Angela Morgan, Aptar

Ask the Expert: Innovative Strategies for Mitigating Pathogen Risk in Minimally Processed Foods

Angela Morgan, Aptar

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased concern and awareness about health and safety across the spectrum. Though there is no evidence that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through food, increased concern about food safety remains. Among other food items, outbreaks tied to various fresh and frozen produce are all too common, despite processors’ best efforts to mitigate risk of pathogen growth during harvesting and processing, including multiple intervention washes prior to product packaging.

Still, adverse issues have persisted, leaving the foodservice industry wondering what more can be done to make fresh produce safer. This is where material science innovations come into play. New technology can enable processors to continue to reduce pathogen growth after the package is sealed, providing a final intervention step to significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illness from minimally processed foods.

Q: How does material science technology work as a pathogen mitigation strategy for fresh produce?

Angela Morgan, Ph.D.: Innovations in material science technology have enabled a new class of polymer compounds that perform active functions within packaging material to protect products from environmental conditions that can adversely impact efficacy and safety. This is called active packaging technology.

My company, Aptar CSP Technologies, developed 3-Phase Activ-Polymer™ technology more than 25 years ago for use in the pharmaceuticals space. Now, this technology is being applied to provide food protection solutions, specifically for fresh and frozen produce, to help mitigate risk of foodborne illness outbreaks.

To understand how this technology works, you first need a basic grasp of 3-Phase Activ-Polymer™ technology. Essentially, this material science innovation has three parts: a base polymer that provides physical structure, an active particle or component that offers a protective function, such as absorbing liquids or emitting an antimicrobial agent, and a minority polymer or channeling agent that enables gas movement throughout the base polymer. This technology can be custom-formulated to accomplish a range of tasks, such as absorbing moisture, scavenging oxygen or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), emitting aromas or eliminating odors or, in the case of produce, dispersing an antimicrobial agent within a sealed package to mitigate pathogen growth.

The technology we are discussing here, InvisiShield™, is a specially-engineered antimicrobial delivery system that safely creates a controlled dosage of chlorine dioxide (ClO2) gas inside a sealed package to reduce pathogen growth – both bacterial and viral – while minimizing negative organoleptic properties. Extruded into a film, the technology is adhered to the lidding film of fresh produce immediately prior to sealing, providing a final intervention step that is currently lacking in today’s produce processing methods.

Once the package is sealed, the humidity inside the package triggers a controlled release of ClO2 into the environment surrounding the produce, reducing pathogens within a matter of hours and leaving no trace after treatment. Independent studies from researchers at NC State have validated the technology delivers approximately a 3 log or 99.9% reduction in pathogen growth with no negative impact to taste, appearance or texture. The technology has been shown to be effective on a range of bacteria and viruses such as pathogenic E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Human norovirus, Hepatitis A, Shigella, Campylobacter jejuni, Staphylococcus aureus, Yersinia enterocolitica, Vibrio vulnificus, Geotrichum candidum, Feline calicivirus, and Rotavirus.

Q: What are some of the benefits of adopting this technology?

Morgan: Aside from the obvious benefits of brand protection, keeping food safe for consumers, and reducing the likelihood of recalls due to foodborne pathogens, InvisiShield™ technology is an additional hurdle or mitigation step in a processor food safety plan or HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Plan). The HACCP is a management system endorsed by the FDA in which food safety is addressed through analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product. While currently voluntary for the produce industry, HACCP programs are also highly recommended across all food industries. Currently, to comply with food safety testing requirements, processors need to hold product for as long as three days to wait for testing results to assure the product is safe to distribute. However, the InvisiShield™ antimicrobial delivery system enables the processor to bypass those wait times, immediately distributing product upon packaging. This results in extended shelf life and reduced wastage, while also providing an additional intervention step to protect against all of the residual effects of having an outbreak such as negative impacts on brand image and the expense of recalls.

About Angela Morgan, Ph.D

Angela Morgan, AptarAngela Morgan is Director of Business Development and Food Safety Solutions responsible for commercializing the portfolio of antimicrobial technologies at Aptar. She most recently worked at Sealed Air Corporation as the Director of America’s Legacy Food and Product Care Division, and previously worked at Turkey Hill Dairy and Campbell’s Soup Company. Morgan received her B.S and M.S. degrees in Food Science from Pennsylvania State University and her PhD. from Clemson University in Packaging Engineering. Finally, Morgan holds memberships in numerous professional and civic organizations and serves on the AIPIA advisory board.

Cybersecurity

As Cyber Threats Evolve, Can Food Companies Keep Up?

By Maria Fontanazza
No Comments
Cybersecurity

The recent cyberattack that shut down meat supplier JBS should be a wakeup call to the food industry. These attacks are on the rise across industries, and food operations both large and small need to be prepared. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Brent Johnson, partner at Holland & Hart, breaks down key areas of vulnerability and how companies in the food industry can take proactive steps to protect their operations and ultimately, the consumer.

Food Safety Tech: Given the recent cyberattack on JBS, how vulnerable are U.S. food companies, in general, to this type of attack? How prepared are companies right now?

Brent Johnson, Holland & Hart
Brent Johnson, partner, Holland & Hart

Brent Johnson: Food companies are in the same boat as other manufacturers. Cyber threats are constantly evolving and hackers are developing increasingly sophisticated delivery systems for ransomware. Food companies are obviously focused on making and delivering safe and compliant products and getting paid for them. Cybersecurity is important, but it’s difficult for manufacturers to devote the resources necessary to make their systems bulletproof when it’s an ancillary part of their overall operations and a cost driver. Unfortunately, hackers only have one job.

We tend to think of big tech and financial services companies as the prime targets for ransomware attacks because of the critical nature of their technology and data, but food companies are really no different. Plus, unlike tech companies and the financial services industry, food companies haven’t, as a general matter, developed the robust defenses necessary to thwart attacks, so they’re easier targets.

Food Safety Tech: What is the overall impact of a cyberattack on a food company, from both a business as well as a consumer safety perspective?

Johnson: It may come as a bit of a surprise to those who don’t work in the food industry, but food production (from slaughterhouses to finished products) is highly automated and data driven. That’s one of the lessons of the JBS ransomware attack. The attack shut down meat processing facilities across the United States and elsewhere. I work in Utah and the JBS Beef Plant in Hyrum was temporarily shut down. JBS cancelled two shifts at its meatpacking operation in Greeley, Colorado where my firm has a large presence as well, because of the ransomware attack. So, the impact on a food company’s business from a successful ransomware attack is dramatic.

On the consumer safety side, a ransomware attack that impacts automated safety systems would cause significant problems for a food manufacturer. Software controls much of the food industry’s safety systems—from sanitation (equipment washdowns and predictive maintenance) to traceability (possible pathogen contamination and recalls) to ingredient monitoring (including allergen detection). Every part of a food company’s production system is traced, tracked, and verified electronically. A ransomware attack on a food maker would very likely compromise the company’s ability to produce safe products.

Food Safety Tech: What proactive steps should food companies be taking to protect themselves against a cyberattack?

Johnson: I wish there was an easy and foolproof system for food companies to implement to protect against cyber attacks, but there isn’t. The threats are always changing. The Biden Administration’s recent memorandum to corporate executives and business leaders on strengthening cyber defenses is a good starting point, however. The White House’s Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Tech, Anne Neuberger, reiterated the following “Five Best Practices” from President Biden’s executive order. These practices are multifactor authentication, endpoint detection and response, aggressive monitoring for malicious activities on the company’s networks and blocking them, data encryption, and the creation of a skilled cyber security team with the ability to train employees, detect threats and patch system vulnerabilities.

Food Safety Tech: Are there specific companies within the food industry that are especially susceptible?

Johnson: Not really. Hackers are opportunistic and look for the paths of least resistance. That said, as can be seen from the recent Colonial Pipeline and JBS ransomware attacks, hackers have transitioned from the early days of going after individuals and small businesses to whale hunting. The money is better.

It’s important to observe that the recent attacks have been directed at industries that present national infrastructure concerns (oil, the food supply). There’s no evidence of any involvement by a foreign government in these attacks, but it’s a fair question as to whether the hackers, themselves, expect that the federal government will step in at some point to assist the victims of cyber attacks financially due to their critical importance.

Food Safety Tech: Where do you see the issue of cybersecurity and cyberattacks related to the food industry headed in the future?

Johnson: Other than the certainty that the attacks will increase in both intensity and sophistication, I have no prediction. It’s not a time for complacency.

Bryce Romney, RizePoint

Ask the Expert: Identifying the Best Fit in Quality Management Software

Bryce Romney, RizePoint

Q: What leads a company to decide a quality management solution is necessary?

Bryce Romney: For many companies, the catalyst for beginning the procurement process is needing to better integrate with data across the brand. Safety and quality checks have traditionally been managed with clipboards, spreadsheets, and email. While these may have their place in a modern quality model, fully manual processes make it difficult to aggregate, visualize, and use data effectively as a company grows.

Companies may also start looking to a quality management software when:

  • Their supply chain is expanding and it’s no longer possible to track suppliers and vendors manually.
  • Specific certification bodies require digital audit submission and converting from manual to digital has become too time consuming.
  • Corrective actions are not being effectively tracked as a part of the continuous improvement process.
  • Other departments have begun modernizing and integrating data across the company has become difficult.

In essence, many companies look to quality management software when it becomes difficult to track quality with more traditional processes as the company grows.

Q: What common missteps do companies make when selecting a vendor?

Romney: One of the biggest issues I see companies make is believing the right quality management software will give them an effective quality model. No software will fix a broken quality system or create a good system where one doesn’t exist. It’s critical, then, to ensure you go into the procurement process with a good quality and safety model in place. If there are things that aren’t working now, automating them won’t help. Get consensus from your team on what the quality and safety framework should be before streamlining it with quality management software.

Something else I frequently see is having the wrong people involved in procurement, or not ensuring the correct teams have a voice in the process. Narrowing your vendor selection to the final choice involves more than the director of operations or head of supply chain. Ultimately, the stakeholders that should get involved include whichever executive will give final approval, someone from the IT team who will head implementation, the team that will have to manage the software, representatives from any departments who may interface with quality, and someone to represent the needs of any suppliers, factories, or other partners who may have to use it.

Finally, I see that often people try to begin without a clear idea of their goals and desired outcomes in mind when bringing in new software. When you assemble the correct group of stakeholders, it’s critical to work on creating a specific list of goals, and a corresponding list of necessary features and functions. Having specific needs is key to narrowing an initial broad selection to the shortlist to your final selection. It allows you to avoid emotional decision making and focus on which vendor can meet your company’s needs. After all, as the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland” says, “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t really matter which path you take.”

Q: Quality management systems are increasingly integrated with external partners, vendors, and suppliers. How do you ensure the vendor of choice is able to accommodate all the needs of a local and/or global brand?

Romney: Start with identifying which partners or suppliers will use audits or corrective actions within the software. Are there certifications they use that are already integrated with any of the vendors you’re considering? Do you need to be able to import audits from disparate systems into a single system, and can the new software vendor accommodate that?

When working with a global supply chain, you should also consider the complexities of how the system will be used. Will you be able to get Wi-Fi or data connection in the farms or factories you’re monitoring, and can the software work offline? Do you have vendors with complex business hierarchies that the software will need to work with? Is a trained auditor using the software or will different locations need to have the usability to perform self-assessments?

Once you have a clear idea of what the answers to questions like these are, you can begin to understand which platform will best help you meet those needs. While you may not be able to find a single vendor who can meet all of your business needs, as well as those of your partners, the more you can accommodate in a single system the better. This will reduce the amount of work needed to integrate data between systems and build integrity across the quality team.

Need a step-by-step guide for buying Quality Management Software that’s right for your company? Download this FREE ebook: The Smart Buyer’s Guide to the Best Quality Management Software.

Bryce Romney, RizePointAbout Bryce Romney

Bryce Romney is Director of Product at RizePoint. People, problems and solutions. That’s what keeps Bryce excited about moving the RizePoint platform forward. New customer journeys toward solutions for real problems is where he loves to focus. With the world moving as fast as it does, technology enhancements making leaps every year, Bryce enjoys chasing big visions, while remembering to focus on real people and the problems they still face today in their jobs and lives.

Content sponsored by RizePoint.

Recall

Beech-Nut Recalls Infant Single Grain Rice Cereal Due to High Inorganic Arsenic Levels, Pulls Out of Market Segment

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Recall

Today Beech-Nut Nutrition Company announced a voluntary recall of one lot of its Stage 1 Single Grain Rice Cereal following sampling that revealed the product tested above the guidance level for naturally occurring inorganic arsenic set by FDA last summer. The routine sampling was conducted by the State of Alaska. The recalled item has an expiration date of May 1, 2022.

“The safety of infants and children is Beech-Nut’s top priority. We are issuing this voluntary recall, because we learned through routine sampling by the State of Alaska that a limited quantity of Beech-Nut Single Grain Rice Cereal products had levels of naturally-occurring inorganic arsenic above the FDA guidance level, even though the rice flour used to produce these products tested below the FDA guidance level for inorganic arsenic,” said Jason Jacobs, Vice President, Food Safety and Quality, Beech-Nut, in a company announcement published on FDA’s website.

Perhaps even bigger news is Beech-Nut’s announcement that it is exiting the market for its branded Single Grain Rice Cereal. The company is concerned that it will not be able to consistently obtain rice flour that is well-below FDA’s guidance level (as well as Beech-Nut’s specifications) for naturally occurring inorganic arsenic.

Coronavirus

Pandemic Forced Food Companies to Assess Agility, Focus on Data

By Maria Fontanazza
No Comments
Coronavirus

COVID-19 was an eye-opening public health emergency that brought a renewed focus on hygiene and safety across all industries. For McDonald’s Corp., this change prompted a deeper focus on science, including the use of analytical data, and consumer perception, according to the company’s Director of Global Food Safety Gary van Breda. “There are certain things that are important to our supplier base and for us moving forward, [including] harvesting information from different sources— information from audits, social media and being able to know whether we have the right inputs and algorithms in place to generate information to help us make decisions,” said van Breda in a panel discussion during the final episode of the Food Safety Consortium’s Spring Virtual Conference Series in May. These data-driven insights also helped the company take a closer look at attributes such as air quality and how to clean and sanitize high-touch areas in its restaurants.

Many organizations in the food industry were forced to completely change their strategic approach to doing business. “COVID was a once-in-a-generation disruption,” said Jorge Hernandez, vice president, quality assurance at The Wendy’s Company. “Many of the businesses didn’t survive, and many thrived. What’s the difference? In the leadership and approach: To be able to pivot, be flexible, and adapt to the changing circumstances—talk about flying a plane while you were building it.”

One of the key lessons learned from the pandemic was in the ability to remain flexible and make decisions based on the best information available at that time—and using the latest information to continuously improve processes, said Hernandez. For example, many food service and retail establishments took a giant leap forward in providing contactless ordering and delivery to customers—something that became an expectation versus a nice-to-have advantage. From an internal perspective, Wendy’s developed a much stronger connectivity between different job functions (i.e., operations, human resources, management) that helped them strengthen practices, guidance and procedures necessary to thrive during the pandemic.

During the pandemic, food safety fundamentals were brought to the forefront. “Handwashing became so critical. It would be silly not to take advantage of that moving forward,” said Hernandez. “Before the pandemic this was one of the biggest reasons for foodborne illness [outbreaks]. Now it’s up to us: With this pandemic, to use that momentum to move [these practices] forward and make it part of our routine. We have a unique opportunity to make that change to make safer food.”

Up next week: An update on food safety auditing in the age of COVID and beyond.

lightbulb, innovation

Trends in Consumer Buying Behavior: Complimentary Webinar June 16

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
lightbulb, innovation

What matters to consumers when they buy food and beverage products, and what do they see on labels? Next week, food safety professionals can gains from insight on this topic during a complimentary Food Safety Tech webinar.

Sponsored by DNV, this virtual event will present research results conducted by DNV and (independently) Natalia Velikova, Ph.D., professor and associate director at Texas Tech University and Sophie Ghvanidize, Ph.D., agribusiness lecturer at Geisenheim University in Germany on consumer behavior and trust, when buying well established and novice food and beverage product brands, along with the impact of information on labels regarding products nutritional and health benefits, environmental impact of production and social responsibility of producers on consumer choices.

Event: What matters to consumers when buying food & beverage products, and what do they see on labels?
When: Wednesday, June 16, 1 pm ET
Where: Your office
Register for this complimentary virtual event now.

Cybersecurity

Cyberattack on Meat Supplier JBS Forces Shut Down of Multiple U.S. Plants

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Cybersecurity

On Sunday Brazil-based JBS was targeted by a cyberattack that forced the shutdown of its facilities in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. The ransomware attack affected servers that support the company’s IT systems in North America and Australia. It is suspected to have originated from an organization based in Russia, according to reports.

It is expected that most of the company’s beef, pork, poultry and prepared food plants will be operational today, JBS said in a statement last night. Thus far the company is unaware of any customer, supplier or employee data that has been compromised.

Cyberattacks coming from Russia have increased at a significant rate and are likely to continue. “The fact that this kind of activity is happening with a relatively high frequency and also all signs sort of leading back to Russia, that is very disturbing,” said Javed Ali, a former National Security Council director of counterterrorism, in an ABC News report. “I don’t think we’ve seen a period of this kind of high-intensity cyber operations from Russian soil directed against a variety of different U.S. targets arguably ever, unless the government has been tracking this and the public details of those types of operations haven’t been revealed before.”

magnifying glass

FDA’s Traceability Tech Challenges Goes Live

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
magnifying glass

Today FDA launched its latest initiative set forth as part of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint: The FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety Low- or No-Cost Tech-Enabled Traceability Challenge. The agency is asking technology providers, entrepreneurs and innovators to come forward and develop traceability technology tools that are scalable and affordable for food operations of all sizes.

“Too many Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses every year. Making the food supply more digitally enabled and food more traceable will speed the response to outbreaks and deepen our understanding of what causes them and how to prevent them from happening again,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. in an agency release “One of the FDA’s highest priorities is protecting consumers from foodborne illnesses. We hope to find new, innovative ways to encourage firms of all sizes to voluntarily adopt tracing technologies that can help our nation modernize the way we work together to determine possible sources of foodborne illnesses as quickly as possible to keep Americans safe.”

Additional information about the challenge, which ends on July 30, can be found on the precisionFDA website.

FDA

FDA Requests $6.5 Billion for FY 2022 Budget, 8% More than Last Year

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
FDA

The FDA is asking for $6.5 billion, about an 8% increase over the previous year, for its FY 2022 budget. The budget includes a $185 investment in the agency’s critical public health infrastructure, which addresses enterprise-wide data modernization and enhanced technology to ensure that labs and facilities are safe and integrated with program needs, and capacity building. FDA is asking for $97 million to increase the development of its food and medical product safety programs. Specific areas of investment within food safety include boosting funding given to programs that address maternal and infant nutrition ($18 million); providing funds that tackle emerging food-related chemical and toxicological issues ($19.7 million); and improving the oversight of animal foods and supporting the implementation of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint ($22 million). Accompanying FDA’s budget request are legislative proposals to enhance the agency’s authorities to protect and promote public health.

Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

2021 FSC Episode 4 Preview: Food Safety Supply Chain Management

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

This week’s episode of the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will discuss the challenges that the industry faces in managing the supply chain, including in the realm of audits. The following is the agenda for this Thursday’s session:

  • Food Safety as a Supply Chain Management Problem, with John Spink, Ph.D., Michigan State University
  • Supplier Certification in Today’s Supplier Quality Management Programs: A Discussion with Gary van Breda, McDonald’s; Jorge Hernandez, Wendy’s; and moderated by Kari Hensien, RizePoint; Sponsored by RizePoint
  • What Needs to Change in Food Safety Certification: A GFSI Panel Discussion moderated by Erica Sheward, GFSI
  • Auditing Update in the Age of COVID: FDA Standards and Regulations Alignment Pilot, with Trish Wester, AFSAP

This year’s event occurs as a Spring program and a Fall program. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to all the episodes featuring critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! Registration includes access to both the Spring and the Fall events. We look forward to your joining us virtually.