News Release: Food Safety Goals Must Achieve More Than End-Product Probes

DATE: Tuesday, March 19, 2002



CHICAGO–The absence of pathogens in final-product testing does not ensure food free of virulent microorganisms, according to a new expert report on food safety issues, and as pathogen contamination decreases this form of testing becomes more deficient. So as today’s food safety continues to improve, more emphasis should be placed on monitoring processing capabilities and conditions through the application of science-based food systems, according to the report Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues released by the not-for-profit scientific society Institute of Food Technologists.

The report states that microbiological testing of finished food products and fresh fruits and vegetables can be misleading due to statistical limitations based on the amount of product sampled, the percentage of product contaminated, and the uniformity of the contamination distributed throughout the food. These negative results imply an absence of pathogens in foods, the report states, and can cause consumers to assume proper food selection and handling practices are unnecessary. Instead, the report urges everyone along the farm-to-table food chain to be responsible for an important role in food safety management.

“Current safety evaluations focus on microbes that may or may not be harmful to humans,” says Douglas L. Archer of the University of Florida, a contributing author of the report. “For example, some subtypes of Listeria monocytogenes found in or on food may not be associated with foodborne illness. Yet their mere detection can be grounds for legal action against the manufacturer and force recalls of food that is unlikely to cause illness in the general population.”

The IFT Expert Report supports a science-based approach called Food Safety Objectives that would place specific values on public health goals, with reassurances those values are reached at key points along the farm-to-table process. Those values would be flexible as hazards and public health goals change, science progresses, and unfettered data sharing improves, allowing for the quickest implementation of new safety improvements as they evolve, and a safer food supply.

The report urges intentional interaction of public health, regulatory, industrial and consumer agencies, calling the implementation of a flexible, science-based approach involving all these parties “as the best weapon against emerging microbiological food safety issues.”