Foodborne pathogens remain in consumer food products worldwide. While advances
in food processing techniques, policy, and knowledge regarding foodborne
pathogens occur are numerous, both sporadic cases and outbreaks are still
prevalent. In addition to foodborne pathogens, the informed reader also sees
the incoming recalls of ready-to-eat foods that may contain plastics and other
contaminants. Lastly, there are numerous recalls regarding mislabeled products that
contain undeclared allergens.
The proposal: improved notification systems
Reducing foodborne pathogens and contaminants to levels below those harmful
to humans may prove difficult given the current state of food control;
therefore, it is important to investigate alternative intervention strategies. While
public news feeds (RSS feeds) provided by the FSIS/USDA, CDC, FDA, WHO etc. bring a
small, voluntary subscriber base knowledge of food recalls & cases of
foodborne illness, the general population remains disconnected and in the dark.
By bridging communication gaps between
grocery stores, restaurants, and other retailers
we may reduce prevalence of
foodborne illness cases, outbreaks, as well as consumption of contaminated or mislabeled
products. The proliferation of electronic devices such as smartphones and
computers may be used to enhance communication between these
layers. For example, text message alerts, smartphone alerts, smartphone apps, email,
etc. all may be utilized to keep everyone in the loop – instantaneously. Notifying
consumers to be immediately when recalls of purchased items have been made,
these potentially harmful items may be properly disposed of rather than
ingested. As an illustrative example, customers who purchased recalled item with
UPC code X may be alerted automatically by an administrator.
To my knowledge, the closest existing alert system is a service provided by
foodsafety.gov where users may (voluntarily) subscribe to a recall feed by
email or RSS feed. Again, this only reaches a small userbase due to its purely
optional nature. Thinking out loud.. interesting avenues that come to mind are policies in place for
which communication and notifications between processing plants, retailers, and
all consumers is required.
Edit June 18, 2017: After posting this entry, I have been informed of CFIA who posts recalled products and their labels (sometimes UPC codes even) on twitter! Although one needs to voluntarily follow CFIA on twitter, this is much closer to the general public than email or RSS feeds. Hats off to them!