Food-related illnesses are a significant public health concern. Each year 48 million people get sick from food borne diseases such as Salmonella, E. coli and Hepatitis A. Food-related illnesses range in their severity and incidence. In 2006, an E. Coli H7 outbreak caused three deaths, 199 illnesses, and 104 hospitalizations in 26 states. In 2008, a salmonella outbreak from peanuts caused nine deaths and 714 illnesses across 46 states. Just recently a May 2015 outbreak of Listeriosis spanned four states, resulting in 10 infected cases.
Distance from farm to plate leads to difficulty in tracking
While health codes and technology have improved over the years, our food is now handled in a much more massive, technological approach. Food travels long distances, coming from many different large corporate farms. Currently the average piece of food in America travels 1,500 miles to reach one’s plate1. As the distance grows between the source of the food and the consumer, it is much more difficult to trace back to a specific ingredient at the start of the chain. Another consequence of consuming mass-produced food, specifically for beef, is that even a seemingly simplified food such as a hamburger, is commonly amalgamated from dozens of sources1. Therefore when an outbreak occurs, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) must scramble to locate the source of the outbreak as quickly as possible in order to prevent future spreads.
Understanding the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
Policymakers, responding to food safety concerns from the public enacted The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in January 2011 by President Barack Obama. The law intends to switch the prioritization of food safety on prevention rather than response.
The new Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 focuses on amplifying preventive controls for food production in order to alleviate potential food contamination outbreaks. It requires that all food facilities (not just meat, poultry, seafood, and juice as in the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which oversaw past food safety regulations) identify and implement controls to minimize hazards, called hazard analysis and risk-based control plans (HARCP), much synonymous to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HAACP). These plans must be made available to the FDA during inspections and reevaluated every three years or whenever a significant change in food production has occurred. FSMA calls for increased mandatory inspections by FDA employees based on the Secretary’s assessment of each facility.
The FDA Secretary will list guidance protocols in creating safety standards for the food and beverage industries to follow stringently and make their information available to the FDA whenever an inspection is conducted. An effective scientific data management solution provides the means necessary for food and beverage industries to track safety information efficiently. Additionally a good data management solution offers quick access to these historical information repositories, speeding report generation by the food and beverage industry when relaying information to the FDA.
Contamination in our food supply
Food safety is an ever-present issue in the world and specifically the United States of America today. New developments in technology for production of food do not necessarily solve all the problems of food contamination. Bacteria and microbes are biological factors which can easily infiltrate into food and beverage processing equipment and food supply. Now that our food supply reaches a much wider audience at a much faster rate, it is much more difficult to trace food back to its original source of contamination and stop the future spread.
According to FSMA, food and beverage facilities must keep thorough documentation in order to achieve full compliance with safety guidelines. Currently the bill is being written and organized piece by piece, with final rules established and proposed rules currently open for comment. The food and beverage industry needs to keep an eye on newly cemented regulations to ensure full compliance with the law. Core Informatics plans to keep an eye on these new regulations as well to provide the best management system and tools for food and beverage facilities to comply the FSMA and provide safe, nutritious food to the public.
1Hewitt, B. (2011). Making Supper Safe. New York: Rodale.
Contributor Sara Velardi is a Ph.D. student in Environmental and Natural Resources Policy at State University of New York School of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). Her research interests focus on genetically modified organisms (GMO) and food safety policy.