Eating Well bonus question: how best to improve food safety
Posted: August 28th, 2009 - 8:50am by Doug Powell
What is the single most important thing that can be done (by food growers, producers, government, consumers – any, or all of the above) to improve food safety in the United States? (bios in previous post)
Tsai: It’s tried and true for a reason: wash your hands. And, in any language, say the ABC’s twice while you’re doing it. Also, when you leave a bathroom, use a paper towel to turn the handle, and use your foot to keep the door open while you throw the towel away.
Marler: Prepare food, from farm to fork, like you were preparing it for your 4-year-old child. Do it safely.
Kender: Education! There are numerous websites (even YouTube) and informational brochures, such as Fight Bac, that are specific on the topic of food safety. Clueing in the average consumer may be as simple as teaming up with your local grocer to display a series of food safety messages on the flat-screen televisions at the prepared foods and deli counters.
Vergili: Shorten the food chain. The foodborne outbreaks of recent years—when you consider the large number of victims and their wide geographical distribution—point toward buying local as a possible solution. In the case of the 2006 outbreak of E.coli in spinach, the source of the contamination was a centralized packer of leafy vegetables located in California that packages up to 80 percent of all spinach and lettuce mixes. The 2009 Salmonella outbreak that hospitalized 116 people in 46 states was the result of contamination from a single supplier of peanuts. This is not to suggest that there would be no problems if we bought local, but that they would be limited in scope.
Donnelly: We can revamp regulations and production practices in the meat and poultry industry. The numerous recent recalls and outbreaks prove that as our farms grow larger their operation becomes more unsafe. The dangers posed by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, agricultural facilities that house and feed a large number of animals in a confined area, or CAFOs, are many: animals in these operations harbor antibiotic-resistant pathogens, and runoff from these facilities has been implicated as a source of contamination in produce outbreaks. With regard to the environment, we have yet to define regulations which look at CAFOs’ handling of waste and runoff, and the long-term environmental impact when the “farms” cease to operate.
Rosenbaum: You cannot improve food safety in the United States without knowing exactly what is making people sick. Only 4 to 6 percent of those who fall ill from foodborne pathogens find out what caused their illness. The government must ramp up funding on a national and state level to improve the surveillance and diagnosis of foodborne illnesses. And consumers—when they suspect foodborne illness—need to seek medical care and demand answers and lab culture tests.
Nestle: We don’t have a food safety system in this country, so step one would be to create one. Combining the current food safety features of the USDA and the FDA, this food agency would oversee the production of all foods with science-based food safety procedures. This would include, most notably, pathogen reduction and HAACP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, a system that predicts possible problems in the flow of production and takes steps to prevent them from occurring).
Donnelly: We need to hold all producers and manufacturers to Safe Quality Foods (SQF) certification standards. SQF certification is an HAACP-based (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) system that manages food-safety risk instead of reacting to it, essentially foreseeing and taking steps to prevent future problems.
Powell: Be the bug. Think about where dangerous bugs originate and how best to control them, whether it's dangerous E. coli in a spinach field, Salmonella carried by birds or rodents that contaminate peanuts after they've been roasted, or the pathogens on hands that can be transferred to fresh foods at a restaurant.