Food safety is one of the issues affecting food supply in public health nutrition. Provision of safe, nutritious and accessible food supply is the basis for individual and community health (Kaufman, 2007, p.307). The primary issues related to food safety include presence of toxic substances in the food supplied.
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The toxins can range from antibiotic residues that occur in pork to nitrate residues in vegetables and even microbial organisms such as Salmonella that occur in chicken (Sheridan, O’keeffe, and Rogers, 1998, p.2).
These toxins can be the source of the food-borne diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis and botulism among others. Some of these diseases do not pose any major threat these days because there are many public health programs aimed at controlling them. Some of these programs that promote the barriers to food-borne disease include pasteurization and refrigeration of foods such as animal products.
Apart from food being essential for life, it has the potential of acting as a vehicle for pathogens that enter the body. These substances occur in food either accidentally during food production, preparation and marketing or by being introduced into the food intentionally, an act referred to as bioterrorism.
These pathogens can cause diseases either through direct infection or production of other chemical substances that are toxic to the body. These types of infections are referred to as food intoxication (Kaufman, 2007, p.308).
Most plant foods can be contaminated with pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites during the period of their growth. These organisms may be residing in water, air, or soil and also in contaminated water and untreated animal waste.
Animal foods on the other hand, can be contaminated when the living organism is exposed to pathogens in contaminated foods or in the environment. Contamination can also occur during slaughtering in case of animal foods. On the other hand, plant foods can be contaminated during the process of harvesting, transportation and in the food marketplace and stores (Unnevehr and Hirschhorn, 2000, p.7-8).
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Due to the importance of food safety, the Federal government of Australia called for a Food Regulation Review in 1997. In its report, the commission of inquiry gave the following recommendations: (I) it recommended that the various levels of the government should work together with the industry players and consumers in developing a well integrated, streamlined, and cost-effective co-regulatory system that should protect public health and safety across the whole food supply chain, (II) it also recommended that the Australian government should allow for the domestic food laws to be developed nationally and enacted uniformly, and (III) the resulting regulations and standards should be enforced by a relevant agency (Springs and Grant, 2001, p.130).
This essay will cover the various aspects related to food safety including looking at the implications of changing the food supply issue (food safety) on individuals among other stakeholders. The essay continues with discussions on any other strategies aimed at addressing this issue in depth. Finally, the essay will give recommendations regarding what should be done in order to address this issue.
Food Supply Issues that affects a particular group of people
Identification of the issue and the groups affected
As mentioned above, food safety if not observed can give rise to food-borne illnesses. All people are susceptible to food-borne illnesses except that some groups are more susceptible than others. These vulnerable people are usually found to be having reduced immune functions at certain stages of their lives.
Some groups in society are at a higher risk of food intoxication because of their development stage and physiological state. These include expectant women, children and the elderly. The group at the highest risk of infections from contaminated food is the one suffering from HIV/AIDS or those with dysfunctional organ systems such as Kidney failure, Liver disease or damaged gastrointestinal tract.
Finally, the other groups of people at the highest risk of infections are those undergoing chemotherapy treatments against other diseases such as cancer. These people are bound to develop food-borne illnesses with severe symptoms (Kaufman, 2007, p.308).
The chemical and microbiological agents in contaminated foods serve to accelerate the effects of the already existing diseases such as cancer. If by accident a food component contains a carcinogenic agent such as nitrates or nitrosamines, there will be development of incidences of cancer among the consumers.
The prevalence of Food-borne illnesses in Australia
The cases of food-borne illnesses are hard to assess because of their varied etiological causes and mode of transmission (“ASM 2004 National Conference,” 2004, p.27). According to the studies carried out by the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH) in conjunction with OzFoodNet and CDC to determine the prevalence of gastroenteritis in Australia, it was discovered that there are 17.2 million cases of the disease each year.
Therefore, 6.5 million working days are lost annually due to people suffering from gastroenteritis or taking care of their sick relatives (“ASM 2004 National Conference,” 2004, p.27).
On the other hand, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guesstimates that there are about 76 million food-borne illnesses in the United States annually coupled with 325,000 hospitalizations, 5000 deaths and about $23 billion in health care and opportunity costs annually (Kaufman, 2007, p.308).
The Socio-economic, Cultural and environmental determinants of the food supply issue relevant to nutrition
Safe food and hygiene are very essential in preventing food-borne illnesses which are major causes of poor nutrition and recurrent illnesses. A number of social determinants of health have been identified. These include social status and earnings, literacy level, social support, and knowledge on health issues.
Other factors include social and working environment, culture, gender, and personal attributes such as life skills and personal health practice. Also, it is evident that individuals in different social and economical groups have varying health conditions and illnesses. The food traditions of people in a certain country do influence the food safety rules and guidelines laid down by governments to protect the lives of its people (Echols, 2001, p.13).
Food safety is also greatly influenced by the environment in which the food is presented. The food can be contaminated with chemical or microbiological agents. Most European countries have put in place a number of strict regulations and guidelines that govern food supply.
However, consumption of contaminated food can still act as an important route of exposure to chemical and microbiological contaminants in food. The most susceptible group of people to food intoxication are the children mainly because their immune system is still developing and maybe because they consume more calories compared to adults.
The standards or guidelines influencing food safety
A number of public interventions exist that are aimed at improving food safety in many ways. These are the command and control-type of interventions that set the standards and guidelines to be followed by the suppliers of food products (Unnevehr and Hirschhorn, 2000, p.16).
In addition, there are the incentive-based intercessions aimed at providing better market information that will help consumers to effectively demand better safety from suppliers of food.
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The command and control type of interventions include the set process standards specifying how food should be produced such as the GMPs and GAPs.
These can also include the pre-inspection standards carried out in the countries of origin in case of imported food products. These types of interventions can also include the outcome standards that are in place to ensure that food products meet a particular safety standard before being released into the market or being exported.
The incentive-based type of interventions includes providing information to the public regarding food-borne diseases, disease surveillance, and informing the consumers on how to avoid such risks. Additionally, other interventions include facilitating the labeling of products that may be containing hazards and the ones produced under certified control measures.
Food legislations and Regulations Influencing Food Safety
The Australian government has embarked on a number of food safety programs on all kinds of foods. These are the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority (ANZEA) and the Food Standards Code; and the National Safe Food Systems.
All these programs are aimed at ensuring that the various levels of the government act together with industry players and consumers in developing regulatory systems that protect public health and safety across the whole food supply chain (Springs and Grant, 2001, p.130).
Regulatory authorities carry out a number of activities depending on the different levels of services that they offer to consumers and producers. At the food production level, these authorities oversee the impact that can be caused by agricultural chemicals, animal hormones, feed contaminants, and antibiotics on the safety of the food products released (Rose, 2003, p.6).
In the processing environment, the regulators are more concerned about the microbiological, chemical, and physical hazards that may be associated with manufacturing. On the other hand, regulatory authorities monitoring the retail and food services would be more concerned about the human factors that are related to cross-contamination by the food handlers and their personal sanitation and manners.
The Implications of Changes to Food Safety on Individuals, groups and the Population including the vulnerable groups
The creation of a new regulatory system for meat and poultry safety known as the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is aimed at improving food safety for the general population. This system requires that the food production facilities implement the HACCP systems in order to prevent and control contamination.
Additionally, FSIS has introduced the food safety performance standards that the industry players must follow in addition to conduction of various tests to ascertain whether these standards have been followed. FSIS also trains inspectors who are supposed to oversee the implementation of the set standards by the parties involved.
Finally, the system has undergone reorganization in order to ensure that it reaches all those plants that do not follow the regulatory standards (Rose, 2003, p.407).
Reducing the risk of food-borne illnesses has been a big challenge for many industry players for so long. This is because the food safety problems are persistent and new problems continue emerging on a daily basis. The introduction of the new technologies has pushed the food industry towards making improvements.
The major food manufacturers and distributors have now decided to adopt the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards (Omnex, 2010, para.1). It is obvious that any food industry or organization that does not implement these standards will lose out in the marketplace.
Other organizations have also decided to implement the SQF certification standards in the next five years. These new changes and challenges have shown a positive improvement towards ensuring that consumer safety is guaranteed.
Improvement of the food safety issues
Food safety is an important factor at all stages of food processing in a food industry. Enhancement of food safety involves make sure that safety measures are adhered to throughout the product value chain. It also involves continuous re-examination of these processes to minimize the impact of food safety incidents.
Foremost, in order for a food industry to achieve maximum food safety, the organization should ensure that fulfillment and traceability are incorporated into the whole production process thus putting the company in a position of acquiring information for decision-making (Butcher, 2010, para.7).
It is then advisable that the organization in question should take the following steps aimed at improving safety; (a) Implement cross-functional and continuous improvement teams that are dedicated towards product quality. (b) Demonstrate visibility and clear responsibility for unpleasant product events.
This would give employees a sense of confidence and security when they are experiencing unfavorable conditions such as product recall or non-compliance and quality issues. (c) Make more investment on relevant technologies. This calls for an organization to make and inventory of necessary technology that they may require and fill gaps existing in its technology system.
Identify and respond to priority areas
Priority areas can be identified and responded to through:
Developing Healthy Public Policy
Healthy public policy addresses concern for health and equity in all sectors of policy. It also ensures accountability for any health impacts. Public policy also enables a supportive environment that encourages people to practice healthy living (Green and Tones, 2010, p.249).
This is a time consuming process since it involves development of a new infrastructure that supports health and mobilization of masses of people with the same vision. Thus the degree of political commitment and the level of resources are very important in building healthy public policies.
Despite all the difficulties involved, there are a number of strategies that can ensure the development of this policy upon their implementation.
These policies include: (I) developing supportive national strategies for health, (II) development of formal structures that see health as part of mainstream activity of all key organizations and departments, (III) ensuring that there exists shared ownership and commitment by all organizations and communities involved, (IV) development of core activities within the organization involved which create the capacity needed for healthy public policy development and implementation, and finally (V) agenda-building.
Enabling supportive environment
Healthy public policy recognizes that health of the people is dependent on various factors in their environment. This constitutes of social and physical aspects of their environment (Taibot and Verrinder, 2010, p.18).
Supportive environment can be enabled through the following strategic practices: (a) promote policies that create healthy physical and social environment, (b) Evaluating the potential effects policies and action plans adopted, (c) Promote community awareness on ways to promote health and (d) strengthening strategic collaboration and networks that enable supportive social and physical environments.
Developing personal skills
Health promotion through development of personal skills involves the act of understanding the environment surrounding a person in order to exercise more control on one’s health.
This can be achieved through the following principles: (I) creation of an enabling environment; and (II) emphasis on choice and opportunity in order to create choice in the daily context and the societal context. With these skills at hand, an individual is capable of making the right choices concerning health.
Strengthening Community action
Strengthening the community in health and other related fields involves consideration of the policy-making actions committed to social change. As policy-makers, the community’s roles include the following: (I) problem awareness and identification, (II) problem refinement, (III) identification of policy objectives and (IV) identification of alternative courses of action (Minkler, 2005, p.407).
The policy-making ability of the community gives more powers of deciding the health course to taken by the whole community. Thus when the community is empowered with knowledge regarding the risks involved in consuming unhealthy diets, it stands a better chance of defining the right direction for its people.
Re-orienting health services
These are the strategies that are aimed at basing work plans on the Aboriginal Public Health Strategy and the Aboriginal Employment and career development strategy. They also involve offering services where there is more balance between health promotion and treatment services. Additionally, this involves provision of brief intervention processes in day to day work practices.
Modifications to the healthy food policy
A healthy food policy is an agreed set of rules and procedures that encourages the serving and consumption of healthy foods and beverages in a particular setting. However, a number of modifications can be made on the policy to allow for transition towards a healthier outcome.
These interventions can be divided into two sets; the supply-side interventions and the demand-side interventions. The supply-side interventions involves cases where there is more public investment in technology to deliver high productivity, low cost vegetables and fruits and low-fat livestock products to poorer consumers.
It can also involve elimination of price incentives on growing high-fat foods and relaxing quantity restrictions on growing healthier foods. Furthermore, these interventions may also include evaluation of food trade policy from a health perspective; imposing tougher standards on the fat-content of food away from home and in schools; and reduction of malnutrition in utero.
The demand-side interventions come into play in terms of increasing the relative price of unhealthy choices such as high-fat foods. These public interventions may also include demanding for food labeling whereby clearer information about the product contents is provided. This helps in reducing information asymmetries although it may be a little confusing in areas where literacy is weak.
This should also involve better awareness about the consequences of poor diet. This can involve a mass-media campaign to reduce overweight incidences, provision of dietary guidelines as well as school-based training for improving diet and activity levels.
Recommendations for improving the healthy food policy
It is the duty of the public to ensure that actions are in place that will aid in the transition of the food policy towards better health.
This can be achieved through the following ways; (I) ensuring that there is no information asymmetry between the producers and the consumers about what is healthy and what is not through food labeling. (II) Healthy eating can also be supported by providing the healthy food choices at a relatively lower cost compared to the nutrient poor food, and (III) in order to ensure healthy eating at the workplace, there should be allowance for a refrigerator or a microwave at the workplace to enable workers to bring food from their homes, and finally, (IV) when eating out, make sure that you choose a variety of foods that should include fruits and vegetables, whole bread and cereals and lower fat products.
Advocacy for Healthy eating can be achieved through advertising and mass-media campaigning. This can also involve selling new food products on a trial basis to enable promotion of the product.
As mentioned above, food safety is very important towards ensuring that the prevalence of food-borne illnesses is reduced. A number of intervention mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that the foods produced from our industries have been produced in accordance with the set guidelines and regulations. The regulatory authorities should also ensure that the products are inspected before they are released into the market.
The healthy food policies that are in place should be aimed at ensuring that the types of foods in the market or available to the public have met the required standards in terms of the nutrient composition and chemical composition.
Giving the community the right skills and education concerning healthy living will ensure that each and every person in the community stands a better chance of taking control of health concerns. This will also ensure that the incidences arising as a result of food intoxication are reduced considerably.
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