News Release: Pervasive Pathogens Present Perpetual Food Safety Issues

DATE: Tuesday, February 26, 2002



CHICAGO–The vast, variable and ever-changing characteristics of food, technology and microorganisms make it unlikely the marketplace will ever be entirely free from risks of foodborne illness for all consumers. This according to the new expert report Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues: Implications for Control in the 21st Century published by the not-for-profit scientific society Institute of Food Technologists.

According to the report, current science providing the foundation for the safety of our food is not sufficient to protect everyone against all the emerging health issues associated with a diverse food supply. And with increasing populations of elderly consumers, individuals dependent upon immunosuppressant drugs, children and others, the likelihood of illness among susceptible groups is growing.

“Current technologies and production methods cannot provide a food supply that is completely free of pathogenic microorganisms,” according to Douglas L. Archer of the University of Florida, one of the report’s many contributing authors. “Fortunately, even small reductions in several factors can have a significant combined effect.”

The quest for control is not limited only to bacterial agents like E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. “Parasites, viruses and biotoxins all present food safety challenges,” according to co-author Lee-Ann Jaykus of North Carolina State University. “These pathogens have properties that make them quite different from the common bacterial agents of foodborne disease.”

The expert report notes that the ability to link food to human illness is improving, and stresses the need for increasing surveillance of foodborne diseases to help determine causes, improve controls and prevention. It states that increases in data-generation and -sharing in order to improve risk management systems would also prove beneficial at enhancing food safety.

The report also notes that greater attention to preventing cross-contamination and undercooking at home and at food service outlets may have a more positive impact on the public’s health than further reductions in the already small numbers of microorganisms occasionally present in the food supply could provide. Greater communication with consumers to improve food choices and handling practices will be essential for reductions in foodborne illness, according to the report.

Among its seven sections, the report addresses: procedures from farm to table to significantly reduce illness due to mishandling, processes to recognize and respond to outbreaks and to reduce their scope, recommendations necessary for reducing pathogenic influence at every step–from production to consumption–and guidance to enhance monitoring, data generation, and risk assessment.