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What is food safety?

Artichokes move from farmer to consumer

The term food safety describes the methods and practices used to keep food safe. This includes all the players in the supply chain from farmers to consumers, and those involved in foodservice: producers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, restaurateurs and grocers. Food Safety Magazine recently conducted a survey of 5,000 consumers and executives from 40 retail companies on the meaning of the term food safety. Wikipedia notes a rather scientific definition narrowed to cover the handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent food-borne illness. 

In 1906 the Pure food and Drug Act was passed to protect consumers and which led to the creation of the Food & Drug Administration. A century later, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), federal food safety regulations that shifted from reactive to preventative. Foodservice businesses of all sizes are now required to implement a written preventive controls plan. This plan should evaluate hazards that could affect food safety, specify how the business will monitor these controls, identify what preventative steps or controls will be put in place to significantly minimize or prevent the hazards, and specify what actions will be taken to correct problems that arise. In July of this year FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn announced the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, leveraging technology and other tools to create a more digital, traceable food system.

The cost of foodborne illness

A study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that a single foodborne illness outbreak could cost a fast casual restaurant upwards of $2.5 million, taking into consideration lawsuits, legal costs, fines, and higher insurance premiums. All it takes is one well-publicized bad experience to cause a major setback for a restaurant brand.

The Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association conducted a joint survey and found the average cost of a recall for food producers to be $10 million in direct costs, plus brand damage and lost sales. A Bloomberg report on product recalls found the costs to be much higher, ranging from $26 million for tainted chocolate bars to $1billion for tainted peanut butter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses every year, so food retailers and manufacturers must have a stringent plan in place to ensure food safety. It’s estimated that roughly a third of foodborne illnesses are caused by the mishandling of food in consumers’ homes.

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