Food safety is not improving as quickly as hoped, and recent outbreaks of illness involved produce contaminated with pathogens typically associated with animal products, Dr. Kristy Bradley said.
"It does beg the question of where the veterinarian's role is now in that farm-to-fork continuum," Dr. Bradley said. "Certainly, veterinarians are very critical in working with producers, to make sure they are counseling them on preventative medicine and working to keep animals healthy."
The president-elect of the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Dr. Bradley is also Oklahoma's state public health veterinarian and state epidemiologist. She said the April 10 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not only showed that progress toward reducing illnesses from some foodborne pathogens had stalled but also illustrated problems in modern food production and distribution systems.
"I think it reflects really the globalization and changes from traditional food production to something that is so much more immense," Dr. Bradley said. "The global distribution and intensive factory type of farming production of our meats, dairy, and produce products, and also how quickly these products are moved from different countries to different points of distribution, really present some unique challenges in the 21st century."
Dr. Bradley noted illnesses from some pathogens may appear to increase as laboratory technology improves. She does not think that all increases evident in the FoodNet data are related to those developments.
Department of Agriculture initiatives have made progress in reducing Salmonella and Listeria in poultry and egg products, she said, and those initiatives could indicate veterinarians are taking leading roles in removing the risks of foodborne pathogens. But she thinks more scrutiny of tracking systems is needed for animal products and produce, globalization, and current large-scale food distribution systems.
Dr. Bradley said a Salmonella outbreak associated with tomatoes and jalapeños caused investigators difficulties in tracing the commingling, packing, and distribution of the produce, demonstrating the need for improvements in tracking systems.
"We also have seen that our workforce just isn't large enough," Dr. Bradley said. She hopes for more opportunities for veterinarians in food safety, epidemiology, and research.
Dr. Bradley said increased use of food irradiation would also help improve food safety, but a lack of consumer acceptance is the primary barrier to implementation.