Food Law


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Finding U.S. Food Law

No one is expected to know everything there is to know about U.S. food law. It is more realistic to focus on understanding how to find information about food law as the need arises. This page offers ideas on where to search for relevant food law when needed.

Where to find information about food safety laws

The purpose of this web page is to introduce how to locate laws relative to food safety.  Although U.S. laws are comprised of state and federal statutes, regulations and court decisions, the focus of this introduction will be on federal statutes and regulations because much of U.S. food safety law is based on federal law. 

This is only an introduction but it will be adequate for this course.

This site is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. Seek appropriate professional advice for answers to your specific questions.

Law-related materials are available in both traditional print (books) and increasingly on the worldwide web (WWW).  This introduction focuses on the WWW. 


Statutory Law -- Federal Statutes

The legislative branch of government establishes public policy by enacting statutes.  The U.S. federal statutes are organized (codified) in the United States Code.


United States Code


  • When citing the U.S. Code, the chapter (and subchapter) generally is NOT noted; instead just the title and section numbers are used to identify the statute, e.g., 21 U.S.C. §331 ( title U.S.C. section ).
  • Use keywords to search the U.S. Code on the WWW
  • Citation format: 21 U.S.C. §331 ( title U.S.C. section )
    • § -- symbol for section.


Administrative Law -- Federal Regulations

Agencies of the executive branch of U.S. government are responsible of implementing (executing) the programs established by the legislative branch.  The agencies promulgate regulations to provide details as to how the statutory law will be implement.  These federal regulations are organized in the Code of Federal Regulations.


Code of Federal Regulations

  • The Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) contains all regulations of the agencies of the federal government.  The majority of agencies we will consider are executive agencies.
  • The C.F.R. is available on the WWW, at;
    • Also see (U.S. Government Printing Office)
    • A third location for the CFR is http://www.ecfr.govThis is the site I generally use.
    • These web sites also include regulations from previous years -- this could be important in some situations.  For example, if an issue arose two years ago that remains unresolved, the regulation in effect at the time the problem arose would likely apply to the problem, not the current regulation.  Therefore, access to the earlier version of the regulation is invaluable.
  • The C.F.R. is organized by the same 50 titles as the United States Code



  • Citation format: 7 C.F.R. §42.101 (title C.F.R. part and section)
  • The C.F.R. is updated annually by replacing the entire title (this is an ongoing process, that is, by the end of the year, all the titles have been replaced and then the process is repeated the following year).
    • Since the C.F.R. is updated on a schedule and each title is updated once each year, but regulations are being added or revised on an ongoing basis, there is a lag between what is published in the C.F.R. and the most recent changes. The Federal Register is used to "close this gap."


Federal Register

  • All federal regulations are published in the Federal Register as they are finalized; the Federal Register also contains announcements (e.g., program announcements), notices, and proposed regulations issued by federal agencies.
  • The process of promulgating a federal regulation involves 1) publishing the proposed regulation in the Federal Register, 2) allowing time for public comment and hearing, 3) agency review of public comments, 4) agency revisions based on the public comment, and 5) publication (again) in the Federal Register in its "final" form. After these steps are completed, the regulation takes effect.
    • Use the Federal Register to locate proposed regulations, as well as recently announced final regulations.
    • It may be helpful to think of the C.F.R. as containing only final regulations; proposed regulations (those in the process of being finalized) are NOT yet part of the C.F.R.
    • The C.F.R. does NOT contain recently announced final regulations due to the time lag in the process of updating the C.F.R.
    • Example of interaction between a federal statute and federal regulation.
  • Federal Register is published daily; it is available on the WWW.
  • A search mechanism is provided for searching the Federal Register on the WWW 
  • Citation format: Federal Register: March 15, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 50) Pages 12154-12155.


Where to find agency explanations

Responsible agencies frequently describe their authorities and their implementation practices; these explanations provide invaluable insights into the agency's perception of its role.

Agencies frequently have newsletters and other subscription-based information.  They also often provide educational materials.  These are available in a variety of formats.  Examples of web-based sources include


Do not overlook --


Private sources of food safety information



The extensive and evolving nature of food law makes it impossible to "know" all the law; a more important skill is the ability to locate the statutes and regulations that comprise food law, as well as credible explanations of food laws. 

  • The U.S. Code and the Code of Federal Regulations are the sources of U.S. federal statutes and regulations.
  • FDA Guidance documents and USDA FSIS Fact Sheets provide agency explanations of their legal responsibilities and authorities.




This material is intended for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. Seek appropriate professional advice for answers to your specific questions.

This material is protected by U.S. copyright laws.

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