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Irony Strikes at the Food Safety Summit

I was perusing The Packer Editorial section last week and Coral Beach's editorial "Irony and Diarrhea at the Food Safety Summit". The short version is there is a potential that attendees at the Food Safety Summit in Baltimore were exposed to some foodborne illness and had experienced uncomfortable symptoms. First, a shout out to Coral for the piece, I laughed, I cried, and pondered the Irony.

I too spoke to a local health official a few years ago when I was sick and tested positive for salmonella. Like many people, I never knew for sure what the source was. Ironic for sure - funny not so much.

To be clear, a majority of foodborne illnesses are related to improper handling after leaving the farm. The CDC quote that 1 in 6 Americans, 48 million per year contract foodborne illnesses. According to the Alliance for Health and Farming, there are over 7.5 million produce related foodborne illness each year resulting from "improper handling after leaving the farm". This leaves another 2.9 million cases of produce related illnesses associated with the "growing, packing, shipping, or processing" of produce.

As we have seen in recent years and will continue to see, this is serious stuff. Foodborne illness are real and they are inevitable. We have entered a new era of awareness where visibility to these outbreaks, especially in produce, is at an all-time high.

What we are doing to improve food safety through training, doing risk-based analysis, and applying a science based approach to food safety challenges is critical to the growth of our industry. As FSMA moves into implementation there will be challenges. But we need to keep in mind the hard lessons we have learned over the past few years. The death and destruction foodborne illnesses have caused are real. Pathogens, bacteria, and virues show no discrimination in who gets sick. This time in Baltimore it affected a group of colleagues, next time it could be us, or our mother, brother, child, or friend.

When on outbreak occurs we need to use the tools at our disposal to quickly do tracebacks to isolate affected product, get it out of commerce, and clear the companies whose products are not affected so they can stay in commerce. There is much work to be done. I wake up each day knowing how fortunate I am to have such a valuable mission.



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