We Need to Talk About Food Safety

Let’s face it: Food safety is not the most fun or inspiring topic to discuss. But it’s a critically important one for food and farm entrepreneurs to think about.

Consider this: Even though the U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world, 48 million Americans—one out of every six people—become sickened by foodborne illnesses each year. While most cases are mild, typically causing temporary abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, foodborne diseases can also lead to long-term health consequences or even be fatal. Every year, 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 people die directly because of something they ate.

How does this happen? The vast majority of foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogenic bacteria, yeasts, viruses, molds, and other microorganisms that find their way into food somewhere along the supply chain.

Contamination can happen at any stage from farm to fork. A toxic microbe might be introduced into the food supply by livestock or poultry, or through tainted water used to irrigate crops. It could also enter during processing, such as if food comes in contact with an unsanitary surface or is handled by a worker’s unclean hands.

Alternatively, contamination might happen during distribution, due to refrigerated food lingering too long on a loading dock in the summertime, or because fresh food is transported in a truck not properly sterilized. It could occur at the retail or restaurant level too, should food be improperly handled or stored.

This is scary stuff, right?! No food or farm entrepreneur wants to be responsible for sickening even one person. Besides feeling guilty, they may be subject to incredibly costly ramifications, such as a recall, a lawsuit, or lasting consumer distrust in their brand.

As stewards of our nation’s food system, every business that handles food bears a responsibility to do everything in its power to protect consumers from harm. This includes gigantic food companies that feed millions nationwide, as well as small-scale businesses that feed only a few hundred folks locally.

Fortunately, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into federal law in 2011, spells out exactly what food businesses need to do to secure the food system as tightly as possible. FSMA comes with a whole host of requirements, enforced by the FDA and USDA, that each type of enterprise must comply with. They include measures to verify suppliers, provide traceability, ensure proper processing and handling of food, and much more. This law marks a significant shift in U.S. food safety policy, moving it from reactive to proactive and preventative.

Technological advances are also making it easier for food businesses to ensure their products are safe. For example, Clean Beam’s dry, chemical-free footwear sanitizer uses pulsed ultraviolet light technology to preempt pathogens from entering food facilities. As founder Mark Cottone and marketing director Jim Rush explain in Edible-Alpha® podcast #113, the electronic system also tracks movement in a plant, allowing operators to identify breaches and potentially prevent them.

Of course, there is a monetary cost to implementing solutions such as Clean Beam’s. But the cost of sending out contaminated food could be far greater. No matter which products or services food and farm entrepreneurs implement, they must make sure food safety remains a top priority.

Mark Cottone started Clean Beam to develop a novel system for helping production facilities enhance food safety. The company’s electronic, cloud-connected footwear sanitizer, powered by DryZap! technology, helps prevent contamination and pinpoint potential problems. Mark, along with Clean Beam’s marketing director Jim Rush, discuss the importance of food safety and security, how businesses can be proactive versus reactive, and the arc of launching a tech solution in the food industry.

And now, our roundup of the best food and beverage finance news, events and resources from around the web…

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