“More than 85 per cent of all foodborne illnesses occur as a result of incidences of food contamination in Canadian homes.”
So says Sylvain Charlebois, some academic thingy at the University of Guelph in the Globe and Mail last week.
No reference, all rhetoric, no reality.
In a piece about allocating food safety resources, Charlebois writes “governments should remain actively involved to ensure industry compliance and public reassurance.”
As a member of the public, I don’t want reassurance; I want confidence, I want the choice to buy microbiologically safer food, I want data to support claims of safety.
The stats that have been reported in peer-reviewed journals are all over the place: anywhere from 15-90 per cent of foodborne illness apparently happens in the home.
So if a consumer ate bagged spinach in fall 2006 at home, would that mean they possibly got sick at home, or that the contamination originated on the farm and there was little consumers could do?
Casey Jacob and I attempted to tackle this question in the journal, Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, and concluded,
“Rather than focusing on the location of consumption—and blaming consumers and others—analysis of the steps leading to foodborne illness should center on the causes of contamination in a complex farm-to-fork food safety system.”
Robert Tauxe of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has noted there have been 10 new food vehicles identified in multistate outbreaks of foodborne illness since 2006: bagged spinach, carrot juice, peanut butter, broccoli powder on a snack food, dog food, pot pies, canned chili sauce, hot peppers, white pepper and raw cookie dough.
Few, if any of these have to do with consumers.
Jacob, C.J. and Powell, D.A. 2009. Where does foodborne illness happen—in the home, at foodservice, or elsewhere—and does it matter? Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, 6(9): 1121-1123. ?http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/fpd.2008.0256
Foodservice professionals, politicians, and the media are often cited making claims as to which locations most often expose consumers to foodborne pathogens. Many times, it is implied that most foodborne illnesses originate from food consumed where dishes are prepared to order, such as restaurants or in private homes. The manner in which the question is posed and answered frequently reveals a speculative bias that either favors homemade or foodservice meals as the most common source of foodborne pathogens. Many answers have little or no scientific grounding, while others use data compiled by passive surveillance systems. Current surveillance systems focus on the place where food is consumed rather than the point where food is contaminated. Rather than focusing on the location of consumption—and blaming consumers and others—analysis of the steps leading to foodborne illness should center on the causes of contamination in a complex farm-to-fork food safety system.