When worlds collide: engineering and food safety

After breakfast in the morning, my husband and I go our separate ways until dinner. Bret, who studied agricultural engineering in college, designs turf equipment. That’s him at right on an old prototype mower managing the turf in our backyard.

As you all know, I studied food science and industry. With the help of Doug and Phebus, I found my way to writing about food safety.

Our worlds collided this morning when I pulled his engineering magazine out of the pile of mail in the kitchen and saw the words “food safety” staring back at me.

The cover article was by another ag engineer, Nathan Anderson, who works with the FDA’s National Center for Food Safety and Technology in Illinois.

In the article, Anderson points out that,

“Increased concern over microbiological safety in terms of public health and international trade has led to a shift in how microbial risks are assessed and controlled.”

In order to have fewer sick people and more world trade, governments are adopting new risk-based approaches to food safety management and ditching the old prescriptive control measures.

Anderson’s article describes the Food Safety Objective (FSO) approach to risk management, which sets as a goal a maximum population for a certain microbe in the food being processed.

Processors must then control the levels of the microbe on/in incoming product initially, reduce levels if necessary, and prevent any increases.

This, of course, can be expressed by a mathematical equation (since it’s an engineering concept). But I won’t do that here.

Developing processes based upon known risks—as opposed to long-standing beliefs—is a smart way to do business. Engineers just say it differently than food safety writers.


burger + E. coli + food thermometer > burger + E. coli + color-based estimate

Food safety writer: