We are surrounded by bacteria, fungi and viruses. These microbes can be harmful to foods; the species used to produce desired products, e.g., beer, wine or cheese, cause spoilage if growth is uncontrolled. Food-borne microbial illness is quite common: Most people get infected twice a year, but a day or two of diarrhoea is usually not reported.
Acute microbial food illness is generally bacterial or viral and can be from the microbe, e.g., EHEC, or from a toxin it produces, e.g., STEC. Conversely, chronic microbial food illness is generally from fungi and their toxins, and though less well known, these are often serious, long-term health risks. Aflatoxins, produced by a fungus that infects wheat, are liver carcinogens with a high incidence in tropical regions.
To prevent microbial food-borne diseases, we look at the whole chain – production, storage, transport, preparation and consumption – and make legislation from the risk assessment based on worst case scenarios. This is more commonly reactive than proactive, making new risks difficult to legislate. Consumer demand for natural, organic, less produced, sustainable, no additives, etc., introduces new risks e.g., biodegradable food packaging is food for fungi and bacteria which might then enter the human food.
New microbes are always arising. As more antibiotics are used in feed, different microbial spectrums are seen. As humans change their diets, different microbial flora emerge in the gut. Microbes are highly adaptable; They evolve, they transfer genes, they release toxins and they are found at unexpected times and in unexpected places.
Metrology and Technologies: Tools to Increase Food Safety
Metrology refers to measuring and it is part of our lives from birth. To maintain high food quality, scientific measurements are crucial for traceability, nutritional quality, chemical and microbial safety, et al. A large effort is needed to produce quick and inexpensive measuring methods which can be marketed globally and which save time and increase quality.
Mycotoxin contamination is a global food safety issue with regulations more extensive in the EU and USA than in Africa and Asia. Thus, the EU may import products of high risks; although quality products are usually exported and poorer quality products are consumed domestically. Rapid testing methods and ensuring food production operatives have completed relevant food safety courses would increase worldwide safety and value of these products. Quality assurance in food testing, i.e., performance testing with inter-laboratory controls, and quality and reliability of measurements, is crucial for monitoring Mycotoxins and other food safety issues both for industry and regulators.