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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, December/January 2011

Study Finds Many Foodborne Illnesses Not Reported

Action required on a number of fronts

Food safety problems can arise at any of multiple stages of food production, and illnesses that result from them are frequently not detected or reported, according to a new report from the American Academy of Microbiology.

The report, “Global Food Safety: Keeping Food Safe from Farm to Table,” is based on a colloquium convened by the academy in 2009. Colloquium participants with expertise in microbiology, public health, food science, and economics reviewed the current state of affairs in microbiological food safety around the world.

The path from food production to consumption is increasingly complicated. Each plate of food may contain ingredients from many countries—each of which may have passed through different processing facilities, and may have been handled by wholesalers, retailers, and multiple transportation companies before finally reaching the consumer’s shelf or refrigerator. No single agency regulates all of the steps in this process.

Each link in the food safety chain would benefit from further research and new technologies—specific examples of which are detailed in the report. Regulations that promote good agricultural and manufacturing practices would not only help decrease lapses in food safety, but would make it easier to trace problems back to their inception.

Consumer education is also an important component of food safety. Consumers are often unaware of safe food handling practices, especially as new food products are introduced. Because consumer-caused foodborne illnesses are often not recognized as such, much less systematically reported, an important barrier to reducing their incidence is inadequate knowledge of which foods, agents, and practices pose the greatest risk.

It is very difficult to know how many people are made sick by food, which foods are at fault, which pathogens are most widespread or dangerous, and where those pathogens entered the food production system. In such a situation, where should research, prevention, and education efforts be directed? In this report, each step in our complicated food production and supply system is described, highlighting key points of vulnerability and making it clear that providing safe food is a shared responsibility.

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