Researchers at Kansas State University’s International Food Safety Network use blogs, YouTube videos, food safety info sheets and other means to remind people about food safety hazards. The researchers are among more than 150 K-State faculty and staff active in the food safety and animal health arenas. Since 1999, K-State has dedicated more than $70 million to related research.
"During an outbreak, food safety is at the top of many people’s minds," said Doug Powell, scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at K-State, where he is an associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology. "The real challenge is to compel everyone, from farm to fork, to practice safe food habits before an outbreak occurs. It’s sort of boring, but it reduces the number of sick people."
Casey Jacob is a research assistant working with Powell. A May 2008 K-State bachelor’s graduate in food science and industry, Jacob compiled a list of the top 10 food safety issues of 2008 available at http://tinyurl.com/4q4efw
Salmonella-laden tomatoes and/or peppers topped Jacob’s list, highlighting the importance of being able to trace fresh produce to its source.
"Companies that can provide efficient traceability systems for their products provide an advantage to the retail food service sector during recall and outbreak situations," Jacob said.
Other top food safety issues on the list were melamine in Chinese infant formula, listeria in deli meats and soft cheeses, and E. coli O157:H7 linked to negligent butchers in the United Kingdom. Jacob said that these incidents demonstrated the importance of knowing one’s food suppliers, warning vulnerable populations of food safety hazards associated with certain foods, and establishing a culture of food safety among food handlers.
The list includes signs that restaurant inspection disclosure systems are on the rise.
"The food service sector should recognize that certain diners are interested in the information provided by inspection reports and summaries," Jacob said. "This increase in transparency highlights the importance of maintaining — or improving — compliance with food safety regulations during inspections."
The list also recalls how patrons are using cell phone cameras to document food safety issues. In Toronto, a passerby took a photo of rats on a countertop at one of the most prominent restaurants in the city’s Chinatown. Public health authorities shut the restaurant down.
"Everyone eats, and in a networked world, consumer experiences can really impact what people know about food safety," Powell said. "At the International Food Safety Network, we try to develop tools to help consumers share their wisdom with everyone in the farm-to-fork food chain and hope that leads to fewer people getting sick."
More information about the International Food Safety Network is available at http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/en/