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Providing safe food is a shared responsibility: report

A U.S. report says food safety problems – and opportunities – can arise at any stage from production to consumption


Between the farm and the dinner table, there are many opportunities for disease-causing organisms and other food-safety hazards to enter our food supply, says the American Academy of Microbiology in its newly released report.

Global Food Safety: Keeping Food Safe from Farm to Table is based on the Academy’s 2009 colloquium on the current state of affairs in microbiological food safety around the world.

Colloquium participants with expertise in microbiology, public health, food science, and economics discussed these issues and made several recommendations for improving the safety of global food supplies.

The report outlines the difficulty in accurately recognizing and reporting foodborne illness. (For instance, unless consumers are sick enough to require a visit to their doctor or hospital, it’s unlikely that the source and identity of the pathogen will be determined. In fact, only if a single product sickens many people are breaches in food safety likely to be detected.)

It also covers food safety vulnerabilities that might be addressed through investments in new or more effective education.

And it also identifies the opportunities for improving food safety at each step of the production and consumption process and other areas where further research could help identify and quantify risks and generate solutions.

Many links, challenges

The report says a product on a grocery shelf or a restaurant plate may contain ingredients from many countries – each of which may have passed through different processing facilities, and may have been handled by wholesalers, retailers, and multiple transportation companies before finally reaching the consumer.

And no single regulatory agency is responsible for monitoring this process.

Instead, responsibility is fragmented among multiple state and federal agencies, and, increasingly, shared with foreign governments and international organizations.

Therefore, the single most important challenge in food safety may be finding a way to put in place a systems approach for managing food safety, says the report.

By taking a systems approach, where each stage of food production is treated as part of a larger system of inputs, outputs, and processes, foods could be more readily tracked from their source at the farm all the way through processing and distribution.

The report says this would greatly facilitate identifying and managing potential contamination and tracking the sources of foodborne illnesses when they emerge.