The research highlighted the absence of adequate guidance and the need for the processing sector to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to food safety as key.
It was released in advance of this week’s decision by the US Senate to proceed with the Food Safety Modernization Act which, if passed, would give regulators the authority to order product recalls, give it greater access to company records, and require all food companies to keep detailed food safety plans.
But while the AAM gives a frank appraisal of US processors, it fully acknowledges that the food chain is long and complex, with many opportunities for contamination between farm and fork.
“Food safety problems may arise at any stage from food production to consumption: on the farm, at the processing facility, at the retailer, or in the hands of consumers”, said the report Global Food Safety.
Flawed model: The research identifies one major goal of food processing as the killing, inhibiting, or removal of pathogens from foods. But it adds that some processing conditions can facilitate pathogen growth, so that pathogen levels in the processed product are higher than in the raw ingredients. Examination of both raw material inputs and equipment and procedures they use is critical to producing safe food.
However, the report outlines a series of systemic problems within the processing sector that present barriers to achieving this – particularly that industry too often only seeks to improve practices after crises.
“In recent years, we have seen erosion in research and development efforts at food companies and a reluctance to innovate or reform practices,” it said. “Moreover, ageing facilities and equipment those lack good sanitary designs are obstacles to processing food safely. Too often, low profit margins mean that innovation and repairs are only undertaken after major outbreaks of foodborne illness. Often, capital improvements are not made routinely and systematically, but only in response to emergencies.”
The study characterises this as a “flawed model” from a public health perspective, instead urging that processing facilities “be repaired and upgraded on a continuous basis to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness”.
Source: American Academy of Microbiology