Were you aware that climate change can affect your food safety in a number of ways? A recent European study stated that there is often a relationship between long-term changes in temperature and rainfall and vegetable and fruit contamination.
The findings published in the journal Food Research International state for example that flooding may result in increased concentrations of harmful bacteria that can be quickly broken down again by UV light. Similarly, in one region fungi that produce toxins may increase due to global warming, while they decrease in other regions.
One of the questions researchers at Wageningen University and Ghent University in Belgium are asking is: Will we be able to continue eating safe vegetables and fruit or will this come under pressure?
While these are the first studies into the relationship between climate change and food safety, the researchers say there is every reason to expand this research and believe that more scenario comparisons and studies should also be included in food safety research.
The Veg-i-Trade Study
Veg-i-Trade was established to study the possible effects of globalization and climate change on the food safety of these fresh products. Field studies and statistical analyses within the Veg-i-Trade project show that there is often a relationship between vegetable and fruit contamination and climate variables such as temperature and rainfall.
One of the first scenario analyses was included in the Veg-i-Trade study. From May 2010 to April 2014, 22 partners from universities, research centers, and major industrial organizations from 10 countries conducted research into viruses such as the norovirus, bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli, and fungal and pesticide residues on fresh vegetables and fruit.
One preliminary study into toxic substances from fungi showed that an increased risk of contamination of tomatoes may be expected at the end of the 21st century in Poland. In Spain, however, it will be too hot then for this kind of fungi, so the risk of contamination will be lower.
Another study showed that in a flooded lettuce field the likelihood of flooding is increased by climate change, resulting in higher concentrations of harmful bacteria. UV light will then cause these concentrations to decrease again rapidly.
One of the conclusions from a study into possible forms of adaptation to climate change is that adaptation to future climate change will have to be very different for different countries, sectors and companies. According to this research the focus here will have to be on increasing the adaptive capacity.
Climate Change Already Affecting Food Safety
In 2011, a Michigan State University professor said that climate change is already having an effect on the safety of the world's food supplies and unless action is taken it's only going to get worse. In his symposium How Climate Change Affects The Safety Of The Worlds Food Supply - Ewen Todd, an MSU professor of advertising, public relations and retailing, noted that several nationally known experts have warned that food safety is already an issue and will worsen unless climate change is confronted. "Accelerating climate change is inevitable with implications for animal products and crops," he said. "At this point, the effects of climate change on food safety are poorly understood."
He added that there are already a number of examples of climate change taking its toll on the world's food supply. One is Vibrio, a pathogen typically found in warm ocean water which is now becoming more common in the north as water temperatures rise. "It's been moving further up the coast these past few years," he said. "There was an outbreak of it near Alaska in 2005 when water temperature reached 15 degrees Celsius."
He also said that extreme weather - droughts and heavy rains - is having an impact on the world's food supply. In some areas crops are being wiped out, resulting in higher prices and other issues. "Mycotoxins are molds that can sometimes cause illness in humans, and where you have drought and starvation there can be a mycotoxin problem," he said. "That's because people will store their meager resources of crops for longer than they should.