Future challenges to microbial food safety.Int J Food Microbiol. 2010 May 30; 139 Suppl 1:S79-94.IJ
Despite significant efforts by all parties involved, there is still a considerable burden of foodborne illness, in which micro-organisms play a prominent role. Microbes can enter the food chain at different steps, are highly versatile and can adapt to the environment allowing survival, growth and production of toxic compounds. This sets them apart from chemical agents and thus their study from food toxicology. We summarize the discussions of a conference organized by the Dutch Food and Consumer Products Safety Authority and the European Food Safety Authority. The goal of the conference was to discuss new challenges to food safety that are caused by micro-organisms as well as strategies and methodologies to counter these. Management of food safety is based on generally accepted principles of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points and of Good Manufacturing Practices. However, a more pro-active, science-based approach is required, starting with the ability to predict where problems might arise by applying the risk analysis framework. Developments that may influence food safety in the future occur on different scales (from global to molecular) and in different time frames (from decades to less than a minute). This necessitates development of new risk assessment approaches, taking the impact of different drivers of change into account. We provide an overview of drivers that may affect food safety and their potential impact on foodborne pathogens and human disease risks. We conclude that many drivers may result in increased food safety risks, requiring active governmental policy setting and anticipation by food industries whereas other drivers may decrease food safety risks. Monitoring of contamination in the food chain, combined with surveillance of human illness and epidemiological investigations of outbreaks and sporadic cases continue to be important sources of information. New approaches in human illness surveillance include the use of molecular markers for improved outbreak detection and source attribution, sero-epidemiology and disease burden estimation. Current developments in molecular techniques make it possible to rapidly assemble information on the genome of various isolates of microbial species of concern. Such information can be used to develop new tracking and tracing methods, and to investigate the behavior of micro-organisms under environmentally relevant stress conditions. These novel tools and insight need to be applied to objectives for food safety strategies, as well as to models that predict microbial behavior. In addition, the increasing complexity of the global food systems necessitates improved communication between all parties involved: scientists, risk assessors and risk managers, as well as consumers.