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Snapshot of Food Safety Milestones in the History of the FDA

Available in PDF (46KB).

Until a little over a century ago, there were no federal laws or regulations in place to protect the public from potentially dangerous substances in medicines or foods.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed a chief chemist to serve in the new Department of Agriculture.  This appointment marked the beginning of the Bureau of Chemistry, the predecessor of the Food and Drug Administration.   

Peter Collier, chief chemist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommended the passage of a national food and drug law, following his own food adulteration investigations. The bill was defeated, but during the next 25 years more than 100 food and drug bills were introduced in Congress.

Harvey W. Wiley became chief chemist, Prompted by increasing concerns, both by scientists and consumers over the use of untested chemicals as food preservatives, Dr. Wiley set out to investigate whether such preservatives should be used in food, and at what levels they were safe. With funding from Congress in 1902, he expanded the Bureau’s food adulteration studies, and advocated for a federal law to protect and inform consumers. 

Pure Food and Drugs Act is passed by Congress, prohibiting interstate commerce of misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks, and drugs.   This law was spurred by shocking disclosures of the use of poisonous preservatives and dyes in foods, documented in the press and featured in Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle.

First Certified Color Regulations issued at the request of manufacturers and consumers, listing seven colors found suitable for use in foods.

The Bureau of Chemistry becomes two separate entities: Food, Drug and Insecticide Administration (regulatory) and Bureau of Chemistry and Soils (research).  In 1930, the regulatory agency’s name is shortened to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under an agricultural appropriations act.

Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic (FDC) Act passed by Congress (replaced 1906 Act)

First Food Standards issued for canned tomatoes, tomato puree, and tomato paste

For the first time, FDA publishes guidance for industry, “Procedures for the Appraisal of the Toxicity of Chemicals in Food” (which came to be known as the “black book”)

FDA consumer consultants appointed in each field district


First large-scale radiology examination of food by FDA on imported tuna suspected of being radioactive (following atomic blasts in the Pacific)

FDA publishes first list of nearly 200 Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)

FDA begins administering sanitation programs for milk, shellfish, food service, and interstate travel facilities

Low-acid food processing regulations issued following botulism outbreaks from canned foods

Infant Formula Act establishes special FDA controls to ensure safety and proper nutritional content

Nutrition Labeling and Education Act requires all packaged foods to bear nutrition labeling and all health claims for foods to be consistent with terms defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

FDA Food Code published as a model for state and local agencies that regulate foodservice, vending and retail food stores.

Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act establishes specific labeling requirements and authorizes FDA to issue good manufacturing regulations for dietary supplements

Seafood HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) regulations to ensure the safe and sanitary processing of fish and fishery products, including imported seafood.

Juice HACCP rule provides procedures for the safe and sanitary processing and importing of juice and requires warning label on unpasteurized juices

FDA requires that a safe handling statement for shell eggs be put on egg cartons

Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act provided new authority in areas including record keeping, registration of facilities, prior notice for imports, and administrative detention

Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act goes into effect requiring all ingredients derived from 8 allergenic foods be described on the label

Egg Safety (final) Rule issued – establishes requirements for control of Salmonella Enteritidis in eggs from production through distribution

Implementation of the Egg Safety Rule began in July 2010 for large (50,000 layers+) producers; smaller producers must be in compliance by 2012

Page Last Updated: 07/13/2015
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