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Food Safety: The Nose Knows

By Jason Tolliver, Head of Industrial Research

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Your nose knew. In fact, we are wired for smell. Three to four percent of our genes are related to olfaction, a genetic tool that kept us safe from harm long before Louis Pasteur. But it is not perfect: kimchi offends some, cilantro may smell like soap to others. And cheeses – well, let’s not go there. But truthfully our faithful nose does deserve some sort of food safety award and food safety is crucial for a happy and healthy home.

Americans spend $1 trillion on food each year, nearly half outside the home. So an entire “food chain” (all puns intended) exists to bring a global-based plethora of consumables to processing plants, grocery stores, and restaurants. Food ranks third behind housing and transportation in a typical household’s expenditures so it is a primary driver of the economy.

The Food & Beverage (F&B) industry is critical to ensuring that our food is safe, but the system is not perfect. How many times has someone in the family complained of a “stomach flu” when in reality it was likely mild food poisoning? At its most dangerous, bad food can kill: in 2015 tainted ice cream killed three in Kansas. Stories like this are all too common.

Federal law gives food manufacturers, distributors, and retailers the basic responsibility for assuring that the food is safe and handled under sanitary conditions. The combined efforts of the F&B industry and its regulators are often credited with making our food supply among the safest in the world.  Nonetheless, an estimated one in six Americans – a total of 48 million people – become sick from contaminated foodborne illnesses (no, it wasn’t a bug).  Of these, an estimated 128,000 cases require hospitalization and 3,000 cases result in death.

So let’s make good use of our noses, but you cannot smell (or taste) food contaminated with listeria. We need to catch pathogens at the source. So I’ll end on good news: after decades of progressive food safety laws and tremendous improvements in sanitation at food manufacturing facilities, we now have the largest expansion and overhaul of U.S. food safety regulations since the 1930s: The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA). Trust (with your nose) but verify (with the FSMA).

To read our full report, PART 2: FOOD SAFETY & REGULATIONS, click here.  My next blog post will provide details on FSMA and therefore changes to food facilities.

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Jason Tolliver
Head of Industrial Research

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