As the two major presidential candidates debate a myriad of issues facing our country, I began to wonder where each one stands on food safety.

After a little Googling, I found two Barack Obama sites that provided insight. In February Obama stated, “When I am President, it will not be business as usual when it comes to food safety. I will provide additional resources to hire more federal food inspectors. I will also call on the Department of Agriculture to examine whether federal food safety laws need to be strengthened, in particular to provide greater protections against tainted food being used in the National School Lunch Program.”

According to his Senate Web site, in late July, Obama introduced the Improving Food-borne Illness Surveillance and Response Act of 2008. It includes measures to enhance surveillance; increase the capacity of state and local agencies, and integrate these efforts into national initiatives; and provide grants to state and local agencies to expand food safety programs.

Here’s what I found on McCain’s site: John McCain believes America must focus on protecting its agriculture production, processing and distribution systems from contamination and terrorist attack. We must be vigilant against disruptions and attacks on our agricultural production system and ready to respond quickly to ensure the trust of the American people in the safety of our food.  John McCain believes Americans should be able to trust in the safety and reliability of their food, regardless of its origin.

I am not casting my vote based on food safety initiatives. However, one of these candidates must stand up to the challenge and lead the nation in the improvement of food safety systems.

Improved food safety methods will mostly likely come not from government but from within the industry and ongoing research. Recently The Washington Post reported that minute particles of food soil on surfaces can help bacteria survive industrial cleaning procedures in food plants,  which may lead to possible contamination of food with pathogenic bacteria. Researchers at the UK’s Manchester Metropolitan University compared different methods for detection of food residues, and after they cleaned the surfaces, they found the shape of bacteria was a factor. Rod-shaped Listeria remained in tiny scratches less than 0.5 micrometers across, and round Staphylococcus bacteria remained in scratches that were 1 micrometer across. The findings also indicate titanium coating may help reduce the attachment of E. coli to food contact surfaces. E. coli cells, they concluded, attach to stainless steel much better than titanium.

While the UK researchers will not solve all the  problems, at least it’s a step in the right direction. The right combination of industry know-how, research and government leadership will make the difference in safety of the food supply. 

Food Engineering  Editorial Advisory Board

Jerry Glantz
R&D Director
ConAgra Foods

Sam Casey
Director of Engineering
H. J. Heinz

Alex Peele
Director of Project Engineering
Interstate Brands Corp.

Hendrik Eyselee
Senior Program Manager, Processing
Kraft Foods

David Watson
Vice President, Engineering
Pepperidge Farm

Tom Wolters
Senior Group Manager
Pepsico Chicago

Greg Lisso
Vice President, Engineering & Environmental Affairs
Pilgrim’s Pride

Dan Sileo
Vice President, Manufacturing
Sunny Delight Beverages

David Haase
Vice President of Operations
WILD Flavors