One of the biggest challenges in modern safety is the food production and supply network which has grown exponentially due to globalization. Therefore, imported foods where safety standards may be lower than in the United States and environmental causes during transport are potential causes of foodborne bacteria or illness. It is important to consider the food production chain which can be quite extensive.
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It begins with production when the plants are harvested or animals are raised to be used for food. Although the majority of production comes from domesticated animals or plants occurring on farms, some are caught or harvested in the wild such as fish or mushrooms. Contamination can occur at this stage if the animal’s organs are infected, contaminated water is used for irrigation, or the animals or plants intake toxins from the environment.
The next step is processing, by turning plants and animals into recognizable food from their fruits or parts. Processing can be complex, ranging from simple sorting to dedicated trimming and shredding, or as with milk, pasteurizing. At times, the process requires further cooking, smoking, or freezing the resulting products. Contamination can occur during processing due to insufficient sterilization of materials and surfaces or transfer of bacteria during the washing or slaughter process.
Distribution occurs next when the food is delivered from the processing facility to stores, restaurants, and consumers’ homes. Transport and storage is involved in this complex logistical enterprise that includes many suppliers and participating agents. Contamination can occur when proper norms of sanitation or storage are not followed, cross contamination between animal and plant products, or presence of mechanical errors in transportation.
The final step is preparation, when the food is being prepared or cooked to eat, commonly occurring in kitchens. The food is heated, mixed with other ingredients, and served. The human factor comes into the contamination risk at this point where disease may be transferred if someone is sick, fails to wash hands, or does not properly sanitize or use appropriate equipment. It is evident that the process of delivering food to the table is highly complex and there are multiple points along the way where food may be mishandled leading to contamination. The food production chain is highly regulated and numerous guidelines exist, but there is still potential that a foodborne illness may be transferred at some point throughout the chain.