RSS | Register/註冊 | Log in/登入
Site search:
Home>FFTC Document Database>Extension Bulletins>Food Safety and Inspection Service to Protect Consumers
Food Safety and Inspection Service to Protect Consumers
Dr. Sung-Hie Hong
Food Research Institute
National Agricultural Cooperative Federation
Korea, 2001-07-01


This Bulletin discusses the need of consumers for healthy food and information, and the food safety and inspection procedures in Korea and the United States which are designed to ensure that foods meet this need. In both countries, imported foods offered for sale must meet the same national safety standards which apply to foods which are domestically produced, including the type and quantities of additives. While not all imported foods can be given laboratory tests, a large number are, especially if they are a new type of food or come from a source which has given problems in the past. Inspections may include residue tests for pesticides and heavy metals, tests for dangerous levels and types of microorganisms, and perishibility tests.


We make many decisions in our lives. Our choices are based on what benefits are important to us, and what disadvantages we are willing to accept. Decisions about what we eat are made in the same way. We may choose taste over nutrition, or convenience over cost, without much thought. When the safety of the food is in question, however, our decisions are usually made more carefully. Deciding whether a food is safe or hazardous is difficult. It has the potential to be both. Food can never be proven to be entirely safe nor entirely hazardous. It can only be proven to be hazardous to some degree under certain conditions. That is why the more we understand about food safety, the better equipped we will be to make appropriate decisions.

Consumer Rights

The former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, on 15 March 1962, declared to the US Congress that,

  • "… consumers are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group ... whose views are often not heard."

Consumers are often ignored by governments, producers and powerful interests. As a result, consumers often act on their own initiative to draw attention to unethical marketing practices, expose hazardous technologies and production processes, or point out the need for consumer legislation.

Consumer rights are the basic rights of all consumers, which must be respected if consumers are to be protected from market abuses and social injustices. Consumer rights have their origin in Kennedy's declaration of four basic consumer rights:

  • The right to safety;
  • The right to be informed;
  • The right to choose, and
  • The right to be heard.

To these, Consumers International has in recent years added four more rights:

  • The right to satisfaction of basic needs;
  • The right to redress;
  • The right to education, and
  • The right to a healthy environment.

Consumer Rights

Basic Needs

The right to basic goods and services which guarantee survival: adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and sanitation.


The right to be protected against the marketing of goods or the provision of services that are hazardous to health and life.


The right to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising or labeling. There is also a right to be given the facts and information needed to make an informed choice.


The right to choose products and services at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality.


The right to express consumer interests in the making and execution of government policy.


The right to be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services.

Consumer education

The right to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be an informed consumer.

Healthy environment

The right to live and work in an environment which is neither threatening nor dangerous, and which allows a life of dignity and well-being.

Consumer Responsibilities

Critical awareness

The responsibility to be more alert and questioning about the price and quality of goods and services we use.


The responsibility to assert ourselves and act to ensure that we get a fair deal. As long as we remain passive consumers, we shall continue to be exploited.

Social concern

The responsibility to be aware of the impact of our consumption on other citizens, especially disadvantaged or powerless groups, whether at a local, national or international level.

Environmental awareness

The responsibility to understand the environmental consequences of our consumption. We should recognize our individual and social responsibility to conserve natural resources and protect the earth for future generations.


The responsibility to organize together as consumers to develop our strength and influence, so that we can better promote and protect our interests.

Inspection of Imported Foods in Korea

Inspection Report of 1998

Food imports into Korea are expected to increase rapidly in terms of their range and volume, as the economy grows and as the Korean domestic market is opened to foreign business. Even now, a large number of foods and raw or processed materials are imported from both developed and developing countries. With these, come various risk factors. All imported foods are inspected by six Regional Food and Drug Administrations, and thirteen National Quarantine Offices.

The annual number of inspections of food products ranges from about 95,000 to 116,000 per year. A total of 68,550 inspections were carried out in 1998 ( Fig. 1(1041)).

The inspections were carried out by means of a document test, sensory tests, laboratory tests or random sampling tests. Most inspections in 1998 were conducted by a document test (83%) or by laboratory tests (14%) ( Fig. 2(1051)).

Seventeen percent of inspections were carried out on agricultural produce, and 47% on processed foods ( Fig. 3(1263)). Most violations were found in processed foods ( Table 1(1074)). The percentage of violations compared to the total number of inspections was 0.45%. Violations in processed foods consisted of contamination by microorganisms, especially food pathogens; lack of data about chemical composition; illegal use of food additives, preservatives and artificial colorings; and deterioration from various causes ( Table 2(1053)).

Inspection Procedures

The inspection procedures for foods, food additives, food manufacturing apparatus, and containers and packaging for food, are as follows.

Application for Food Safety Inspection

Since imported foods are regulated by the Food Sanitation Act in exactly the same way as domestic foods, the importer must make an application for a safety inspection by one of the six regional Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA), which are under the national KFDA. Under a new system introduced in August 1995, an application can now be made five days before the arrival of the shipment.

Criteria and Types of Inspection

Confirmation of safety

  • Residue test for pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals etc.
  • Confirmation that no dangerous levels or types of micro-organism are present,
  • Test for toxic substances such as aflatoxins,
  • Perishability test.
Confirmation of standards and spe-cifications
  • Confirmation that the product meets the standards of the Korean Food Code
  • Confirmation that any additives are in compliance with the Korean Food Additives Code
Provision of consumer information
  • Examination of the label and the information provided in Korean (nine items, including main ingredients), to confirm that the information provided meets the requirements of consumers.
Ensuring the soundness of food
  • Protection of sound dietary habits by eliminating unsuitable foods.

Procedures after Rejection of Food

Food that has not passed the KFDA inspection is destroyed, except in the following cases:

  • The rejected food is to be returned to the exporting country, or converted to other non-edible uses;
  • If the sanitation hazard can be eliminated by processing, heating or selection after customs clearance.

Improvement of the Imported Food Product Inspection System

An expedited clearance system for fresh fruits and vegetables came into effect in Korea in April 1995. As a result, certificates that inspection has been completed are now being issued within one or two days after filing the declaration, once the documentation has been examined and the organoleptic testing completed (laboratory tests are completed within five days).

After this system came into operation, the test results of both domestic institutions and those of the exporting country which are officially recognized by the Korean Government are now accepted, and the product can be exempted from new laboratory tests.

As a result, the Korean government is reducing the number of laboratory tests being carried out on food imports. It also introduced a random sampling scheme in December 1996. The new system for sampling imported foods is based on two classes, "compliance" and "surveillance". The criteria defining these two groups are as follows:

Compliance Sampling Groups

The following products are subject to mandatory laboratory testing:

  • New-to-market products;
  • Products with a record of violations;
  • Products about which information has been received of sanitary risks; and
  • Products classified as health supplements or ginseng products, for which laboratory testing is compulsory.

Surveillance Sample Groups

The following products are subject to random sampling for laboratory testing:

  • The same products from the same producer have already passed previous laboratory tests;
  • Raw materials which a manufacturer imports to make his own products.

The United States Food Safety System

The food safety system in the United States is based on strong, flexible, and science-based laws, and industry's legal responsibility to produce safe foods. Federal, state, and local authorities have complementary and interdependent food safety roles in regulating food and food processing facilities. The system is guided by the following principles:

  • Only safe and wholesome foods may be marketed;
  • Regulatory decision-making in food safety is based on scientific evidence;
  • The government has the responsibility to enforce food safety regulations;
  • Manufacturers, distributors, and imported are all expected to comply, and are liable if they do not; and
  • The regulatory process is transparent and accessible to the public.

Six agencies in the federal government have a major responsibility for food safety. Two of these are under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The remaining four agencies are under the Department of Agriculture (USDA)—the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES); and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In his radio address of January 25, 1997, former President Clinton announced that he would request $43.2 million in his 1998 budget to fund a nationwide early-warning system for foodborne illness, and that he would also increase safety inspections for seafood, and expand food-safety research, training, and education. The former President also directed three Cabinet members—the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency—to identify specific steps to improve the safety of the food supply. He directed them to consult with consumers, producers and industry, the scientific community and state governments, and report back to him in 90 days. A national food safety report was prepared in response to the President's request. It outlines a comprehensive new initiative to improve the safety of the nation's food supply.

The U.S. food safety system carries out surveillance, coordinates the various food-producing and food-consuming groups, and carries out risk assessment, research, inspection, and education.

Future Needs

The following improvements would greatly enhance food safety in the United States.

Enhanced Surveillance, and Development of an Early-Warning System

An early-warning system is needed to detect and respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness earlier, and to provide the data needed to prevent future outbreaks.

Enhance Surveillance

The U.S. Administration has expanded FoodNet active surveillance sentinel sites. Staff at these sentinel sites actively look for foodborne diseases. CDC has also increased surveillance activities for certain specific diseases. For example, CDC has begun a case-control study of hepatitis A to determine the proportion of cases due to food contamination, while FDA has strengthened surveillance for Vibrio in Gulf Coast oysters, and CDC for Vibrio in people.

Updating Equipment

FoodNet sites and other state health departments are being equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including DNA fingerprinting, to identify the source of infectious agents. They are also being staffed with additional epidemiologists and food-safety scientists, to trace outbreaks to their source.

Electronic Network for Fingerprints

CDC is creating a national electronic network for rapid fingerprint comparison. Sentinel sites and other state health departments are being equipped with DNA fingerprinting technology. This will link states together to allow the rapid sharing of information. They will then be able to determine quickly whether outbreaks in different states have a common source.


The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) is the principal foodborne disease component of CDC's Emerging Infections Program (EIP). FoodNet is a collaborative project of the CDC, nine EIP sites, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The project consists of active surveillance for foodborne diseases, and related epidemiological studies designed to help public health officials better understand the epidemiology of foodborne diseases in the United States.

Foodborne diseases include infections caused by bacteria such as Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Vibrio, and parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora. FoodNet surveillance began in five locations in 1995, and has expanded each year since then. The total population of the current catchment is 25.4 million persons, or 10% of the United States population.

FoodNet provides a network for responding to new and emerging foodborne diseases of national importance, monitoring the burden of foodborne diseases, and identifying the sources of specific foodborne diseases.

The goals of FoodNet are to describe the epidemiology of new and emerging bacterial, parasitic, and viral foodborne pathogens. It also estimates the frequency and severity of foodborne diseases that occur in the United States each year, and determines how many of these result from eating specific foods such as meat or eggs.

Other Measures

Other measures include improving the response to foodborne outbreaks, particularly those that involve several states. The infrastructure for surveillance and coordination in state health departments is also being strengthened.

Improving Risk Analysis

Food contains natural chemicals from the original plant or animal. It may also come in contact with many natural and artificial substances during production and preparation. All of these potentially harmful substances in food are called "hazards". Potential food hazards include microorganisms, naturally present chemicals, chemicals produced by cooking, environmental contaminants, additives, and pesticides. The chance of being harmed by these hazards is called the "risk". In making food safety decisions, we must weigh the food benefits against the level of risk of the food hazard.

Science and risk analysis are fundamental to U.S. food safety policy making. In recent years, the federal government has focused on risks associated with microbial pathogens, and on reducing those risks through a comprehensive, farm-to-table approach to food safety. This approach was based on the premise that the risks associated with microbial pathogens are unacceptable and, to a large extent, avoidable.

Scientists and food safety experts may rank the risk levels of potential food hazards from high to low (see Fig. 5(1279)). Any of these substances could be either a low-risk or high-risk, depending on the circumstances. For example, pesticides are generally consumed in such small amounts on food that they are a low risk, as indicated in the chart. However, they may be a high risk if the grower has not applied them properly, or has applied them too near the harvest date.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assesses the risks of pesticides and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assesses those of food additives. They regulate the use of these substances based upon this risk assessment. Neither agency will approve the use of a substance which is a potential food hazard if the risk is high. If the risk is low, they approve its use, and specify how and in what quantities it should be used.

Risk analysis consists of risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication, all three of which are interdependent.

Risk Assessment

Scientists estimate the amount of risk in any potential food hazard. This is called risk assessment. They consider the following factors:

  • Whether or not the substance will cause adverse reactions in the body;
  • The amount of the substance normally eaten;
  • Whether the length of exposure is infrequent or lifelong;
  • How severe the resulting harm or illness would be; and
  • Whether or not age, previous illness, or genetics will cause greater sensitivity to a hazard;

The risk assessment consists of three components: hazard identification, hazard characterization, exposure assessment.

Hazard Identification

This first component of risk assessment requires a decision on how much effort should be expended to identify hazards. In the United States, this is based on law as well as experience. New food ingredients or pesticides require a prescribed effort to uncover any hazards before they are introduced into the food supply. For products already on the market, hazards may be identified by experience, as illnesses and other harm occurs.

Hazard characterization

This considers data regarding the potential hazard at different exposure levels and modes, including which data are most relevant for characterizing the hazard. Human data are always the most relevant, and important. However, human beings cannot be used for testing, and data from animal testing, especially of the most sensitive species, is generally used to characterize the risk.

Exposure assessment

Exposure assessment must differentiate between short-term exposure to acute hazards, and long-term exposure to chronic hazards. For acute hazards such as pathogens, data on levels of pathogens causing illness in vulnerable population groups are important. For chronic hazards, such as chemicals that may cause cumulative damage, the average exposure over a whole life-time is relevant.

Risk Management

Risk management is exercised by regulatory authorities with the objective of providing high levels of protection to consumer. Risk management principles are set by law or by the risk manager's expert judgment to reduce risk to the lowest practical, or achievable, level. As an example of risk management, every year the food agencies work together to develop a comprehensive sampling plan to detect drug and chemical residues in food. Information about samples which have residue levels above the permitted maximum is used as the basis for setting future standards, and for enforcement.

Risk Communication

When there is a need for emergency risk communication, alerts are conveyed through the media so that all citizens are made aware of the risk. On a global scale, there are information sharing mechanisms by which international organizations (WHO, FAO, and the World Trade Organization), regions and individual countries are informed at once when unexpected risks suddenly emerge.

Future Developments

Today, many pathogens in food or animal feed cannot be identified. Others have developed resistance to traditional methods of keeping food free of pathogens, such as heat and refrigeration.

Important research topics include developing rapid, cost-effective tests for the presence in foods of pathogens such as Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, E. coli O157:H7, and hepatitis A virus in a variety of foods, especially foods already associated with foodborne illness. We also need to enhance our understanding of how pathogens become resistant to food-preservation techniques and antibiotics.

New technologies are needed to avoid and control pathogens, such as new methods of decontaminating meat, poultry, seafood, fresh produce and eggs.

We also need to improve inspections and compliance. New preventive measures are needed to cover fresh fruit and vegetable juices, egg products, and to prevent hepatitis A virus in frozen strawberries and E. coli O157:H7 on lettuce.

Finally, there needs to be improved coverage of imported foods, by developing agreements with trading partners, and providing technical assistance to the countries which are the origin of products implicated in a foodborne illness.

Education in Food Safety

Foodborne illnesses remain prevalent throughout the United States. In part, this is because the people handling food at each point of the food chain are not fully informed of the risks and how to avoid them. Proper food-safety techniques, such as washing hands thoroughly and cooking foods to proper temperatures, would significantly reduce foodborne illness.

Funding has been provided to establish a public-private partnership for food-safety education. Government agencies are working with the food industry and consumer groups to launch a food-safety public awareness and education campaign. Special education efforts are being directed at professionals and high-risk groups. Doctors are being taught to diagnose and treat foodborne illness. Efforts to educate farmers and veterinarians about proper animal drug use are being strengthened. Workers in food retail retail and food processing are being taught safe handling practices, while high-risk groups are being in formed about how to avoid foodborne illness. For example, people with liver disease are told about illness that may be caused by consuming raw oysters containing Vibrio vulnificus.

Food Safety Management System of Nacf, Korea

The National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF) and its member cooperatives were established in Korea in 1961, for the purpose of raising the social and economic status of member farmers and achieving the balanced development of Korea's economy. NACF plays an important role in supporting the marketing, distribution and processing of agricultural produce.

Four agencies in the NACF have responsibility for food safety: the Distribution Management Team of the Fruit and Flower Department (DMT/FFD), the Food Research Institute (FRI), the Agricultural Wholesale Marketing Center, and the Food Processing Factories of Agricultural Cooperatives (FPFAC). DMT/FFD produces the strategic plan for improving the food safety system of NACF. FRI is responsible for quality control, and the development of new processed foods. FRI supplies the reagents for the Rapid Bioassay for Pesticide Residue (RBPR) to about 200 testing centers run by agricultural cooperatives and wholesale markets. FRI also tests processed foods for pathogens over the summer months to prevent food poisoning. The NACF Marketing Center runs both wholesale and retail markets, and has a laboratory which analyses fruit and fresh vegetable samples to detect any pesticide residues, using RBPR. It also tests for food pathogens, using rapid microbial contamination test kits. FPFAC has primary responsibility for food safety in processed foods, and has its own quality control laboratories.


  • CDC. 2000. What is FoodNet?
  • Consumers International. 2000. What is World Consumer Rights Day?
  • FDA and USDA. 2000. A Description of the U.S. Food Safety System.
  • FDA, USDA, EPA and CDC. 1997. Food Safety from Farm to Table: A National Food Safety Initiative.
  • KFDA. 2000. Inspection Guidelines for Imported Foods etc.
  • KFDA. 2000. Inspection Report of Imported Foods.
  • Ministry of Health Welfare. 2000. Safety Assurance of Imported Food.
  • William Schafer. 1998. Food: How Safe is Safe?

Index of Images


Figure 1 No. of Imported Products Inspected

Figure 1 No. of Imported Products Inspected

Figure 2 Methods of Inspection Used in Korea in 1998

Figure 2 Methods of Inspection Used in Korea in 1998

Figure 3 Types of Imported Products Inspected

Figure 3 Types of Imported Products Inspected

Figure 4 Food Safety System of the United States

Figure 4 Food Safety System of the United States

Table 1 Inspection Results, 1998

Table 1 Inspection Results, 1998

Figure 5 Examples of Potential Food Hazards

Figure 5 Examples of Potential Food Hazards

Figure 6 The Food Safety System of Nacf

Figure 6 The Food Safety System of Nacf

Table 2 Violations Related to Imported Processed Foods in 1998

Table 2 Violations Related to Imported Processed Foods in 1998

Download the PDF. of this document(636), 427,761 bytes (418 KB). (636)