The objective of food processing and preparation is to provide safe, wholesome, and nutritious food to the consumer. The responsibilities for accomplishing this objective lie with every step in the food chain; beginning with food production on the farms, and continuing through processing, storage, distribution, retail sale, and consumption. Producing safe food is a continuum, where each party has certain obligations to meet and certain reasonable expectations of the other parties involved in the process. No single group is solely responsible for producing safe food, and no single group is without obligations in assuring the safety of food.
Food producers have a reasonable expectation that the food he or she produces will be processed in such a manner that further contamination is minimized. Food producers are an integral part of the food production system, but are not solely responsible for food safety. It is not practical to deliver fresh unprocessed food that is completely free of microorganisms, whether the food in question is of animal or plant origin. The environment in which the food is produced precludes the possibility that uncontaminated food can be grown or produced. However, appropriate methods can be utilized to reduce, to the extent possible, this level of background contamination. These methods are referred to as “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAPs).1
Alternately, producers have an obligation to use these same reasonable practices to prevent hazards from entering the food chain. As an example, when dairy cattle are treated with antibiotics for mastitis, producers have an obligation to withhold milk from those animals from the normal production lot. Milk from these animals must be withheld for the specified withdrawal time, so that antibiotic residues will not occur in milk delivered to dairies. In contrast, production of salmonellae-free poultry in the United States has been an elusive goal for poultry producers. While it is not a reasonable expectation for producers to deliver salmonellae-free birds to poultry processors, it is reasonable to expect producers to use good livestock management practices to minimize the incidence of Salmonella within a flock.
Food processors have reasonable expectations that raw materials delivered to the processing facility are of reasonable quality and not contaminated with violative levels of any drugs or pesticides. In addition, processors have a reasonable expectation that processed food will be properly handled through the distribution and retail chain, and that it will be properly prepared by the consumer. The latter is particularly important, as processors have responsibility for products because they are labeled with the processor's name, even though the food is no longer under processor's control once it leaves the processing facility. Processors' obligations are to process raw foods in a manner that minimizes growth of existing microorganisms as well as minimizes additional contamination during processing. These obligations extend from general facility maintenance to the use of the best available methods and technologies to process a given food.