Filth And Extraneous Matter In Food The Federal Food Laws

Soon after the new century began in 1900, the efforts of that great champion of food purity, Dr. Harvey Wiley, began to pay off. The U.S. Congress passed the Pure Food Law in June of 1906 (1-3). A stronger and more detailed law emerged from Congress in 1938 (4). Since then the food law has been amended and expanded on several occasions. Today, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) stands as a major achievement in the protection of consumer health (5).

As great as that achievement was, however, it should be noted that protection of consumer health was not the only objective of the Pure Food Law. The courts have consistently ruled that it was the intention of Congress to keep filth, whether harmful or not, out of food. Congress wanted food held to the highest standards of hygiene and aesthetics (6,7). The hygienic standard has, however, received the greater amount of attention by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its mission to protect the public's health (8).

Two Sections on Filth

The FD&C Act (9) contains two paragraphs that are especially pertinent to the topic of filth. The first, 402(a)(3), states that a food shall be deemed to be adulterated if it consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance or if it is otherwise unfit for food. The second, 402(a)(4), states that a food shall be deemed to be adulterated if it has been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have been contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health. There have been numerous challenges to FDA's interpretation of the "filth sections" of the Act.

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