Food quality encompasses all aspects of food production, including growing, harvesting, transportation, preparation and service. At all times care must be taken to ensure food quality is not compromised. Poor food quality, whether it is caused by poor procedures or human error, is a costly and potentially deadly problem.
Seventy-six million people get ill from food contamination in U.S. each year. Of those, more than 300,000 will need hospital care, and about 5,000 will die. Most at risk are children, the elderly and persons with acute or chronic health problems, but healthy people can fall ill as well. Food can be contaminated at any time from bacterial, fungal or even unidentified contaminants. Two common contaminants are E. coli, spread through fecal matter, and mold, found in all environments.
The cost of treating food-borne illnesses can range from a few thousand dollars a case to a few million a case. The average cost annually in the U.S. is $152 million. These numbers only represent a few known microbial contaminants, but not pesticide, metals or other contaminants. Some chemical contaminants like Bis-phenol A, which is found in food packaging, have been implicated as a hormone disruptor in some studies, and the long-term effects are unknown.
How food is grown and harvested or slaughtered is very important to food quality. Food may become contaminated through soil or water contact, or through unsanitary conditions for workers. Pesticides, fungus or bacteria like E. coli can be commonly found in these environments, and bacteria like E. coli can be transmitted through human contact. In the case of pesticides, organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency both monitor the use of pesticides and decide tolerable levels of approved pesticides.
Processing and Transport
As food is transported to warehouses and processing facilities, there is an increased risk of contamination from poor processing and transport practices. Whether it is keeping food at the correct temperature, pests or hygiene, strict guidelines and enforcement by organizations like the Food and Drug Administration ensure the safe handling of food. Cross contamination, when one contaminated product contaminates others, is a threat, so regular inspection and cleaning of facilities must be maintained.
Food Handling and Safety
The final step in food quality is the preparation and serving, whether at home, at a restaurant or in a facility. Common problems at this level are also pests, improper storage and human error. Also, cooking food properly and keeping cooked food at a proper temperature are very important to make sure the food is safe. Professional kitchens are licensed and inspected, but proper food safety courses are very important to employees. Even home cooks can benefit from such courses.