Marianne Gillette

The most celebrated events in our lives center around food—in particular, the holiday season.

Many of us are breaking bread with close friends and family to celebrate the holidays. As we gather around the table and give thanks for the meal we are about to receive, we may offer extra thanks for food that is safe to consume. We can also give thanks that our food supply will be even safer in years to come, as the United States Congress and our IFT both work aggressively to improve America’s food safety systems.

IFT perseveres in its mission for safe and abundant food by launching initiatives to promote food safety through programs and partnerships, and by supporting legislation designed to increase food safety oversight. IFT’s focus on food safety is to encourage a stronger federal food safety infrastructure, to improve traceability, and to decrease foodborne illness. We can do so through increased consumer education efforts and attention to global standards. 

Last month, the U.S. government put finishing touches on a bill to enhance food safety. With the goal of improving the ability of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure a safe food supply, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act aims to increase the frequency of inspections at all food facilities, to provide the FDA with expanded access to records and testing results, and allow the FDA to issue recalls on food products. Consequently, the legislation addresses four key issues: preventing foodborne illness, detecting and responding to foodborne illness, defending food from adulteration, and increasing FDA resources. The bill represents the most significant overhaul of food oversight in more than 50 years.

IFT has strong interest in the progress of this legislation since our goal is to actively pursue initiatives to make our global food supply safer. For example, at the FDA’s request, IFT recently completed an evaluation of traceability systems in the food and feed supply chains. The review involved an assessment of industry practices and various technologies used to trace food products through the supply chain, and IFT suggested guidelines to establish a comprehensive tracing system, emphasizing the importance of rapidity and precision in such a system. Key recommendations included standardization of data and information, identification of points along the supply chain where information needs to be captured, and use of electronic systems for data transfer. 

In addition, earlier this year, IFT held two seminars on food safety: a symposium on the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and the Global Food Safety & Quality (GFSQ) Conference. Both events addressed the profound issue of ensuring safe products from a globalized food supply. The GFSI symposium took place during the 2009 IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Anaheim, at which the three goals of the GFSI were highlighted: 1) achieving harmonization of food safety management system standards; 2) improving cost efficiency throughout the food supply chain; and 3) providing an international network for sharing best practices and information. Occurring immediately after the Annual Meeting, the GFSQ Conference drew attention to the challenges and opportunities of traceability technologies and the development of applicable standards. 

During my recent visit to Beijing in October, I found that there continues to be great interest in a broader dialogue on food safety through IFT’s partnership with the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology (CIFST). As part of our efforts to share scientific information, IFT and CIFST launched Global Food Industry magazine to provide critical food safety information to readers quarterly. The magazine, largely based on Food Technology articles, is distributed to CIFST members in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, and it transcends borders to create a meaningful dialogue around science. 

For consumers, IFT has collaborated with the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) to educate consumers about food safety. Specifically, the purpose of this collaboration is to disseminate information about four simple practices for safe food handling: clean, separate, cook, and chill. PFSE improves public health by engaging in food safety initiatives that reduce foodborne illness. IFT is one of several organizations that have partnered with PFSE in the pursuit of food safety to make sure that food safety is top of mind this holiday season. 

So give thanks this season for today’s abundant and safe food supply and for the promise of a safer food supply chain tomorrow. 

‘Tis the season for good cheer and safe food!

by Marianne Gillette,
IFT President, 2009–2010 
Vice President of Technical Competencies and Platforms, McCormick & Co. Inc., Hunt Valley, Md.
[email protected]