Each year, the average American consumes about 2000 pounds (1 ton) of food.1 These foods are sourced both domestically and globally. About 19% of food is imported, including approximately 97% of fish and shellfish, 50% of fresh fruits, and 20% of fresh vegetables.2 Foods are distributed to Americans through over 1 million restaurants, 40,000 grocery stores, and numerous other points of sale.3,4 Most foods in the United States make their way to consumers through a supply chain that includes producers, processors, distributors, and points of sale. Along this complicated pathway from farm to fork, consumers expect high quality and safe food. Food served, packed, prepared, or grown under conditions that allow for contamination by pathogenic bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other adulterants result in 48 million people sickened by foodborne illness each year.5 Foodborne illness costs the United States between $152 billion and $1.4 trillion annually.6
A safe food supply is necessary to combat the public health burden generated by foodborne illnesses. The goal of this chapter is to understand what food safety is, how it is accomplished, and what challenges exist in implementation.
Food safety is the scientific discipline of preventing food from becoming a vehicle for health threat, risk, or injury. Food is vulnerable to contamination along the entire supply chain. At each point from farm to fork, special considerations need to be considered to protect food from those vulnerabilities. Growers, manufacturers, distributers, and end users all play a role in food safety, albeit the roles vary. It is important to consider how the approach to food safety may change along the supply chain.
Growers/Suppliers. In addition to meeting the demands of operating a profitable business, growers and suppliers have food-safety responsibilities that are regulated across different levels of government. The size and scope of the operation often determines the degree and type of government regulation.
Food safety at the grower/supplier level is paramount given that food and animals in farming environments are exposed to many potential environmental conditions that could lead to contamination or cross-contamination. In addition, point source contamination on a farm could lead to adulteration of additional products that are comingled further along the supply chain. Farms responsible for producing fruits and vegetables are challenged with balancing successful harvests with the risk involved in supplying food to consumers absent a kill step to control microbial contamination. For example, analysis of foodborne illness attribution data from 1998 to 2008 determined that 46% of all foodborne illnesses were a result of exposure to contaminated produce.10
Considerations need to be made about how food or animals used for food are grown or raised in a way that limits risk of contamination with a foodborne pathogen or adulterant. Growers and suppliers need to consider issues such as: