Elaine Ayres, MS, RD
husband and I just enjoyed a wonderful summer dinner on the back porch—hamburgers
on the grill, corn on the cob, a spinach salad, and melon with blackberries.
This time of year, we enjoy an abundance of local produce. We picked the
blackberries at a farm nearby, and the corn came from a county field.
A further analysis of our dinner took us farther from home. The organic ground-beef
label said “US or Canada.” I guess the steer would not commit to a nationality.
Our salad was downright international—the baby spinach and carrots from the United
States, the yellow pepper from Holland, and the cherry tomatoes from Mexico. I
have no idea where the broccoli was grown, because it was purchased at the
local supermarket where it rested on a bed of crushed ice—no package, no label,
no bar code.
2011, the US Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law. The goal of this legislation is
to ensure the safety of the United States food supply. As our dinner
demonstrates, the United States food supply is no longer local, but rather
national and international. Michael
Taylor from the FDA notes that we now import more than 50% of our fresh
fruit and 20% of our fresh vegetables.
leads the way in supplying the United States with our fruits and vegetables—more
than 1000 truckloads of produce per day cross the border from Mexico into
Arizona. What if that produce is tainted? Many foods now have a label with a
point of origin. My clamshell box of cherry tomatoes states “Product of Mexico.”
Better yet, the Universal
Product Code (UPC) or bar code on the package tells me even more. Even my
pepper from Holland has a sticker on it with a miniscule bar code. That bar code
contains information about the manufacturer and the item, allowing
investigators dealing with a foodborne illness outbreak to track the food to its
announced on July 12, 2012, that it is taking food forensics to a new level
with the 100K Genome Project. Working together with the University of
California at Davis, the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), and the US Dept of Agriculture
(USDA), scientists will develop a DNA database of genetic codes for 100,000
types of foodborne bacteria. A public database maintained by the National Institutes
of Health’s National Library of Medicine,
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) will house these bacterial
genetic codes of pathogens such as Salmonella,
Listeria, and E coli.
the future, the bacterial genetic codes will prove even better than bar codes.
The bacterial variants will reveal not only the type of food, but also the
geographic location of origin. The FDA predicts that this new database will decrease
the response time to a foodborne illness outbreak from weeks to days.
dinner plates are now a virtual travelogue of farms and fields. As product
labeling and packaging evolves, the safety of our international food supply
will improve. While it is great to buy vegetables au naturel, in the future I hope my broccoli comes prepared for travel
with a bar code!