Who Regulates your Food Product? FDA, USDA, and State/Local Oversight

Determining the agencies that oversee your brand.

December 22, 2023

In the United States, the food we eat is overseen by various government bodies, each with its own responsibilities and roles. When it comes to packaged food, the main regulators are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and state and local health departments.

The USDA regulates meat, poultry, and processed egg products through its Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). If a packaged food contains more than 3% raw or 2% cooked meat or poultry, it falls under the USDA's jurisdiction. USDA generally requires labels to be submitted and approved before a product can be sold.

The FDA has a broader scope and regulates the majority of food in the U.S. - about 80% of the food supply. This includes dairy products, seafood, fruits, vegetables, cereals, bakery items, snacks, candy, and beverages. The FDA also oversees dietary supplements, bottled water, food additives, infant formula, and pet food. Unlike with USDA-regulated products, FDA doesn’t pre-approve food labels.

Here’s a quick overview of some key distinctions between FDA and USDA food oversight:

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State and local health departments also play a vital role in food regulation. They enforce food safety regulations, conduct inspections, monitor foodborne illnesses, and work closely with the USDA and FDA to ensure compliance with food safety standards. Each state has its own regulatory programs run by its department of agriculture, department of health, or both. Local health departments are also primarily responsible for regulating restaurants and food retailers.

While their responsibilities often overlap, the USDA, FDA, and state and local health departments have distinct approaches to regulation.

  • The USDA requires onsite inspection for all slaughter and processing activities to ensure compliance. 
  • The FDA doesn’t require inspection or approval prior to marketing a food, but it requires food facilities to maintain FDA registration, inspects facilities based on risk, and actively monitors the labels and labeling of marketed products for compliance. 
  • State and local health departments prioritize food safety within their jurisdictions, often collaborating closely with federal agencies to conduct inspections and safeguard public health.

Understanding these differences and overlaps is essential for food brands to stay in good standing with regulators and protect consumer health. Foodwit can help navigate the gray space that often arises with multiple regulatory agencies, helping to speed your path to market and create a strong foundation for your brand.

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