When a crisis happens, the outcome can have far-reaching consequences. The German E. coli outbreak that infected more than 3,000 will impact food safety rules in the United States. That's the conclusion from the 2011 International Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans.
The IFT group believes new regulations, improved surveillance and disease prevention strategies, particularly pertaining to produce, will like emerge from the crisis. During the convention, Patrick Wall, former chair of the European Food Safety Authority, discussed the crisis. "Once you have an outbreak like this it exposes weakness," Wall says. "There's not time to fix them when an event is happening, and no one wants to give you resources when nothing is happening."
Wall said there are usually six potential causes of food-borne illness outbreaks: contaminated ingredients, inadequate storage and refrigeration, insufficient cooking, cross contamination from raw products to cooked products, inadequate hygiene facilities for staff, and poorly trained and supervised staff.
When a disease outbreak does occur, virus confirmation typically takes four or five days. During the recent German outbreak, confirming the source of the source of the outbreak took more than two weeks, fanning speculation and fear that resulted in the boycott and wide-spread destruction of produce in Europe. Officials currently don’t know the root cause of this outbreak according to Wall. However, he emphasized that changes will need to be made in Germany and throughout the world following this outbreak.
Institute of Food Technologists President Robert Gravani, Ph.D., who joined Wall at the news conference, said “the best strategies are prevention strategies” for ensuring safety of the food supply, especially produce.
“It’s very important that farmers have a food safety plan in place,” said Gravani, who is also a professor of food science and the director of the National Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Program at Cornell University. This includes regulations that ensure clean irrigation water, manure and compost heated to pathogen-destroying temperatures, and keep livestock that is kept separate from crops and harvested food.