As the popularity of modern food trends continue to grow, so does the many food safety concerns associated with them; forcing food safety specialists to stay on their toes in the likelihood of an outbreak. Some of the most talked about food trends today involve some very controversial methods that have caused consumers to fall ill or even die.
Several restaurants have flocked to the idea of keeping a hydroponic wall garden—a method of growing vegetation with either sand or gravel—inside the restaurant. Restaurants do this as way to show their consumers exactly where their herbs and leafy greens are being grown (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017). Some restaurants have even gone as far as to grow their gardens on rooftops or in flower beds.
But despite how innovative, and downright creative the food trends appear to be, the real question is: is it safe to grow produce where consumers dine?
The reason being is that some restaurants have yet to consider the possibility of a non-consumer contaminating the vegetation, as well as run the risk of Listeria, and other foodborne disease-causing bacteria, developing when growers lack a good food safety protocol (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017).
Though the thought of locally grown, locally produced products seem like a sensible route to go down. Yet, what most consumers don’t know is that foodservice companies must carry out supplier-approval programs for local growers and producers (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017). In short, they’re required to apply food safety practices at every step of the growing, harvesting, processing and distributing process. Thus, traceability is more vital now than it ever was.
For instance, in 2011, Jensen Farms in Colorado experienced a Listeria outbreak which resulted in 33 people dying from contaminated cantaloupe (Neuman, 2011). One would think locally grown producers would take extra precautions. However, investigators tracked the melons back to a truck that traveled through a cattle lot and possibly brought Listeria back to the packing area.
Evidently, the farm did not follow the FDA guidelines for cooling melons. The guidelines specify that melon supplies are to be cooled by forced-air cooling or by the use of a chilled water drench, which can vary from 13 to 18 degrees Celsius (Melon Commodity Specific Guidance, 2005). And, if done correctly with water, may reduce microbial loads that contaminate the outside surface of melons. In this case, the melons were packed warm in boxes that were then refrigerated. This method has the potential to produce condensation that promotes Listeria growth. But Listeria isn’t the only outbreak concern as consuming raw cookie dough has developed into a common food trend.
In 2016, 38 people became infected with E. coli in 20 states from the raw flour produced at a General Mills facility in Missouri (Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, and Signature Kitchens Flour Recalled Due to Possible E. coli 0121 Contamination, 2016). The consumers had reported using the flour in the week before they ate the homemade batter.
So, how does flour, a low-water-activity food, become a hazardous ingredient? Wheat and other grains that are grown for flour production are not treated to kill bacteria that might come from animals, especially birds and rodents, which can defecate on the grain before it is milled into flour (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017). The expectation has always been that the flour used to make food will be cooked before consumption in order to kill foodborne pathogens that may remain in the product. But though consumers may neglect to read the food safety guidelines, it is, however, still the manufacturers’ responsibility to label any packaging appropriately.
For instance, manufacturers of gluten-free (GF) products are also accountable for the strict requirements of defining what GF means on packaging in order to gain GF certification (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017).
So, what does it mean to be GF?
Having a GF diet means avoiding certain grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, or hybrids of these grains since they all contain a protein called gluten (Thompson, 2008).
Since 2013, the FDA has issued a final rule which defines GF for food labeling in order to help consumers and those with celiac disease (a disease that causes an immune reaction after eating the protein gluten) (Gluten and Food labeling, 2016). So, items labeled as GF must meet the defined standard. The FDA also recognizes that those with celiac disease are interested in seeing GF labels in restaurants and other retail establishments. Thus, the FDA has stated that GF claims in restaurants’ and other establishments’ should be consistent with the FDA’s definition (Gluten and Food labeling, 2016).
Regardless of how creative and futuristic these modern food trends seem to be, the consumers’ safety should always come first. And in order for these food trends to continue, food safety specialists must be ready to respond to the many safety challenges that they bring.
1. (2005, November 7). Melon Commodity Specific Guidance. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Melon Supply Chain 1st Edition, 13.
2. (2016). Gluten and Food labeling. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
3. (2016). Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, and Signature Kitchens Flour Recalled Due to Possible E. coli 0121 Contamination. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
4. Neuman, W. (2011). Listeria Outbreak Traced Back to Colorado Cantaloupe Packing Shed. The New York Times Company.
5. Nicholson-Kramer, G. R., R.S./REHS, Fasone, V., R.S./REHS. (2017, June/July). Consumer Food Trends Create Food Safety Challenges for the Foodservice Industry. Food Safety Magazine, Vol. 23, No.3, 39-40, 42-45.
6. Thompson, T., MS, RD. (2008). So, What Exactly Is a Gluten-Free Diet?. Gluten-Free Dietitian.