Chicago Council on Science and Technology presents
The safety of the food supply has emerged as an important and complex global public health, social, and political issue. Although accurate statistics on the scope of foodborne illness are lacking, the most recent estimates published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that as many as 48 million cases, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths are caused by foodborne illness each year in the U.S. Moreover, the economic impact of foodborne illness in the U.S. alone could be as much as $152 billion (U.S.) per year. Contaminated food and water has been estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to cause millions of deaths each year from diarrheal diseases, many from contaminated food and water. Trust, or lack thereof, in the safety of the food supply has impacted global agricultural and food trade and led to regulatory changes in several countries, including China, Canada, and the U.S. Past efforts to protect the safety of the food supply were primarily reactive in nature, and relied on inspections, testing of products before sale, and responding to outbreaks of foodborne illness. In contrast, a new philosophy has emerged in recent years that puts more emphasis on prevention rather than the past reactive approach. This new food safety paradigm encourage the use of innovative technologies to more accurately identify potential hazards, minimize adulterated products reaching consumers, and more quickly and accurately reaching food processors with the most current scientific and regulatory information. For example, new molecular technologies such as whole genome sequencing are enabling both regulatory agencies and the food industry to identify those products that have the greatest risk of being contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms, thereby allowing better prioritization of food safety efforts. In addition, new intervention technologies, such as high pressure processing, pulsed light, and treatment with cool plasma are enabling food processors to produce safer foods with more “fresh-like’ attributes that consumers prefer. Finally, new distance learning and information sharing technologies are allowing regulators and educators to reach more of the industry, especially small and mid-size companies, with the latest information they need to meet new regulatory and business demands related to food safety.