We still haven’t figured out what to do with dry products, Dr. Buchanan mentions, relative to risk assessment. “Consumers think dry products are sterile, but they are not,” he emphasizes. “So how do we get rid of Salmonella in flour, for example? Bread gets baked, but there are some uses for which flour doesn’t get baked. For instance, they often dust hot bread with raw flour.”
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Fortunately, there are some new technologies coming out to help with that problem, Dr. Buchanan says, including macrowave treatments, and also new processing tools, such as improved thermal processing modeling.
Population Growth and Pathogens
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates point to the need to increase global food production by 60 percent by 2050 to feed a population that will top the 9 billion mark. (With more than 320 million people, the U.S. is currently the world’s third most populous country.)
Population growth is an additional challenge that can be expected to impact food safety in the years ahead, Dr. Buchanan predicts.
“We will continue to find new pathogens that are creating themselves, and as the human population increases, we are likely to see the emergence and rapid spread of new foodborne pathogens,” he explains. “To minimize these risks, we need to get the population of the world to level off. Furthermore, food growing and processing is a huge drain on water and energy. If we continue to use energy to ship food all over the world, we will ultimately reach a point where this cannot be sustained economically. So we definitely need more sustainable foods.”
Dr. Buchanan is quick to credit the federal acts that established the foundation of the U.S. food system. Research and Cooperative Extension programs involve interaction between government, agriculture, and food industries, which in turn generate new food products and processes that solve food safety and security problems, while enhancing productivity, he points out.
“This investment has paid massive dividends to the U.S. citizenry,” he says. “And despite decreases in government funding, we have been able to maintain a good food chain infrastructure in the U.S.”
Our system is based on three legs, government, industry, and academia, Dr. Buchanan notes. “In any country, having all of these three legs offers a tremendous advantage,” he says. “In contrast, in many countries academia plays a minor role in solving food safety problems, and those countries’ food safety status suffers. It is very important to continue to invest in our public/private partnerships if we are going to improve the safety and quality of our foods.”
A really great characteristic that is unique to the U.S. food system, Dr. Buchanan says, is that a single person can have tremendous positive impact, especially with regards to regulations. “If you have the scientific knowledge and the ability to communicate this effectively to the policy makers in the U.S., you can make a huge difference,” he emphasizes.
“We have an open process in the U.S. that allows citizens to provide their input into new or changing regulations, something that is not common in many parts of the world,” Dr. Buchanan says. “If you take advantage of the way regulations are developed, then you have the potential for influencing how we are governed. This is where the members of the academic community can play an increasing and important role in explaining the science underlying continuous improvement in food safety. ”
Trade Tidbits in North America
For information about food trade between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., check out the following links: