During the last of 2018, I frequently posted on social media news about food recalls.
At first, I only focused on recalls in the United States. When ground turkey was recalled in both Canada and the United States, I expanded my search. I discovered food contamination is a worldwide issue. Perhaps, even threatening as a worldwide health crisis.
I would like the easiest answer to be that we each grow our own food and be responsible for what we eat.
However, the world has changed since Herbert Hoover promised a “chicken in every pot” and the advent of the World War ll Victory Gardens. Even schools had gardens. However, the way we have “advanced” in land use has caused us to be more limited in our options and abilities. That perhaps can change. However, what we will also need to change is the depth of the corruption of every input that is required to grow safe, nutritious food.
By favoring larger food systems and greater volume, we have lost our hands-on approach. In some food growing and processing areas, we need to turn back the clock. I believe a smaller and slower paced connection to food is the key to safe food. We have created a monster. Currently, situations exist which make for a perfect storm. For example, bacteria such as E. coli can double in as little as twenty minutes. We need to address this now. Advanced technology, along with better data collection and analysis can help.
We need improved methods to address food safety that can rapidly and reliably detect a safety hazard and be traced back to the cause. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is potentially an application that is a game changer.
The idea is that WGS can sequence all microorganisms in a particular food matrix at any point in the food chain. This increases the ability to detect pathogens and spoilage organisms prior to distribution and consumption. Presently, food recalls are made on assumptions a particular contaminant exists and what damage it will cause. For instance, spoilage microorganisms cause undesirable changes to quality, but not necessarily toxic. Pathogens are not only harmful to consume but can produce toxins that when consumed can be harmful or even fatal. With this in mind, the use of this technology will allow the industry to detect spoilage organisms, eliminate them, and reduce the risk to safety and quality before the product is released for distribution.
WGS works with almost all bacterial DNA.
We have the technology, but industry-wide buy-in is needed. Until this happens, food systems will continue to have widespread, increased risks.