Each plate of food served in the U.S. probably contains ingredients from many different countries, raising the risk of contact with pathogenic bacteria and other contaminants, according to a new report from the American Academy of Microbiology.
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At the food processor level, we need to know more about the ecology and epidemiology of foodborne pathogens in the processing environment.
–Michael Doyle, PhD, University of Georgia
No single agency regulates all the steps in the international process of bringing food to consumers in the U.S., according to the report, which was based on a colloquium of experts in microbiology, food science, public health, and economics convened by the AAM in 2009 in San Francisco.
“We need a systems approach to managing the food safety chain,” said Michael Doyle, PhD, regents professor of food microbiology and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, who co-chaired the report. “At the farm level, we need better technology for preventing contamination and decontaminating foods. At the food processor level, we need to know more about the ecology and epidemiology of foodborne pathogens in the processing environment.”
The report suggests harmonizing the global approach to food safety management using the Codex Alimentarius as a gold standard. “The poultry industry has an integrated program, but there’s only a handful of growers and processors, so it’s easier,” Dr. Doyle said. “The beef industry is different. What somebody needs to do is to try to better integrate the entire system so that the retailers are working with the processors and the growers.”
Who might that somebody be? Not necessarily the government or a regulatory body, Dr. Doyle said. One possibility, he said, is a large retailer, like a Wal-Mart or a Costco. “When you have big players in the food industry like them already developing criteria such as what processors need to do to reduce E. coli contamination of meat, that needs to go back to the farms as well,” he said. “These companies have a lot of leverage.”