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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.
By: Ariel Garsow
Due to having virtual attendance options, from July 19-23, I was able to attend sessions from both the annual meeting for the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) as well as the Institute of Food Technologist’s (IFT) Food Improved by Research, Science & Technology (first) conferences. Some highlights include listening to Dr. Ertharin Cousin, a past Executive Director of the World Food Program and Ambassador to the UN agencies for FAO share how zero hunger is possible as well as learning about food ontology (a framework for naming conventions for food systems). I was not able to attend all of the sessions that I wanted to attend at these conferences. I am looking forward to watching sessions that I missed in the future.
During one of the sessions from IFT first, I was introduced to Food Science for Relief and Development (FSRD). FSRD utilizes knowledge of food science including the safe production of nutritious and culturally acceptable food from farm to fork as one of the tools to solve the wicked problem of ensuring food security for all. The publication of the Global Estimates for Foodborne Disease by the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference (FERG) Group demonstrated that food safety needs to be a global priority. The estimated burden of foodborne disease globally was similar to that of tuberculosis and malaria (Havelaar et al., 2015). The FSRD movement broadens the current efforts in the development community by showing that food science can be applied to increase food safety and food security.
Food scientists are trained in methods to produce safe, nutritious, food consistently from raw goods to finished products. They can be valuable members on collaborative teams to work to ensure different aspects of food security. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work in the intersection between food science, data analytics, and public health whether it be writing a literature review on food safety challenges in refugee camps to collaborating with an interdisciplinary team to estimate risk factors for mycotoxin exposure. It is inspiring to hear about FSRD and the work that is being done to teach food scientists about potential opportunities in the field as well as seeing how food scientists are partnering with others to work to ensure food security.
Havelaar, A. H., Kirk, M. D., Torgerson, P. R., Gibb, H. J., Hald, T., Lake, R. J., Praet, N., Bellinger, D. C., de Silva, N. R., Gargouri, N., Speybroeck, N., Cawthorne, A., Mathers, C., Stein, C., Angulo, F. J., Devleesschauwer, B., & on behalf of World Health Organization Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group. (2015). World Health Organization Global Estimates and Regional Comparisons of the Burden of Foodborne Disease in 2010. PLOS Medicine, 12(12), e1001923. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001923
Tzertzeveli, Stella. (2020). Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/ORC9DyZXG-I