UK FSA publishes updated science strategy

Is cooking food until it’s ‘piping hot’ a science-based recommendation?

The Food Standards Agency has published its updated Strategy to 2015, Safer food for the nation with five core principles:

• putting the consumer first;
• openness and transparency;
• science and evidence-based;
• acting independently; and,
• enforcing food law fairly.

And six core outcomes:

• foods produced or sold in the UK are safe to eat;
• imported food is safe to eat;
• food producers and caterers give priority to consumer interests in relation to food;
• consumers have the information and understanding they need to make informed choices about where and what they eat;
• regulation is effective, risk-based and proportionate, is clear about the responsibilities of food business operators, and protects consumers and their interests from fraud and other risks; and,
• enforcement is effective, consistent, risk-based and proportionate and is focused on improving public health.

Sounds great. But what are the details?

Of the estimated £135m annual budget, £20m is allocated to ensuring consumers have information necessary to make informed food choices, with priorities for improving public awareness about good food hygiene at home; increasing visible information on hygiene standards when consumers eat out or shop; and improving public awareness of healthy eating.

For that amount of money, the science-based FSA could do much better than telling citizens their meat is safe when it’s “piping hot” and “the juices run clear.”

Piping hot is not science or evidence-based; color is a lousy indicator of safety; using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer is the only safe way to determine if food has reached a safe temperature.

FSA also states “The strategy is written in a way that consumers can understand and explains the range of work we do across the UK.“

It’s not clear whether anyone asked consumers if they could understand, but FSA did state one of its main priorities was to “improve public awareness and use of messages about good food hygiene practice at home.”

Use of messages improves nothing; using practices recommended in messages may translate into fewer sick people, but those messages need to be evidence-based.