The viruses, paraites and bacteria responsible for causing food-borne diseases cannot be observed with the naked human eye. In most cases, contaminated foods often taste, smell or look like non-contaminated foods; as a result, there are considerable challenges in guaranteeing the safety of the supply of the food delivered to the public. The issue is complicated further by the fact that pathogens tend to multiply rapidly under normal conditions. A combination of these factors increases the difficulties in controlling food-borne diseases, even with the use of strictest measures. In the United States, unsafe foods results in about 76 million diseases and 5000 deaths annually. In addition, food diseases are responsible for approximately 325,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. Food borne diseases can attack individuals from all walks of life; however, pregnant women, young children and elderly are the most affected by the supply of unsafe foods in the United States. Whereas such diseases are prevalently observed in secluded cases, food poisoning outbreaks are usually the clusters of illness stemming from the consumption of a common contaminated food, whereby a single occurrence can have an effect on several people. The increase in the prevalence of food borne illnesses is a clear indicator of the failure of the United States food supply system. Regardless of the effectiveness of prevention and control efforts to ensure food safety, a lot has to be done in regard of microbiological food safety. While it is not feasible to eradicate all of potential threats on food safety, when there is proper growing, harvesting, handling, refrigeration and cooking, threats for food-borne diseases can be reduced substantially. Acknowledging that food safety is a core and ongoing issue, the supply of the food we eat should be regulated because of health risks.
Problems of Food Safety
Problem 1: Foods Do Not Meet the Required Safety Standards
The supply of the food we eat should be regulated because it sometimes fails to meet the required safety standards. The globalization of the food business characterized by the consolidation and amalgamation of the food industry is increasingly transforming food production and distrbution processes. As a result, newer challenges regarding compliance to required safety standards are increasingly becoming prevalent in the United States, which is primarily because the U.S imports and exports foods (Bottemiller, 2012). This poses the need for rapid strengthening of its control systems and implementing and enforcing food control measures that are risk-based. With substantial quantities of food traversing the globe, consumers are presented with many options; as a result, they are taking exceptional interest in the food production, processing and marketing operations. This increases pressure on the government to accept greater accountability as regards consumer protection and food safety (Redman, 2007). With the food industry and the government responding to these demands, food companies are increasing facing the challenge of establishing a food safety culture, ensuring that they use the best practices for ensuring food safety and enhancing the confidence of their customers while at the same time managing complexity and costs effectively. These challenges faced by food companies pose a significant challenge in relation to the compliance of establishment food safety standards. The gaps in compliance can be assessed by analyzing the efforts deployed by agencies involved in food safety such as the Food and Drugs and Administration (Bottemiller, 2012).
The United States Food and Drugs Administration is the agency that has a considerable food safety mandate; however, it has not been effective in ensuring that food companies comply with the required food safety regulations. In a 2012 report issued by the FDA to Congress, FDA reports that out of 167,0733 local registered facilities, inspection was only done on 19,073 agencies and states under contract (Bottemiller, 2012). In addition, out of 254,088 foreign registered facilities, inspection was only done on 995 facilities. FDA also cassified 22,325 as high risk, yet only 11,007 were inspected. It is apparent that there are substantial gaps regarding the inspection of food facilities, which increases the avenues non-compliance with the established food safety standards. The gaps in compliance with food safety standards are evident by the fact that FDA only inspects a small fraction of foods imported to the United States. The report by FDA indicates that it only examined 2.3% of foods important, which translates to about only 243,400 import lines of the total 10,439,236 (Bottemiller, 2012). Despite the fact that compliance rates have increased in recent years, it is apparent that most food safety regulatory systems in the United States are based on the legal explanations of unsafe foods and sanctions and benefits of compliance; these conventional systems fail to address the emerging challenges regarding food safety, since they are not preventive in nature. Because of gaps in compliance with safety standards, unsafe foods get their way to the market, resulting in increased incidences of food-borne diseases, which is discussed in the following subsection (Bottemiller, 2012).
Problem 2: The Supply of Food We Eat Should Be Regulated Since They Lead to Ill-Health
There is the need to regulate the supply of food in order to reduce the prevalence of food-borne illnesses in the United States. Shames (2010) argues that food safety is a vital health issue because the consumption of contaminated beverages or foods can cause death or illness. About 5000 deaths annually in the United States can be attributed to food borne illnesses. Besides death, food contamination accounts for about 80 million incidences of food borne illnesses. The most prevalent food borne diseases are derived from the E. coli bacteria and salmonella, which are often characterized by symptoms such as kidney failure, anemia, abdominal cramping, fever and bloody diarrhea. Regardless of substantial strides in improving the safety of the United States food supply, the existing science that forms the framework for food safety does not adequately protect the public from emerging issues that are intrinsic to the nation’s complex food supply system. The changing characteristics of consumers, pathogens, technology and food imply that it is highly improbable that the market will be devoid of dangerous organisms. The availability of unsafe foods in the supply chain increases the prevalence of food borne diseases among the members of the public.
In addition, illness resulting from food contamination imposes a significant burden on the economy that goes beyond health impacts to include subsequent nonattendance of work. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the seven most prevalent food-borne diseases lead to medical costs of about $ 6.6 – 37.1 million annually (Weise, 2010). Furthermore, the economic toll is observed in the court system through complains and lawsuits arising from the consumption of unsafe foods. According to Weise (2010), food-borne diseases cost the United States economy about $ 152 billion annually, which translates to about $ 1850 every time a person suffers from food contamination. The costs on the economy include medical costs, disabilities, lost work and deaths. An inference from this statistics by Bottemiller (2012) is that consumers are spending about $ 85 billion on the impacts of unsafe foods for every $ 1 billion spent by the government to curtail the threats posed by supply of unsafe foods. Perhaps, ensuring safe supply of foods could play an instrumental role in cutting the already high healthcare costs in the United States.
Solutions to the Identified Problems
It is apparent that the prevalence of the above problems poses the need to devise appropriate methods to curb the spread of unsafe foods in the market. As a result, there is the need to regulate the supply of foods in order to enhance food safety in the United States through ensuring compliance with the established standards. In addition, food safety standards should reflect the changing face of the food industry. In the light of this view, the potential solutions to the issue include ensuring that the food we eat would be thoroughly checked to conform to the safety standards, and creating consumer awareness programs to avoid the consumption of poor quality foods supplied in the market; these solutions are discussed in detail in the following subsections (Redman, 2007).
Solution 1: The Supply of Food Should Be Thoroughly Checked to Conform to Safety Standards
Reducing the prevalence of unsafe foods in the market requires the use of effective compliance standards and regulations aimed at ensuring that foods supplied in the market meet the required safety standards. Developing regulatory measures based on a preventive approach plays an integral role in ensuring that the objectives of food regulatory framework in the United States are achieved, which include (a) public protection by eliminating the threats of food borne diseases; (b) consumer protection from unadulterated, mislabeled or unwholesome foods; and (c) contributing towards economic growth by enhancing consumer confidence in the food supply chain (Weise, 2010). In ensuring that foods in the market are thoroughly checked to ensure that they conform to the safety standards, there is the need to develop a holistic approach, which entails thorough checking of all steps in the food supply chain from raw materials to the time of consumption; this is an effectve approach towards reducing the prevalence of food borne diseases. It is apparent that contaminants can be introduced in any part of the supply chain and transferred to the subsequent phases. In order to ensure there is absolute consumer protection, it is imperative that quality and safety standards be integrated into all phases of the food supply chain. Consequently, this poses the need for an integrated and comprehensive approach through which consumers, vendors, transporters, processors and producers can all play a significant role in ensuring food quality and safety, and depict preparedness during incidences relating to food safety. Compliance with the good regulatory requirements and safety standards entails food product tracing, food safety incident prevention and food safety incident preparedness (Wallace & Oria, 2010).
Thorough checking of foods can be achieved through food product tracing, which is vital at all phases of the food supply system. It is not possible to offer sufficient consumer protection through mere sampling and analysis of the final food product. Food companies should introduce preventive measures at all phases of production and distribution and inspection at the lastphase increases food safety. Tracking a produce from the farm to the fork entails gathering information and retrieving this information as needed. Regulatory authorities must have the power to demand for this information and be made available quickly. Food safety incident prevention requires gathering and analyzing information, and preventing incidents. Reducing the risk of a food safety incident can be attained by enhancing quality control, procedures for manufacturing, physical security and communications with supliers. With regard to food safety incident readiness, regulatory agencies must make sure those foods companies are in control and have established response measures in the event of a food safety incident. Overall, a holistic approach to ensuring compliance should entail preventing, recording, responding and proving compliance (Weise, 2010).
Solution 2: Create Consumer Awareness Programs to Avoid Consumption of Substandard/ Poor Quality Foods Supplied in the Market
Consumer awareness programs against the consumption of substandard foods are one of the strategies that can be used to enhance food safety and reduce the prevalence of food borne diseases in the United States. Mass awareness programs are aimed at ensuring that consumers are knowledgeable of the substandard foods available in the market. In addition, awareness campaigns should aim at informing consumers of the various ways, through which they can identify substandard and contaminated foods in the market. For instance, consumers should be advised to cautiously inspect all packaged foods before purchase. Consumers are supposed to be aware of the usual appearance of the packaged foods (Redman, 2007). As a result, they are likely to notice a missing seal or wrapper. In addition, consumers are advised to compare the food packaging with the rest on the shelf. In the event one is suspicious that the container has been tampered with, it is necessary to inform the local law enforcement agency or the health department (Weise, 2010).
It is apparent that food safety is a critical issue in relation to the supply of foods; as a result, there is the need to devise regulatory measures to ensure that only safe foods are available in the market. The evidence presented in the paper clearly highlights the prevalence of the problem, especially through increases in food borne illnesses and the fact that most foods in the market do not meet the established safety standards. This problems increase the threat of the public consuming unsafe foods, which imposes negative impacts on the economy and healthcare. Therefore, if governments fail to put regulatory and safety measures on the supply of food we eat, more people will be prone to ill-health.