By Kerry Bazany
Many of us are familiar with the terms “food safety”, but not as knowledgeable of the term “food security”. According to Timothy Sly, professor of Epidemiology at Ryerson University in Toronto, food security is defined as the “adequacy of food to society, the equitable distribution, confirmed supply, fair access, [and] sustained sources.” By contrast, food insecurity denotes the opposite of these descriptors. Although intuitively we may think of food security and food safety as the same, they are indeed disparate in terms of causation, effect, and even remedy.
Certainly, here at Unsafe Foods we encourage the very best in food safety practices and our articles are written to promote that very concept as well as to keep our readers informed of important recalls on food products. So let’s begin with the distinction between food security and food safety. According to the United Nations World Food Programmes, “People are considered food secure when they have availability and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” This definition incorporates three main elements: food availability, food access, and food utilization.
So to approach an understanding of the inverse of food security: food insecurity, we must come to a workable definition in light of the factors that impact this idea of food insecurity. In 2006, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced several “ranges” of food insecurity in order to delineate the term from hunger.
- High food security—Households had no problems, or anxiety about, consistently accessing adequate food.
- Marginal food security—Households had problems at times, or anxiety about, accessing adequate food, but the quality, variety, and quantity of their food intake were not substantially reduced.
- Low food security—Households reduced the quality, variety, and desirability of their diets, but the quantity of food intake and normal eating patterns were not substantially disrupted.
- Very low food security—At times during the year, eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake reduced because the household lacked money and other resources for food. (Source: www.ers.usda.gov)
Hunger, by definition, is distinct from food insecurity in that hunger is broadly stated to be an unpleasant or painful feeling resulting from a lack of food, whether prolonged or not. Without a doubt, the aforementioned category number four contributes to the various perceived experiences of hunger. This is critical to understand because it is almost unconscionable that food insecurity exists as a phenomenon in a nation so rich in agricultural resources.
Food safety, on the other hand, refers to handling, preparing and storing food in a way to best reduce the risk of individuals becoming ill from foodborne illnesses. This occurs in each and every step from harvesting to serving food products (farm to table). These principles guide best practices in preventing food from becoming contaminated from various pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses, including properly sanitizing all food preparation surfaces and equipment, maintaining a high level of personal hygiene, and storing, chilling, and heating food correctly with regard to proper temperature. Yet without a viable system of employable and sustainable food safety practices, food insecurity increases dramatically because of the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Help Can Come Through Unusual Sources
The approaches to food insecurity are exhaustive and difficult to explore within the constraints of this article. The origins of food insecurity are varied and complex: reaching across socio economic strata, but perhaps it can be said that access to adequate nutrition exists as a common variable. As recently as 2014, 49.1 million Americans, including 16.6 million children, lived in households that suffered from food insecurity or hunger. This number exceeded the combined populations of the states of Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.
Along with federal initiatives and programs, some companies are stepping up to address food insecurity. PawnGuru.com is a social impact website where consumers can post items that they wish to pawn, sell, or buy, and receive offers on those items from multiple local pawn shops. Readily available cash is crucial to those who are food insecure. Pawn loans offer liquidity, and PawnGuru provides multiple offers. Pawn shops vary substantially in what they offer, and having a website increases the chance that an individual will be linked to the right pawn shop. Because the problem of food insecurity is complex, federal aid is often insufficient. Therefore, companies like Pawn Guru have teamed up with FoodFinder.us in order to help those who wish to find pantries near them, and to help those with the financial means to assist in the most effective way. FoodFinder offers the most up to date internet directory of food banks with the most essential information, like hours and locations, and it’s totally free to use.
You may not associate marijuana with philanthropism, but Bloom Farm, a cannabis company in California, is donating one meal to families in need for every one of their products sold. Recently, they announced that they have donated their one millionth meal. However, many food pantry services are reluctant to work with cannabis companies due to the stigma attached to it. CEO Michael Ray is delighted that San Francisco Marin Food Bank agreed to accept their donations, stating that their cause is “not political… we just want to feed people.”
A Final Word
Food insecurity is not a consequence of poor food safety practices, but one can certainly accompany the other. Access to fresh, nutritious and safe food is a priority for millions of us. There is an increased emphasis on the part of the USDA and FDA to ensure the safety of the food we consume, especially in light of recent food recalls. Best food safety practices become critically important to those who are food insecure. At a minimum, the following practices should be practiced by all individuals when it comes to preparing their food:
- Wash hands and preparation surfaces often. Paper towels are recommended for kitchen clean up
- Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods.
- NEVER place cooked foods on a cutting board or surface that previously held raw meat
- Cook to proper and safe temperatures and use a food thermometer to make sure that meat, poultry, and egg dishes are cooked to their proper temperatures.
- Keep hot food hot, and cold food cold