Today’s food production chain has propelled cheap food to an undeserved, high position. Fast food, to name one example, has become the indispensable meal for the financially or time strained family. So much so that all other costs to the environment, personal health, and public purse have been conveniently put aside.
Still, low food production standards should carry genuine concern to the common consumer, especially since food production hazards can take so many forms. After all, accidents happen all the time, and while food walks the long road from the moment of conception through harvesting, transporting, processing, storing to the tip of your fork, it becomes the perfect victim to dangers lurking on the way.
While we take a look at the mind-dizzying networks of labor, trade, and regulation that ensure a constant flow of the food stream, it doesn’t hurt to pay attention to the hazards threatening the food production chain.
Food production hazard in the modern world
You wouldn’t want the word ‘chemical’ anywhere around your food, but unfortunately, it’s intertwined with the practices adopted by a shortsighted modern agriculture. Chemical hazards occur when food is directly afflicted or happens to be anywhere in the vicinity of toxic metals, agrochemicals, unapproved food additives, air, soil or water contamination or cross-contamination.
- Toxic metals – There’s a chance that the galvanized container you use to store your food or gardening tools also has a small deposit of zinc, which in its turn is possibly contaminated with cadmium. In particular, acidic foods such as orange juice, tomato sauce or pickles can corrode the coating and absorb the toxic substance. Zinc, in minor levels, will only prove a slight annoyance, but cadmium poisons the stomach.
- Pesticides – In order to swell crop yields and improve on quality, farmers make use of agrochemicals, such as insecticides, fungicides or herbicides. There are over 1,400 known pesticides, and older ones fall under constant reevaluation and elimination from the food market. Still, since not every country abides by the same legislation, imported foods might contain residues of illegal pesticides. One notorious case was a Brazilian brand of fungicide carbendazim orange juice imported on the US market.
- Manmade environmental contaminants are like plastic. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been banned for a decade, but not only are they a bit of a mouthful for us, but for the environment as well. PAHs are the unfortunate result of industrial hazard accidents and usually, originate from oil spills. So next time you order squid, be sure the latest news in the Gulf of Mexico was not an oil accident.
- Additives – these, at least, are intentionally added, but have you ever heard the expression the road to hell is paved with good intentions? Additives are a chemical recipe used to keep the food fresh beyond its nature-given time on earth, in other words, to mask the spoilage or to enhance its flavors. Food adulteration falls in this category as well. Sometimes, an unapproved additive becomes an unlabeled ingredient in the mix, such as hazelnut oil introduced into virgin It’s always a good idea to read the label of the product you purchase, especially if you’re prone to allergic reactions. But what happens when the label runs short on the truth?
One Founding Fathers quote goes like this:
‘In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.’
I wonder if Benjamin Franklin knew a thing or two about microbiological cross-contamination.
Many microorganisms might be the necessary stuff of life, for example, the ones used to make fermented dairy or meat products, but pathogenic elements entering the food production chain via people, equipment or raw materials can cause disease, such as foodborne illness.
In the last fifty years, outbreaks of the disease linked to new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria like salmonella or campylobacter have occurred on a steady basis. In the USA, chicken that has managed to pass all food safety regulations tests and get the FDA approved stamp still can make people sick.
Unfortunately, there’s an enduring practice of routinely administering antibiotics to cattle not to treat disease, but as a short cut to speed growth and reinforce the animals against stressful and crude living conditions.
Pathogens are not the only hazard to be prevented, reduced and ultimately eliminated from the ever growing chain of global food supply.
Of all other food production hazards, physical contamination best exemplifies the saying ‘Haste makes waste.’ You might be thinking now how it never happened to you. You had never found a strand of hair in your cheese or traces of nail polish in your canned beans.
Still, these kinds of hazards are routine occurrences of undercutting efforts to ramp up food production.
Equipment degrades over time, worn or chipped tools and containers shed metal fragments, and the food is contaminated as it moves through the plant and hurries towards the supermarket shelves.
Until all connections between the methods of industrial food production, salmonella, mainstream obesity and the cultural decline of the family meal are severed, it doesn’t hurt to at least admit that our food production standards fall short of 21st Century modern world expectations.