Professor Looks at Decade's Top Food Safety Trends

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Highlights from the past 10 years in food safety include fresh produce outbreaks and the creation of a food safety culture, said Douglas Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University.

"Those 'Employees Must Wash Hands' signs don't really work," Powell says. "But access to the right tools coupled with compelling messages have been shown to work. Most cases of foodborne illness are not acts of God; they're rooted in human behavior."


Powell offers a look at five significant events and trends involving food safety from the past decade:

- Growing a food safety culture. Forget legislation, policy and training. The creation and establishment of a strong food safety culture within any farm, processor, retailer, restaurant and home is going to most effectively reduce the millions of Americans who get sick each year.

- Power to the people. Public disclosure of food safety information -- restaurant inspection reports, in-plant video, public posting of test results -- has increased throughout the decade and will continue.

- Fresh produce can make people sick. It's not just meat. Hundreds of outbreaks related to fresh fruits and vegetables reached its peak with the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in fresh spinach that killed four people. Such outbreaks finally kick-started serious efforts to manage pathogens on produce.

- Forensic microbiology. The use of DNA technology and tools continues to deepen the understanding of foodborne illness and the array of foods involved in outbreaks such as pet food, pot pies, pizza, produce, pepper, cookie dough and many others.

- There are problems; there are solutions. The array of food safety solutions rolled out over the past decade demonstrates that when a problem is identified -- E. coli in beef, salmonella in eggs, listeria in cold cuts -- solutions are created and implemented. Food defense has been a significant priority since 9/11, and the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, NBAF, in Manhattan, along with K-State faculty, staff and students, will continue to provide a proud legacy of food safety solutions.