Viewpoint: Still Emerging

One of our oft-cited “emerging” application areas is the food processing industry. In fact, some people believe that, from a contamination control point of view, it's not emerging, but rather here already. In truth, we have a category of our circulation devoted to it—”Agriculture/Food”—and have for years, though it currently comprises less than 1 percent of our readers.

Still, it's an area that we watch because of its potential to both give and receive, in terms of contamination control developments, from our more mainstream application areas. HACCP, for example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points program, straddles both food and pharmaceutical applications [see “HACCP program brings mixed reviews,” CleanRooms, April 1999, p 1]. And electric pasteurization of food, a new technique, is truly a stowaway from the medical device arena [see “Electric pasteurization the next phase in food safety,” p 1].

Yet despite these developments, the food industry has a long way to go when it comes to contamination control. The Centers for Disease Control recently released what it describes as the “most complete” estimate to date on the incidence of food-borne disease in the United States: 76 million cases of gastrointestinal illness, 325,000 serious illnesses resulting in hospitalization, and 5,000 deaths each year. These estimates were arrived at from a variety of sources, including both new and existing surveillance systems. The new estimates cannot be compared to earlier ones, claims the CDC, because new data sources include better information and new analysis. And these new estimates include some diseases (e.g., those caused by E.coli 0157:H7 and Norwalk-like viruses) not included in previous estimates.

One of the new data sources is the Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a collaborative effort of the CDC, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. But according to The Economist magazine [Sept. 25, 1999, p.31], FoodNet tracks only seven out of 28 pathogens, and those 28 represent only a fraction of the 200 known diseases transmitted through food.

Add to this the incidence of sickness from unclean water, as The Economist does, and the estimate reaches 210 million cases per year of acute gastrointestinal illness from known and unknown pathogens. Water, whether used for drinking or swimming, is the responsibility of local governments while food is overseen by federal agencies. In addition to the lack of coordination between federal and state authorities, the limited funding that Congress approves for food safety ensures that this application area will remain an emerging one for us.

Click here to enlarge image

George D. Miller
Editorial Director


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.