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Sustainable U: Food safety first

By Rachneet Randhawa, April 29 2021—

If the wonkiness of this past year has taught us anything, it’s that most people overlook the concept of food safety and unfortunately tend to care about it only when physiological symptoms appear and damage control has to be done. Bacterial contamination in food is more prevalent than ever with the onset of infectious diseases that have jumped from animal to humans, as pathogens are bacterial, viral or parasitic. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that every year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness.

Food safety hazards are divided into four key areas: biological, like microorganisms, chemical, like natural toxins or antibiotics, physical, including metals or plastics and allergens like fish, eggs and tree nuts. In terms of contracting a foodborne illness, bacteria cause 30 per cent, viruses 67 per cent and lastly parasites causing three per cent. Around six key pathogen diseases account for 90 per cent of the deaths associated with foodborne illness including 31 per cent for Salmonella, 28 per cent for Listeria, 21 per cent for Toxoplasma, seven per cent for Norwalk-like virus, five per cent for Campylobacter and three per cent for Escherichia.

So, what contributes to food poisoning? Improper holding temperature, inadequate cooking, contaminated equipment, food from unsafe sources as well as poor personal hygiene. Typically, symptoms of foodborne illness and poisoning are flu-like and consist of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps among others.

One of the best examples of an incident regarding a food product recall in Canada was the Maple Leaf Foods scandal in 2008 which set the precedent of how a company should safeguard its reputation. As one of the oldest meat processing companies in Canada, Maple Leaf Foods employs over 13,500 people and as of their fourth quarter 2020 reports, recorded profits of $180.3 million. After experiencing an outbreak of L. monocytogenes at one of the meat processing plants, nearly 234 products were recalled which not only damaged the organization’s reputation but led to the death of 21 people. The repercussions of the recall lasted until this very day with Mr. Sub litigating and claiming significant losses.

This goes to show how crucial it is to reframe the crisis response as a public health issue for consumable contaminated goods and take a holistic approach by informing and involving the supply chain, retailers and consumers through email and alerts from the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and social media. When it comes to a food safety crisis and cross-contamination of edible foods the best stance taken is a proactive one.

Although food recalls are becoming more common in these last few years, they are the result of misjudgement and incorrect labelling. It is still good practice to be mindful of general recalls and safety alerts now more than ever. Becoming a conscious consumer on any type of recall by educating oneself on what actually goes into the product is extremely important. You can do this by signing up for notification alerts on a regular basis and simply sharing information with your family and friends on a food product that has gone missing on grocery store shelves lately. 

Sustainable U is a regular column focused on sustainability. This column is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board. 

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