Healthcare Technology Featured Article

April 19, 2011

Healthcare Technology and News: New Food Safety Act to Prevent, Not Respond, to Foodborne Illnesses

You've felt it. The nausea welling up deep in your gut, then the race for the bathroom. You have lots of company. The Center for Disease Control estimates that nearly 50,000,000 people this year will get sick from spoiled or contaminated food. But now, new legislation may make it harder for this food to get into our hands, and save $35 billion a year in wasted produce.

New US legislation (The Food Safety Modernization Act) focuses on the establishment of industry-wide data standards and requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop and publish regulations that address the prevention of foodborne disease outbreaks. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it.

Many of these illnesses come from fresh produce that is consumed in its raw state. How to stop it? Improve our control over the conditions in which food is kept as it moves from farm to consumer markets, and enhance the traceability of food shipments within the supply chain, according to a study by ABI Research Inc.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems with temperature sensors can contribute to less tainted produce and provide the same standards-based tracing, while delivering information that could prevent billions of dollars in wasted produce a year, according to experts.

The initial FDA trials will be conducted in partnership with industry associations such as the United Fresh Produce Association for produce and the American Meat Institute for fresh meats. But once they are completed, which companies in the industry will actually buy and use these systems?

The ones who will benefit most are food retailers, but they don't control the harvest point or the shipper. Self-interest and liability limitation will be the motivators, say experts. With the new regulations, large retail chains may buy RFID systems and require their suppliers to use them. In other cases, large food brands such as Dole, Hawaiian Tropic, Chiquita and others may invest to promote their food freshness and safety, allowing them to justify a premium price.

ABI Research, the company behind “RFID-enabled Food Safety and Traceability Systems," which reviews the Food Safety Modernization Act’s impact on food-industry use of identification technology, provides forecasts for the use of RFID-enabled data logging devices from 2010 through 2015 in cold chain applications.

Deborah DiSesa Hirsch is an award-winning health and technology writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and IBM in her 20-year career. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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