Food safety: Surface appearances can be deceiving

By Diane Palmer and Debbie Dalhouse

Petri dishWhen it comes to food safety, surface appearances can be deceiving. What you can’t see on the surface of a kitchen counter, the skin of an apple or on your hands can make you sick. In February, Clemson brought together more than 130 experts to discuss preventive measures at the national conference, Food Safety from the Surface Up.
“This conference focused on the impact of food surfaces on consumer food safety,” said Susan Barefoot, chief conference organizer and chief operating officer for the Clemson Experiment Station. She was joined in the planning effort by Clemson food safety scientists, members of the Carolinas Association for Food Protection and members of a U.S. Department of Agriculture team of food safety scientists from universities across the country.
Presenters from universities, industry and the USDA led discussions on cleaning and sanitizing surfaces of all types, including ingredient and product surfaces, environmental and equipment surfaces, and surfaces such as hands, uniforms and footwear.
“For many raw and ready-to-eat foods, the majority of microbial contamination occurs on outer surfaces,” said Joseph Eifert, associate professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech.
Clemson food scientist Paul Dawson discussed post-process treatments for ready-to-eat meats; plant scientist Jim Rushing discussed agricultural and post-harvest practices to protect fruits and vegetables; food scientist Xiuping Jiang discussed the impact of manure as a fertilizer for organic produce; and packaging scientist Libby Hoyle led a panel discussion on communicating the food surface safety message.