NCSL helps make sense out of a maze of state food safety laws

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) - based in Denver - is the independent authority on the legislative bodies that govern America’s states and territories.

With funding assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and NSF International, food safety has taken its place in the NCSL’s searchable Environmental Health Legislative Database.

Doug Farquhar of the NCSL, who oversaw the addition of food and food safety to the database, says state legislators introduced 756 measures related to food and food safety, covering a diverse range of topics including mobile vendors, labeling and edible cannabis. Of the 756 total filed, state legislative bodies enacted 170 laws and adopted 18 resolutions.

The NCSL annual report “Food Safety Legislature for 2018” includes a summary of every enacted and adopted food safety bill and resolution.

Farquhar said safety of food donations was the predominant issue addressed, followed by food service in schools and restaurants. Several state legislative bodies looked at nutrition, either studying food deserts, tackling obesity, taxing sugary foods, or ensuring vulnerable communities had access to healthy foods.

“The variety of topic areas and the number of bills reflect states’ primacy when it comes to food safety,” Farquhar reports. “States have primary authority over food safety unless or until the federal government enacts laws or regulations that supersede state food safety laws.”

He says that authority allows lawmakers to determine food safety rules for food sold within their individual states. They also can determine when and where food is sold, the type (or lack thereof) of safety requirements for particular foods, and who may sell food. The NSCL finds state legislatures seeking to answer such questions as:

  • Can “non-hazardous” baked goods be sold without state oversight?
  • Can food be donated to food banks?
  • How should mobile food trucks be regulated?
  • What food products should be labeled?
  • Should food deserts be addressed?



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