The number of foodborne illnesses seems to have increased with almost daily news of another multi-state outbreak of pathogens affecting our food supply.
Most people realize there are steps they can take to protect themselves from foodborne illness simply when shopping in the supermarket.
Following the tips from Detective Foodsafe® below will help all consumers take charge of their food safety when buying groceries.
But what other new innovations are on the horizon (or already here) that put even more control over our own food safety in our hands?
Advances in detection and tracking of food safety outbreaks may be able to help reduce the prevalence of illness for all of us.
Latest Research in RFID Food Labeling
Have you noticed the RFID tags currently on billions of items? Barcodes are the standard for foods since they are inexpensive compared to RFID tags. You may find more RFID tags in the future if their benefits can be realized by manufacturers.
Researchers are investigating the ability of consumers to have readers that they can use with the RFID tag on their label to track and detect potential food safety concerns.
There may also be a way that smart refrigerators or supermarket personnel can read the RFID tag to determine if the food is spoiled.
Researchers think the RFID tag can be designed to send a signal when it interacts with contaminants within the food product being sold or stored at home alerting the user to a problem.
In the MIT Media Lab, researchers found melamine in baby formula with 96 percent accuracy using this system.
While their system is in the testing phase only, real world applications are promising, according to the researchers.
Technology Advances to Keep Our Food Safe
Many experts feel that our food supply system has been slow to adopt the latest technology to keep the supply chain safe.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011 mandates traceability standards that can secure our food throughout the supply chain, but there is some uncertainty to its enforcement.
Temperature management, tracking, cross contamination, and inappropriate processing all will be regulated under the FSMA legislation to make the food supply safe for the public.
Some tech advances to make this happen include automated temperature management and reporting. This compliance will occur throughout the food chain from harvest, processing, transportation, distribution, and, finally, receipt of the food by the public.
Real time tracking of food on the pallet as it follows its journey from farm to table can improve the effectiveness of the supply chain as well as any food not held at the correct temperature during its journey.
Tracking foods and collecting data using block chain technology shared by all will also make it more traceable so that any food contamination can be quickly identified and consumers alerted to prevent foodborne illness.
On-site solutions in distribution centers and supermarkets that include internet connected devices, which replace paper and pencil documentation, will improve recording and monitoring of the safety of the food supply.
Consumers are demanding that technology systems be implemented by all interdependent partners involved in the food chain to give us safe food and also to act fast to prevent and quickly mitigate food safety outbreaks.
An ultimate consequence in traceability, in addition to reducing illness, is a welcome reduction in food waste.
Detective Foodsafe’s Tips for Grocery Shopping
Here are a few basic steps from Detective Foodsafe that we should all be practicing when we buy our groceries.
- Shop in grocery stores that are clean especially shelves, refrigerated display cases, and seafood displays.
- Read the label before purchasing to ensure that the product isn’t past its expiration date. Sometimes the food isn’t rotated so what is expired may still be available for sale.
- Check to ensure the temperature of dairy and meat/poultry cases are correct. Report any concerns to the store manager.
- Don’t purchase frozen foods that appear to have been defrosted along the way, have visible ice crystals, or have a water puddle around them. Frozen foods can be home to Listeria which isn’t killed by cold temperatures.
- Don’t buy bulging, cracked, leaking, or dented cans or those with corroded lids. Don’t buy packages that are ripped or the wrapping is torn.
- When using reusable grocery bags, be sure you clean them regularly so they don’t cross contaminate your latest purchases.
- Transport perishable foods home from the supermarket safely and timely. Once home, store in refrigerator or freezer promptly. If your trip home takes longer than 30 minutes, transport in cold insulated bag or chest.
Even if you per-order groceries online for later pickup, ensure the perishables were stored properly waiting for you to pick them up. That may be easier said than done, of course, since we can’t know how food is handled when out of our sight.
The food safety of home delivered meals and meal kits is also important to manage. Ensure the foods are stored in a temperature-controlled environment and haven’t been in the temperature danger zone while waiting for you to return home on delivery day.
Keeping ourselves and our families safe from foodborne illness is in our hands, whether through personal actions or advocacy efforts that demand our food supply be properly protected.