Eating as an act of trust

When it comes to food, everyone’s a consumer, but we all accept receipts.

Food safety is cropping up in the news lately, and eaters everywhere should be paying close attention. Last week, Georgetown UniversityâÄôs Produce Safety Project released a study estimating that âÄúthe health-related economic cost of food borne illness in the United States is approximately $152 billion.âÄù This estimate is staggering, not to mention several times higher than United States Department of Agriculture estimates from a 1997 study. GeorgetownâÄôs study also comes on the heels of the announcement of a $20 million Department of Homeland Security grant awarded to the University of MinnesotaâÄôs National Center for Food Protection and Defense. Their goal âÄî somewhat alarming in itself âÄî is to study âÄúthe vulnerability of the nationâÄôs food system to attack through intentional contamination.âÄù In a sense, the issue of food safety boils down to consumer trust. Economies of scale in food systems have not merely increased the potential for a single incidence of contamination to spread more widely. They have also led to an increasingly convoluted and impersonal American food chain. More direct forms of food supply, like the nationâÄôs burgeoning farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture distribution models, may find a competitive advantage in their ability to put a trusted human face on food production, even when the incidence of food contamination hasnâÄôt necessarily been shown to be any less. The USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration appear savvy to public concern and are formulating new food safety regulation on leafy greens, for starters. Consumers, meanwhile, face tough new choices about what they eat and where it comes from.