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Keeping Food Safe: Prevention Better Than Response

Keeping Food Safe: Prevention Better Than Response

24 October 2014

US - Each year in the United States, about 42,000 cases of salmonella infection are reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because many cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections is estimated to be close to 1 million.

Salmonella infection is a common foodborne illness that can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection and can last four to seven days.

In the last decade, people might recall salmonella outbreaks linked to a variety of foods, from peanut butter to cantaloupe to alfalfa sprouts.

“We know that foodborne illness can happen to people,” said Londa Nwadike, consumer food safety specialist for K-State Research and Extension and the University of Missouri Extension.

“It is a problem, particularly in young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people who are sick and have weaker immune systems.”

Nwadike said many of the foods that can carry salmonella and other harmful bacteria are, in an uncontaminated state, healthy for people. Preventing contamination before the foods hit store shelves is key to making sure the foods remain healthy for consumers.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in 2011, focuses on preventing food safety problems, rather than responding to them. The act, developed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), includes seven proposed rules for those involved in food production to follow.

Nwadike said the FSMA is “the largest overhaul of the food safety regulatory system within the FDA in the past 70 years.”

“(The FDA) is trying to do more at the beginning of the food production chain to make sure contamination is going to be prevented along the way instead of just reacting to foodborne illness outbreaks,” she said.

“If we can help to prevent foodborne illness problems before they actually happen, it’s much better for everyone involved.”

The consumer obligation

Due to the focus on foodborne illness prevention, Nwadike said consumers could hear about more food recalls, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“If you hear that there’s a food recall happening, to some extent it means our food safety system is working,” she said. “It shows there are checks in place, and it shows that product is not going into our food supply.”

Additionally, food safety measures don’t stop at the retail level, as consumers also have food safety obligations once they bring foods home to prepare for themselves and their families, Nwadike said.

“The government sets regulations that affect the farmers, processors, retailers, restaurants, and so on,” she said.

“But, consumers still need to do their part in handling, transporting things safely, washing their hands and using a food thermometer. Hopefully everyone can work together to make sure we’re producing the safest, healthiest food possible.”

TheCropSite News Desk

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