Veterinarians play an essential role in ensuring the safety of the food supply chain. Before 1996, when the Food Safety and Inspection Service initiated the Pathogen Reduction; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) relied on sight, smell, and touch inspections to fulfill regulations (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999, para. 8-9). While food safety and inspection has been around for over a century, in the past more people knew the source of the foods they consume. Today, with the existence of major meat-packing facilities and global transportation, the majority of meat-related food-borne disease outbreaks cannot be detected by sight, smell, and touch inspections because they are invisible microbiological hazards carried by otherwise healthy-appearing animals (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999, para. 23). This traditional focus on meat hygiene in the meat-packing facilities for veterinarians has expanded to other parts of the food chain, including other food vehicles such as milk products, egg products, honey, and fish products (McKenzie & Hathaway, 2006, p. 837). In order to combat the microbial risks, the food safety industry is accepting that veterinarians’ roles are greater than that of mere technicians. In effect, the role of the veterinarian is expanding to meet the requirements of food safety. Because veterinarians have an extensive understanding of the connection between production practices and animal disease, they can survey animals for notifiable or exotic diseases like Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or tuberculosis, can perform oversight at the retail, processing, and production levels, and can train others such as sanitarians and food inspectors (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999, para. 26-33). Veterinarians in food safety today must find a way to complete all of their duties so that they have time to verify HACCP compliance in their worksites. Veterinarians not only must perform basic tasks to insure food safety and HACCP compliance, but also play a role as creators, facilitators, and managers of teams and partnerships addressing consumer and industry needs in all areas from the farm to the table (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999, para. 44). Veterinarians and their food safety teams may be required in greater numbers in some areas than others. For example, in the meat plant industry, premium state-of-the-art facilities with the most up to date methods still need oversight, but not as much as facilities that have not changed their methods or facilities in almost half a century or facilities that slaughter diseased or injured animals (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999, para. 45-47).
Another new role for veterinarians is in risk analysis. In accordance with public health policy, veterinarians can make scientific evaluations of food-borne hazards, design and implement controls at several points in the food chain to combat evaluated risks, monitor chemical and biological hazards throughout the food chain, evaluate and control antimicrobial-resistant bacteria transmitted by food, and communicate risks to proper authorities (McKenzie & Hathaway, 2006, p. 838). The veterinarian’s role is wide when it comes to food safety, because they must recognize diseases in animals, identify emerging pathogens, be vigilant for bioterrorism threats, and identify foreign animal disease threats. They must also understand epidemiology, pathology, parasitology, microbiology, virology, bacteriology, toxicology, pharmacology, and drug resistance mechanisms. With such a wide background from their training, the best way to maintain food safety for all is to ensure that veterinarians are placed throughout the food industry to oversee, test, manage, and advise in best practices and risk prevention.
MacKenzie A.I. & Hathaway S.C. (2006). The Role and Functionality of Veterinary Services in Food Safety Throughout the Food Chain. Rev Sci Tech 25(2): 837-848.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (Dec. 1999). The Future of FSIS Veterinarians: Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved from http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/futurevet.htm