With all the “Breaking News” headlines we receive related to food safety matters, it is easy to get troubled on the domestic front, or for any of us that travel abroad. The weekly saturation of emails and notices I read on this topic reveal disturbing facts that would turn even the most iron-clad of stomachs sour.
An anxious type of individual could think these food outbreaks and recalls indicate that our food safety agencies, despite best efforts, are up against a much bigger monster than they care to admit.
From recalls due to hygiene failings, E. coli outbreaks, salmonella cases, and Listeria contamination, it’s easy to understand why the U.S. Government is implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Some may argue that there is no need to become alarmed. Gordon Hayburn, Director of Food Safety at Trophy Foods, recently responded to Food Safety News' question for an article. The question: Are Consumers in North America Right to Worry about Food Scares Similar to the Recent Ones in China?
Hayburn offered his personal opinion: “It is unfortunate. Humans are the only species I have ever seen that will at times willfully contaminate their own food supply. But if you consider the fact that in North America there are nearly 300 million people, then in theory, close to 1 billion meals are consumed on a daily basis. So, if you take that into account, there are really not that many incidents where food is contaminated. Furthermore, while I cannot speak on behalf of developing countries, I really do believe that the vast majority of food safety employees are doing their best to uphold food safety standards.”
Unfortunate, indeed. Food safety plans (analogous to the same rules and guidelines used by FAA and OSHA) are implemented mainly to prevent contamination and health hazards from happening. There are standards and protocols that are sometimes dismissed during the cold chain process. Corners get cut. Time gets crunched. People get apathetic.
It’s within everyone’s best interest to cross all their T’s when handling food. Being overly cautious in health and safety is better than taking the lackadaisical approach, especially when the FDA gets serious with the FSMA.
According to Food Sentry, a global food source monitoring company, the U.S. was one of the top 10 countries with the most food safety violations in 2013. These violations were associated with raw or minimally-processed foods, such as: seafood, grains, vegetables, dairy, fruit, nuts, and seeds. More than 1/3 of these contaminations are a result of “excessive or illegal pesticide” use. The next cause of food safety issues were pathogen contamination and excessive filth.
Food Sentry reported concerning data, which is that: “No Country inspects more than 50 percent of food that it imports, and most of them inspect much less than that. The U.S. inspects fewer than 2 percent of its imported food.”
Just in the last two months, national headlines in food adulteration cases included recalls for possible Listeria monocytogenes here in the U.S; and in Canada, which had a cluster of E. Coli cases associated with bean sprouts; and within a large processing plant in China, which supplied rotten meat to major brands including McDonalds and KFC.
The FDA has cited at least 20 recalls in the months of July and August, which might easily give cause to panic. The intent with FSMA’s ruling is prevention, and also to become progressive in the fight against food adulteration on a global scale. But, this agency does realize its limitations.
It is important to note that while FDA is not able to physically inspect a large percentage of food entries, all import entries are electronically screened using an automated system, which helps field inspectors determine which products pose the greatest risk and, therefore, should be physically examined.FDA, in a 2013 report to Congress
With our vast markets, exchanges, imports, exports, and consumerism around the world, the risk of food becoming contaminated is very possible, however, isolated. But food handlers need to place more urgency on these matters at home and abroad. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back for only contaminating a minuscule portion of the foods we ingest. There are options and methods we can all adhere to, to make sure our food is safe.
Commit to Food Safety
DeltaTrak, Inc. is a cold chain solutions company which offers temperature monitoring and control instruments that help to ensure food safety and quality at each critical control point within a client’s HACCP program.
NSF, an independent, accredited organization which tests, audits, and certifies products and systems is also providing regulatory training to industry professionals wishing to learn more about Food Safety and FSMA. Training courses are scheduled throughout the United States.
Another useful link is www.FoodSafety.gov. Visit this website for tips and latest news pieces about food issues, recalls, and safety.
All in all, the food industry should stay on its toes by requiring unfaltering safety standards to all involved in temperature-sensitive commodities. These safety protocols should be kept as iron-clad as we hope our stomachs would be if we ever were to fall victim to a food safety mishap because of short cuts, missteps, or carelessness during the cold chain process.