Between the farm and the dinner table, there are many opportunities for disease-causing organisms and other food safety hazards to enter our food supply. Keeping food safe as it travels that path is complicated, and as our food increasingly comes from all over the world, keeping food safe is becoming even more of a challenge. As the volume of international trade expands, so too, do the opportunities for transmitting pathogens or chemical contamination from one part of the world to another.
In 2009, the American Academy of Microbiology convened a colloquium to review the current state of affairs in microbiological food safety around the world. Colloquium participants with expertise in microbiology, public health, food science, and economics discussed these matters and made several specific recommendations for improving the safety of global food supplies.
An essential take-home message is that most foodborne illness is not recognized or reported. Unless the illness is severe enough to require a visit to the doctor or hospital, it is unlikely that the source and identity of the pathogen will be determined. Only if many people are severely sickened by a single product are breaches in food safety likely to be detected. It is virtually impossible 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, making it clear that providing safe food is a shared responsibility.
Food safety is complex, and a perfectly safe food supply is an unrealistic goal. However, as this report explains, there are opportunities for improving food safety at each step of the production and consumption process and many areas where further research could help identify and quantify risks and generate solutions. The report also identifies food safety vulnerabilities that might be addressed through investments in new technologies or more effective education.