Auburn — The American food supply is the safest in the world thanks to industry and government efforts, says a food scientist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued new guidelines to enhance the food supply’s safety, in the wake of last autumn’s terrorist attacks. FDA is encouraging companies in all areas of food service to conduct criminal background checks of employees and to restrict access to sensitive areas, among other new guidelines.
Dr. Jean Weese, Extension food scientist, says many of the nation’s largest companies involved in food production and service already have in place many of the practices set forth in the voluntary guidelines.
“Food industries want to be proactive,” says Weese. “They have seen what happens to companies that don’t get things right the first time. They often don’t get a second chance.”
She notes that Jack in the Box, a national fast food chain, has never fully recovered from the aftermath of a deadly outbreak of E. coli at one of its stores.
“No food company wants to be labeled as the one who let terrorists get by,” says Weese.
“However, many of the recent guidelines issued by FDA are already in place at probably three-quarters of the largest food companies, ” she adds. “Many smaller companies have implemented some as well.”
“I think you will see companies of all sizes will implement as many of the guidelines as is feasible for their operations.”
For example, a small company that relies on municipal water may not regularly test its water as the new FDA guidelines suggest. They may instead rely on municipal testing to identify contaminants.
There has only been one known terrorist attack on food in this country. That occurred in the 1980s when an Oregon cult contaminated a salad bar with salmonella bacteria.
Experts say one vulnerable area is fresh produce because it is so often eaten raw and does not receive the same scrutiny as some food products, such as meat and poultry do.
Weese notes that the use of some common sense tips can help consumers reduce their risk of foodborne illness no matter the
First, she stresses that foods should be cooked at high enough temperatures to kill potential pathogens. For specific temperature information, contact your county Extension office or visit U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety Inspection Service on the Web
Wash and peel foods that are eaten raw.
Check food packages or cans to ensure they are intact before opening them. Weese notes that more and more foods are packaged with some type of tamper resistant material.
Do not purchase foods that are in damaged containers. Never eat food from a damaged or previously opened container.
Consumers should be alert for abnormal food odors or appearance.
Finally, Weese stresses consumers must be proactive themselves.
“If they have a serious suspicion about a food product, consumers must take the time to alert the appropriate government agency. In the case of meat or poultry, that would be USDA and the FDA for all other food products,” says Weese.
For additional information on safeguarding the American food supply, visit www.foodsafety.gov. FoodSafety.gov is a gateway Web site that provides links to selected government food safety-related information. This Web site is part of the National Food Safety Information Network. It is maintained by FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.