Who has the safest food in the world?

It’s a pretty difficult to answer that question — and it’s a trap.

Yesterday I attended the N.C. Ag Commissioner’s Food Safety Forum, where a mix of regulators, industry and academia got together to food safety nerd it up (in a good way). Peanut butter and Salmonella were popular topics as was food safety legislation like HR2749.

One of the speakers mentioned that we "enjoy the safest food supply in the world" in North Carolina, and I thought I didn’t realize it was a competition and how would that even be measured? We’ve written about this statement a lot before, but something I’ve never thought about is that it provides a false sense of security and doesn’t help move towards a food safety culture. I don’t get the sense that the "safest food supply" comment leads to increased consumer confidence (but who knows, maybe it does). Talking frankly about food safety risks and how they are addressed seems more important to me. While there are lots (like in the hundreds of millions) of meals eaten in the U.S. every day that don’t cause illnesses, there are a few that do.  

Another speaker, N.C. Dept of Public Health’s  David Bergmire-Sweat said something that had much more substance than the "safest food" comment: When an outbreak happens, it’s an opportunity to figure out what part of the farm-to-fork continuum failed. Whether it was inadequate prevention measures, or effective prevention measures being implemented inadequately, it’s a chance for food safety risk managers to learn what to do next time to avoid the problems.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.