s poor laborers, he ended up making a huge and lasting impact on food safety. He was later quoted as saying, “I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach.”

The early regulations were more specific about the standards for pharmaceuticals and accurate product labeling, and policies regarding food were much more ambiguous. Over the next 30 years, gaps in the protections provided to consumers by these regulations were exposed by a new generation of investigative journalists. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, received enthusiastically by an American public that had witnessed one too many food and drug safety disasters. This was the first law that mandated legally enforceable food standards, and CGMPs for food were officially established later on in 1969.

No one can deny that we have come a long, long way for food safety since the days written about by Upton Sinclair. But we may soon see another era of modernization of our food safety regulations. Do you think that the updates proposed by FSMA go far enough in preventing the production of unsafe foods? Are there holes in today’s laws you think should be considered? Tell us your thoughts.