Communicating Food Safety Issues in a Global Society
by Karen Nachay
Outbreaks are not due to bad luck, they are due to bad management, explained Patrick G. Wall, Professor of Public Health at the University College Dublin and one of the Institute of Food Technologists’ inaugural Beacon Lecturers.
During the last 25 years many high profile food scares and outbreaks have occurred in the European Union that have eroded consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply and the regulators charged with overseeing food safety issues. As a result, a series of reforms to EU food safety policies and changes to the regulatory environment were established, including reforming EU food laws, creating the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to centralize risk assessment, and establishing a food and veterinary office to audit systems and establish standards for food products within and outside the EU. Wall explained in his presentation, “Reform of Food Safety Control in the EU: Are there Lessons for the USA?”, that despite the EU’s efforts in reforming how it addresses food safety, especially with creating the EFSA, challenges still remain in the global food market.
One challenge Wall discussed in particular was communicating to the consumer in an era of a 24/7 news cycle increasingly dominated by social media and the blogosphere. When a food safety issue arises, media demand answers immediately, which can be burdensome to the regulators dedicating their time and resources to determining the cause of an outbreak. There is also disconnect between consumers and modern food production systems meaning people do not understand where their food comes from, said Wall. Scientists, regulators, and company officials should keep in mind that communication is a two-way process: They should answer questions as well as ask of others what should be addressed, added Wall.