food safety education month
Anytime you think you are seriously ill, seek medical attention. And if you think food caused your illness, make sure it gets reported. Most foodborne illnesses are “reportable,” which means your doctor lets the local health department know about them.
That’s how you might become a “confirmed case” in a multistate outbreak. It’s your confirmed test result that gets reported to the health department, your name is kept private.
But if you do not want to pursue action through a medical route, you can report your bad food experience directly to federal regulators. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both welcome consumer reports about contaminated or adulterated food.
Both FSIS and FDA explain how on their websites. As September’s food safety month comes to a close shortly, Food Safety News is passing this information along with some explanation to help consumers get to the right agency. The FSIS and FDA are responsible for protecting different segments of the food supply. If you have experienced a problem with a food product, be sure to contact the appropriate public health organization.
To reach them by phone:
- USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) — Call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854 or report the complaint online.
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — Call 888-723-3366 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT. Closed Thursdays 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. EDT.
It’s important before you call FSIS or FDA that you understand how federal regulatory responsibilities are divided among the various agencies. The FDA, which has the most authority in these areas, offers this outline of how it breaks down.
In general, FDA regulates foods and other products as follows:
- dietary supplements
- bottled water
- food additives
- infant formulas
- other food (although the U.S. Department of Agriculture plays a lead role in regulating aspects of some meat, poultry, and egg products)
FDA also regulates drugs, including:
- prescription drugs (both brand-name and generic)
- non-prescription (over-the-counter) drugs
- vaccines for humans
- blood and blood products
- cellular and gene therapy products
- tissue and tissue products
Medical devices, including:
- simple items like tongue depressors and bedpans
- complex technologies such as heart pacemakers
- dental devices
- surgical implants and prosthetics
Electronic products that give off radiation, including:
- microwave ovens
- X-ray equipment
- laser products
- ultrasonic therapy equipment
- mercury vapor lamps
- color additives found in makeup and other personal care products
- skin moisturizers and cleansers
- nail polish and perfume
Veterinary products, including:
- livestock feeds
- pet foods
- veterinary drugs and devices
Tobacco products, including:
- cigarette tobacco
- roll-your-own tobacco
- smokeless tobacco
By subject and topic, FDA also has “functions related” to these federal agencies:
- Advertising — The Federal Trade Commission is a federal agency that regulates many types of advertising. The FTC protects consumers by stopping unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices in the marketplace. Consumers may write to FTC at 6th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20580; telephone 202-326-2222.
- Alcohol — The Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulates aspects of alcohol production, importation, wholesale distribution, labeling, and advertising. Consumers may write to TTB at 1310 G St. N.W., Box 12, Washington, DC 20005; telephone 202-453-2000 or see the TTB Contact page.
- Consumer Products The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) works to ensure the safety of consumer products such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, household chemicals, and other products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. Consumers may send written inquiries to CPSC, Washington, DC 20207. CPSC operates a toll-free hotline at 800-638-2772 or TTY at 800-638-8270 for consumers to report unsafe products or to obtain information regarding products and recalls.
- Drugs of abuse — The Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) works to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States, including as they pertain to the manufacture, distribution, and dispensing of legally produced controlled substances. Inquiries regarding DEA activities may be sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control 8701 Morrissette Drive Springfield, VA 22152; telephone 202-307-1000.
- Pesticides — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates many aspects of pesticides. EPA sets limits on how much of a pesticide may be used on food during growing and processing, and how much can remain on the food you buy. Public inquiries regarding EPA should be mailed to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticide Programs Public Docket (7506C), 3404, 401M St., Washington, DC 20460; telephone 202-260-2080.
- Vaccines for animal diseases The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service(APHIS), Center for Veterinary Biologics, regulates aspects of veterinary vaccines and other types of veterinary biologics. Public inquiries regarding APHIS’s Center for Veterinary Biologics should be mailed to Center for Veterinary Biologics, 1920 Dayton Ave, P.O. Box 844, Ames, Iowa, 50010; telephone 515-337-6100 or see the APHIS Contact page.
- Water The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates certain aspects of drinking water. EPA develops national standards for drinking water from municipal water supplies (tap water) to limit the levels of impurities.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service regulates the following:
FSIS regulates aspects of the safety and labeling of traditional (non-game) meats, poultry, certain egg products and catfish. For a USDA investigation of any problem with these products, please be ready to provide:
- The original container or packaging
- Any foreign object that you might have discovered in the product
- Any uneaten portion of the food (refrigerate or freeze it)
Here’s the information the FSIS Hotline needs from you:
- Name, address, and phone number;
- Brand name, product name, and manufacturer of the product
- The size and package type
- Can or package codes (not UPC bar codes) and dates
- Establishment number (EST) usually found in the circle or shield near the “USDA passed and inspected” phrase;
- Name and location of the store, as well as the date that you purchased the product.
- You can complain to the store or the product’s manufacturer if you don’t choose to make a formal complaint to the USDA.
- If an injury or illness allegedly results from the use of a meat or poultry product, you will also need to tell the hotline staff about the type, symptoms, time of occurrence, and name of the attending health professional (if applicable).
FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, known as CFSAN, provides services to consumers, domestic and foreign industry and other outside groups regarding field programs; agency administrative tasks; scientific analysis and support; and policy, planning, and handling of critical issues related to food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics.
How to Report a Problem with Food to FDA
- For all questions or problems related to meat and poultry, please contact USDA.
- If you are a consumer, health professional, or member of the food industry who wants to voluntarily report a complaint or adverse event (illness or serious allergic reaction) related to a food product, you have three choices:
- Call an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator if you wish to speak directly to a person about your problem.
- Complete an electronic Voluntary MedWatch form online.
- Complete a paper Voluntary MedWatch form that can be mailed to FDA.
- If you are a member of the food industry who needs to submit a Reportable Food Registry report when there is a reasonable probability that an article on food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals, please visit the Reportable Food Registry page.
How to report seafood-related toxins and Scombrotoxin fish poisoning illnesses
To help FDA effectively investigate, remove unsafe seafood products from the market, and develop new prevention strategies, the FDA relies on illness reporting from public health officials and healthcare providers. While most foodborne outbreaks are tracked through the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) network, seafood-related illnesses caused by natural toxins have a unique reporting mechanism.
- To report an illness related to natural toxins from fish, see How to Report Seafood-Related Toxin and Scombrotoxin Fish Poisoning Illnesses.
- To report an illness from raw bivalve molluscan shellfish, email the FDA at [email protected]
To contact FDA by mail:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Outreach and Information Center
5001 Campus Drive, HFS-009
College Park, MD 20740-3835
FDA asks that products not be mailed to this address.