Its good to refelct on where we are every once in a while, this way we can benchmark the face of food safety which is changing all the time. So at mid year 2011, here are my thoughts.
I continue to be surprised by the way the microbes seem to outwit us.
We seem to be making progress in reducing the incidence of some specific pathogens, but others we cannot seem to get a hold on.
Traceability has two sides, it makes industry vulnerable when regulatory feels it needs to act, but it does reduce exposures.
The global transfer of pathogens is really astounding, countries around the globe were somehow invloved in the chain of EHEC O104:H4, but we don’t have all the facts. What we know is wherever the reservoir is of EHEC, the bug seems to be able to exploit a pathway and they do not respect borders at all. As we see this spring and summer in the Mystery in the South, this ability applies to states, counties, etc. within borders. And we have done a less than good job of identifying the vectors, vehicles and reservoirs, and controlling them. I don’t think we have the capacity to completely stop EHEC at this point in time.
Food safety, probably more so than any other public health problem, must be solved in and by the global food safety community, and the resources to do this work are shrinking.
I am still waiting to see any credible goverment-led food safety initiatives in the mainstream media. We have a lot of insightful writers going at the subject now from a variety of angles, and so there is education at some level, but not the type that has the answer for consumers. More and more, I don’t think we have the answer for the consumer. I think we need to tell consumers that and wake them up.
There is a serious backlash to regulation, we still hear about how backyard farmers are going to impacted by the FSMA when all those concerns are simply bogus. Some writers just want to exploit fear to sell copy. Writers continue to say that the local movement is the safe route, its so misleading, yet there may be a grain of truth in some of the argument, and it’s a definite trend to watch; a trend that will likely have good and bad effects. Riding the coatails of this movement are the so called "good for you but dangerous foods" like sprouts and raw milk. With advocates again appealing to the anti-regulatory backlash people.
Consumers continue to sue the food industry, which is expected after so many injuries. Litigation is becoming a real thorn for companies and we seem not to be able to prevent the hits.
Well publicized outbreaks can taint an entire industry, sector, commodity and not just the brand, it’s all too clear.
The anti-regulatory climate is getting uglier with legislatures and industry teaming up to dismantle monitoring and control orf the food supply by government. We hear industry saying recalling products when pathogens are found, but no outbreak is occurring, is unnecessary.
Yet, the "voluntary" private sector food safety initiates push on and we may be making some headway with suppliers. Third party auditors can carry almost the same clout as regulators, and our ranks are growing. But we don’t have the police powers needed to truly protect and we only go when we are invited. In addition, we make recommendations, not requirements.
We are making some progress with primary production, maybe. Based on no major outbreaks in a while with produce, but after the fiasco in the EU, and several recalls in the last few months of produce, I can only say that I am "cautiously optomistic."
I could go on, but this is probably enough complaining, gloom and doom.
I have not had a GI infection in about 10 years now, so maybe things are getting a little better, who can say?