- A slew of foodborne illness-related product recalls in the past year have turned the heads of public health officials, who believe that shortcomings in the ways food is processed, manufactured, and packaged are leaving foods at risk of contamination by bacteria and pathogens, such as listeria, salmonella, and E coli.
- According to 2014 data from the CDC, the rate of major foodborne infections has seen little or no decreased since 2006. In fact, in 2014, multistate outbreaks continued to increase.
- However, beginning this year, provisions under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act soon to be implemented put the FDA in charge of preventing rather than only responding to food safety issues by implementing stricter production safety standards for food processors.
One culprit for the steady number or increase in outbreaks is the growth of demand for pre-packaged foods, such as pre-cut fruit and prepared sandwiches, which offer several opportunities for contamination between preparation and packaging. High-tech processing plants can also be a source of contamination, which could occur following the heating meant to destroy harmful bacteria and before packaging.
Another culprit in the increased rate of contamination is on the opposite end of the food preparation spectrum. "Conversely, natural or minimally processed foods, such as unpasteurized dairy products and raw seafood, also can harbor harmful bacteria. Infections from vibrio, bacteria that are found in seawater and transmitted through raw oysters and other undercooked seafood, were up 52% in 2014 compared with the 2006-2008 period, the CDC says," according to The Wall Street Journal.
Concerning for the food and beverage industry is the strengthening of some strains of pathogens, which are increasing their resistance to antibiotics. This has caused fierce debate among public health advocates and meat producers, and the White House responded with a five-year plan and hosted a summit to discuss antibiotics in the food supply. These concerns have also led to several meat companies, including Tyson Foods and Pilgrim's Pride, working to either remove or reduce antibiotics in their products.
Hope for food safety in the future will likely come in the form of specialized food safety technologies and developments that implement modern tools for identifying and treating pathogens before they lead to food contamination.