Translating science into food safety policy and practice
In the News
In the Spotlight
By: Nadira Yasmin
A question often posed to students and professionals on the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention (CFI) team is: What is food safety? Although the answer may be vast, one thing is for sure, there is a significance to food safety and why it is studied. Food safety is the scientific method used to reduce and eliminate foodborne illness and injury. Food safety is comprised of several practices, such as proper food production, transportation, storage, and preparation. These practices preserve food quality in order to prevent contamination and reduce foodborne illness (Oyarzabal & VanRenterghem, 2021). Through research, food safety allows for the identification of the burden of disease from foodborne illnesses, which then drives the allocation of resources for the further study and enhancement of safety measures within the food industry.
Food safety can also be viewed as a system. The goal of this system is the reduction or elimination of germs/pathogens in foods that can cause illness. Furthermore, when implemented properly through education and awareness, food safety can influence people’s behavior on food preparation, storage, and management practices. Behavioral science and surveillance are two proactive approaches to monitoring food safety. These approaches allow for continuous improvements in food safety, growing knowledge on foodborne disease outbreaks, and greater prevention methods.
Many times, consumers confuse food safety with food poisoning. Food safety, however, involves the practices that help prevent foodborne illness and make food safe for consumption. Food safety does not guarantee zero risk, but by implementing the right methodologies, there can be minimal risk to the consumer. Organic food is often mistaken for clean food. When in fact, to make the “organic” claim or use the USDA organic seal, the food must adhere to strict production, handling, and labeling procedures, go through the organic certification process, and must be grown without the use of growth regulators, food additives, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, or bioengineered genes (GMOs). Clean food, on the other hand, is food that is free of preservatives and has clean labeling. According to the Institute for Food Technologists, a clean label consists of making a product using as few ingredients as possible and ensuring that those ingredients are recognized and regarded as “wholesome” by the consumers (Velissariou, 2018).
Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing foodborne illness by the simple act of proper handwashing before handling food (Food safety and Inspection Service, n.d.). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have created “Four Steps to Food Safety.” The steps consist of: (1) Clean: washing hands and surfaces often; (2) Separate: avoiding cross-contamination of food, especially meat; (3) Cook: cooking the food to its optimal temperature for consumption; and (4) Chill: refrigerating promptly, especially perishable foods (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020).
Like other industries, tradeoffs exist within food safety also. For example, if there is a change made from using fertilizer to manure in the agricultural production sector, the improper handling of the manure can still lead to disease. There is also a cultural aspect to food safety, where a wide array of acceptable methods exist due to the variation of how food is prepared and consumed all around the world. CFI has made significant advancements and reforms within the food safety industry and is working tirelessly toward the elimination of foodborne illnesses altogether. With knowing the importance of food safety now, What does food safety mean to you?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 14). Four steps to food safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html.
Food safety and Inspection Service. Food Safety | Food Safety and Inspection Service. (n.d.). https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety.
Oyarzabal, O. A., & VanRenterghem, B. B. (2021, February 22). The meaning of food safety. Food Safety RSS. https://www.food-safety.com/articles/6545-the-meaning-of-food-safety.
Velissariou, M. (2018, November 12). What is Clean Label? IFT.org. http://blog.ift.org/what-is-clean-label.