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food safety challenges

New Challenges in the Fight For Food Safety

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that foodborne diseases cause an estimated 48 million illnesses each year in the United States. Despite advances in detection, regulation, monitoring and consumer education, that number is expected to rise due to a number of factors including the following:

Globalization

It’s not rare anymore to see a rainbow of fruits and vegetables in our local grocer’s produce bins. Once considered exotic, treats like star fruit, kiwis and dragon fruit are commonplace thanks to the ability of food companies to import treats from around the world. And it doesn’t end in the produce aisle. German sausages, Italian charcuterie, New Zealand lamb and more are readily available in almost any supermarket. But when all those intercontinental miles are added to the supply chain, the chances increase for a breakdown along the way that could result in a food safety issue.

Increasingly Complex Supply Chains

And not just longer ones, bringing in foods from around the world, but supply chains that must be kept within a certain temperature range, or a limited date/time group. Variances in temperature and time can put a whole shipment in danger of contamination.

Food Trends

such as the ubiquitous smoothie. Was that frozen kale washed thoroughly before it was tossed into the blender, or was it just assumed it was clean before it was packaged and frozen. Many believe frozen fruits and veggies are safe to be eaten without cooking but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Local and farm to table

Locally produced foods benefit from a “halo-effect” that leads us to believe foods produced within a few square miles of where it was consumed, has to be healthier. But just because it’s local, doesn’t make it safe. Locally produced meat and produce is subject to the same contamination as any food, but may not have as rigorous food safety protocols. And there is a trend among restaurants to have a little cottage garden to grow the freshest produce and herbs. But being a talented chef doesn’t necessarily make one a food safety expert.

Convenience foods

like ready-to-eat meals and bagged salads. Whether it’s lunch on the go, or throwing together a quick dinner for the family, convenience foods have rescued more than a few of us. But with the increased popularity and proliferation comes a greater chance of a foodborne illness raising its ugly head.

So what’s the bottom line? While food safety measures like high pressure processing (HPP) are becoming more commonly used by food producers to make food safer, there are still lots of risks to our food supply out there. Both producers and consumers need to be remain vigilant.