Food safety challenges, regulatory issues, and developments in innovative technologies were among the intriguing topics addressed at IFT’s first International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo held in Orlando last November. With its focus on the retail sector and global perspective, the event—endorsed by the Asociación Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Ciencia y Tecnología de Alimentos—augments our Annual Meeting & Food Expo®.
Addressing food safety research opportunities for the third millennium, Michael Doyle of the University of Georgia suggested that to adequately address food safety challenges, we must develop and implement a well-conceived strategic approach to prioritizing microbial hazards. Such an approach would use quantitative hazard analysis to identify and prioritize the pathogens of principal public health concern, e.g., Campylobacter. A strategic approach also would define intervention strategies (critical control points) within the food continuum that have the greatest influence on safety. Doyle also described the importance of quantitative risk assessment and case control studies in a strategic approach.
James Hodges of the American Meat Institute Foundation touched on the current meat and poultry regulatory environment and what steps the industry is taking to address safety. Listing several milestones—from the declaration of Escherichia coli O157:H7 as an adulterant to the HACCP-based inspection models project—Hodges said we are in a new era of considering pathogens on raw products. Hodges noted that microbiological sampling is not the answer to ensuring food safety, which instead must be built into a product. Hodges described “food safety objectives (FSOs),” and how they fit within a food safety management scheme. A food safety objective is a statement of the maximum frequency and/or concentration of a microbial hazard in a food that is considered tolerable for consumer protection. Predicting that FSOs may be in our future, Hodges described how such an objective, e.g., less than or equal to 100 cfu/g of Listeria monocytogenes at consumption, relates to performance criteria and process criteria.
Douglas Archer of the University of Florida predicted that the major categories of food safety issues in the new millennium will look remarkably like the past. New pathogens are likely to emerge, e.g., Arcobacter, and they may do so faster than before, he said. For solutions to these challenges, Archer pointed to new technologies and global understanding. He described the successful application of genomics to microbial sequencing and, citing Schwartz (2000), the potential application to predicting microbial virulence without isolating pathogens from humans. With genomics, we may be able to start “filling in the blanks” on the large percentage of illness currently of unknown origin, he said. Archer also mentioned the application of genomics to food biotechnology for enhancing the production of ingredients, improving starter cultures, and contributing to prebiotic and probiotic research.
Proteomics, along with genomics, will enhance our understanding of whole cell function, he said. Citing recent work of Michelitsch and Weissman (2000), he stated that if what their studies of glutamine/asparagine-rich genomic regions and the propensity to form self-propagating amyloid fibrils suggest is true, there may be a large pool of potential novel prion-forming proteins in eukaryotic cells. This would suggest, he said, that aggregation or prion-like protein activity may be a normal regulatory process for many eukaryotic proteins.
The meeting also highlighted several new technologies and procedures to extend retail product shelf life and enhance safety and quality. Topics included microfiltration, high-pressure processing, pulsed electric field, irradiation, and packaging, including modified-atmosphere packaging. The establishment of an Extended Shelf Life (ESL) of Fluid Dairy Products Task Force, coordinated by the National Center for Food Safety and Technology (NCFST) was mentioned. The Task Force will develop guidance for the processing and packaging of ESL products and identify research and education needs.
Dennis Olson of Titan SureBeam (Omaha, Neb.) gave an overview of electron beam irradiation, including various regulatory, packaging, and quality aspects. As did Mike Doyle, Olson mentioned the potential for lipid oxidation in fat-containing products and enzymatic degradation as relevant quality issues. George Sadler of the Illinois Institute of Technology and NCFST provided a thorough regulatory update on packaging of irradiated foods. Elaborating on Olson’s point about packaging limitations, Sadler reported that compared with polymers approved for food contact, minimal approvals exist for packaging materials for use in the irradiation of prepackaged foods. Only one polymer, ethylene-vinyl acetate, is approved for products irradiated via electron beam. Sadler noted that a petition has been submitted asking FDA to establish lethality equivalency of radiation sources for polymers. He also noted that if package availability for irradiated foods similar to other foods is desired, additional polymer approvals would be necessary.
Additional program sessions covered fresh produce and other retail topics. I hope that this brief sample of the technical program encourages you to stay tuned for information on the next IFT International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo. In the meantime, plan to attend IFT’s Annual Meeting & Food Expo® June 23–27 in New Orleans.
by ROSETTA L. NEWSOME
Director, Department of Science & Communications
Michelitsch, M. and Weissman, J. 2000. A census of glutamine/asparagine-rich regions: Implications for their conserved function and the prediction of novel prions. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 97: 11910-11915.
Schwartz, I. 2000. Microbial genomics: From sequence to function. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 6(5): 493.