Iowa State University’s hosting the first annual “Institute for Food Safety and Security Symposium” today (Wednesday) with representatives from national livestock and public-health groups as well as the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. Ted McDonald is a scientist with the Institute who says they’ve brought the university researchers together with industry leaders and “policy folks” to talk about methods to ensure our food supply is safe.

McDonald says food safety generally refers to unintentional contamination of food whereas “food security,” also sometimes referred to as “food defense” is all about the deliberate contamination of food. Federal agriculture-department speakers this morning talked about the global situation, and I-S-U professors brought it home with talks about livestock production and food handling. He says Iowa’s food production and processing industries both export and import food from the rest of the world, so the topics ranged from interacting with other countries to how different U.S. agencies interact with each other.

Experts from the ISU veterinary school talked about antibiotic use in livestock. McDonald says in addition to security itself, the experts mulled over another big issue. “What does the public know about food safety, food defense and bio-security?” He says the challenge is communicating what the experts know, and how they can better go about communicating the risks.

McDonald says the United States has the safest food supply in the world. “That’s not by accident,” McDonald adds. “There are a number of folks engaged in training, which is probably the most important thing, good education both at the consumer level and at the production-processing level.” He says workers in food processing industries must be well trained in good sanitation techniques. He says at the state level, safety’s assured by University Extension and Iowa’s Department of Inspections and Appeals.

McDonald says food security’s a mix of high-tech science and old-fashioned home-economics advice you’ve heard for years. He says it’s a multi-layered effort: “Everyone has to take some responsibility for their own food safety issues.” He says consumers deserve a wholesome food supply. And then when we get food and take it home he says we’re back to the good old advice of “keeping our cold foods cold and our hot foods hot.” Composed of seven disciplines at Iowa State, the Institute for Food Safety and security is governed by a board of deans and aims to respond to concerns with impact throughout the global food chain.