"When an outbreak occurs, most of the infected produce has already been consumed," said Steve Scheuerell, faculty research associate at Oregon State University's Department of Botany and Plant Pathology here. "Usually recalls will not help. This is why prevention is key to keeping food safe," he was quoted as saying by FoodProductionDaily.com
Due to the significant strides in global food production, processing, distribution and preparation, there has been an increasing demand for food safety research in order to ensure a safer supply of food around the world. The World Health Organization, among other international and American institutions, has determined that food and waterborne diarrheal diseases are leading causes of illness and death in less developed countries, killing approximately 2.2 million people annually, most of whom are children.
Furthermore, thanks to advances in food safety research, plant pathologists are able to determine how dangerous human pathogens, such as E.coli and Salmonella, can survive on fresh fruits and vegetables and what can be done to control future outbreaks. In order to reduce the threat of transferring pathogens to fresh produce, plant pathologists emphasize that sanitary growing and harvesting conditions must be maintained worldwide.
"As the United States increases its importation of produce, it is increasingly important to us that growers everywhere have good quality irrigation water and sanitary conditions for their workers," observed Scheuerell.
Recently cluster of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) cases was identified in the U.S. and traced to the consumption of natural raw almonds. The almonds, from Paramount Farms, CA, were sold across the U.S. under several brands and exported to China, Taiwan, Democratic Republic of Korea, France, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
Scientists said that other food-borne pathogens are emerging because they are new microorganisms or because the role of food in their transmission has been recognized only recently. For example, infection with Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 (E. coli) was first described in 1982.
Subsequently, it has emerged rapidly as a major cause of bloody diarrhea and acute renal failure. The infection is sometimes fatal, particularly in children.
Outbreaks of infection, generally associated with beef, have been reported in Australia, Canada, Japan, United States, in various European countries, and in southern Africa. Outbreaks have also implicated alfalfa sprouts, unpasteurized fruit juice, lettuce, game meat and cheese curd. In 1996, an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Japan affected more than 6,300 school children and resulted in two deaths. WHO claims that this is the largest outbreak ever recorded for this pathogen.
Plant pathologists will present more on food safety and fresh produce during the 'Food Safety as Influenced by Phyllosphere Microflora' symposium at the American Phytopathological Society annual meeting in Anaheim, CA, from July 31 to August 4.