With the global population set on a rapidly rising path towards 9 billion, the challenge facing the world's food supply is clear to see.
Within that food supply, fresh produce plays a vital part. But just as demand is
rising, so are serious safety concerns. Recent disease outbreaks and rapid alerts
linked to fresh produce have clearly highlighted the threat.
© Fotolia, 2012
Two closely linked factors can be seen as major
contributors to the safety risk – climate change
and the increasing globalisation of trade.
While globalisation means our food comes
from ever more diverse parts of the world,
making it harder to monitor and manage safety
systems and procedures, climate change is
likely to result in significant changes to the
ways in which crops are cultivated and treated.
Evidence is already emerging that such changes
have important implications for food safety.
Established in 2010 and planned to run for four
years, VEG-I-TRADE is a groundbreaking project,
funded by the EU under its 7th Framework
Programme, with the specific aim of providing
reliable methods to assess the impacts of
climate change and globalisation on food
safety, and to develop response mechanisms to
eliminate or minimise the resulting risks.
With 23 partner organisations, including universities,
research institutes, SMEs and large
industrial companies, VEG-I-TRADE has a truly
international scope, which matches the global
nature of the issues it is addressing. Participants
come not only from around Europe, but
also from Egypt, India, Brazil and South Africa.
The approach is to assess food safety in terms
of both microbiological and chemical hazards.
The microbiological hazards include a list
now frighteningly familiar to the newspaperreading
public: VTEC, Salmonella, Norovirus,
Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Chemical hazards
included pesticide residues and mycotoxins –
the poisons produced by fungi or mould.
A guiding principle of the VEG-I-TRADE project is
its comprehensive, 'fork to farm' view of the fresh
food production chain. This means it is focusing
on the consumer, not just on crop cultivation, but all pre- and post-harvest processing, and also
the water used at all stages of the process.
Early achievements so far include the development
of a microbial sampling and analysis
tool. By using this at various stages in the crop
cycle, and including water and all food contact
materials such as packaging in the tests, it is
possible to build a 'microbial profile' of a given
Methods of detecting Norovirus in water used
in both irrigation and processing have been
evaluated, and the most effective one identified
Meanwhile, against a background of increasing
evidence that climate change is affecting
the transmission of food- and water-borne
diseases, VEG-I-TRADE is investigating the
impact of this on toxin-producing moulds and
the production of mycotoxins, as well as the
development rate of various pests and the
effects of climate change on pesticide use and
Due to run until 2014, the extensive work of
VEG-I-TRADE still has a long way to go. However,
the outline of its end-results is already clear,
safer food, better information for consumers,
as well as reliable risk-analysis and riskmanagement
techniques for policy-makers.
And last, but by no means least: guidelines and
tools to help the food industry aspire to, and
achieve, best food safety practice. In an industry
where reputation is vital – and easily shattered
in the wake of a contamination incident – no-one
can afford to ignore this highest priority of all.