U.S. food safety policies must involve all stakeholders

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In order to manage the inherent complexity of the U.S. food safety system that's affected on the global scale, the Institute of Food Technologists recommends food safety policies be developed as part of a national initiative with input from all stakeholders.

IFT also urges traditional and emerging media to deliver to their audience credible information from sound sources. As an organization, IFT offers—and is providing to news media—numerous recognized and reliable food safety experts.

Managing food safety is a complex task, as hazards are ever-changing and the amount and complexity of data—and the residual unknowns—are growing at a rapid rate. This is clearly reflected in the relatively recent confirmation of illnesses and deaths among humans and household animals that have heightened concern among Americans toward the methods to provide fresh produce, peanut butter, pet food, animal feed, and effective food safety in general.

As highlighted in the IFT Expert Report Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues and expanded here, the global food trade has the potential to introduce pathogens to new geographic areas and unsuspected adulterants to the marketplace—as recently documented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Further demonstrated recently by the FDA, the integration of animal and environmental surveillance systems into established human surveillance systems—urged by IFT—will greatly increase our understanding of foodborne disease.

Given the characteristics of some foods, available technologies, and our desire for year-round availability of a diverse array of foods, it is unlikely that the marketplace can be made free from the presence of microbiological pathogens and potential contaminants at all times. Despite ongoing efforts, we have generally less knowledge about the growing conditions and processing and distribution practices for imported foods than for foods produced domestically.

Scientific research has resulted in significant success in improving food safety, but the current science underpinning the safety of our food is not sufficient to protect us from all the emerging issues associated with the complexity of the food supply. Of the estimated 76 million cases of U.S. foodborne illness annually, only 18 percent of them are attributed to known causes. Although 200 or so diseases are known to be transmitted by food, current data suggest there are many more that are still unidentified.

IFT stresses that as surveillance of foodborne illnesses and the science recognizing their causes improves, we can expect more outbreaks to be reported–even as food safety measures improve. To achieve our public health goals, everyone along the farm-to-table continuum must take responsibility for their role in food safety management.

IFT urges U.S. regulatory agencies and policy-makers to maintain their amplified efforts on employing science-based methods to boost the safety of the food supply, and to identify and allocate appropriate resources to achieve improved success.

Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, IFT is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues.

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