Food processing has existed for centuries, but in the 19th and 20th centuries, largely due to military supply demands, more modern food processing technologies were developed. As food processing needs have grown, so have problems with food contamination and foodborne illness.
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Explore this issueOctober/November 2011
Concerns about food contamination are increasing because of the large costs involved with the foodborne illnesses it causes. Health-related expenses brought about by foodborne illnesses cost an estimated $152 billion each year.1 The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly one out of six Americans (48 million people) is affected, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.2 One factor contributing to the large number of cases of foodborne illness each year is the increased consumption of minimally processed foods and fresh foods.
As food travels from the environment to the consumer, it can become contaminated by many factors along the way, including irrigation water, wash water, food preparation environment, infected seed, production, harvesting, post-harvest handling, transport, distribution, storage, preparation, humans, and animals. A major issue is the number and diversity of pathogens involved in foodborne illnesses and food recalls. Of the 76 million cases that occur annually, only 14 million of these cases can be attributed to known pathogens.3