University of Maryland Extension

Agencies and Jurisdictions

At the federal level the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have jurisdiction, which means they have the authority to make and enforce regulations applicable to any state or territory. Within the USDA is the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). FDA and FSIS have overlapping authority for making and enforcing food safety standards. For example, FSIS regulates livestock and dairy farms, but FDA regulates milk pasteurization. FSIS regulates animal slaughter facilities and grades meat, but FDA regulates products that contain meat as an added ingredient, such as sausage pizza and frozen dinners. FSIS regulates eggs, but FDA regulates processed egg products.

At the state level, each state has a department of agriculture and a department of public health, both of which must, according to federal law, adopt and enforce food safety regulations at least equal to federal standards. State standards may be more restrictive than federal standards, but not less restrictive. Federal standards are set in large, complex pieces of legislation such as the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, which may be amended or re-interpreted over the years. Therefore, most states adopt federal regulations into state legal code "by reference," meaning they don't put the federal language word-for-word into state code, they simply refer to the federal law by name only as being incorporated into state law. In effect, this requires food processors to have working knowledge of federal regulations in order to understand and comply with state regulations.

Some states have “home rule” which means designated areas (e.g., towns or counties) may act independently, and their regulations may be more restrictive than state regulations. As a result, at the local level, the food safety system has quite a bit of variation in authority, process, interpretation, and enforcement. Each state is different, and in many states, each county or municipality may be different. In some states, food safety inspectors work under the auspices of the department of agriculture. In other states, they work under the auspices of the department of public health. There may be different inspectors for different food products and production processes. A food safety inspector may be from the local board of health, or the county health department, or a regional district.

Use the menu to the right to further explore:  FederalState, Local, and Maryland levels of jurisdiction.

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