Canada: What's next for food supply after deadly outbreak?
Updated Fri. Jan. 2 2009 6:11 AM ET
Source of Article: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090101/food_supply_090102/20090102?hub=Health
Andrea Janus, CTV.ca News
Food recalls, a Listeriosis outbreak
that killed 20 Canadians and food-borne illnesses across the
Now that the outbreak is over and the company behind the crisis has agreed to compensate those affected, a food safety expert says the new frontier in food safety is a number of new technologies that might seem scary to consumers, but will help rid the food supply of potentially harmful bacteria.
Scientists are always developing strategies for ridding foods of bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes, which last summer also sickened dozens of people.
However, many bacteria, including Listeria, are notoriously
difficult to control, making it impossible for scientists to completely
eradicate the threat of food-borne diseases, says Mansel
Griffiths, senior industrial research chair in dairy microbiology and
director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the
Therefore, consumers also have a role to play in ensuring they don't fall ill from foods in their own refrigerators,
"When you're dealing with humans, you expect some problems at some times at some points along the way, that there's no way that you can ever reduce the risk of food-borne illness to zero," Griffiths told CTV.ca in a telephone interview. "What you can do is try to minimize the risk."
The Institute was launched eight years ago and is comprised of scientists devoted to food-safety issues.
· Ways to process foods using pulse-electric fields and UV light to kill bacteria.
· Technologies that will reduce the shedding of E. coli 157 bacteria from cattle feces, which can contaminate the environment and, in particular, fresh produce.
· Identifying compounds naturally found in the human stomach that can prevent some bacteria from colonizing in the gut to reduce the risk of illness. These compounds may one day be added to foods to give consumers' own digestive systems an extra bacteria-fighting boost.
Some breakthroughs are controversial.
Irradiation, which involves briefly exposing foods to X-rays,
Gamma rays or electron beams to kill harmful bacteria, has for years been
approved for use in
According to spokesperson Paul Duchesne, Health
"For any other product to which food producers would like
to apply this technology, such as ready-to-eat deli meats, a submission must
be received by Health
Some scientists, including Dr. Samuel Epstein of the Cancer
Prevention Coalition in the
However, these arguments have not gained mainstream traction,
and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as Health
Another promising, yet troubling, innovation is essentially the adding of viruses that only attack and kill bacteria, and not human cells, to foods.
The FDA has approved this process to control Listeria in
However, an impediment to government approval of this and other initiatives may be consumer perception, he said.
"If you told the consumer that you were adding viruses to
food, there's probably going to be some reaction to that, although these
viruses are completely harmless to humans,"
In the meantime, some changes have been made to the food safety system since the summer's deadly Listeriosis outbreak.
In September, Health
Maple Leaf Foods, the company at the heart of the outbreak, has
taken apart and scoured the
The company has said it will consider using sodium diacetate in the manufacture of its products, and has appointed a new chief food safety officer, who begins work in the new year.
The federal government is also planning an investigation into
how the Listeriosis outbreak occurred. However, the
fate of that inquiry is unclear given the ongoing political crisis in
And finally, the CFIA has identified goals to improve food safety in 2009.
According to its 2008/2009 Report on Plans and Priorities, the CFIA has goals that include, "improving and modernizing inspections approaches and maintaining capacity to predict and respond to emergencies."
This includes working with Health
There is not timeline yet for when the Action Plan may come into effect.
However, all the talk of killing bacteria in foods and improving
inspection and prevention practices does not diminish the role that proper
food-handling techniques play in reducing the risk of illness,
· Cooking foods properly
· Avoiding cross-contamination in the kitchen (i.e. using a different cutting board for vegetables and meat)
· Ensure refrigerator is working properly (be sure it is 4 Celsius or colder)
· Wash hands at appropriate times
· Don't eat ready-to-eat foods that are past their best-before date
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