Demand for frozen food products are on the rise. By one recent analysis, the size of the global frozen food market will reach $185.28 billion in 2027, up from $146.79 billion in 2019, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1%. The market research analysis by Fortune Business Insights, published November 10, 2020, found that an expanding workforce population, a rise in women’s employment rates, a change in lifestyles among younger generations, and increased consumer awareness of the health benefits of frozen foods are among the current and predicted drivers of increased demands for frozen food and ready-to-eat (RTE) products as people increasingly want food that requires less effort and time to make and is more convenient to consume.
Although acknowledging the downturn in demand and drop in frozen food market sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, after an initial increased demand when SARS-CoV-2 first emerged, the report highlights the recent demand for online shopping occasioned by the pandemic as increasing consumer awareness about new apps for online shopping are expected to drive growth in the frozen food market going forward. When looking at the type of product, the report predicted that frozen vegetables and fruits would lead in consumer demand, followed by frozen RTE meals.
What this report underscores, similar to several other analyses predicting similar or even higher growth in consumer demand for frozen food products, is the need for strong and secure safety measures within food processing and manufacturing facilities to ensure the safety of frozen food products.
Frozen food facilities inherently present optimal harborage environments for Listeria growth.—Sanjay Gummalla, PhD, American Frozen Food Institute
For food processors and manufacturers, a number of pathogens may pose a risk to frozen food products. Among the most concerning is Listeria monocytogenes. The seriousness of this pathogen on human health, particularly on more vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, neonates, people older than age 65, and those with chronic illnesses, is well documented. As reported in a recent review by Farber et al., published in October 2020 in the journal Food Control, the populations of people at risk of acquiring listeriosis, the foodborne illness caused by L. monocytogenes, is growing and may represent up to 30% of the general population.
Not only is the population at risk growing, so too is the incidence of listeriosis. Using data from FoodNet from 2004–2009 to estimate the rates of listeriosis by subpopulation, the study’s authors predicted that the overall listeriosis incidence rate would increase from 0.25 per 100,000 in 2010 to 0.32 per 100,000 in 2030. When looking at the specific vulnerable population of pregnant women, that number jumps to 4.0 to 4.4 per 100,000 women in the same time span.
To place that number in another context, the authors of the report estimated it would require a 48% reduction in exposure or infectivity to L. monocytogenes in the overall US population (or 89% for people >70 years old) to achieve the Healthy People 2020 goal of a one-third reduction rate of listeriosis.
The review, authored by an international expert panel commissioned by the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), was conducted to develop a scientific basis and rationale for regulatory policies governing L. monocytogenes. Currently, the “zero-tolerance” approach by FDA is challenged by many within the frozen food industry who do not believe it is the best approach to mitigating or preventing the presence of the pathogen, particularly in low-risk foods, given the impossibility of completely eliminating the pathogen in RTE foods, including frozen foods.
Martin Wiedmann, PhD, the Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety, in the department of food science at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., an author of the report, emphasized that “total elimination” of L. monocytogenes is impossible. “There always is a residual risk of contamination even if all food safety systems work according to plan and regulation,” he says. As such, the report advances the argument and provides a number of recommendations on a risk-based approach to mitigating and preventing L. monocytogenes in low-risk foods based on a scientific and rational approach.