Influence of Climate Change on Food Safety
By: Devin LaPolt
Climate change and food safety are two issues that affect all of us. We rely on our food to be nutritious and free from anything that could cause harm, such as pathogens. One factor that can influence food safety is climate change which causes long-term changes in weather patterns. As temperatures increase, pathogens like bacteria, fungi, and protozoa are more likely to cause contamination due to more favorable growth conditions, leading to illness. Increased frequency of heat waves will also affect food safety, as it will become more difficult to keep foods like meat and dairy cold throughout the transportation process as refrigerated trucks must be modified to account for increased length of travel, increased temperature, and increased microbial control measures (USDA, 2015). Food prices will also continue to increase as it becomes more difficult to protect food and prevent spoilage. Food protection involves reducing exposure to the sun, heat, contaminated water, and other sources of pathogens to prevent foodborne illness due to eating unsafe food.
What does this mean for us? As food safety becomes more challenging, there will be an increase in many negative health outcomes related to food consumption. Rates of undernutrition, which is insufficient consumption of food and other nutrients needed to maintain good health, will increase. Undernutrition is associated with climate change effects such as frequent, intense storm events, temperature changes, and flooding. Existing issues of undernutrition or malnutrition will be intensified. Water contamination will persist as a health concern and impact food and agricultural production since contaminated water can lead to contaminated fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products. This contamination of fruits and vegetables with continue to increase as chemicals are transported from industrial sites due to flooding and increased severe weather events. Another source of environmental contamination that increases risk to food safety is heavy metal uptake from soil. As temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, uptake of heavy metals into plants will increase (Whitworth, 2020). This poses threats to human health as toxic metals like lead can be ingested through the consumption of contaminated produce. Ultimately, the risk factors associated with climate change will continue to pose a significant health risk for people both locally and globally if action is not taken to mitigate risk.
As food and food-related products become more difficult to protect, there are a variety of actions that can be taken to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Some of these include raising awareness of safe food production, additional water quality monitoring, and implementation of new strategies to prevent contamination of food products with pathogens. This could include new monitoring techniques, new policies for agriculture, meat, poultry, and seafood production, or changes to irrigation systems to prevent contamination of agricultural fields.
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