By Sarah Clarahan, former student, Iowa State University.
Created February 2010 and reviewed November 2012.
Food safety is a worldwide issue affecting hundreds of millions of people who suffer from diseases caused by contaminated food. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it "one of the most widespread health problems and an important cause of reduced economic productivity." According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, about one in six Americans, or 48 million people, gets sick each year from a foodborne illiness. The CDC estimates another 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from a foodborne illness each year.
Safety measures and risk indicators are regulated by many different government agencies: the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), which regulates meat and poultry; the United States Department of Commerce, which regulates voluntary waterfoods inspection; and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates all other categories of foodstuffs.
Food safety is a continued concern for many Americans. There are several things that consumers can do to ensure their food is safe. Basic practices such as washing hands before and after handling food, having a clean work space and making sure food is stored at the correct temperature will help prevent illness and keep food safe. Several government programs have been implemented over the past couple of years to help ensure that the products consumers buy from the grocery store are clean and properly handled. For example, the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program, implemented in March 2009, requires labeling on all meat, vegetables and some nuts as to their origin. Requiring product origin labels not only informs customers about where their food is coming from but also provides traceability. In the event of a recall, having products labeled will make the recall process easier and facilitate quicker notification of consumers.
The processing of meat or fresh produce are prime opportunities for contamination if proper handling techniques are not used. The best way to prevent contamination is to make sure that the work area is clean and limit the contact the food may have with other substances, such as water. Proper canning and freezing techniques should be followed to confirm that the products will fulfill the expected shelf life.
One emerging issue in the livestock industry is the growing demand for locally raised meat, yet there are not enough USDA-inspected processing facilities in close proximity. Only USDA-inspected facilities are able to sell small-scale cuts, such as steaks. A recent solution to the problem is the idea of mobile processing units; these are large refrigerated trailers that are fully equipped to slaughter large animals.
More information on food safety can be found in the links at right.
Photo courtesy of USDA FSIS.
Food Safety Resources
- American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) - Representing more than 1,300 small- and medium-sized meat, poultry and food businesses.
- Ask the Experts, FoodSafety.gov - Consumers who can't find the answer to a food safety question can ask the experts by going to this webpage and then e-mailing, calling or chatting online with them.
- Beef Safety Fact Sheets - The Beef Checkoff, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) - A resource for professionals, this file contains consumer safety tips, answers to commonly asked questions and descriptions of some common foodborne pathogens and their sources.
- Consumer Health & Safety - Health, safety, and recall information for children, families, patients, and seniors, as well as consumer related news stories.
- Consumer Trust in the Food Safety System, Center for Food Integrity, 2008.
- Dairy Beef Online Course, University of California, Davis - Tools for assessing and certifying on-farm quality assurance programs are provided. Registration and completion of four quizzes and course evaluation is required to receive a certificate of completion. The course is also packaged as a trainer's and participant's CD-ROM for individuals requesting in-residence training or without access to the Internet.
- Developing a Food Safety Plan for Your Fresh Produce Operation, Oklahoma State University.
- Enhancing food safety: The role of the Food and Drug Administration report brief, Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board and National Research Council, 2010 - This study recommends the U.S. FDA change its current "reactive" efforts to ensuring food safety to more proactive efforts focused on a risk-based approach.
- Ensuring a Safe Food Supply: A Concise Guide to the U.S. Food Regulatory System, International Food Information Council Foundation, 2009.
- Estimates of Foodborne Illiness in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- FDA Food Safety Modernization Act - This food safety legislation was signed into law in January 2011.
- Federal Food Safety System: A Primer, Congressional Research Service (CRS), 2011 - This primer provides an overview of the major federal agencies involved in monitoring the safety of the U.S. food supply.
- Federal Inspection Programs, Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), USDA.
- Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA - This calculator provides information on the assumptions behind foodborne illness cost estimates.
- Food and Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition and Health, 2010 - This survey takes an extensive look at what Americans are doing regarding their eating and health habits, and food safety practices.
- Food Business Almanac: Food safety is everyone’s business, Annette Dunlap, North Carolina Department of Ag and Consumer Services.
- Food Labeling Procedures, FSIS, USDA - This site includes procedures, policies, a listing of ingredients, packaging materials and other related links.
- Food Protection Plan, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2007 - Presented as an integrated strategy for protecting the nation's food supply, this FDA plan seeks to ensure the safety of domestic and imported food.
- Food Safety, ERS, USDA - This portal offers several documents and links related to food safety issues.
- Food Safety, International Food Information Council Foundation.
- Food Safety, Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Food Safety, National Ag Compliance Assistance Center, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Food Safety, National Agricultural Law Center, University of Arkansas, 2009.
- Food Safety and Security, Food Marketing Institute - FMI represents retail supermarkets and grocery wholesalers.
- FoodSafety.gov - This federal site, a combined effort of the CDC, U.S. FDA and USDA, offers consumers tips about proper methods of cleaning, handling, preparing and storing food, as well as information about product recalls.
- The Food Safety Consortium, University of Arkansas - This consortium was established to conduct extensive research into all areas of poultry, beef and pork meat production from the farm to consumer’s table. This site maintains food safety links to government agencies, academic institutions and industrial organizations.
- Food Safety Fact Sheets, FSIS, USDA - Information is available on basic food safety topics and on the safe preparation of meat, poultry, eggs and other products.
- Food Safety: Foodborne Illness and Selected Recalls of FDA-Regulated Foods, CRS, 2010 - This report describes several systems to monitor foodborne illnesses, discussing their strengths and the gaps that remain in understanding foodborne illness in the United States. The report describes three recent foodborne outbreaks that led to nationwide recalls of FDA-regulated foods: (1) Salmonella in peanut products, (2) melamine in pet foods and dairy products, and (3) E. coli in spinach.
- Food Safety: Improvements Needed in FDA Oversight of Fresh Produce, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), 2008 - This report says spending on fresh produce safety was at least $20 million in 2007, or approximately 3 percent of total FDA food safety spending in each year. The report makes seven recommendations to FDA, including that it update its good agricultural practices guidance, adopt preventive controls for high-risk foods and receive enhanced access to firm records during food-related emergencies.
- Food Safety Information Center, National Agricultural Library, USDA - This government portal provides links to educational and training, discussion groups and HACCP information.
- Food Safety Inspection Service, USDA - This public health agency is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome and accurately labeled.
- The Food Safety Modernization Act and the Produce Rule
- Food Safety on the Farm: Policy Brief and Recommendations, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, 2009 - This position paper addresses some of the current legislative food safety proposals that have been introduced in Congress. The paper focuses on fresh produce and microbial pathogens because they are at the center of current food safety debates.
- Food Safety Research Information Office, Food and Nutrition Information Center, National Ag Library, USDA.
- Fresh Produce Production Food Safety Plan Logs and Worksheets, Oklahoma State University.
- Good Agricultural Practices Network for Education and Training (GAPsNET), Cornell University.
- Handle with care, Rodale Institute, 2008 - Hands-on experience, on-line tools give fruit and vegetable growers new perspective on postharvest handling and food safety.
- Improving the Safety and Quality of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: A Training Manual for Trainers, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN), 2010 - This manual provides scientific and practical information for managers of production and handling operations, Extension staff and anyone else who conducts food safety training for fresh fruits and vegetables. The basic principles of fresh produce safety and related training practices are covered in the first seven sections, including the importance of training, GAP, GMP, pesticides, food quality, developing a training program, and food laws and regulations.
- Institute for Food Safety and Health - This applied food research institute based in Chicago provides stakeholders the opportunity to develop and exchange knowledge, experience and expertise to address key issues in food safety.
- The Interplay of Regulation and Marketing Incentives in Providing Food Safety, ERS, USDA, 2009 - The current level of food safety found in U.S. meat and poultry food products is a result of process and performance regulations and management-determined actions brought about by market incentives.
- Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN), University of Maryland - The institute, established by the U.S. FDA, the University of Maryland and later the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, is a multidisciplinary research and education program.
- Keeping America's Food Supply Safe Brief, Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of Florida, 2011 - This report lists the number of illnesses, costs and overall public health burden of specific microbes in particular types of food, such as Salmonella in poultry and Listeria in deli meat. This is the first comprehensive ranking of pathogen-food combinations computed for the United States.
- Key Points of Control and Management for Microbial Food Safety: Information for Growers, Packers, and Handlers of Horticultural Products, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California - Presents principles for prevention of contaminated fruits and vegetables in crop production, postharvest packing, transportation, fresh-cut and value-added processing and storage.
- Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory, FSIS, USDA - This directory lists establishments that produce meat, poultry, and/or egg products regulated by USDA's FSIS in accordance with the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act. One version of the directory is arranged alphabetically by establishment name and the other is arranged numerically by establishment number. Viewers can subscribe to automatic notifications of directory updates.
- Most U.S. Consumers are Only Somewhat or Slightly Concerned About the Safety of U.S. Food Supply, Reports NPD, PR Web, 2012.
- New Methods for Ensuring Food Safety, Agricultural Research Magazine, ERS, USDA, 2009.
- Ohio State University economist provides up-to-date cost of foodborne illness in U.S., Produce Safety Project, Georgetown University, 2010 - Acute foodborne illnesses cost the United States an estimated $152 billion per year in healthcare, workplace and other economic losses. This report says an estimated $39 billion are attributable to foodborne illnesses associated with fresh, canned and processed produce.
- On-farm Food Safety: Food Handling Guide, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, 2011 - This publication has an easy checklist for farmers to follow from pre-production to post-harvest packing and transportation to increase food product safety on the farm.
- On-Farm Food Safety Project - This comprehensive program offers technical assistance and resources for creating an on-farm plan.
- Preliminary 2009 FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food -- 10 States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010 - In 2009, a total of 17,468 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection were identified. Compared with the preceding 3 years (2006-2008), the reported incidence of Shigella and E. coli infections significantly decreased. The rate of infection was highest among children aged four years and under. The percentage of people hospitalized and the fatality rate were highest among people aged 50 years and older.
- The Pressure to Improve Food Safety, Market to Market, Iowa Public Television, 2008 - High-pressure processing could revolutionize food processing, making some foods safer and potentially greatly extending their shelf-life.
- Product Liability and Microbial Foodborne Illness, ERS, USDA, 2001 - This 45-page report examines how product liability law treats personal injuries attributed to microbially contaminated foods.
- Reportable Food Registry Annual Report, U.S. FDA, 2011 - Salmonella accounted for 37.6 percent of initial reports about food safety concerns for the period from September 2009 to September 2010, according to FDA's Reportable Food Registry Report. Second among pathogens on the list was listeria monocytogenes, which accounted for 14.4 percent of all hazards. Meanwhile, undeclared allergens/intolerances represented 34.9 percent of all reports
- Selected Countries' Systems Can Offer Insights into Ensuring Import Safety and Responding to Foodborne Illness, U.S. GAO, 2008.
- Top Food Safety Stories of 2011, Food Safety News, 2011.
- Top Ten Riskiest Foods Regulated by the FDA, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) - According to CSPI, leafy greens pose the biggest threat for a foodborne illness outbreak. The ten foods on the list accounted for 40 percent of all such outbreaks since 1990.
- 2010 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition and Health - This survey takes an extensive look at what Americans are doing regarding their eating and health habits, and food safety practices.
- U.S. Food Safety Policy Enters a New Era, Amber Waves, ERS, USDA, 2011 - In late 2010, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most comprehensive reforms to Federal food safety laws since 1938. The preventive approach embodied in the Act reflects an established scientific/managerial consensus on how to improve food safety systems.
- Fresh Produce Safety - North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension
- Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-Cut Fruits and Vegetables - Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2008- Final guidance contains nonbinding recommendations
- Produce Safety Action Plan - FDA, USDA
Links checked November 2012.