Food safety is an increasingly prevalent concern for consumers. So many individuals are conscious of the food they’re consuming, where it was grown, whether pesticides or growth hormones were used, and so on. Regardless of the care consumers put into purchasing quality foods, foodborne illnesses continue to make national news.
In 2018 there was a multistate outbreak of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce grown in California in the Fall of 2018. According to the FDA, the investigation concluded on February 13th of 2019. Approximately four months later, consumers had answers to the cause of the outbreak.
According to the CDC, each year, a total of about 48 million illnesses occurred due to foodborne pathogens and unspecified agents. Of those 48 million illnesses, 127,839 resulted in hospitalizations and 3,037 resulted in death.
Is Relief on the way?
Reflecting on the number of people affected by foodborne illnesses is far from encouraging. Thankfully technological advancements will potentially improve food safety. These technologies can help prevent outbreaks, pinpoint the sources of outbreaks before additional people are affected and minimize the impact on those exposed to the pathogens.
While pathogens will not magically bow down to advancements in technology, Beth Johnson, chief executive of Food Directions, explains, “the food safety environment is going to be very different. We’re still going to have pathogens, but how we handle them and how they’re managed will change.”
4 Technologies Improving the Prevention, Detection and Treatment of Foodborne Illnesses
The increased presence of digital media has created vast amounts of data available about past foodborne outbreaks. Through the use of big data analytics, researchers can reveal patterns and indicators of foodborne illnesses.
The data on previous outbreaks allows the source of pathogens to be detected more quickly to prevent further distribution. A recent study in Food Science and Nutrition found that “web mining and social media analysis approaches are developed to exploit the huge amount of data as an early warning system for identification of potential health and food safety issues that may develop into a crisis.”
Big data analytics is allowing us to capitalize on the massive amounts of data we have about previous instances of foodborne pathogens.
In an effort to create supply chain transparency, Walmart implemented blockchain technology after the E. coli outbreak. According to IHODL, blockchain is a “distributed database existing on multiple computers at the same time.” While the database exists on many computers, it is not connected to the internet, so it does not carry the same cybersecurity risks. This digital ledger is incredibly secure because only users that have a cryptography key have editing access to the data.
The level of security is essential because it ensures that the data is available for public viewing while protecting the credibility of the information. Walmart will be able to use blockchain to track contaminated foods throughout their supply chain journey to safeguard other goods or consumers from exposure.
It is no secret that our society favors quick ready-to-eat meals for on the go days. These ready-to-eat meals place increased pressure on the industry to adopt preservation and pasteurization methods that will sanitize and package foods while minimizing exposure to bacteria.
Infrared heating has become the industry preference for pasteurization, particularly for meats like ham. The heat lamps radiate heat at low temperatures, killing surface bacteria and contaminants before final packaging.
Modular Spectroscopy Systems
Spectroscopy studies the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation. There are multiple types of spectroscopy systems on the market, including absorbance, reflectance, fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy systems. These systems are used for the authentication and safety testing of foods.
As food fraud is a more significant problem with the global distribution of food goods, modular spectroscopy fills the need for technologically advanced equipment to authenticate foods throughout the distribution network.
While it is clear pathogens will not be going away any time soon, new technology is making the prevention, detection and treatment of these foodborne illnesses more comprehensive. It is estimated by Robert Scharff, an associate professor at Ohio State University in a 2015 study that foodborne illnesses cost $55.5 billion per year in medical treatment, lost productivity, and illness-related mortality. Embracing these technologies will help to minimize the impact of foodborne pathogens on individuals, while simultaneously improving the bottom line of food service businesses across the country.