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Study identifies weakest links in food safety


February 10, 2012
By Canadian Pizza

February 10, 2012, Toronto – The weakest links in food safety are found
closest to the plates of Canadian diners, according to a Conference
Board of Canada report, released on the second day of the Canadian Food
Summit 2012.

February 10, 2012, Toronto – The weakest links in food safety are found
closest to the plates of Canadian diners, according to a Conference
Board of Canada report, released on the second day of the Canadian Food
Summit 2012.

“Canada’s food safety system generally does a good job at protecting the
health of Canadians, but improvement is needed,” said Daniel Munro,
principal research associate with the Conference Board of Canada. “It is
commonly assumed that farms and food processing companies hold the most
responsibility for ensuring safe food, and their role is critical. But
most food-borne illnesses are associated with the preparation and
storage practices of restaurants, foodservice operations, and consumers
themselves.”
 
In its report, Improving Food Safety in Canada: Toward a More Risk
Responsive System, the Conference Board estimates that there are close
to 6.8 million cases of food-borne illness annually in Canada. Most are
mild and involve minor discomfort and inconvenience. It is rare for
consumption of unsafe food to cause serious illness or death in Canada.
In 2008, there were 40 such deaths.
 
Seventy to 80 per cent of food poisoning illnesses are associated with
mistakes in the final preparation and handling of food products. About
half of all food-borne illnesses are acquired in restaurants and other
foodservice establishments, while many of the remaining cases are linked
to food that is stored and prepared in the home.
 
While farms and food processors are less often the source of food
illness, they too are part of the solution. Given their position in the
food supply chain and the huge numbers of consumers, even infrequent
failures can affect the health of many people.
 
The Conference Board of Canada report, prepared by the Board’s Centre
for Food in Canada, identifies five potential areas for improvement:

  • Providing small and medium restaurants and foodservice operators
    with management advice and information on how they can minimize food
    safety risks and take effective action in the case of outbreaks. The
    current model emphasizes inspections, but they occur too infrequently to
    have a decisive impact on day-to-day food safety practices.
  • Encouraging better behaviour among consumers by building on current
    consumer awareness programs. Consumers appear to know what they should
    be doing to prepare and handle food safely, but they often don’t put
    that knowledge to use.
  • Harmonizing private standards to protect the public interest. It is
    not well known how well the alphabet soup of private food safety
    standards contributes to consumer protection.
  • Making greater use of technology to improve visibility and
    traceability. Technologies, such as innovations in manufacturing
    processes, better machinery, food additives, and/or information
    technologies that assist in tracing the origins of ingredients or
    products, can help improve food safety. But some of these technologies
    entail new risks of their own. Canadians would be well-served by an open
    debate on the potential benefits and harm of food technology
    innovations.
  • Adding resources to address the potential increase in risks from
    international food sources. As Canadian meals include more imported
    foods and ingredients than ever before, additional resources would help
    ensure that international foods meet Canadian standards.

 
The report provides a foundation for dialogue on Canada’s food safety
system. Its release coincided with the Canadian Food Summit 2012, held
Feb. 7 and 8 in Toronto.

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The Food Summit is part of the Centre for Food in Canada (CFIC), a
multi-year Conference Board of Canada program of research and dialogue.
About 25 companies and organizations have invested in the project, which
will culminate in 2013 with the development of a Canadian Food
Strategy.