Food Safety / Columns

Food Safety: Fear mongering in the media

September 1, 2011
KEYWORDS e coli / FSMA
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Frightening the public with half-truths and innuendo is not the way to teach them about food and nutrition.



As a food scientist, I feel it is depressing to read the newspaper or browse the Internet. So many food-related articles are loaded with misinformation, innuendo and half-truths that it is almost frightening. Not frightening in the sense that I am personally concerned, but frightened as to how these articles will affect the average consumer. 

For example, a testing laboratory was hired to collect poultry from supermarkets and test the product for pathogens. It reported 69 percent of the samples tested were positive for Campylobacter jejuni and 19 percent contained Salmonella. The study also reported that a large number of samples contained S. aureus. It was almost an afterthought when the author mentioned poultry is usually cooked prior to consumption, a process that would kill these pathogens.

If the same laboratory swabbed the hands and nasal passages of 10,000 people, it is very likely it would isolate S. aureus in 50 percent of those tested. If it tested stool samples from the same group, it would likely find E. coli in 100 percent of the samples. Does this imply people are dangerous vectors of potential food pathogens? 

Another article stated peanut butter is a high-risk food due to aflatoxin, a known carcinogen. The writer advised consumers to keep peanut butter in the refrigerator since that would discourage mold growth and, hence, the formation of aflatoxin. In fact, peanut butter has a very low water activity which inhibits mold growth. In addition, most peanut butter processors monitor their raw materials, i.e., peanuts, for aflatoxin.

An April 9, 1989 San Francisco Chronicle article written by the late Art Hoppe was titled “Safe at Last.” Mr. Hoppe wrote facetiously about a character named Harold Feckley, who was described as a cautious man who gave up “bacon because of nitrates or nitrites (he was never sure which).” He then boycotted eggs because of cholesterol, chicken because of Salmonella, fish because of mercury and conventionally grown vegetables due to pesticides. This reduced poor Harold to a diet of organically grown rutabagas, alfalfa sprouts and spring water. He even moved out of his house because of a fear of radon. With his wife telling him everything would eventually be tested and found hazardous, Harold decided he would be safe only if he buried himself in an organic hole inside an organic pine box. The moral of the story: “What you don’t know is all that keeps you going these days.”

This article was written 22 years ago, yet it could have been written today. Frightening the public with half-truths and innuendo is not the way to teach people about food and nutrition. Food laws and regulations mandate the food processing industry produce safe, wholesome foods. Those companies that fail to do so will fall by the wayside.

With the advent of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, the segment of the industry regulated by FDA will have additional controls imposed. These controls will be new on the regulatory side, but they will not be new for those operations that have made a commitment to the production of safe, wholesome foods. However, many other companies will be forced to upgrade quality, safety and sanitation programs.

The food industry must step forward to publicize not only what it is doing to ensure the foods it produces are safe, but make a commitment to public education.

Unfortunately, many processors have been advised by their attorneys not to speak publicly about what they do to ensure food safety and quality. The feeling is that this information could be used against them if there is a problem.

Perhaps the best route would be for the food industry to make an effort to resuscitate the food science extension-a group that works with industry and the public to provide education. Someone must step forward now and provide the public with proper information.

Food processing coat

UniFirst Corporation’s UniWeave knee-length food processing coat is available in five distinct colors to assist in eliminating cross-contamination threats by allowing food processors to identify food handlers from non-food handlers, or workers who may be outside their assigned work areas.  The coat is 100 percent spun polyester and features snap closures, and an inside lower pocket; it can be obtained with either open or elastic knit cuffs. The colors available are: grey, navy, tan, white and light blue.

UniFirst Corp; 800-225-3364; www.unifirst.com

Protective apparel

Dolphin Products provides a range of food industry protective clothing for use in processing applications. Products include bouffant caps; hair nets; disposable lab coats, coveralls, sleeve covers and gloves; heat-resistant oven wear; and a variety of industrial gloves. Most products are available in several types and materials. For example, aprons are available in eight types including vinyl PVC, urethane, polypropylene, laminated and microporous types.

Dolphin Products; 800-700-8704; www.dolphinproducts.com

Reusable bouffant

The CINTAS antimicrobial bouffant cap provides an alternative solution to disposables; testing has shown it to be four times cleaner than disposable caps. Not only is the cap well served in food processing applications, it is better for the environment as it can be used over and over. The cap shows a greater than 99.9 percent reduction of the exposed Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (meets ASTM E2149). It has strategically located snaps for easier detection in metal detection machines.

CINTAS; 800-246-8271; www.cintas.com

Treated fabric garments

Developed by Milliken, BioSmart textile technology binds chlorine molecules to the surface of fabric. Chlorine on the fabric continues to kill germs long after the fabric has been washed. BioSmart-treated fabric is used to create garments and towels for the food industry, available through G&K Services ProSura Food Safety Solutions program. When these treated fabrics are laundered according to care instructions with EPA-registered chlorine bleach, the chlorine kills 99.9 percent of common bacteria and viruses, including Salmonella choleraesuis, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Hepatitis A. The treated fabrics have passed ISO skin irritation and skin sensitivity tests.

G&K Services; 800-452-2737; www.gkservices.com

Full-service uniform/accessories rental

ARAMARK provides uniform rental and leasing services to more than 200,000 customer accounts in 46 states from over 200 service locations and distribution centers across the US. The company’s full-service employee uniform solution includes design, sourcing, manufacturing, delivery, cleaning and maintenance. The outfitter offers food processors a total HACCP uniform solution that helps them to solidify their image, promote teamwork and motivate employees. The HACCP solution includes a proprietary set of strict sanitary standard operating procedures, HACCP-trained employees, ATP testing and documentation, specialized wash formulas developed by Ecolab, protected and clean transportation of garments and a wide variety of specialized food processing garments, including disposable items and personal protective equipment.

ARAMARK; 800-272-6275; www.aramark-uniform.com

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