Food Safety First
Making food safe in the first place is a major effort, involving the farm and fishery, the production plant or factory, and many other points from the farm to the table. Many different groups in public health, industry, regulatory agencies, and academia have roles to play in making the food supply less contaminated. Consumers can promote general food safety with their dollars, by purchasing foods that have been processed for safety.
- For example, milk pasteurization was a major advance in food safety that was developed 100 years ago. Buying pasteurized milk rather than raw unpasteurized milk still prevents an enormous number of foodborne diseases every day.
- Now juice pasteurization is a recent important step forward that prevents E coli O157:H7 infections and many other diseases. Consumers can look for and buy pasteurized fruit juices and ciders.
- In the future, meat and other foods will be available that has been treated for safety with irradiation. These new technologies are likely to be as important a step forward as the pasteurization of milk.
Foodborne diseases are largely preventable, though there is no simple 1-step prevention measure like a vaccine. Instead, measures are needed to prevent or limit contamination all the way from the farm to the table.
- A variety of good agricultural and manufacturing practices can reduce the spread of microbes among animals and prevent the contamination of foods.
- Careful review of the whole food production process can identify the principal hazards, and the control points where contamination can be prevented, limited, or eliminated.
- A formal method for evaluating the control of risk in foods exists is called the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. This was first developed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to make sure that the food eaten by astronauts was safe. HACCP safety principles are now being applied to an increasing spectrum of foods, including meat, poultry, and seafood.
Definitive Microbe-Killing Step
For some particularly risky foods, even the most careful hygiene and sanitation are insufficient to prevent contamination, and a definitive microbe-killing step must be included in the process.
- For example, early in the century, large botulism outbreaks occurred when canned foods were cooked insufficiently to kill the botulism spores. After research was done to find out exactly how much heat was needed to kill the spores, the canning industry and the government regulators went to great lengths to be sure every can was sufficiently cooked. As a result, botulism related to commercial canned foods has disappeared in this country.
- Similarly the introduction of careful pasteurization of milk eliminated a large number of milk-borne diseases. This occurred after sanitation in dairies had already reached a high level.
- In the future, other foods can be made much safer by new pasteurizing technologies, such as in-shell pasteurization of eggs, and irradiation of ground beef. Just as with milk, these new technologies should be implemented in addition to good sanitation, not as a replacement for it.
In the end, it is up to the consumer to demand a safe food supply; up to industry to produce it; up to researchers to develop better ways of doing so; and up to government to see that it happens, to make sure it works and to identify problems still in need of solutions.
Learn more about what you can do to prevent foodborne illness.