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I was shocked at the unsanitary, filthy conditions at an Arizona Cantina Bar featured on the TV reality show Bar Rescue last night!

I have worked for eight major restaurant chains throughout my career, but never seen anything as filthy as some of the bars featured on Bar Rescue episodes. However, QSR and fast casual restaurants are not always as pristine as they should be — and we can say that independent restaurants and bars are the main problems. Their saving grace is corporate run programs and well trained operators who impose cleanliness and sanitation standards on every restaurant manager. It's a top-down approach that all managers understand represents a 3-strikes and you're out policy. I should also add that another saving grace in fried food restaurants is that most operators fry the hell out of the food. Pathogenic microorganisms don't stand a chance!

Stakes are getting higher

One of my roles as a consultant is to work as an expert witness in food litigation cases. As a result, I have the opportunity to observe and participate in legal trends in food illness and death cases. A part of an expert witness' job is to help attorneys (Defense and Plaintiff) develop winning strategies in food cases. For the most part, attorneys have used a traditional approach that identifies nonpathogenic and pathogenic organisms by name, determines the plate count variance from, determines the causative agent, assesses consistent regulatory program monitoring, and assigns accountability.

But that approach is leaving the legal world like the black model T Ford cars. Today, opposing attorneys and regulatory officials are assigning blame at the executive level, and filing criminal charges. If you don't believe me, Google the Jensen Mellon Farms case in Colorado over the past two weeks, and you can find a picture of the two owners in handcuffs. This is serious stuff, and I would encourage every restaurant executive to sponsor and fund an independent review of their food safety and sanitation program — to make sure they avoid jail time.

What is forensic science?

After working on numerous food pathogen cases and observing criminal charges against good everyday people, I decided to construct a sound methodology for investigating foodborne illness outbreaks, to prevent fewer people from finding themselves in a court room. I have summarized that forensic science is the application of scientific principles and technological practices to the purposes of justice in the study and resolution of criminal, civil and regulation issues. AAFS Board of Directors, 1993 (American Academy of Forensic Sciences) partitioned forensic science into 11 categories and food science and food safety are not among them. But that is expected since food science and food safety forensics are among the emerging fields of forensic science.

Forensic science can also be defined as scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of a crime (noun) relating to the use of scientific knowledge or methods in solving crimes (adjective), according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. The same dictionary further defines forensic science as the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems; especially: scientific analysis of physical evidence (as from a crime scene).

What is Food Safety Forensics?

Food Safety Forensics is the methodology of using food safety principles, detection methods and processes to solve crimes, or to verify and document food poisoning or adulteration — including both humans and pets. It is not specific to food micro-organism poisoning. It represents a disciplined methodology for identifying the food poisoning case and contributing factors, and identifies sequential "tracking and tracing" investigative steps, technologies and detection tools. An example would be the detection and tracking of pathogenic organisms in a fruit like melons that result in consumers' deaths.

Integrated Food Safety Forensics takes a global approach to food crime solving across the entire farm-to-fork supply chain. And it incorporates new software and microorganism scientific detection methods into the Crime Scene Investigation.

I will be writing more on this subject in the months ahead, including a webinar to 50 attorneys Dec. 3, a white paper publication, and co-authoring a book that will be made available to food manufacturers on an international basis. For more information on available literature discussion of an independent food safety program services, please contact me at dsuderman@foodbevbiz.com for information on innovation workshops.

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Latest posts by Darrel Suderman
Darrel Suderman
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.
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