Food safety concerns are not new, but there has recently been an increased focus on solutions that can improve safety.

The risk of a foodborne illness is higher with uncooked food since there is no way to kill any harmful bacteria, like E. coli or salmonella, that may be present. At times, even washing produce will not rid it of all bacteria or viruses. That is why food safety concerns have heightened, and understanding food safety has become so important for consumers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 48 million people get food-borne illnesses each year from 31 known foodborne pathogens. This in turn leads to more than 3,000 deaths and 128,000 hospitalizations annually — staggering numbers that need to contained.

Preventing food-borne illnesses has become imperative, and we all have to do our bit to contain the number of food poisoning incidents. That includes making fresh produce safer and healthier by sanitizing them at the individual level as well as the research that goes into coming up with new ways to help.

Among the many studies being conducted on food safety, one by an Oklahoma State University graduate student has recently made news. Pushpinder Litt, a food science doctoral student, is focusing on controlling foodborne pathogens in food using phages. Phages are basically viruses that penetrate and kill bacteria in fresh produce and other food products.

Penn State Extension educators have developed food-safety training programs for Amish and Mennonite farmers, who are responsible for about half of the state's produce but are considerably behind the times when it comes to farm food safety methods. The training includes new agricultural technology as well as new food safety regulations awareness.

The Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety Modernization Act is focused on intensive food safety practices across the country to prevent cases of foodborne illnesses, rather than simply responding to contamination.

In this perspective, United Fresh Produce Association's generous donation of $500,000 to the Center for Produce Safety has come at an opportune time. Implementing food safety regulations is a challenging prospect and needs ample funds to ensure comprehensive food safety. Establishing all the conditions and practices in order to preserve the quality of food and avoid contamination and foodborne illnesses is the need of the hour, per the FDA and the USDA.

Studies show that consumer confidence in the safety of food has risen as more retailers and stores prove their compliance with the rules. According to the Food Marketing Institute's U.S. Grocery Shopping Trends 2017, 87 percent of consumers have stated that they feel that food in stores is safer now than before.

So what lies in the future of food safety? Advancing technology that will change our food safety practices even further.

Management will be more committed to food safety, so company recalls like Hampton Creek products from Target will be lower. Regulatory requirements are ever-increasing and will soon go beyond the listeria outbreaks, FSMA deadlines, whole genome sequencing and allergen recalls that are prevalent today.

Emerging technologies like DNA sequencing will help detect and trace foodborne illnesses easier. This will not just impact food safety, but also add to consumer confidence and affect the food brands. While the industry is doing its part, the FDA has also urged consumers to start practicing better food hygiene habits.

A recent Chow Line report stresses the importance of rinsing and washing fruits and veggies before eating. Fresh produce is the new millennium choice for a healthy palate, but they can harbor harmful bacteria at times. Rinsing them thoroughly under running water can ensure food safety, even the ones with skin.

Fresh produce, whether purchased from a farmer's market or grocery stores or even homegrown ones, needs proper food safety handling. Practicing better food hygiene habits would go a long way to contain the shocking numbers mentioned above.