The food supply chain is similar to other supply chains in that there are raw materials, manufacturing, finished goods, distribution and an end user. Despite the similarities there are distinct differences that set it apart. Today there is a drive in the food supply chain for food safety along all aspects of the supply chain. Keeping food safe requires that food growers, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and importers work in unison to ensure that the end product that reaches the consumer is safe for consumption. In the US the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is at the forefront of the battle to keep food safe.
History of Food Safety
It seems as though every day there is a news item with some warning about the food we eat. But the drive for food safety goes back well over one hundred years. The term food poisoning dates back to the 1880’s when there was an established connection between animal illness and meat poisoning outbreaks. In 1906 President Roosevelt signed two pieces of legislation on food safety, with the first national standards for food processing called the Meatpacking Act and then the Pure Food and Drug Act.
In 1963, two women died of botulism they contracted from eating canned tuna. The plant where the tuna was canned was shut down. In 1971 the FDA issued a public warning when an elderly couple was paralyzed after eating cold canned vichyssoise contaminated with botulin toxin. The FDA found unsafe processing practices and recalled all of the manufacturer’s products.
In 1985 there was a Listeriosis outbreak that was linked to a soft Mexican cheese. The outbreak led to 52 deaths, and is still the worst case of foodbourne illness since the Center for Disease Control (CDC) started records in 1970. The manufacturer had allowed a non-licensed technician perform the pasteurization but instead mixed in non-pasteurized milk. Since then there have been many instances of foodbourne illness and despite the effort to ensure food safety is the number one priority across the supply chain, outbreaks still occur. In 2011, the latest outbreak is another Listeriosis outbreak which has caused, currently, 28 deaths due to contaminated cantaloupes from a farm in Colorado, making it the second worse outbreak on record.
Food Safety Regulations
In the US there is federal and state level food regulations. At the federal level, the there two main bodies that regulate food; the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), which is part of the US Department of Agriculture, and the FDA. The FSIS is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and eggs. The FDA is responsible for regulations for all other food items not covered by the FSIS. In addition to the federal regulations some US states have their own meat inspection programs and some have inspections for fresh fruit and vegetables.
Food Safety Modernization Act
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 and gives the FDA the authority to increase inspections of many domestic food facilities, enhance detection of foodborne illness outbreaks, and order recalls of tainted food products. The law also allows the FDA to refuse entry of imported food into the US that could cause a foodbourne illness. The incidence of illnesses from food is staggering with over 48 million people in the US sick each year. Of these 128,000 are hospitalized and over 3000 deaths.
The FSMA requires preventative controls across the food supply chain as well as mandatory produce safety standards. It requires that the FDA introduce science-based minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. One area that the FSMA focuses on is inspections. The new law establishes a mandated inspection frequency, based on risk, for food facilities. All high-risk domestic facilities must be inspected by 2016 and no less than every three years thereafter. By 2012 the law directs FDA to inspect at least 600 foreign facilities and double those inspections every year for the next five years. However, the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA) estimates that the FDA will inspect only 1.59 percent of all food imports in 2011 and only 1.47 percent in 2012. In 2010 only 3500 shipments of some 24 million imports were refused; of these some were rejected due to mislabeling or banned colors and additives, rather than on food safety issues.
Although new laws, regulations, inspections and increased vigilance are used in the food supply chain, the fact is that there are regularly many foodbourne illnesses that occur each year. The safety of produce across the food supply chain is the responsibility of growers, manufacturers and distributors. The aim of new laws such as the FSMA is to increase standards and to give the consumer confidence in the produce in food supply chain.