Back to the Future: 3 Ways We’ve Improved Food Safety Since 1985

Back to the Future CartoonGreat Scott, it’s almost October 21, 2015! Back to the Future fans everywhere understand the significance of this date! In 1985, Back to the Future captivated audiences all over the world and marked the beginning of a franchise. This same year, major events occurred in the food industry that led to future changes in food safety. In Southern California, the largest number of food poisoning deaths ever recorded in US history took place. The culprit? A Listeria outbreak linked to soft, Mexican-style cheese. Ultimately, 28 lives were claimed by this bacterium. At fault was the use of unpasteurized milk in making the cheese.

In 1985, Marty McFly and Doc Brown were still experiencing loose food safety regulations. That year there was another outbreak linked to milk. This time the culprit was Salmonella. In this outbreak, 6,644 cases of Salmonella poisoning were reported, with at least 9 deaths. Just a few years later, another bacterium was cast onto center stage: E. coli. Contaminated hamburger meat from Jack in the Box restaurants became probably the most infamous food outbreak in history. Four children lost their lives.

From these tragedies, several reforms were able to take place. Federal regulations were strengthened, science was improved, and public awareness was increased.

Federal Regulation Changes
At the beginning of the twentieth century, food inspection was generally thought to be the duty of the consumer, not the government. However, as the years went by and awareness arose, the US government began creating protocols and guidelines for food safety. In 1988, the Food and Drug Administration Act officially established the FDA as an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The commissioner was directly appointed by the President and was given specific food safety responsibilities, including research, enforcement, education, and dispersal of information.

On July 6, 1996, Bill Clinton announced new USDA Regulations and adopted the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) rule. This rule was to ensure that American families have the safest meat and poultry inspection system possible.

Improvements in Science
Around this time, advancing technology in detecting pathogens and toxins in food became a national priority. The ability to detect these pathogens is extremely important to ensure the safety and quality of food. Rapid pathogen detection methods now provide better accuracy, sensitivity, and speed than previous models. The focus shifted from treatment to prevention and reduction of disease causing organisms.

Increase in Public Awareness
Last month, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act became final and many new laws were created to prevent contamination and protect consumers. The public is increasingly aware of food safety issues as they are being broadcast throughout the news and social media on a scale larger than ever before. In addition to government regulation, the food service industry also implemented many self-regulating initiatives to mitigate food hazards.

Since 1985, we have experienced new insight and information on food safety issues that have led to a safer consumer environment. Although we have not eradicated foodborne illnesses and outbreaks, progress is made every year. More emphasis is being made on prevention and reduction of disease causing organisms than ever before. If you do happen to see Marty McFly wandering around on October 21, after getting over your shock, maybe hand him a copy of the Food Safety Modernization Act (that you obviously carry around) so we can get the paradigm shift started 30 years in the past! Now as Biff said, “Why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here.”

Jessica Hill

Go to StateFoodSafety.com to train online today!

Download Image: Back to the Future Cartoon

1 Comment

  1. Having worked in the agri-food industry and regulatory side, I am surprised how delusional we have been. We keep saying the food supply is safe; but it ain’t and has not been and most likely won’t be in the future. Last year I finally started giving a talk entitled: A SAFE FOOD SUPPLY IS AN AS YET UNACHIEVED AND PERHAPS UNACHIEVABLE ASPIRATIONAL GOAL.
    LET’S GET REAL! NO MORE TRUTHINESS PLEASE! THE FOOD SUPPLY HAS NOT BEEN SAFE SINCE EVE AND ADAM ATE THE APPLE AND IT HAS NOT BEEN SAFE IN THE PAST; IS NOT SAFE NOW AND MOST LIKELY WON’T BE SAFE IN THE FUTURE — ALL WE CAN DO IS TO REDUCE OR MINIMIZE THE RISK DUE TO FOOD…….(with 48 million cases of foodborne disease in the US each year it will be a big job!)

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