Ensuring Food Safety after a Nuclear Disaster
by Karen Nachay
Environmental accidents do affect the food supply and consumer perceptions of food safety, but speed, consistency, and communication are keys to responding to food safety issues, reported Ronald Klein, President of the Association of Food and Drug Officials. He and other experts were on hand to provide information about addressing food safety concerns arising from radioactivity in the late-breaking session “Food after Fukushima: Responding to Radioactive Material as a Foodborne Contaminant.”
Klein, who is with the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Anchorage, Alaska, explained to the audience how Alaskan officials worked to determine risk and ensure the safety of food in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan and the resulting nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. There was immediate reaction to concerns of radioactivity in foods from consumers and officials in Alaska and around the world. Alaska has plenty at stake: Its seafood industry is a significant segment of its economy and its wild foods like birds, marine and terrestrial mammals, and marine vegetation provide subsistence to many people who do not have access to markets. Alaskan officials partnered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies to coordinate environmental health evaluating activities and determine risk assessment, said Klein. Analysis of the data, including data from exposure assessment, toxicity assessment, and risk characterization has shown that radiation release from Fukushima does not pose a risk to fisheries, wild foods, and human health.
Even though Klein and Patricia Hansen from the FDA said that results of their organizations extensive research show that consumers can have confidence in the safety of Alaskan seafood and FDA-regulated foods from Japan, Aurora Saulo, Extension Specialist in Food Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, said that results of research she conducted show that most of the consumers who were surveyed for the study will not purchase food products imported from Japan and that their emotions drive the decisions in purchasing these products.
Finally, Kirk Kealy, Director of Raw Material & Supplier Safety, Pepsico, gave the perspective of a large, multinational food company in dealing with such a crisis. In addition to working with U.S. and Japanese officials and crafting a consistent message for consumers and the media, Pepsico had to verify the safety and assess risk of the raw materials imported from Japan and determine possible disruptions to the supply chain if any of these raw materials cannot be used.