The Festering Consumer Confidence Problem: How Foodborne Illnesses are Destroying Public Trust and how New Discoveries could Save the Day.

In order to pass through a typical day we are forced to rely on other humans. There are few places that becomes any more evident than in the food industry. We trust that the food we buy at the grocery or at various restaurants has been grown, harvested and prepared safely in a way that is healthy for consumption.

That’s unfortunately not always the case. The CDC estimates that one in six Americans will suffer from some kind of foodborne illness in the next twelve months. Luckily, thanks to the possibility of a future device, those numbers may change for the better in the not too distant future.

According to Gizmodo, a new technique has been discovered that allows a tester to discover bacteria contamination in minutes as opposed to weeks. It combines two separate tests that involve both fluorescence and magnetic resonance. Currently the new method has only been used to recognize E. coli, but it’s believed that the same type of test could be calibrated to recognize other bacteria like salmonella.

“It has a widespread potential application,” said Tuhina Banerjee, the lead author of a paper in ACS Infectious Diseases. “We’re not just restricted to this pathogen. Depending on the outbreaks, we can come up with new applications.”

Such a test would be of huge value. Not only could it dramatically reduce the number of consumers who grow ill each year, but it could potentially save businesses hundreds of millions of dollars. Chipotle, for example, saw earnings drop by more than 40% after losing consumer’s trust during their E. coli scare in late 2015. According to CNN Money this accounted for the loss of nearly $30 million in Q4 versus the previous year.

Until such a device becomes available to help companies recognize when problems may exist they’ll need to continue to rely on the USDA’s guidelines to food safety.

  • Clean:  Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate:  Don’t cross-contaminate
  • Cook:  Heat to proper temperatures
  • Chill:  Refrigerate promptly

Cleanliness is important because filth can transfer bacteria from human to meal. It’s why you should always wash your hands, consider using gloves with any skin abrasions and keep all of your utensils clean during preparation and cooking.

Because germs can spread by cross contamination it is important to keep foods like meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separated from things like produce that are often eaten raw. Bacteria in the meat can easily be transferred and is one of the causes of salmonella outbreaks due to things like cucumbers.

Make sure that your meat, poultry and seafood is cooked to the proper temperature. This is important because it kills off any lingering bacteria that may exist within it. It’s why keeping an eye on whether or not your oven is heating to the proper temperature can be important to your home or business.

While cooking food can kill lingering bacteria, failing to chill your food can stimulate the growth of new bacteria. It’s why you need to ensure that food is kept and maintained below 40℉ and why it’s important to ensure that no part of your fridge or freezer is failing to meet that level of cool. This failure to cool could be occurring in the door of your home refrigerator or because it’s overstocked or in an industrial fridge at points furthest from cooling vents. It’s why you should always have an idea as to what points are most dangerous to food and why temperature monitoring can be so important.

As Gizmodo alluded to, a new device that is able to detect bacteria would be a boon for both consumers and the food service industry, but it isn’t the ultimate solution. At the end of the day we need to do a better job as a society of following the food safety rules as outlined by the USDA. Ultimately, that’s where trust will always begin.