Science & Technology in Action

3rd Edition

What Makes Our Food Safe

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

The checks and procedures regulating the production, processing and distribution of food ensure that it is safer today than ever.
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Lesson excerpt

The History of Food Safety
References to food safety are rarely found in historical documents. The traditional methods of preserving food, such as salting, drying and pickling, were probably used more for their value in allowing food to be kept for extended periods of time, than for safety reasons. For a few millennia people were aware that cooking food allowed it to be kept for longer. The ancient Chinese, for example, believed that anything that was boiled or cooked could not be poisonous.

Until the late 19th century there was no understanding of bacteria or their role in disease. Since then more focus has been placed on making food safe for consumption.

Micro-organisms and food spoilage
The food we eat provides a perfect environment for bacteria and fungi. If food is not fresh or if it is not cooked or preserved in some way it will quickly become infected by micro-organisms. The micro-organisms produce chemicals that can make us feel ill, get sick and cause diarrhoea  – classic symptoms of food poisoning.

So what food is safe? 

Food that

  • is not inherently toxic, e.g. green potatoes and certain fungi are dangerous to eat. In other cases the food material may produce toxins as a result of microbial metabolism, e.g. botulism.
  • does not contain disease-causing organisms (pathogens) in abnormally high numbers. Such organisms include certain bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa and the eggs or cysts of animals such as tapeworms and liver fluke.

    In the Spring of 2007 the drinking water supply in Co. Galway was infected with aprotozoan calledCryptosporidium. This pathogen causes severe diarrhoea affecting mainly the very young and the very old. It is transmitted by cysts that, once ingested, change into reproductive forms and give rise to many more cysts.
  • does not contain residues of pesticides, antibiotics orhormones, whose effects on health are damaging or unknown.

True or False?

  1. A pathogen is a disease causing organism. true
  2. Food can be contaminated by micro-organisms. true
  3. HACCP is a cause of food poisoning. false
  4. Asepsis is a method of sterilisation. false
  5. The role of the FSAI is to protect consumer health. true