The April 2015 issue of Food Technology Magazine reports on the “Top Ten Food Trends” and it was interesting to see that they named the shift to fresh and refrigerated foods as number one on the list. The articles goes on to state that “nearly nine in 10 adults (87%) feel that fresh foods are healthier, and 80% believe that they are tastier; 78% of consumers are making a strong effort to eat more fresh versus processed foods (Technomic 2014a; MSI 2014a).”
In the world of public health, this is great news! Chronic illnesses attributable to obesity such as heart disease and diabetes have become epidemic in the United States. In an effort to prevent or manage these conditions people are becoming increasingly conscious about what they are eating. This means consumers are turning to nutrient dense foods such as fruits and vegetables instead of packaged or processed foods. Although processed foods offer more convenience, they traditionally contain less nutritional value.
That’s not to say all processed foods are bad, but one must take into account the amount of calories, sugar, fat and carbohydrates in individual foods versus the vitamins and minerals they are contain. The key is to consume these products in moderation. Although food manufacturers are also offering healthier options, these products are limited since most packaged foods are typically based on something with shelf stable properties. This includes products with high sugar and salt content, which are mainly compromised of carbohydrates.
It’s amazing to see the changes that the country’s changing demographic has brought about. Food and nutrition is also something that has become mainstream. People are more interested than ever in where their food comes from, how it’s grown and what functions certain ingredients play in the food. As someone who grew up eating a lot of packaged and processed foods for convenience sake, I welcome this change. I am one of those people who is always trying to eat better and provide healthier foods to my children. If we are going to eradicate chronic illness in this country, it is going to start with our generation (the millennials) educating our kids to eat right.
We are lucky to live in the US where we have access to clean water and fresh fruits and vegetables. Our food system is one of the safest in the world. But due to the increasing complexity and globalization of the food industry, there is also great potential for foodborne illness. Since fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten raw there is an inherent risk when consuming these types of foods. Although rare, we are seeing Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria in foods such as spinach, tomatoes and cantaloupe. Most recently an outbreak of Listeria occurred in caramel apples. Pathogens are popping up in things we would never even expect.
So how do we manage these food safety issues? We have to strictly control sanitation and storage practices throughout the entire supply chain. It begins with Good Agricultural Practices and food safety programs on the farm. From there we need to ask the right questions to help manage the risk. Are workers following proper hygienic practices? Are sanitation and cleaning procedures adequate? Are we doing enough environmental and finished product testing? Are foods being stored at the right temperatures? Do we have a way of ensuring continuous temperature monitoring? This is not an all-inclusive list but is a good place to start when thinking about food safety risks and where things could go wrong. As the demand for fresh food increases, consumers and producers alike need to be more aware of the risks and responsibilities associated with such products. Through education and proper risk management we can help ensure the safety of our food supply.
Food Technology Magazine, April 2015 Issue, The Top Ten Food Trends, by A. Elizabeth Sloan