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MILWAUKEE -- Eliminating outbreaks of foodborne illness is possible but it won't happen by increasing inspections alone, say food safety experts in the latest Quarterly Quality Report from the American Society for Quality (ASQ) based here. The answer, the report finds, is in prevention.
"The problem is that we can't inspect the defect out of the product," said Steve Wilson, chief quality officer for the U.S. Commerce Department and ASQ board member. That's because more than half of reported foodborne outbreaks cannot be attributed to any specific microorganism by current diagnostic methods, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), he said. "Since we each can't have our own food tasters - like the medieval nobles did - our best option is to take more proactive steps in earlier stages of food production," said Wilson.
Key trends are pushing the industry toward a more preventative approach to food safety, according to John Surak, a food safety consultant and member of ASQ's Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division who works with major food manufacturers around the U.S.
"Consolidation of food processing to fewer plants with increased output has guaranteed that if you're going to have a glitch, it's going to be a big one," said Surak. "More health-conscious consumers demanding ready-to-eat fresh fruits and veggies year-round also increase pressure for the industry to look at new ways to grow, harvest and process safe produce."
What preventative steps can the industry take to reduce risks? Participating in good quality practices is one solution, according to Janet Raddatz, v.p./quality and food safety systems at Sargento Foods, which uses good manufacturing practices (GMP) and HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) in food production. "We've voluntarily applied these systems because they make good sense," said Raddatz. "FDA isn't requiring anyone to do it - we're policing ourselves."
ASQ's quality report identifies other high-impact actions that experts say can make a major difference, including: reinforce maintenance procedures; emphasize consumer education; strengthen regulatory agencies in high risk areas; increased diligence by food companies; more effective inspection - not more inspection.
To view the complete report, visit http://www.asq.org/quality-report/reports/200706.html.