Legal View: Researching legal issues about food safety

Marie Calvaruso, The Daily Record Newswire

Listeria contaminated cantaloupes. Cyclospora infections linked to bagged salad mixes. Restaurant patrons warned about possible exposure to hepatitis A. Voluntary recalls of cheese.

News headlines warning the public about foodborne illnesses are a too often occurrence. These outbreaks are one of several reasons for the emerging legal field of food law. I hope to explore others reasons in a future article but will begin with resources for researching legal issues involved with food safety.

For an introduction to the legal aspects of a foodborne illness, “Food Safety Law” by James F. Neale and Angela M. Spivey is a good place to begin research. This single volume publication examines the legal issues involved in food safety including manufacturing practices, inspections, recalls, causes of action and defenses, complex litigation, and insurance coverage.

An introduction to regulatory compliance and the various federal agencies overseeing compliance are presented. Food safety threats such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria are described. Coverage also includes obesity legislation and litigation, labeling requirements, injurious objects in food, and cloning and bioengineering.

“Hutt, Merrill, and Grossman’s Food and Drug Law 3d”provides an introduction to Food and Drug Administration history, jurisdiction, enforcement and administrative practice and procedure. Topics covered include human drugs, food and drugs for animals, biologics, medical devices, regulation of carcinogens, and of course, food. The chapter on food presents a historical and statutory background and explores the definition of “food.” The regulation of labeling, food identity and quality, nutrient content of food, and dietary supplements are presented. Food sanitation and safety of food constituents are also covered. Also available is a companion statutory supplement providing the updated federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and select federal statutes affecting food and drug law.

For statistics and related information about incidences of foodborne diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s active surveillance network known as FoodNet is a useful resource.
FoodNet tracks trends for infections transmitted through food and provides information about food safety policy and prevention efforts. FoodNet gathers data from active surveillance; surveys of laboratories, physicians, and the general population; and population-based epidemiologic studies. Researchers will find statistics, data, surveys, studies, and other publications available.

To stay up-to-date on recent developments and emerging trends the following resources may be helpful:

The U.S. Agricultural and Food Law and Policy Blog is a useful starting point for current awareness and research. The blog is sponsored by the American Agricultural Law Association and the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas and provides recent news and information on agricultural and food law and may be used to link to research resources. The blog provides access to a wide variety of agricultural content areas including food law, food safety, food labeling, sustainable agriculture, local food systems, and agritourism.

The site links to Reading Rooms of the National Agriculture Law Center which provide access to an assortment of research information. For example, the Food Safety Reading Room provides links to the text of federal statutes and regulations, administrative law decisions, a case law index, publications, and a host of other helpful research resources.

Food Safety News is a daily news source reporting on outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, food recalls, politics and policy, and lawsuits and litigation. In addition to being a current awareness research tool, the site provides access to food safety guides, restaurant inspection records arranged by state and county, local health department contacts, and government agency resources. Free email or RSS subscriptions are available.

The Journal of Food Law and Policy features articles addressing domestic and international food safety laws and regulations, labeling, and a wide range of issues affecting food law and policy.
Published twice a year, each issue highlights recent developments in food law from the United States and Europe. The journal is edited by students at the University of Arkansas School of Law and is available as a print subscription or electronically on Westlaw or HeinOnline.

The Food and Drug Law Journal is published by the Food and Drug Law Institute. The publication examines historical developments, current analysis, and emerging trends in laws and regulations involving food, drugs, dietary supplements, cosmetics, medical devices, and related areas. Published quarterly, the journal is available by subscription or on HeinOnline.


Marie Calvaruso is the director of Libraries and Research Services at Harris Beach PLLC. She holds master’s degrees in business administration and library science. She is a past president of the Association of Law Libraries of Upstate New York and has served on the membership and retention committee of the American Association of Law Libraries.