Allergens and Security Top List of Food Safety Concerns

Taylor Hillman Cattle, Environment, Tree, nut & vine crops

With food recalls on the rise and the threat to food security growing, food manufacturers are going to want to know more details about farmers’ and ranchers’ food safety and security practices, Nationwide’s Lance Reeve told workshop attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 97th Annual Convention and IDEAg Trade Show.

Reeve is senior risk management consultant-food safety for Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Company. Despite manufacturers’ rigorous food safety protocols, they’re being outwitted by ever-evolving microbes.

“We’re finding bacteria in places we didn’t find bacteria 20 years ago,” Reeve said.

A far greater problem—and a much big driver of recalls—are allergens. Eight foods account for 90 percent of food-allergy reactions in the U.S: eggs, shellfish, fish, milk, soy, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts. Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, since 2006 all labels must list ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction. A significant portion of food recalls over the past decade are due to foods accidentally not being properly labeled for these allergens.

Although food defense events—people purposely contaminating food products—are miniscule compared to accidental events like mislabeling, many food manufacturers jumped on food security a long time ago, Reeve explained. And they may soon be expecting farmers to be prepared with defense plans of their own.

“I understand you can’t lock down a farm, but to say you can’t do anything isn’t true,” Reeve said. He urged farmers and ranchers to consider looking carefully at the procedures they have in place for securing commodities and feed and managing farm visitors.

In light of the many changes related to food safety over the past 20 years, Reeve expects that far more are in store— many of which could affect farmers and ranchers directly.

Allergens will continue to be a top concern, and GMO labeling, though not a food safety issue, would significantly impact everyone involved in the farm-to-table process.

“How many grain elevators are set up to truly distinguish between GMO and non-GMO? At the farm-level, how many of you are really cleaning your trucks out as you go from one commodity to the next? How about your bins? I know you rinse them out, but can you tell me there’s no possible grain residue left?”