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Back to the future

Climate change, flooding, droughts, energy price rises, a squeeze on the economy could all have consequences on food safety. But how and when?

A recent study provides one example: it found that the melting of the Arctic ice is causing persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, that were trapped in snow and ice to be re-released into the environment. These industrial chemicals can build up in food and water supplies, and accumulate in animal body fat, which has potential implications for food safety. Measures are now in place restrict new industrial releases of POPs, so it’s unlikely to put us back where we were several decades ago in terms of POP levels in the environment, but this kind of effect might undermine efforts to reduce the levels of these chemicals.

This isn’t an unexpected occurrence – it was predicted some time ago that climate change would lead to the re-release of these chemicals – but there is now data to support the theory. Similarly, the Agency is also funding work investigating the occurrence of compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in food in the UK. This sort of forward-looking analysis is essential in order to understand possible changes under different scenarios, identify what the consequences could be and what can be done to mitigate the risk.

The FSA is also involved in horizon scanning activities in collaboration, to identify possible food safety risks before they emerge. For example, with Defra and others, the Agency is sponsoring a Centre for Environmental Risk and Futures (CERF) at Cranfield University.  The centre will provide horizon scanning and futures studies across the food and environment areas to help us identify and address potential new threats and opportunities to delivering safer food in the long-term.

Some of the potential issues we are interested in exploring are: how could increases in environmental temperatures affect the growth and distribution of harmful bacteria in the food chain? Could increases in energy prices lead to a decrease in use or inadequate refrigeration? Is there an increased risk of flooding and how might this affect chemical and microbiological contamination?  And, more generally, how might the food supply system change over the forthcoming decades, and what will that mean for our work on food safety?

What do you think the future priorities for food safety should be?  What wider developments might help us, or knock us off course?


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I think these are good and necessary strategies but we can still do a lot more closer to home as well. There are 3 improvements we should make which could make a huge impact on food safety in the UK
1. It is irresponsible and ridiculous to allow anyone to open a food outlet with no knowledge of food safety. A prospective FBO should have to possess at least a current level 3 food safety certificate.
2. Looking at the FSA's ratings it is clear that the main culprits achieving the lowest scores are Chinese and Indian/Asian FBO's. In my experience these operators rarely have a good command of the English language, especially in written form. How can we expect someone who can't understand our laws and guidelines to adhere to them? We need to insist that any FBO has a good command of the English language at an appropriate level. We mustn't be diverted by cries of racism. What is especially worrying is the fact that the employees of these establishments often visit areas of Asia which have some of the poorest hygiene standards in the world. Good hygiene practices are needed to protect the public against food borne diseases as well as food poisoning agents.
3. We must make it compulsory to display Hygiene scores in the premises. It is not enough to show them on the FSA website because; a, when you're out and about you're unlikely to connect to the internet to view a score and; b, as yet the agency hasn't done anywhere near enough work to promote the the fact that scores can be viewed online by the general public leading to a lack of awareness of the scheme

Posted by Shawn Halford on August 03, 2011 at 09:16 PM BST #

Dear Dr Wadge
One element that may not be in your current strategy is to find out how to improve the digestion of the population. Strong digestion will reduce both the potential magnitude of harm and the probability that it will occur. Ayurveda, the world's most ancient documented system of health care, can offer a lot of useful advice about strenthening digestion which it sees as the cornerstone of good health.

Posted by David Whitley on August 04, 2011 at 02:46 PM BST #

Andrew, very interesting, my thoughts on the future problems are more to do with the commerce of food production, as premium quality foods start to achieve prices that encourage less scrupulous to substitute lesser quality and even counterfeit product, this is not an unknown problem, putting lead oxide into bread back in the Victorian times and modern day Chinese manufacturing eggs.
Shawn it's not about racism its about inclusion and respect. We should make the systems available to all, check out the SFBB in different languages, lets use a carrot not a stick, if you can't get compliance because of your lack of skill in communicating maybe get a member of the community you are trying to communicate with who can speak both languages fluidly to express your wishes/needs.
David,most of the adult population have a perfectly adequate digestive 'strength' it is the very young, elderly, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised that suffer the worst effects of 'food poisoning'. In a round about way your saying it is their fault for getting sick because they are not strong enough.

Posted by Jeff Smyth on August 12, 2011 at 09:43 PM BST #

Author comment

Thanks Jeff, you beat me to it with a response. I agree, everyone providing food should understand the basics of food hygiene, and although the rules and regulations are robust they aren’t the easiest things to understand – whether English is your first language or not. For us, food safety is paramount and we want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to understand how to produce safe food, and I hope that tools such as ‘Safer food, better business’ help achieve this. The packs are available in English, Welsh and Cantonese and the accompanying DVD is in 16 languages, so hopefully this goes some way towards bridging any potential language barriers.

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme will also arm consumers with the information they need to make their own choices and drive up hygiene standards at the same time. We are encouraging businesses to voluntarily display their hygiene ratings at their premises. We will review this next year to find out how well this is working in reality, though the Welsh Government is already planning to bring in legislation, which will mean that businesses in Wales will have to display their ratings. The scheme is proving really popular locally and we’re working closely with local authorities to promote the scheme in their areas.

David, as you can probably tell from my response above, our strategy for reducing food poisoning levels is primarily focussed on education on food hygiene, both in the home and in food businesses, and also on reducing levels of contamination on food during production. This is because these interventions have been identified as having the greatest impact. But as always, we’re open to considering different solutions.

Posted by Terrence Collis on August 15, 2011 at 02:11 PM BST #

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