Contemporary Issues: Achieving Food Safety in a Global Environment

The purpose of this paper is to examine contemporary issues related to food safety. In the following paragraphs, the issues of tampering, bioterrorism, differing food safety standards across the globe and other barriers to achieving food safety will be discussed. Before going forward, it is important to understand the meaning of the terms “food safety” and “food security”, as they will be used frequently throughout this paper.

Food safety is defined as the assurance that food will not cause harm to the consumer when it is prepared and/or eaten according to its intended use. This encompasses the proper storage and safe handling and serving of food and beverages (3). Food security is “when all people at all times have access to nutritious, safe, and enough food to enable them to lead a healthy and active life” (1). Food security deals with ensuring access to enough food, and that food and water supplies are safe from unintentional (pathogen), as well as intentional (tampering, bioterrorism) contamination.

When someone interferes with something in order to intentionally cause damage or make unauthorized alterations, it is called tampering. Although the deliberate tampering of food in order to cause major disease is rare (particularly in the United States), there are plenty of opportunities for contamination throughout the food and drug processing timeline (1). One of the most memorable cases of product tampering occurred in 1982 when someone laced Extra Strength Tylenol with cyanide, leading to the deaths of seven people. Because tamper-evident packaging was not used at that time, the perpetrator was able to contaminate the pills after they had left the factory and then return them to the store shelves. This incident lead to the development of tamper-evident packaging for over-the-counter drugs (1, 4).

Although the new packaging cannot prevent intentional contamination altogether, it can give an indication if tampering has occurred (4). While other countries may adopt stricter rules regarding packaging materials to be used, the current U.S. regulations for OTC drugs state that

‘Each manufacturer and packer who packages an OTC drug product…for retail sale shall package the product in a tamper-evident package…having one or more indicators or barriers to entry which, if breached or missing, can reasonably be expected to provide visible evidence to consumers that tampering has occurred.” (4)

Tampering doesn’t just occur in OTC drugs, so it is important to check all food and beverage items as well. There have been several other tampering incidents involving food products, such as ground beef contaminated with insecticide by a disgruntled employee, baby food laced with glass shards, and oranges injected with mercury by a militant group in the Netherlands (1).

There are many resources for consumers to report suspected product tampering, and it is everyone’s responsibility to remain alert and provide information about possible incidents. When in the store, there are some basic guidelines that every person should follow when purchasing OTC drugs, food, or beverage items. The first rule is to examine all product packaging, to include anti-tampering devices. If tampering is suspected, compare the container with others on the shelf. Do not buy if the package is open, torn or damaged or if the product looks damaged or unusual. Report suspected tampering or contamination to the store manager (1).

Once the product is brought home, it should be carefully inspected when opening the container. Never consume products that are moldy, discolored, have an unusual odor or that spurt liquid or foam when the container is opened. If tampering is suspected after the product is brought home, the incident should be reported to the local police department. Other resources available to consumers are the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555 and the Food and Drug Administration. For emergency questions, the FDA can be reached 24 hours a day at (301) 443-1240, and for non-emergencies at the Food Information Line (1-888-SAFEFOOD) (1).

Product tampering after a product hits the retail store shelves is not the only threat regarding intentional product contamination. There are also threats of food terrorism. Food terrorism is defined as

“an act or threat of deliberate contamination of food for human consumption with biological, chemical, and physical agents or radionuclear materials for the purpose of causing injury or death to civilian populations and/or disrupting social, economic or political stability.” (9)

This deliberate contamination of the food supply can happen at the crop level (agroterrorism) or after the food has been manufactured. Terrorism is a much greater threat than package tampering as it can “reach a much larger percentage of the population with less chance of detection” (4). Not only does terrorism threat food security, but it is also a huge threat to a country’s social, economic and political stability (10).

There are several agents and materials that can be used to inflict an act of terrorism on the world’s food supply. Chemical agents are categorized by their effect on the human body: blister, blood, choking, and nerve agents, and can cause serious injury and/or death. Radioactive materials can also be used to contaminate the food and water supply, causing unbelievable damage and widespread sickness and/or death (1). But the largest threat in the food terrorism category is bioterrorism – the release of toxic biological agents into our food supply.

Bioterrorism is separated into three categories, depending on the severity of the illness the toxins cause and how easily they can be spread. Category A includes agents that pose the highest risk of widespread illness and death and a threat to our national security. These agents include Anthrax, Botulism, and Smallpox (1). Bioterrorism includes agroterrorism. Bioterrorism is the most severe threat because deliberate health emergencies are difficult to prepare for, may result in high amounts of fatalities, and are easily transmitted from person to person (1).

Biological agents can be spread in the form of bacteria or poison used to contaminate salad bars, diseases introduced into a city’s water supply, an aerosol released into the air of a crowded building, or diseases introduced into livestock, just to name a few. Contaminating livestock can have two different methods of causing widespread illness or death: upon consumption of the animal, or if mosquitoes spread the illness from the infected animal to humans (1). ‘It is estimated that the release of 50 kg of dried anthrax spores for 2 hours can lead to a complete breakdown in medical resources and civilian infrastructure in a city of 500,000 inhabitants’ (4).

Food represents one of the most traded commodities across the globe, thus posing a major safety risk if not controlled. Fortunately, most countries have several different standards and regulations that can help protect their national food supply from tampering, terrorism, and unsafe handling practices. International food agreements also provide some uniformity in the level of public health protection and food safety standards (6). However, legislation does differ from country to country, so it is important for food traders to stay up-to-date with current regulations in their territories, as well as the territories they do business with.

An example of a country’s standalone organizations and regulations would be The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act in the United States. This act “regulates the possession, use, and transfer of specific harmful toxins and focuses on food and water supply and production” in the United States (2). The United States Drug Administration’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are some other resources which Americans rely on to prevent, detect, and respond to food safety issues, animal diseases that could affect human health, and any activity that could harm agricultural production (1).

Not only are countries like the United States and Canada making big changes to their food safety regulations (Food Safety Modernization Act, Safe Food for Canadians Act), but many other countries are taking interest in ensuring their food products are safe (7). There are many different international agreements that are being adopted all over the globe. For example, there are some basic standards that all members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) recognize when it comes to food safety and principles of food hygiene. These standards are known as Codex Alimentarius and take a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) system approach. Another agreement, used by roughly 20 countries, is the Agreement on the International Carriage of Perishable Foodstuffs and on the Special Equipment to be Used for Such Carriage (ATP). The purpose of this agreement is to set forth common standards for temperature-controlled equipment within Europe, in order to facilitate the safe international travel of perishable food items (6).

Because there is so much international trade of food items, it is important for every nation across the globe to “get on the same page”. So, the goal, worldwide, is to develop and implement legislation based on the HACCP food safety systems. The new International Standards Organization (ISO) is taking a global approach by integrating the principles of the HACCP system and the application steps developed by Codex, providing the framework for internationally cohesive requirements (6). In the future, people across the globe can hope to see harmonized food safety and hygiene standards for all nations, worldwide.

Implementing standard food safety practices across the globe, while integral to food security, is extremely challenging. This is because there are so many barriers that stem from a variety of conditions and issues throughout many countries. The complexity of these barriers ps issues with resources, infrastructure, climatic conditions, lifestyle, etc. One of the largest barriers to food safety in many countries is the availability of resources. This can be broken down into two separate issues: availability of natural resources (environment) and the availability of equipment that could enable safe food practices (economy).

In under-developed countries, water, especially safe water, may be a scarce commodity. In countries such as this, important food and water safety precautions are often overlooked, and poor living conditions can easily contribute to food and water contamination (8). This is where a country’s poor economy will further exacerbate the food safety barrier. In a poverty-stricken land without access to clean water, there is often no money to purchase equipment to purify the water and make it safe to drink. This is often an issue with keeping food safe, as well, as many people in these areas cannot afford refrigeration units or fuel to thoroughly cook food to a safe temperature for consumption.

Another huge barrier to achieving global food safety is the lack of education. In the scenario above, many people in these areas with limited resources do not even know the dangers of drinking contaminated water or not cooking their foods to the proper temperature.

“Common habits that could impact food safety in the developing world include insufficient washing of hands and utensils, insufficient cooking of foods, and storage of perishable foods at ambient temperatures. Although these behaviors are often due to shortages of water, fuel, or time, they also reflect a lack of understanding about the link between contamination and disease.” (8)

Whether it be from tampering, terrorism, lacking food safety standards or other barriers, it is clear that food safety and food security are a global concern. The introduction to tampering and bioterrorism show that no region is safe. Unpredictable, intentional contamination can happen in any environment, with any level of education. Food insecurity can quickly become an issue in a country with a striving economy or in a country with a thriving economy…tampering and terrorism are threats to all walks of life, worldwide.

Lacking regulatory standards in many countries can ultimately affect the global food trade industry and threaten food security in an interconnected environment. Cross-country trading of illegal and/or dangerous ingredients and contaminated foods can cause worldwide epidemics of foodborne illnesses. The key to achieving global food safety and security is through education. It is everyone’s responsibility to be educated on safe food handling procedures and to report suspected tampering incidents or acts of food terrorism. It is the responsibility of each and government across the globe to educate its people about the risk of consuming contaminated food and/or water and to educate them on how to prevent contamination by using safe water sources and safe food handling techniques. As a planet, everyone has to come together to help each other to achieve food safety and security. It is not about individual countries reaching this goal, because with international and intercontinental trade, one country gaining security will not be long-lasting. The responsibility is to see the bigger picture and to help the entire world eliminate these risks.





(4) Voeller, John G.. Food Safety and Food Security, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Created from apus on 2019-02-16 12:48:44.







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