Climate Change and its Impact on Food Safety

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, February 21, 2019

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The climate change discourse has been represented in numerous ways across different countries, causing governments to develop and implement policies that will help their people to adapt to or mitigate the impact of occurrences that may arise as a result of changes in weather events and temperatures. A recent article published by Thomson Reuters Foundation highlighted that experts are warning against the considerable impact climate change could have on food safety. I found it very interesting, as many people tend to not make this link when planning for food safety; whether on farms or during processing and distribution.

The impact of climate change on food safety will not be the same across different food systems in different regions. Some regions are projected to have an increase in food production, while others will see a decrease due to contamination and subsequent dumping of food products that have been contaminated.

With our region being affected by higher temperatures and more frequent rainfall, the persistence and occurrence of bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and their vectors will increase, along with their corresponding food-borne diseases and risk of toxic contamination to food. Some fungi (moulds) produce mycotoxins, which can have toxic effects on humans and livestock if ingested. Consequently, there will be an increase in use of pesticides, fertilisers and veterinary medicines in plant and animal products due to changes in the types and abundance of pests and weed growth which will arise as a result of changing weather patterns. Overuse of these chemicals will ultimately result in an increase in pesticide residue levels on food leaving our farms.

Additionally, the higher temperatures may result in our storage areas being breeding grounds for bacteria, fungi and pests. Some of the toxins produced by mould cannot be completely removed once contamination occurs and as such, preventative measures must be taken to reduce or eliminate the occurrence. It is recommended that once contamination is suspected or detected, the product will need to be discarded if no method exists to reduce it to an acceptable level.

Our water sources may also be contaminated with bacteria, viruses and other pathogens due to the changes in temperature and humidity. Therefore, water used for irrigation may contaminate our farm produce. Water scarcity is also an issue in some areas during periods of drought, which could lead farmers to using contaminated water to irrigate crops.

How can we adapt to and mitigate some of the impact?

• Water sources must be monitored and, at least once a year, an analysis conducted to ensure that the water standards for irrigation and consumption are met.

• Farmers should adopt sustainable and good agricultural practices such as proper field sanitation, control of pesticide and fertiliser application, proper waste disposal, proper soil management, temperature-controlled and sanitary storage facilities, worker health and hygiene, pest control, keeping farming equipment clean and properly stored, periodic scouting for pests and disease on crops.

• Processors will need to have a robust supplier management programme, which ensures all products are tested and verified before entering the facility to be processed, especially if you receive your produce directly from farms.

Just a reminder: Food safety, food security and nutrition are linked and are all affected by climate change. With this in mind, ensure that you conduct risk assessments; both on farm and in your processing facility, to guarantee that all areas for potential contamination of the food you produce are controlled.

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