Bacteria shouldn’t survive on dry food such as flour, flaxseed meal, chocolate and black pepper. Or so we thought. Food science has a mysterious measurement called water activity which shows how much water is present in a food that is available for microorganism growth. Moisture content lets us know the total amount of water in a food. Water activity is a key factor in food preservation; like pH. Water activity runs from 0, which is no water to 1.0 which is pure water. Food scientists have known that if water activity is less than 0.6 no microorganism growth can occur. In fact, bacteria need a water activity of 0.85 before they can grow. So why did Norway just have an outbreak which was most likely caused by a dried nut mix?
I am a very frustrated consumer and food science professional. I have been doing a hazard analysis and looking up all the ingredients I and my clients use. Pretty much every ingredient, especially if they are processed, has been involved in causing foodborne illness or been part of a recall because they might contain pathogens. This is pretty shocking as this implies we have a serious problem with food manufacturing in the US. Initially, I thought that recalls showed that the system is working, especially if no one became ill. Well it is in a way, if food is withdrawn from the market before anyone gets ill. However, managing a food supply by responding to the potential threat of Salmonella etc. AFTER they have been found in a manufacturing facility is NOT a safe food system. So now I believe that recalls show we have a broken food system.
On top of all that, the American Ambassador to Great Britain claims that American agriculture is science and technology based whereas the EU uses traditional methods which should be in a museum! That will please the Germans! Britons, so far, are unimpressed with the idea of an open trade agreement with the US especially around food. There have been quite a few rebuttals from British farmers. James Rebank had a couple of great responses on Instagram. Additionally, Sustain showed that there are more foodborne illnesses per capita in the US compared to the UK, refuting his claim that US food manufacturing is safer than British ag. Did you know that your US chicken was chlorine rinsed?
What have we done?
- Why are so many people in the US getting ill from food poisoning?
- How many products made by small food businesses fall through the cracks?
- How many small manufacturers check to see if they have bacteria in their facility?
- How many food entrepreneurs consider food safety serious issue equal to marketing?
There has to be a better more sustainable, more resilient way to produce food on a large scale. The large manufacturers must know the risks. Do small food businesses? Is local food the answer? What do you think are the next steps to improving our food system? Comment, share, and keep the conversation going.