A new FAO publication Thinking about the future of food safety – A foresight report, was released on Monday 7 March, outlining how major global drivers and trends will shape food safety in tomorrow’s world.
All food needs to be safe for human consumption; thus, appropriate food safety measures must form the core of food production in our agrifood systems. As agrifood systems are transformed to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there is need to develop and maintain a deep understanding of the future opportunities, threats and challenges ahead of us.
This foresight report explores the impact of major global drivers and trends on food safety, including climate change, changing consumer behaviour and food consumption patterns, new food sources and food production systems, technological advances, microbiome science, circular economy and food fraud:
Climate change: Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, unpredictable and severe extreme weather events, and others, are disrupting both food and nutrition security. This chapter of the publication describes the multi-faceted impacts of climate change on food safety by affecting the severity and occurrence of various food safety hazards – e.g., mycotoxins, algal blooms, foodborne pathogens. The chapter draws in information from published FAO reports on the topic – Climate change: Unpacking the burden on food safety (2020) and Climate change: Implications for food safety (2008).
Changing consumer preferences and food consumption patterns: Today’s consumers change their purchasing behaviours in response to a multitude of factors – from environmental sustainability and climate change to socioeconomic factors, as well as concerns regarding their own health and animal welfare. Changes in consumer diets also trigger changes in dietary risks arising from potential contaminants found in food. To continue to stay relevant and adequately protect consumer health, food safety risk assessment processes need to keep up with the changing consumer consumption patterns.
New food sources and food production systems are increasingly being explored with the goal of achieving improved environmental sustainability and/or nutritional benefits. “New food” here is meant to cover food that has been historically consumed in specific regions of the world but has recently materialized in the global retail space. “New food production systems” include recently discovered techniques and materials in the food sector. In this regard, the various food safety implications for edible insects, seaweed, jellyfish, plant-based alternatives, and cell-based food production are discussed under this topic.
Agriculture within urban spaces: Rapid urbanization, expansion of global cities and food security concerns are drawing attention to growing food within urban areas. While urban agriculture includes food grown both around and within urban spaces, in this publication the focus is on the latter or intra-urban agriculture. This form of farming comes in various forms, from backyard gardens and community farms to innovative indoor vertical farming approaches (hydroponic, aeroponic, aquaponic). Some key food safety concerns associated with intra-urban agriculture, arising from soils used, water sources, air pollution, and various other chemical hazards are discussed as well as the importance of establishing adequate regulatory frameworks specific to urban food systems.
Exploring circular economy through plastic recycling: Increased attention to environmental sustainability and depletion of natural resources have put emphasis on the concept of circular economy, which is being explored in various sectors of the agrifood systems. The topic of circular economy and the various food safety considerations are explored in this publication through the example of recycling and reuse of plastics, in particular those that are in contact with food, such as food packaging.
Microbiome science: Microbiomes (includes all microorganisms – bacteria, viruses and fungi – that live within the human gut and around us) in agrifood systems and along the food chain are not isolated and can interact with each other. The human gut microbiome sits at the end of the food chain and therefore, is exposed to both biological and chemical contaminants present in the diet. Emerging and still evolving technologies have enabled the study of microbiomes and the interactions with their ecosystems, thereby offering opportunities to utilize this knowledge for improving food safety risk assessments and subsequently consumer health.
Technological innovations and scientific advances: Emerging technologies in food production, processing, distribution and at the retail level are providing better tools for increased food safety along food chains by improving traceability, greater detection of contaminants in food, better outbreak investigations, and reduced vulnerabilities for food fraud. A few such emerging technologies – nanotechnology, intelligent packaging, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing of food, among others – are outlined in the publication while discussing both opportunities and challenges that come with them.
Food fraud: The issue of food fraud tends to evoke a strong response among consumers with current narrative focusing on the widespread and ever-increasing prevalence of the issue. However, food fraud is a complex area and the publication highlights this complexity and attempts to shift the narrative to discuss the concept of trust built into food control systems.
Access the publication here