Food Safety: A changing landscape in a global world

Posted on by Laura Burnworth and Suzie Heitfeld

KEEPING FOOD SAFE: A global responsibility

The food supply in the United States is constantly evolving. U.S. consumers want convenience, choice, and diversity in the foods they eat. The U.S. is importing more food than ever before in order to meet these demands. In 2009, imported food accounted for 17% of food consumed by Americans (up from 15% in 2004). [1]

Our food travels a lot farther than it used to
Food production has become more globalized and the route it takes from farm to table is more complex. In order to satisfy the needs of Americans, much of our food is transported over longer distances and distributed across wider areas. For example, many fruits and vegetables that were only available during particular seasons are now available year round because they can be imported from other parts of the world. In 2013 alone, the United States imported $4.6 billion in fresh vegetables and $3.1 billion in fresh fruit (excluding bananas) from Mexico. [2]

A single point of contamination magnified by global distribution
Much of our food now takes a longer and more complicated path from the farm to our table. The food we eat may become contaminated with germs at any point along the production chain, be it from the environment on the farm, from the people harvesting crops, during transport and distribution, or at a grocery store. If something in the production chain goes wrong, people may get sick.

Global collaborations help match cases of illness or pinpoint the source of contaminated foods
During the summer of 2014, PulseNet detected several ill people with a rare DNA fingerprint of Salmonella. CDC and its federal and state partners launched an investigation into what was making these people sick. At the same time, the Public Health Agency of Canada was also investigating similar cases of Salmonella infection in several Canadian provinces. A collaborative investigation with Canada linked illnesses in both countries back to products that contained organic chia powder produced by a Canadian firm. The chia powder was produced in Canada, but was an ingredient in products that were further produced in the United States. Working collaboratively to link people infected with the same Salmonella germs across international borders was key to solving this outbreak and recalling the contaminated products to prevent further illnesses.
World Health Day 2015
#SafeFood is a global responsibility
With more food being imported into the U.S. than ever before it is important that food safety is a global priority. Currently, the U.S. imported food supply depends on the effectiveness of food safety systems in other countries to ensure that these products are safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to strengthen the international food safety system by making certain imported foods meet the same safety standards as foods produced in the U.S. Countries with more sophisticated food safety systems have a responsibility to work with countries with developing systems to ensure safe food options for everyone.


[1] United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://ers.usda.gov/topics/international-markets-trade/us-agricultural-trade/import-share-of-consumption.aspx

[2] Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/668230.pdf

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Posted on by Laura Burnworth and Suzie HeitfeldTags , ,

3 comments on “Food Safety: A changing landscape in a global world”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Foodborne illnesses seem to be a common denominator in the current news. It is important to educate ourselves on where the food we eat is coming from and report signs and symptoms that may present themselves from eating imported food. It is comforting to know that the U.S. FDA is working with other countries to meet our same food safety system, not only for our citizens but citizens of other countries as well.

    With food being a large common aspect in all countries, it is important to understand the safety and hazards of all food. The food supply in the US has evolved greatly with the import of foods increasing significantly. Food contamination has become a global issue that not many people are aware of as it affects each individual’s life daily. We become so accustomed to just indulging in our foods without really taking a moment to be cautious of the safety of it and the long process it went through to get to us. It is true that if something goes wrong in the food supply chain, it can greatly have an effect on the individual’s consumption causing food poisoning. It is good that in the case of Salmonella in Canada, they were able to trace back the germs and its origins to prevent further contamination and bringing up more awareness. I think that food safety should get more global recognition because it is not solely based on just one country. With the continuous import and export of food, this issue affects all countries and shows the dependency of one another. It is good that the US took the initiative through the US FDA by controlling and setting guidelines for food safety as well as working with other countries for a better and effective food system globally.

    I completely agree with the other commentator’s concern about food safety around the world and hope that the FDA puts the proper guidelines in place to minimize accidental contamination, both from exportations and importations. However, I do wonder if there are other ways that these contaminations can be stopped. Of course the FDA would not be able to screen absolutely everything, so is there a way that other countries would also have to follow those rules? Additionally, I think It is absolutely amazing that we are able to purchase and eat food that wouldn’t normally be available to us, but I can’t but think that this can have a negative effect on many things. For example, I have read that about the popularity of quinoa and how it is mostly imported from Peru and Bolivia, but has in turn, put a great strain on the South American people. This is just one of the concerns that I have seen in the news, so I wonder if this the most popular problem or if there have been others that we should be more concerned with such as the quality of the food that is imported. I also think this is such an interesting way that the world is connected and would hope that countries increase interaction so that their people are able to experience other cultures’ food without paranoia about their health and well being.

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Page last reviewed: May 19, 2015
Page last updated: May 19, 2015
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