An outbreak of Cyclospora infections is being linked to bagged, garden salads sold at ALDI, Hy-Vee and Jewel-Osco grocery stores in six states across the Midwest (Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska). The FDA, CDC and other state and local agencies are investigating the multistate outbreak, which has sickened 76 people and resulted in 16 hospitalizations. No deaths have been reported.
The FDA and CDC are recommending that consumers should not eat the products, and restaurants and retailers should not serve or sell the products, which fall under the following brand names: ALDI Little Salad Bar Brand Garden Salad from ALDI grocery stores, Hy-Vee Brand Garden Salad from Hy-Vee grocery stores, and Signature Farms Brand Garden Salad from Jewel-Osco. The illness onset date range is currently May 11–June 14, 2020.
If your food processing facility needs an expansion or update, construction can be a disruptive event. Throughout the process, a variety of food safety hazards can be present, potentially putting your products at risk. While the contractors you work with are skilled at their trade, protecting your brand is ultimately your responsibility.
Extra precautions are needed to minimize the food safety risks during construction, but by developing a thorough plan and following it diligently, you can keep your products, facility and employees safe.
Preparation: The Important First Steps for Safety
Having an established environmental plan before construction starts will make the construction process go smoothly and help maintain safety. If the plan your staff is following needs changes or improvements, make updates in advance of construction and be sure that your staff is up to speed before the project begins.
First, remove any equipment that can be moved from the construction zone and cover all electrical panels, open conduit and electrical outlets to minimize areas that might harbor dust or bacteria during construction.
Next, taking steps to separate the construction and production areas is crucial. Installing heavy gauge plastic sheeting or even temporary walls to isolate the construction area will help prevent cross-contamination. Any doors or wall openings on the temporary barriers should be sealed on both sides, and the gaps between the base of the barriers and the floor should be adequately sealed to keep the surrounding production areas safe. Do whatever is necessary to minimize organisms from traveling by air outside of the construction zone.
The HVAC and air handling system in the construction area should also be evaluated for cross-contamination potential. Be sure to close off or divert the airflow to prevent air movement from the construction zone to any production areas. In addition, make sure the system will be able to accommodate additional areas or space after construction is complete and make any upgrades if necessary. Thoroughly clean the HVAC system and filters before the construction process starts.
Similarly, evaluate any drains that are present in the construction zone for cross-contamination potential and take precautions to keep pathogens from passing from the construction area to the food production areas.
Make Contractors Part of Your Plan
While contractors might have years of experience in their trade, they don’t know your food safety plan. Schedule a formal food safety training session with the contractor and all members of the construction staff. Don’t allow anyone to work in the facility before completing the training. Determine which protective clothing contractors and their team will need, such as frocks, boot covers or hairnets, and provide a separate bag or place to store them during the construction process.
Designating a single entrance for contractors and construction staff will minimize confusion and avoid mistaken entries into prohibited areas. Educate them on the appropriate traffic flow as they arrive, enter the facility, and conduct their work. Their entrance should be separate from those used by office and food production employees. Have quat or alcohol hand and tool sanitizers stationed at the designated contractor entrance, and require them to sanitize any tools, materials or equipment before entering the facility. Emphasize that no mud or other debris should be tracked into the facility. Provide the necessary guidance and monitor the entrance area to prevent that from happening.
Construction staff and in-house food production staff should be separated at all times. To prevent cross-contamination, there shouldn’t be any direct paths from the construction area to the production area. No material from the construction area should ever be brought into the food production area. Contractors and construction staff should also be prohibited from using the break rooms or restrooms that are used by the facility employees. Because they won’t have access to other areas, temporary hand wash sinks may be needed for construction employees to follow frequent hand washing and sanitizing procedures.
Best Practices for Sanitation During Construction
Before demolishing and removing any walls during the construction process, apply a foam disinfectant at 800–1000 ppm without rinsing. If any equipment needs to be moved, or if there will be new equipment brought into the area, clean and disinfect it with quat at 800–1000 ppm without rinsing.
Quat should also be applied heavily on the floors around the designated construction team entrances. Foam or spray contractors’ walkways and the construction area floor every four hours at 800–1000 ppm. Allow contractors, forklifts, dollies or other wheeled carts to regularly travel through the disinfectant to keep their feet and wheels sanitized as they move throughout the construction area.
If your construction project involves new equipment installation, discuss the sanitation requirements and restrictions with a sanitation chemical provider before purchasing this equipment to ensure you have the right chemistry on hand. Any new equipment should be cleaned and sanitized, as well as the area where it will be installed, before bringing the equipment into the area. Make sure all the surfaces of the new equipment are compatible with your current cleaning chemistry and that the installation follows proper food safety guidelines. If necessary, upgrade your food safety process to accommodate the new equipment.
Transitioning from Construction to Safe Food Production
Once the construction project is complete, remove all construction materials, tools, debris, plastic sheeting and temporary walls. Seal any holes that might have occurred in the floors, walls and ceilings where equipment was moved, and repair or replace epoxy or other floor coverings. Inspect any forklifts or man lifts used during the construction, and clean and sanitize them.
Clean the HVAC and air handling system and return it to either its pre-construction settings or an updated configuration based on what the new area requires.
Continue cleaning everything in the construction area, from ceiling to floor, including lights, walls, drains, refrigeration units and all equipment following SSOPs. Note that different cleaning products containing solvents may be needed for the initial cleaning to remove cutting oil, welding flux residues, greases, and other elements from the construction process. Be sure to have those cleaning products on hand before you get to this step to avoid delays of a thorough sanitation process. Where necessary, passivate any stainless steel equipment.
Finally, test the environment. Collect a special set of swabs and monitor the results. Apply post-rinse sanitizer and then begin food production. Implement an enhanced environmental monitoring program in all areas disrupted by the construction until the data shows a return to the baseline levels. Revise your facility SSOPs in light of any changes based on the new construction.
Achieving Seamless Productivity
Expansion can mean new capabilities for your business, but lax food safety processes during construction can jeopardize the new opportunities your expansion brings. By having a strong plan in place, following it diligently, educating contractors on your plan, monitoring activity, and using effective sanitizing chemistry, you will be able to expand while protecting your brand and avoiding food safety issues.
Foodborne pathogens, such as bacteria and parasites in consumable goods, can result in illnesses and deaths, wreaking havoc on residents of states and countries. The companies at fault often face severe damage to their reputation as people fear that continuing to do business with a brand is not safe. Moreover, if the affected enterprises do not take decisive steps to prevent the problem from happening again, they may receive substantial fines or closure orders.
Statistics from the U.S. federal government indicate that there are approximately 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the American food supply each year. Fortunately, there are proven steps that production plant managers can take to minimize the risk of foodborne pathogens. Being familiar with the preventative measures, and taking steps to implement them prevents catastrophes.
Engage with Suppliers about Their Efforts to Kill or Reduce Foodborne Pathogens
Foodborne pathogens can enter a production plant on items like fresh produce received from farm suppliers. Agricultural professionals commonly use chlorine to decontaminate goods before shipping them. However, researchers used a chlorine solution on spinach leaves to assess its effectiveness in killing common types of bacteria. The team discovered that, even after chlorine exposure, some bacteria remained viable but undetectable by industrial methods.
Foodborne pathogens can originate at farms for other reasons, too. Failing to take the proper precautions during animal slaughter can introduce contaminants into meats that end up in food production facilities. Water impurities can also pose dangers.
All production plants should regularly communicate with suppliers about the actions they take against foodborne pathogens. Food safety is a collective effort. Practicing it means following all current guidance, plus updating methods if new research justifies doing so. If suppliers resist doing what’s in their power to stop foodborne pathogens, they must realize they’re at risk for severing profitable relationships with production plants that need raw goods.
Consider Using Sensors to Maintain Safe Conditions
The Internet of Things (IoT) encompasses a massive assortment of connected products that benefit industries and consumers alike. One practical solution to enhance food safety in a production plant involves installing smart sensors that detect characteristics that humans may miss.
For example, the USDA published a temperature safety chart that explains what to do with food after a power outage. Most items that people typically keep in refrigerators become dangerous to eat if kept above 40o F for more than two hours.
Food production plants typically have resources like backup power to assist if outages occur. But, imagine a cooler that appears to work as expected but has an internal malfunction that keeps the contents at incorrect temperatures. IoT sensors can help production plant staff members become immediately aware of such issues. Without that kind of information, they risk sending spoiled food into the marketplace and getting people sick.
Researchers also developed a sensor-equipped device that detects the effectiveness of hand washing efforts. In a pilot program involving 20 locations, contamination rates decreased by 60% over a month. Most restrooms at food preparation facilities remind people to wash their hands before returning to work. What if a person takes that action, but not thoroughly enough? Specialty sensors could reduce that chance.
Install Germicidal Ultraviolet Lights
With much of the world on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people want to know if germicidal ultraviolet lights could kill the novel coronavirus. Researchers lack enough information to answer that question definitively. They do know, however, that germicidal ultraviolet lights kill up to 99.99% of bacteria and pathogens.
Plus, these lights are particularly useful in food production because they get the job done without harsh chemicals that could make products unsafe. Ultraviolet lights can damage the skin and eyes, so you must only run them when there are no humans in the room. However, it’s immediately safe to enter the environment after switching the lights off.
These specialized light sources do not eliminate the need for other food safety measures. Think about implementing them as another safeguard against adverse consequences.
Teach Workers about Safe Practices
Food contamination risks exist at numerous points along the supply chain. Mishandling is a major culprit that could make several parties partially responsible for a foodborne pathogen problem. For example, if a person does not wear the proper gear when handling food or stores items intended for raw consumption in places where meat juices touch them, either of those things and many others could cause issues with foodborne pathogens.
As you inform employees about which procedures to take to manage the risks, emphasize that everyone has an essential role to play in keeping products free from contaminants. If workers make ready-to-eat foods, such as packaged sandwiches, ensure they understand how to avoid the cross-contamination that happens when reusing cutting boards or utensils without washing them first.
The FDA requires domestic and foreign food facilities to analyze and mitigate risks. Employee training is not the sole aspect of staying in compliance, but it’s a major component. If a person makes a mistake due to improper or nonexistent training, that blunder could have significant financial ramifications for a food production facility.
Widely cited statistics indicate that food recall costs average more than $10 million, which is a staggering figure in itself. It doesn’t include litigation costs incurred when affected individuals and their loved ones sue companies, or the expenses associated with efforts to rejuvenate a brand and restore consumer confidence after people decide to take their business elsewhere.
Ensuring that workers receive the necessary training may be especially tricky if a human resources professional hires a large batch of temporary employees to assist with rising seasonal demands. If a higher-up tells them that time is of the essence and the new workers must be ready to assume their roles on the factory floor as soon as possible, training may get overlooked. When that happens, the outcomes could be devastating. Efficiency should never get prioritized over safety.
Stay Abreast of Emerging Risks
Besides doing your part to curb well-known threats that could introduce foodborne pathogens, spend time learning about new problems that you may not have dealt with before.
For example, scientists have not confirmed the origin of COVID-19. However, since early evidence suggested live animal sales and consumption may have played key roles, Chinese officials cracked down on the wildlife trade and imposed new restrictions on what was largely an unregulated sector cloaked in secrecy.
Much remains unknown about COVID-19, and it’s but one virus for food producers to stay aware of and track as developments occur. The ongoing pandemic is a sobering reminder not to blame specific groups or ethnicities, and to avoid jumping to hasty conclusions. It’s good practice to dedicate yourself to learning about any production risks that could introduce foodborne pathogens. Read reputable sources, and don’t make unfounded assumptions.
A Collective and Constant Effort
There is no single way to combat all sources of foodborne pathogens. Instead, anyone involved in food production or supply must work diligently together and know that their obligation to prevent issues never ceases.
Food safety remains a top-of-mind concern for food manufacturers, especially considering some of the top recalls in 2019 were caused by bacteria contamination—including Listeria and E. coli. Every aspect of the plant operation, from maintenance to executives, to junior staff and quality control, holds both responsibility and concern in producing safe food. Unfortunately, there’s a lot at stake when plant operations’ sanitation programs run into issues, which can cause health threats.
While the rapid explosion of new innovations complements our daily lives in efficiency and convenience, plant operations may find difficulty in keeping up-to-speed with new technology such as robotics, drones and automated applications. When facilities’ equipment becomes more and more outdated, it poses food safety challenges around cleaning, maintenance and upgrades.
Luckily, in some cases, innovation is becoming much easier to deploy. Opportunities abound for food processing plants to integrate new technologies into their operations to deliver significant returns on investment while simultaneously enhancing sanitation, safety and production efficiency on the plant floor.
The Dangers with Today’s Practices
There are many pitfalls with older, more traditional cleaning techniques. In a place where cleanliness is critical to food safety and public health around the world, the industry understands sanitation means more than just scrubbing, mopping and wiping. While these are important daily practices to be done around the processing plant, there are still concerns on whether this kind of intermittent cleaning is truly enough to keep surfaces completely sanitized—knowing that continuous cleaning around the clock seems impractical in any facilities.
Unfortunately, there are many areas, some very hard to reach, for bacteria and other pathogens to live and spread around a processing plant. Zone 1, which holds the conveyor belt and other common high-touch points, consistently comes into contact with food, chemicals and humans. However, for processors to reduce the likelihood of contaminated food, they must consider areas outside of Zone 1 as well—including employee break rooms, hallways and bathrooms—to implement automated sanitation technologies. Additionally, the most common food contaminants, such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli, are usually invisible to the naked eye. Therefore, plants need to employ automated technology to continuously kill microscopic bacteria, mold and fungi to prevent regrowth and ensure clean food and equipment.
Looking to New Tech to Fight Germs
When looking to upgrade a plant operation facility, automated technology should be top-of-mind. Automated food production technologies solve two main problems: Food safety and sanitation efficiency. Wash-down robotic systems work to prevent food contamination, while other automated robots complete tasks on the production floor such as packaging, transporting and lifting. With the CDC estimating that roughly one in six Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses, the need for improved sanitation design is integral.
In today’s age, there are several ways to achieve heightened cleanliness by incorporating automation and robotics into production lines. Slicers, dicers and cutters are manufactured with hygienic design in mind. Smart cleaning equipment can automatically store various cleaning steps. Data tracking applications can monitor sanitation steps and ensure all boxes are checked throughout the cleaning program.
Incorporating antimicrobial LED lighting ensures sanitation is truly integrated into the facility’s design—working continually 24/7 to kill and prevent bacteria, and its growth while also serving a dual purpose of both antimicrobial protection and a proper source of illumination. As is the case with this type of technology, once these lights are installed, it becomes an easy, hands-free way of reducing labor, chemicals and, in many cases, work stoppages.
According to Meticulous Research, the global food automation market is expected to be worth $14.3 billion by 2025. With automation set to explode, it’s important for leaders in the food and beverage industry to take advantage of safety tech innovations to advance sanitation around the processing plant. Facility upgrades to improve, enhance and automate sanitation could impact food manufacturers in the long-term by decreasing costs, preventing recalls, improving brand value, gaining consumer trust, minimizing risk and impacting the bottom line.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rest of the world has embraced one of the well-known mantras of the food safety profession: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. It is equally urgent that we expand that call to arms (or hands) a bit to include: Sanitize your cell phone, sanitize your cell phone, sanitize your cell phone.
A typical cell phone has approximately 25,000 germs per square inch compared to a toilet seat, which has approximately 1200 germs per square inch, a pet bowl with approximately 2100 germs per square inch, a doorknob with 8600 germs per square inch and a check-out screen with approximately 4500 germs per square inch.
Back in the day, when restaurants were still open for a sit-down, dining room meal, during a visit to an upscale Chicago restaurant I had the need to use the restroom. As I left the restroom, an employee, in kitchen whites, walked into the restroom with his cell phone in his hand. It hit me like a bolt of gastrointestinal pain. Even if the employee properly washed his hands, that cell phone with its 25,000 germs per square (and some new fecal material added for good measure) would soon be back in the kitchen. Today, we can add COVID-19 to the long list of potentially dangerous microbes on that cell phone, if the owner of the phone is COVID-19 positive. We also know that the virus can be transferred through the air if someone is COVID-19 positive or has come in close proximity to the surface of a cell phone. As we know, many kitchens are still operating, if only to provide carryout or delivery service. Even though we are not treating COVID-19 as a foodborne illness, great concern remains regarding the transfer of pathogens to the face of the cell phone user, whether it is the owner of the cell phone or someone else who is using it. Just as there are individuals that are asymptomatic carriers of foodborne illness (i.e., Typhoid Mary), we know that there are COVID-19 positive individuals that are either asymptomatic or presenting as a cold or mild flu. These individuals are still highly contagious and the people that may pick-up the virus from them may have a more severe response to the illness.
A recent study from the UK found that 92% of mobile phones had bacterial contamination and one in six had fecal matter. This study was conducted, of course, before the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, consider that the primary form of transfer of the COVID-19 pathogen is from sneezing or coughing. This makes the placement of the virus on the cell phone easier to accomplish than the fecal-oral route because even if the individual recently washed their hands, if they sneeze or cough on their phone, their clean hands are irrelevant.
I also know there is no widely established protocol, for the foodservice industry, food manufacturing industry, sanitizing/cleaning industry, housekeeping, etc., for cleaning and sanitizing a cell phone while on the job. For example, if you examine a dozen foodservice industry standard lists of “when you should wash your hands” you will always see included in the list, “after using the phone”. However, that is usually referring to a wall mounted or desktop land line phone. What about the mobile phone that goes into the food handler’s pocket, loaded with potentially disease-causing germs? I have certainly witnessed a food handler set a cell phone down on a counter, then carefully wash his/her hands at a hand sink, dry their hands and then pick-up their filthy cell phone and either put it in their pocket, make a call or send a text message. What applies to the “food handler” also applies to those individuals on the job cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces, and other surfaces that many people will come in direct contact with such as handrails, doorknobs sink handles, and so on.
How can the pathogen count for a cell phone be so high compared to other items you would assume would be loaded with germs? The high number cited for a cell phone is accumulative. How often do you clean your cell phone (or for that matter your keyboard or touch screen)? I’ll bet not very often, if ever. In addition, a frequently used cell phone remains warm and with just a small amount of food debris (even if not visible to the naked eye) creates an ideal breeding environment for bacteria. Unlike bacteria, we know that viruses do not reproduce outside of a cell. The cell phone still presents an excellent staging area for the COVID-19 virus while it waits to be transferred to someone’s face or nose.
While there have been some studies conducted on mobile phone contamination and the food industry, most of the statistics we have come from studies conducted in the healthcare industry involving healthcare workers. If anything, we would hope the hygiene practices in the healthcare environment to be better (or at least as good) as the foodservice industry. It is not a pretty picture. In reviewing various studies, I consistently saw results of the following: 100% contamination of mobile phone surfaces; 94.5% of phones demonstrated evidence of bacterial contamination with different types of bacteria; 82% and so on.
Let’s state the obvious: A mobile phone, contaminated with 1000’s of potentially disease causing germs, acts as a reservoir of pathogens available to be transferred from the surface of the phone to a food contact surface or directly to food and must be considered a viable source of foodborne illness. As we stated earlier, we are not treating COVID-19 as a foodborne illness, but we cannot ignore the role that a cell phone could play in transferring and keeping in play this dangerous pathogen.
What do we do about it? Fortunately we can look to the healthcare industry for some guidance and adapt to the foodservice industry, some of the recommendations that have come from healthcare industry studies.
Some steps would include the following:
Education and training to increase awareness about the potential risks associated with mobile phones contaminated with pathogens.
Establish clear protocols that specifically apply to the use of and presence of mobile phones in the foodservice operation.
Establish that items, inclusive of mobile phones, that cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized should not be used or present where the contamination of food can occur or …
If an item, inclusive of a mobile phone, cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized, it must be encased in a “cover” that can be cleaned and sanitized.
The “user” of the mobile phone must be held accountable for the proper cleaning and sanitizing of the device (or its acceptable cover).
It’s safe to assume the mobile phone is not going to go away. We must make sure that it remains a tool to help us better manage our lives and communication, and does not become a vehicle for the transfer of foodborne illness causing pathogens or COVID-19.
Food processing is a multi-trillion dollar industry that encompasses facilities such as bakeries, meat and poultry plants, bottling lines, dairies, canneries and breweries. For all of these food processing plants a commercial flooring system is essential for maintaining a hygienic environment. Few areas of a plant provide as much opportunity for the spread of bacteria, mold, fungi and dust as the floor. Hazardous materials from a contaminated floor can easily be spread from worker’s shoes and mobile equipment. Food processing plants present a unique set of challenges that require careful consideration of floor properties and installation.
Food processing plants floors are subjected to constant, high concentrations of salt, alkaline and oil compounds that substantially degrade the floor and thereby risk food contamination and facility shutdown. These compounds can come from common food production by-products like oils, fats, dairy products, sugar solutions, blood, and natural acids or from harsh cleaners and disinfectants. Even with frequent and thorough cleaning these substances can—and will—result in microbial growth and the spread of bacteria in untreated concrete or poorly installed resinous flooring.
Cleaning floors is an essential part of maintaining food processing operations to keep up with government standards. A proper floor coating is a necessity for dealing with the vigorous, harsh cleaning procedures that typically include very hot water and aggressive cleaning chemicals. Depending on the exposure to corrosive, temperature and moisture conditions a thin film coating may suffice; however, in most cases, a thick, durable floor coating is needed to endure the cleaning operations. If too thin of a coating is used the repeated barrage of high pressure, high-temperature hot water and steam will strip the floor coating. Only an experienced flooring professional can determine the proper floor coating for a facility.
In addition to the properties of the floor coating, proper installation is essential for maintaining a hygienic, safe facility. If a floor is not seamless even the best floor coatings are vulnerable to germ buildup within gaps and cracks. To prevent harmful substance accumulation, a seamless coving transition from the floor to the wall is needed. Not only does that make the floors unsanitary, but it also can spread to other parts of the facility, equipment and product. Coving also aids in the cleaning process by allowing for hosing around the sides and corners of the room where germ buildup is most common.
An often-overlooked—yet critical—aspect of floor installation is having the proper pitch to promote water drainage. Having pools of water is not only dangerous for workers but for product safety. Such an examples of this issue is the Listeria outbreak at cantaloupe producer Jensen Farms, which led to 33 fatalities, 143 hospitalized victims, and ultimately, the end of their business. In the 2011 FDA released a report that focused on “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Fresh, Whole Cantaloupe Implicated in the Multi-State Listeria monocytogenes Foodborne Illness Outbreak”. The conclusion was reached that the leading cause of Listeria spreading was due to a poorly constructed packing facility floor that was difficult to clean and allowed water to pool. The best way to prevent a similar situation at your plant is to make sure you get an experienced flooring expert, who understands your facility’s needs, to choose a floor with the right properties and to properly install it.
In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Eddie Hall, business development director and food safety expert at Vital Vio looks ahead to 2020 and how technology will be impacting food safety, the additional measures that the industry will be taking to protect consumers, and the critical emphasis on sanitation.
Food Safety Tech: What are some of the touch points for food safety innovation in the supply chain in 2020?
Eddie Hall: When we think of the supply chain, we often imagine food traveling during transportation—by road, rail and air. During transit, our food comes into contact with countless surfaces, hands, tools and bacteria that travels from the farm to the table. However, transit isn’t the only place for germ spread and bacteria growth. When food reaches the factory for processing and packaging, there are opportunities for contact with debris, mold and dust, along with un-sanitized machinery and employees. Not only does this negatively affect the health of our workers, but also the cleanliness and safety of the food that consumers are buying off the shelves. In food manufacturing plants, Zones 1 and 2 are the most obvious for safety innovation in the supply chain, given food is bound to come into contact with tools, conveyor belts, etc. However, processors must consider the touch points in Zones 3 and 4 as well—such as employee break rooms, bathrooms and offices around the plant that foster bacteria. If these areas are not cleaned, food manufacturers have a significantly higher chance of breeding bacteria in food production areas, even if the right protocols are put in place in those zones.
FST: How will the retail sector step up to the consumer demand for safer food?
Hall: Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency around how food ends up on their plate, and prioritizing purchasing from brands that they trust to be safe. Food suppliers are being careful to remove harmful chemicals from the manufacturing process, along with displaying ingredients and supply chain information. For example, Bumble Bee Foods is using blockchain technology for its tuna fish, allowing consumers to access detailed information around the tuna’s origin, authenticity, freshness and sustainability by scanning the QR code on its packaging. Panera Bread has been consistent in offering customers ingredient transparency [by] providing calorie counts on menu items and removing antibiotic-treated animal proteins, as well as vocalizing recent efforts to perform safety audits throughout its supply chain. Not only does tracking technology and clarity meet consumers’ demands, but [it] also helps retailers pinpoint locations of outbreaks, foodborne illness and mislabeling. We’re already seeing retailers step up to meet the growing demand for safer food, but in 2020 we will see an uptick in brand transparency around supply chain information, safety programs and ingredient clarity within restaurants, fast food chains, processing companies and grocery stores.
FST: How will automation play a role in advancing food safety?
Hall: Food processing companies and retailers are implementing remote monitoring technologies that track data and help measure protocol, temperature controls, sanitation, record-keeping and food traceability. Automation can also help advance food safety through methods such as enhance sanitation and sterilization efforts. It is critical for food industry employees to maintain clean environments, but continuously cleaning every hour of every day can become labor-intensive, and sometimes fall off the to-do list. Automated technologies can take on some of these tedious tasks and work in our favor to heighten food safety. For example, Stop and Shop’s new robot, Marty, patrols the aisles to detect food on the floor, torn packaging, empty shelves and more. However, robots aren’t the only place we’re seeing automation in action. Vital Vio has found a way to automate killing bacteria through antimicrobial LED lighting technology, which continuously kills pathogens with the flick of a switch. Automated tech isn’t meant to replace workers, but to enhance their work around cleaning, sanitizing and meeting safety requirements. In 2020, automation is expected to explode and it’s important for leaders in the food and beverage industry to take advantage of safety tech innovations to advance food safety in 2020 and beyond.
FST: How will food companies continue to work towards reducing contamination issues and recalls?
Hall: The U.S. government has stepped in to tackle issues in the food industry by implementing new regulations, such as FSMA. This regulation urges food companies to shift from reactively responding to safety and contamination issues, to proactively working to prevent them. In an effort to reduce recalls, retail giant Walmart recently employed blockchain to track its lettuce supply chains all the way back to the grower. For food companies to reduce contamination, they must also implement more automated sanitation technologies along the supply chain. The most common food contaminants are usually invisible to the naked eye, such as mold, Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli. Sanitation automation tech—such as antimicrobial LED lighting—can continuously kill microscopic bacteria and prevent regrowth, ensuring clean food and equipment. Not only will food companies begin implementing more sanitization technologies, but also focus on other ways, like blockchain traceability, to prevent food recalls and bacteria growth that pose serious health risks to their customers.
FST: Any additional comments?
Hall: Our Dirty Truth report reveals disturbing stats around Americans’ cleaning habits, such as 1 in 4 (27%) do not sanitize their hands after traveling on public transportation. This means that factory or grocery employees that commute to work via bus, train, etc. are bringing bacteria and other germs with them. What’s worse, 1 in 6 Americans get sick and 3,000 die each year from consuming contaminated foods or beverages. This alarming rate can only be improved if we see effort from all sides of the industry—including food processors, manufacturers, workers throughout the supply chain and retailers. Continuous cleaning and sanitation measures can be labor-intensive and sometimes impossible to tackle throughout the day. Luckily, automated technology exists and is expected to address this growing issue of contamination, the spread of bacteria, recalls, and consumer demand for safety and transparency.
In the complex food supply chain, a single product travels a long journey before reaching consumers’ plates. It’s no wonder that it has become so difficult to control the quality and safety of food. As food moves from trucks to conveyor belts and through grocery store shelves and shopping carts, the risk for harmful bacteria to contaminate products rises immensely. What’s worse is pinpointing the source of contamination can be nearly impossible, leaving food manufacturers scrambling to “fix” the error without even knowing the cause.
In recent recalls, processing plants completely shut down operations in an effort to resolve the issue and thoroughly sanitize their entire facilities. While this is good news for consumers, this type of reactive response will undoubtedly have a long-term, irreversible impact on the business—both financially and potentially for the brand’s reputation. Consumers remember the name of the company they heard on the evening news that had to pull thousands of pounds of products from shelves in their city or region. Then, when they make their weekly trip to the grocery store, they likely make sure to avoid that company’s products in fear of potential quality issues that could make them and their families sick. It’s a deadly cycle for consumers and public health, as well as business livelihood.
Product and consumer safety must continue to be the top priority for the food industry. The success of these companies literally depends on it. With so much on the line, the food industry must come together to spark a shift in how they operate to prevent food recalls rather than having to respond to them.
Stopping Recalls to Save Lives and Businesses
To move in the direction of mitigating pathogens from ever coming into contact with food and therefore preventing recalls altogether, processors must develop and deploy new strategies that keep facilities consistently clean. The U.S. government is stepping in with regulations such as FSMA that urge companies to shift from reactively responding to safety issues, to proactively working to prevent them. This is the fundamental shift that is needed across the food supply chain in order to protect consumers and food producing businesses.
Important new technologies have emerged in recent years that can add new layers of meaningful protection to continuously combat contamination across the supply chain. When coupled with existing disinfection and cleaning practices, these new technologies can help mitigate the introduction of harmful pathogens as food moves from point A to point B, with all the stops made in between.
One example is the advent of a new class of technology that incorporates antimicrobial LED lighting, which enables food processors to take an “always on” approach to keeping surfaces free of harmful pathogens. Since these lights meet international standards for unrestricted and continuous use around people, they’re able to irradiate large places and the smallest of spaces, all while workers are present.
However, simply deploying these new technologies isn’t enough. For new prevention strategies to be truly successful, food processors should consider the bigger picture. A large percentage of food processors focus primarily on bolstering their sanitation approaches in the areas that have the highest likelihood of coming into contact with food products. This is logical, as Zone 1 and Zone 2 are typically the highest risk for contracting and spreading harmful pathogens.
However, processors are leaving holes in their sanitation strategies by not taking measures to keep areas, such as Zone 3 and Zone 4, also well protected. To ensure food remains free of contaminants, plant managers must ensure the entire environment is fully protected, including the belts and vessels that the food touches, as well as the break rooms where employees rest and offices where management holds meetings. If these areas aren’t kept equally as clean, facilities are risking outside contaminants to enter Zone 1 that can ultimately compromise their food products.
Food recalls have become eerily common, putting a strain on public health and businesses. To stop what seems to be rising to crisis level, all companies involved in the food supply chain need to take a proactive stance toward prevention. This means deploying advanced technologies that continuously prevent harmful pathogens from taking root anywhere in their facilities. Simple yet thoughtful solutions, such as antimicrobial LED lighting, ensure food companies are one step closer to keeping all of us and their businesses safe.
The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in milk and dairy from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. For the past several weeks, Food Safety Tech has provided readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report. Next week will conclude this series.
There’s a reason you can eat or drink pretty much anything you want from American grocery stores and not get sick. Food manufacturing is highly regulated and subject to rigorous quality control.
Before food and beverages hit store shelves, the manufacturer must have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system in place. The HACCP system requires that potential hazards—biological, chemical and physical— be identified and controlled at specific points in the manufacturing process. In addition, fresh foods undergo a kill-step. This is the point in the manufacturing or packaging process where food is treated to minimize and remove deadly pathogens like bacteria, mold, fungus and E. coli.
Generally speaking, when cannabis hits dispensary shelves, a less stringent set of rules apply, despite the fact that cannabis is ingested, inhaled and used as medicine. Cultivators are required to test every batch, but each state differs in what is required for mandated testing. Compared to the way food is regulated, the cannabis industry still has a long way to go when it comes to consumer safety—and that poses a considerable public health risk. In the early stages of legalization, the handful of legal states did not have rigid cannabis testing measures in place, which led to inconsistent safety standards across the country. State governments have had a reactionary approach to updating testing guidelines, by and large implementing stricter standards in response to product recalls and customer safety complaints. While local regulators have had the best intentions in prioritizing consumer safety, it is still difficult to align uniform cannabis testing standards with existing food safety standards while cannabis is a Schedule I substance.
The stark differences in safety measures and quality controls were first obvious to me when I moved from the food and beverage industry into the cannabis industry. For five years, I operated an organic, cold-pressed juice company and a natural beverage distribution company and had to adhere to very strict HACCP guidelines. When a friend asked me for advice on how to get rid of mold on cannabis flower, a light bulb went off: Why was there no kill step in cannabis? And what other food safety procedures were not being followed?
What to know more about all things quality, regulatory and compliance in the cannabis industry? Check out Cannabis Industry Journal and sign up for the weekly newsletterThe current patchwork of regulations and lack of food safety standards could have dire effects. It not only puts consumer health in jeopardy, but without healthy crops, growers, dispensaries and the entire cannabis supply chain can suffer. When a batch of cannabis fails microbial testing, it cannot be sold as raw flower unless it goes through an approved process to eliminate the contamination. This has severe impacts on everyone, starting with the cultivator. There are delays in harvesting and delivery, and sometimes producers are forced to extract their flower into concentrates, which really cuts into profits. And in the worst cases, entire crop harvests may have to be destroyed.
So, what do cannabis cultivators and manufacturers have to fear the most? Mold. Out of all the pathogens, mold is the most problematic for cannabis crops, perhaps because it is so resilient. Mold can withstand extreme heat, leaving many decontamination treatments ineffective. And most importantly, mold can proliferate and continue to grow. This is commonplace when the cannabis is stored for any length of time. Inhaling mold spores can have serious adverse health effects, including respiratory illness, and can even be deadly for immunocompromised consumers using it for medical reasons.
What the industry needs is a true kill step. It’s the only way to kill mold spores and other pathogens to ensure that they will not continue to grow while being stored. States that mandate microbial testing will benefit from the kill step because more cultivators will be in compliance earlier in the process. In states that don’t require comprehensive microbial testing, like Washington and Oregon, the kill step is a critical way to provide consumers with a preemptive layer of protection. Microbial testing and preventative decontamination measures encourage customer brand loyalty and prevents negative press coverage.
Adopting a HACCP system would also build additional safeguards into the system. These procedures provide businesses with a step-by-step system that controls food safety, from ingredients right through to production, storage and distribution, to sale of the product and service for the final consumer. The process of creating HACCP-based procedures provides a roadmap for food safety management that ultimately aligns your staff around the goal of keeping consumers safe.
It’s high time for the cannabis industry to adopt FDA-like standards and proactively promote safety measures. Cannabis growers must implement these quality controls to ensure that their products are as safe to consume as any other food or drink on the market. Let’s be proactive and show our consumers that we are serious about their safety.
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