Blockchain

Promise of Blockchain Could Help Seafood Traceability, Unique Challenges Remain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain

As our conversation about the potential of blockchain continues at Food Safety Tech, we sat down with Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist, Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists, to discuss how ready the seafood industry is in the adoption of blockchain, more specifically as it relates to traceability.

Food Safety Tech: What are the current major issues in seafood traceability?
Thomas Burke: Some of the challenges are diversity in product, diversity in regulatory compliance, a hyper-globalized supply chain and variable technology adoption.

I always like to distinguish seafood traceability from other major food commodities for several different reasons. When thinking about traceability and devising traceability systems, you want to think about use cases. For most food commodities, food safety is usually top of mind; there’s also a regulatory compliance component. Seafood still has food safety as a high priority, but there are also issues with illegal and unreported fishing and fraudulent issues in the supply chain. When you’re thinking about devising a traceability system, you also have to consider different key data elements. For instance, in food safety, while location is important, the location is only really important for tracing back in the event of recalling product. In seafood traceability you’re looking at racing back to ascertain if it was caught in the right place with the right method at the right time. With this as context, you also want to think about the technological challenges and food operations wise such as the diversity of commodities in seafood—there’s diversity in species way more so than in poultry or produce. You also have very different geographic locations, different harvest methods (i.e., farmed, wild); because of the diversity of harvesting practices, there are other considerations to think about. There are some traceability service providers that rely on a constant internet connection, and that’s obviously not possible if you’re fishing on the high seas. You might have equipment for data collections that works really well in the field or in the food manufacturing environment, but it may not work under the harsh conditions of a boat or in aquaculture. So we end up seeing a great diversity of technological adoption. Especially further upstream when thinking about other small-scale fishers and smaller processors—they generally only do traceability for regulatory compliance, because they just don’t have the capital to invest in technologically sophisticated data collection management. And sometimes it’s not necessary for what they’re trying to achieve. So, we still see a lot of paper records, basic spreadsheet data management, and then it gets more complicated as you go down the supply chain. Larger processors and retailers will have more dedicated traceability systems.

FST: Where do you see blockchain entering the traceability process and what other technologies should be used in conjunction with blockchain?

Thomas Burke will be presenting, “Blockchain won’t solve the food traceability challenge… but Interoperability and Data Standards will” at the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | May 29 –30  Burke: One of the things that we’ve found in our work at the Global Food Traceability Center and with the global dialogue on seafood traceability [regarding] blockchain is that there’s a lot of interest and hype around the application itself, which helps draw in solution providers and developers that are interested in applying a new technology to a new use case.

Blockchain is a data sharing platform. So the technologies that it’s comparing itself to are FTP (file transfer protocol) and transferring data through an EDI (electronic data interchange). This is a new way of sharing data between supply chain partners that has some unique capabilities, some of which are very advantageous for seafood.

When I was talking earlier about how there is variable adoption of technologies (i.e., small harvesters or producers that use paper records or use minimal digital records), blockchain has the advantage that data hosting is shared and decentralized across the notes of the network. What that means is that a small producer doesn’t have to set up a dedicated server infrastructure in order to communicate with their supply chain partners, whereas that’s more of the case with EDI; even with FTP you’ll still have to set up some kind of formal relationship with your servers. What’s nice about blockchain is that in order to host information on that network, you just pay a small amount of the currency that the blockchain runs on. It’s a little bit different if you have a private or consortium blockchain, but the idea is with the open blockchain applications is that you only pay on a per transaction basis (data upload basis). The larger the network is, the cheaper that is to do. So over the month, it’s a lower cost for participants for hosting the shared ledger of updates.

There are also some other advantages: It’s immutable; once it’s on the blockchain it’s very difficult to corrupt that data. There are other components to the problem of data collection and the transportation of data, along with the product along the supply chain. You still need certain legs of that stool such as a global identifier that identifies the product as it goes through the supply chain and gets incorporated into other products; you also need to collect the related data that’s necessary to make your use case. There’s a balance between the data collection and the identification [i.e., fishermen might not want to reveal their best location]. Those all need to be part of the picture, in addition to novel data-sharing platforms such as blockchain. A big part of what GFTC is trying to do in the seafood space is gather industry and work with them to develop standards and best practices to ensure the same data is being collected at each point and that data is able to be transported with the product in an interoperable way that takes into account the diversity of technological adoption along the supply chain.

FST: What level of blockchain adoption do you see in the seafood industry? How prepared is the industry, including retailers?

Burke: As far as adoption: It depends. There are a few different aspects that depend on whether companies will invest in a blockchain solution or not. It depends on what their current adoption is and their market. Where we’re seeing a lot of interest in blockchain being used as a component of data sharing for traceability is in more niche products that have more straightforward supply chains, and they’re using traceability as a market differentiator for their product. Right now, in order to invest in blockchain, you need to devote a significant amount of staff time or invest in a service provider to devise the blockchain scheme that you’re going for. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the implementation of blockchain. There are major players using blockchain in other types of food supply chains, but those are generally very vertically integrated companies that have a lot of resources—both IT resources and monetary resources to devote to this early experimental stage. And that’s where I would see it start first. If there’s success in those more limited trials, then maybe larger multinational companies might have interest in using it as a linkage between some of the information systems.

The biggest challenge with large multinational seafood companies is they have a lot of subsidiaries. And when they have subsidiaries, they might use different ERP systems; they’re looking at ways to transport the data into those disparate systems. And with seafood, as with most food commodities, it’s a fairly low margin industry. So most companies are going to be fairly conservative in investing in a new technology until it’s really being seen as a proven and achievably implementable software solution. Larger companies are still seeing more traditional cloud hosting such as EDI as a viable option for data sharing in food traceability. But blockchain is being seen in those niche areas and as the technology becomes more proven, we’ll probably see greater adoption. There’s just still a lot of skepticism in the industry, and that’s with any new technology.

I will say with other technologies in seafood traceability, I am seeing quite a bit of promise in AI [artificial intelligence] data analytics and image processing technologies just because it’s very difficult to identify products, especially early up in the supply chain. Some of these new technologies in data processing are going to help streamline data collection and be able to process it into those key data elements that you’re looking for to achieve those traceability use cases. There’s been so much development of facial recognition technology in humans that similar algorithms could be used in labeling fish. Those are some of the other promising technologies. There are some [uses of] IoT devices and RFID but those still remain to be seen—they have implementation issues, because there are quite a few environmental interferences on water or in humidity-rich environments, especially when you’re thinking about radio frequency resistance/interference.

In seafood right now, most of the blockchain-oriented applications are in line with NGOs that are experimenting with the use of blockchain as a traceability tool—and those tend to be high-end products like tuna or crab using blockchain in limited use cases. It’s still very much in the piloting and early implementation.

FST: What are the top three advantages to using blockchain for seafood traceability?

Burke: 1. Immutability. Once you put transactions onto the blockchain, because of the way the architecture is set up, it’s really difficult to alter that record. Other data sharing platforms don’t have the advantage of a singular record.
2. Decentralization. Everyone has access to the same leger that can be shared in real time across a global supply chain. Most of the other data sharing platforms are emphasized in one-to-one communication, whereas blockchain is many-to-many.
3. Flexibility and interest from the development community. There’s a lot of creativity associated with blockchain applications right now. There are a lot of developers coming up with interesting ideas of how to maximize the architecture to work for food traceability applications. Because it has an economic structure where you are using tokens that are powering the data processing, you can potentially do interesting things with incentivizing inputting data into a traceability system and monetizing it. We’re exploring that in the global dialogue—looking to see how you can tie the value of traceability data upstream, because that will help incentivize the entire ecosystem. There have been limited trials with startups that have been looking at incentivizing data collection through blockchain.

FST: Where do you see blockchain headed in five years?
Burke: I don’t see the actual architectural idea of blockchain idea going away. It’s a fairly brilliant way of ensuring that valuable data isn’t double counted or deleted. It helps reduce some risk.

The next five years will depend on what the end retailers end up adopting. In western markets, more specifically North America, the retailers have a lot of leverage in what standards and best practices are kept and carried through. So it will depend a lot on those large end retailers and how comfortable they are in adopting blockchain, and the decisions that they make behind blockchain providers.

The largest seafood markets are China and Japan, so [adoption] more depends on what those retailers/customer bases are demanding versus what happens in North America just because the demand is so much stronger there. That will also drive the development of blockchain interfaces and will influence the adoption among smaller scale fishers, which is more of the tendency in East Asia. It’s a very open question. I think it will be influenced by decisions that governments make in East Asia regarding blockchain.

I would emphasize that the success of seafood traceability and food traceability in general will be very dependent on standards, and the development of commonly understood and accepted practices, and the way those data standards are collected. So you can have a robust blockchain platform, but if every supply chain partner doesn’t agree to collect the same data and identify it in a similar way that is interoperable, it still won’t work—even if you have the most advanced technology. There’s a human process of agreeing upon the same way that traceability data is gathered. Interoperability and standards are key, in addition to the new technologies.

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Innovative Publishing Co. Announces Partnership with Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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EDGARTOWN, MA, March 13, 2019 – Innovative Publishing Co., the publisher of Food Safety Tech and organizer of the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo, has announced a partnership with the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network (CFBN).

“Our new relationship with the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network brings an enhanced level of industry presence to the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo. “I am thrilled to welcome the members of CFBN to the Food Safety Consortium this year.”

As a partner organization, members of CBFN will receive a discount off registration and training courses being offered at the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo in October. CBFN members also have access to a discounted “One Day Pass” for admission to the first day of the Consortium (October 1), which includes the keynote presentation by FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas.

“We are so pleased to welcome Innovative Publishing Company as a partner,” said Alan Reed, executive director of Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network. “Food Safety Tech and the Food Safety Conference and Expo provide incredible value to our members. We are thrilled to be connecting the leaders of the food & beverage industry in Chicagoland with this kind of industry knowledge and expertise. We are looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial partnership.”

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo

The Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo is a premier educational and networking event for food safety solutions. Attracting the most influential minds in food safety, the Consortium enables attendees to engage conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting edge solutions, explore diverse educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in an ever-changing, global food safety market. This year’s event takes place October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL.

About Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network

The Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network (CFBN) launched in 2017 to bring industry players together, to provide a forum for collaboration and support, and to better connect the 4,500 companies in the industry across Chicagoland to drive innovation and growth in the region.

FoodLogiQ

Markon Selects FoodLogiQ Product for Global Supply Chain Visibility

FoodLogiQ

FoodLogiQ has announced that Markon has selected its FoodLogiQ Connect Manage + Monitor product for global supply chain visibility and streamlined supplier management. “We vetted several systems providers and felt that FoodLogiQ was best positioned to help us manage data and dramatically increase efficiencies. With hundreds of suppliers, and thousands of farms, a robust system is necessary for us to maintain our industry-leading food programs,” said Markon President Tim York in a press release.

According to, managing hundreds of growers and dozens of processing plants is a massive undertaking that requires more than just manual tracking methods like spreadsheets and paper documents. Markon needed a technology solution to provide a global view of their supplier quality management, and they needed greater transparency across the company’s supply chain..

Markon will use the FoodLogiQ Connect’s Manage + Monitor to:

  • Centralize supplier documentation to achieve corporate food safety standards, implement corrective actions, support supplier verification, and manage required recordkeeping
  • Track and report on food safety across their supply chain and address issues with suppliers directly to drive compliance
  • Leverage data-driven reporting to help leadership make informed decisions about supplier performance and expiring documents

Read the full press release about Markon’s adoption of the FoodLogiQ platform.

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FDA, USDA Formally Agree to Regulate Human Food Made from Cells of Livestock and Poultry

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Today FSIS and FDA announced a formal agreement regarding the regulatory oversight of human food products derived from the cell lines of livestock and poultry. The agencies will jointly oversee regulation of these cell-cultured products to ensure both safe production as well as accurate labeling.

The agreement involves a joint regulatory framework in which the FDA will manage cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. During the cell harvest stage, FDA will transition oversight to FSIS and from there, FSIS will oversee production and labeling of the human food products that are derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.

“We recognize that our stakeholders want clarity on how we will move forward with a regulatory regime to ensure the safety and proper labeling of these cell-cultured human food products while continuing to encourage innovation,” said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas in a USDA press release.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., FDA

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb Reportedly Resigning

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Scott Gottlieb, M.D., FDA

The Washington Post is reporting that FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. is resigning. Gottlieb had only been at this post since May 2017 but has been pushing a number of initiatives across the industries in which the FDA regulates. Within the food industry, he has been supportive of taking additional policy steps to improve food safety oversight, and last year he revealed concern over some food recall practices.

“All of us at HHS are proud of the remarkable work Commissioner Gottlieb has done at the FDA,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a statement. “He has been an exemplary public health leader, aggressive advocate for American patients, and passionate promoter of innovation. …The public health of our country is better off for the work Scott and the entire FDA team have done over the last two years.”

According to the Post article, Gottlieb wants to spend more time with his family, as he has been commuting between Washington and his home in Connecticut on a weekly basis. The article also reports that President Trump did not want Gottlieb to leave his post.

AOAC International

AOAC Sinks Teeth into Cannabis Testing, Launches Food Fraud Program

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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AOAC International

Last week Cannabis Industry Journal, a sister publication of Food Safety Tech, published its interview with AOAC International officials about the organization’s commitment to cannabis lab testing, where it sees this area headed in the future and the launch of its food authenticity and fraud program. AOAC first entered the realm of cannabis testing a few years ago and is making strides to get further involved with “methods regarding chemical contaminants in cannabis, cannabinoids in various foods and consumables, as well as microbial organisms in cannabis,” according to the article. AOAS also recently launched a food authenticity and fraud program to develop standards and methods geared toward economically adulterated foods. Read more about AOAC’s latest development on the food front as well as its push in cannabis lab testing in the article, “Spotlight on AOAC: New Leadership, New Initiatives in Cannabis and Food”.

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Traceability from Within Starts with Assessing Capabilities

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Consumers and industry alike want more transparency in the supply chain. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Julie McGill, director of implementation and strategic accounts at FoodLogiQ explains how companies can prepare to meet the increased demands and how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: In light of the recent outbreaks and recalls, there an increased focus on traceability. What should companies do to get ready?

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ
With the increased focus on traceability, companies should start assessing their internal capabilities, says Julie McGill of FoodLogiQ.

Julie McGill: There is so much that companies can do today to prepare, and they can start by assessing their current capabilities. What problems are you trying to solve? Have you identified all of your products and locations with GS1 identifiers? Are you using GS1 identifiers in your systems?

Do you have a data quality program in place? Are you able to mark all of your cases with a GS1-128 barcodes? Can you scan barcodes at receiving? At delivery? Are you sending EDI messages to your trading partners?

Those with successful programs will tell you this is a marathon, not a sprint. Securing executive support, aligning internal teams and setting expectations with trading partners is key.

Having the ability to act swiftly and with precision and accuracy is a differentiator during a recall. Trading partners who have made the investment are able to understand where these affected items are in their supply chains in seconds. These programs require a solid program, disciplined approach to implementation, and ongoing monitoring and management of the data. Companies that have committed to implementing these standards are gaining a competitive advantage today, as they are ready to meet the mandates and requirements set by their trading partners.

FST: Is it actually possible to trace products to the source? Can we trace produce back to the field or fish back to the oceans?

McGill: Yes, it is possible to trace products back to the source. Growing consumer demands and regulatory requirements, such as FSMA and SIMP, have led to the need for more detailed information about food and its origins. To achieve this, it’s imperative that companies standardize business practices, product identification and item data to enable interoperability across solutions and systems.

There has been tremendous work done by industry stakeholders to address traceability. They’ve mapped their entire supply chains, identified the key data elements and critical tracking events to be captured to enable full chain traceability. GS1 US hosts initiatives in foodservice and retail grocery, plus there are a number of industry-run initiatives, including the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), Supply Chain Optimization (SCO2), and Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability. Food industry partners agree that full chain traceability will be achieved through education, industry input, and the use of standards.

Track and Trace, traceability, supply chain
The Track + Trace platform allows trading partners to capture and share the movement of products across the supply chain. When there’s the need to run an investigation, data is stitched together to provide visualization so trading partners can effectively and efficiently take action. Screenshot courtesy of FoodLogiQ

FST: When talking about traceability, blockchain is part of many conversations today. How does it differ from existing solutions?

McGill: Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers a way for companies to transact with each other and share information in a secure manner. What makes blockchain unique is that it is a shared, immutable ledger that records all the transactions in chronological order that cannot be altered or deleted. While this approach holds promise on raising transparency in the food industry, there is much yet to be tested and validated on its real-world application within the food chain.

The most common use case for blockchain in the food industry has been traceability. As blockchain technology, solutions and use cases are evolving, industry partners have come together to discuss it’s capabilities and use. We host a Blockchain Consortium, bringing our members together to explore blockchain. Industry groups are coming together as well, such as GS1 US, who is hosting a cross-industry discussion group to help companies better understand the transformative qualities of blockchain, including the use of GS1 Standards.

Blockchain has also made clear the need for companies to automate their record keeping and traceability systems and to eliminate the manual, paper-based processes that often slow down the resolution of a food safety outbreak or issue.

Blockchain is not a “light switch” solution. What’s widely misunderstood is that in order to achieve full chain traceability, all partners across the supply chain will need to implement processes to capture and share this critical tracking event data.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

McGill: Foodservice companies share common drivers and common goals which improve the reliability of product information, lower costs and reduce risk. There are numerous benefits that can be realized once you have access to accurate and complete traceability data, including:

  • Limiting the scope and costs of recalls
  • Quicker and more accurate product withdrawals
  • Full visibility across the supply chain
  • Speed to market
  • Improved business intelligence
  • Creates operational efficiencies
  • Enhanced inventory management
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ImEpik and Food Safety Tech Partner on Agreement for PCQI Online Training

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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EDGARTOWN, MA, Feb. 27, 2019 – Innovative Publishing Co., Inc., publisher of Food Safety Tech, has entered into a reseller agreement with ImEpik, an online training company that serves food manufacturers globally. Food Safety Tech will serve as a reseller of ImEpik’s PCQI online training course as per training that is required under FSMA.

“I’m pleased to announce our partnership with ImEpik, as it allows us to expand our efforts in giving the industry access to resources that are critical to food safety education and training,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo.

“Our ten-module online training program ensures that Preventive Control Qualified Individuals are proficient in the standards that are required under FSMA,” said Laura Lombard, CEO of ImEpik. “Providing compliance training in an online capacity also saves our ‘students’ time and money, as they can take the course any time and anywhere, without having to travel away from their job.”

As part of the partnership, the training will be offered at a reduced rate for professionals who also register to attend the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo, an annual industry event held October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo

The Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo is a premier educational and networking event for food safety solutions. Attracting the most influential minds in food safety, the Consortium enables attendees to engage conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting edge solutions, explore diverse educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in an ever-changing, global food safety market. This year’s event takes place October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL.

About IMEPIK

IMEPIK is a market-driven, and research-based online training company, facilitates food safety training for food manufacturers around the world. With an emphasis on accessible and innovative training, ImEpik offers a unique advantage in providing effective training for you, your employees, your association members, or your clients to ensure food safety compliance and best practices. We offer Preventive Controls courses that include the “standardized curriculum” recognized by the FDA.

Food Safety Consortium - October 1-3, 2019 - Schaumburg, IL

Industry Experts Darin Detwiler and Randy Phebus Join Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo Advisory Board

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium - October 1-3, 2019 - Schaumburg, IL

EDGARTOWN, MA, Feb. 19, 2019 – Innovative Publishing Co., the publisher of Food Safety Tech and organizer of the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo has added two distinguished industry leaders to its Advisory Board for this year’s Consortium event, which takes place October 1–3. Randall Phebus, Ph.D., interim director at the Food Science Institute and professor of food safety & defense at Kansas State University, will serve as chairperson for the Testing track at the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo, and Darin Detwiler, lead faculty for regulatory affairs of food and food industry, and assistant teaching professor at Northeastern University, will chair the Food Safety Leadership and Management track. Detwiler and Phebus will have a significant role in organizing these tracks to ensure that the sessions are accurate, relevant and meaningful for attendees.

“The addition of Darin Detwiler and Randy Phebus to the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo Advisory Board is an important step in further expanding the wealth of expertise brought to this annual event,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo. “Darin and Randy are highly respected professionals in this industry, and I am delighted to work with them and to help deliver their insights to Consortium attendees.”

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
A dynamic panel about blockchain, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Detwiler has been a member of the Food Safety Tech and Food Safety Consortium Advisory Board for two years and has made strong contributions to the content at the organization’s events, including most recently leading panel discussions on blockchain at last year’s Food Safety Supply Chain Conference and the 2018 Food Safety Consortium. Phebus is joining the Advisory Board for 2019 and will be providing critical perspectives in the area of food microbiology, food safety testing and environmental control.

Detwiler and Phebus join Angela Anandappa, Ph.D., who was announced as the chairperson for the 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo’s Sanitation track.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo

The Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo is a premier educational and networking event for food safety solutions. Attracting the most influential minds in food safety, the Consortium enables attendees to engage conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting edge solutions, explore diverse educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in an ever-changing, global food safety market. This year’s event takes place October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL.

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FDA Report on E. Coli Outbreak in Romaine Lettuce Points to “Significant” Finding of Strain in Sediment of Water Reservoir

By Maria Fontanazza
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The November 2018 outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce caused 62 illnesses across 16 states. The FDA zeroed in on the Central Coast growing regions of northern and Central California as being responsible for the contamination. The outbreak was declared over on January 9 and yesterday FDA released the report, “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Romaine Lettuce Implicated in the Fall 2018 Multi-State Outbreak of E.Coli O157:H7”, which provides an overview of the investigation.

The report states that a sediment sample coming from an on-farm water reservoir in Santa Maria (Santa Barbara County, California) tested positive for the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. Although this particular farm was identified in several legs of the Fall 2018 traceback investigations that occurred in the United States and Canada, as well as being a possible supplier of romaine lettuce in the 2017 traceback investigations, the FDA said that the farm is not the single source of the outbreak, as there is “insufficient evidence”. The traceback suggests that the contaminated lettuce could have come from several farms, because not all tracebacks led to the farm on which the contaminated sediment was found.

“The finding of the outbreak strain in the sediment of the water reservoir is significant, as studies have shown that generic E. coli can survive in sediments much longer than in the overlying water. It’s possible that the outbreak strain may have been present in the on-farm water reservoir for some months or even years before the investigation team collected the positive sample. It is also possible that the outbreak strain may have been repeatedly introduced into the reservoir from an unknown source,” stated FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas in a press announcement.

(left to right) Stic Harris, FDA; Matt Wise, CDC; Dan Sutton, Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange; Scott Horsfall, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement discuss the first E.coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce during a panel at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium. Read the article about the discussion.

Although the exact route of contamination cannot be confirmed, the FDA hypothesizes that it could have occurred through the use of agricultural water from an open reservoir, which has increased potential for contamination.

The investigation teams also found evidence of “extensive” wild animal activity and animal burrows near the contaminated reservoir, as well as adjacent land use for animal grazing, all of which could have contributed to the contamination.

Although FDA did not directly name the farm in the report, it provided a link about the recall that was initiated by the farm, Adam Bros. Farming, Inc., in December.

Considering the significant effect that the past two E.coli outbreaks involving romaine lettuce have had on both the public as well as the produce industry, FDA made several recommendations on preventive measures that leafy greens growers and industry can take to avoid such pathogenic contamination, including:

For growers:

  • Assessing growing operations to ensure they are in line with compliance to FSMA and good agricultural practices
  • Making sure that any agricultural water that comes into direct contact with the harvestable portion of the crop, food contact surfaces and harvest equipment is safe and sanitary
  • Address and mitigate risks associated with agricultural water contamination that can occur as a result of intrusion by wild animals
  • Address and mitigate risks associated with the use of land near or adjacent to agricultural water sources that can lead to contamination
  • Conduct root cause analysis whenever a foodborne pathogen is identified in the growing environment, agricultural inputs like water or soil, raw agricultural commodities, or “fresh-cut” ready-to-eat produce

For the broader industry:

  • The development of real-time procedures that enable rapid examination of the potential scope, source and route of contamination
  • All leafy green products should have the ability to be traced back to the source in real time, and information include harvest date. In November, FDA requested voluntary labeling [https://foodsafetytech.com/news_article/cdc-alert-do-not-eat-romaine-lettuce-throw-it-out/] to help consumers identify products affected during an outbreak
  • The adoption of best practices in supply chain traceability

Resources

  1. FDA report: “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Romaine Lettuce Implicated in the Fall 2018 Multi-State Outbreak of E.Coli O157:H7”
  2. FDA statement from Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas
  3.  FDA investigation of source of E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce