Tag Archives: consumer safety

Nicole Lang, igus
Retail Food Safety Forum

Robots Serve Up Safety in Restaurants

By Nicole Lang
No Comments
Nicole Lang, igus

Perhaps the top takeaway from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is that people the world over realize how easily viruses can spread. Even with social distancing, masks and zealous, frequent handwashing, everyone has learned contagions can cycle through the atmosphere and put a person at risk of serious, and sometimes deadly, health complications. In reality, there are no safe spaces when proper protocols are not followed.

The primary culprit in transmission of norovirus, according to the CDC, is contaminated food. “The virus can easily contaminate food because it is very tiny and spreads easily,” the CDC says in a fact sheet for food workers posted on its website. “It only takes a very small amount of virus to make someone sick.”

The CDC numbers are alarming. The agency reports about 20 million people get sick from norovirus each year, most from close contact with infected people or by eating contaminated food. Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, and infected food workers cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food.

The solution to reducing the transmission of unhealthy particles could be starting to take shape through automation. While robots have been used for the past few years in food manufacturing and processing, new solutions take food handling to a new level. Robots are no longer in the back of the house in the food industry, isolated in packaging and manufacturing plants. They are now front and center. The next time you see a salad prepared for you at a favorite haunt, you may be watching a robot.

“The global pandemic has altered the way that we eat,” said Justin Rooney, of Dexai Robotics, a company that developed a food service robotic device. Reducing human contact with food via hands-free ordering and autonomous food serving capabilities has the potential to reduce the spread of pathogens and viruses, and could help keep food fresh for a longer period of time.

Painful Pandemic

Increased use of automation in the foodservice industry might be one of the salvations of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an industry searching for good news, that might be the silver lining in an otherwise gloomful crisis.

Job losses in the restaurant industry have been brutal. By the end of November, nearly 110,000 restaurants in the United States had closed. A report by the National Restaurant Association said restaurants lost three times more jobs than any other industry since the beginning of the pandemic. In December, reports said nearly 17% of U.S. restaurants had closed. Some restaurants clung to life by offering outdoor dining, but as winter set in, that option evaporated. Some governors even demanded restaurant closures as the pandemic escalated in late fall.

Restaurants have faced a chronic labor shortage for years. Despite layoffs during the pandemic, many former foodservice employees are electing to leave the industry.

Teenagers, for instance, and some older workers are staying away for health and safety reasons. Some former workers are also finding out that they can make more money on unemployment benefits than by returning to work. Restaurant chains have hiked wages, but filling positions still remains a challenge.

Automated Solutions

Restaurants began dancing with the idea of robots nearly 50 years ago. The trend started slowly, with customers ordering food directly through kiosks. As of 2011, McDonald’s installed nearly 7,000 touchscreen kiosks to handle cashiering responsibilities at restaurants throughout Europe.

As technology has advanced, so has the presence of robots in restaurants. In 2019 Seattle-based Picnic unveiled a robot that can prepare 300 pizzas in an hour. In January, Nala Robotics announced it would open the world’s first “intelligent” restaurant. The robotic kitchen can create dishes from any cuisine in the world. The kitchen, which is expected to open in April in Naperville, Illinois, will have the capability to create an endless variety of cuisine without potential contamination from human contact.

Dexai designed a new robotic unit that allows for hands-free ordering that can be placed through any device with an Internet connection. The robot also includes a new subsystem for utensils, which are stored in a food bin to keep them temperature controlled. This ensures that robot is compliant with ServSafe regulations. The company is working on improving robot system’s reliability, robustness, safety and user friendliness. The robot has two areas to hold tools, a kitchen display system, bowl passing arm, an enclosure for electronics and two refrigeration units. It has the unique ability to swap utensils to comply with food service standards and prevent contamination as a result of allergens, for example.

Why Automation

Many industries have been impacted by advancements in automation, and the foodservice industry is no different. While initially expensive, the benefits over time can provide to be worth the investment.

One of the most significant advantages, particularly important in the post-COVID era, is better quality control. Automated units can detect issues much earlier in the supply chain, and address those issues.

Automation can also help improve worker safety by executing some of the more repetitive and dangerous tasks. Robots can also boost efficiency (i.e., a robot used for making pizza that can press out dough five times faster than humans and place them into ovens) and eliminate the risk of injury. Robots are also being used to make coffee, manage orders and billing, and prepare the food. Robots can also collect data that will help foodservice owners regarding output, quantity, speed and other factors.

“Alfred’s actions are powered by artificial intelligence,” according to Rooney. “Each time Alfred performs an action, the associated data gets fed into a machine learning model. Consequently, each individual Alfred learns from the accumulated success and failures of every other Alfred that has existed.” Dexai plans to teach the robot to operate other commonly found pieces of kitchen equipment such as grills, fryers, espresso machines, ice cream cabinets and smoothie makers.

Unrelenting Trend

Automated solutions might have come along too late to save many restaurants, but the path forward is clear. While they are not yet everywhere, robots are now in play at significant number of restaurants, and there is no turning back. Any way you slice it, robots in restaurants, clearly, is an idea whose time has come.

El Abuelito Cheese

Recall Alert: Listeria Outbreak Linked to Hispanic-Style Fresh and Soft Cheeses

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
El Abuelito Cheese

–UPDATE February 24, 2021 — FDA has expanded its warning related to El Abuelito Cheese to include all cheese branded by the company “until more information is known”.

—END UPDATE—

A multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes has been linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses produced by El Abuelito Cheese, Inc. As a result, the company has recalled all Questo Fresco products with sell by dates through March 28 (032821).

Join Food Safety Tech on April 15 for the complimentary Food Safety Hazards Series: Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation“As the FDA stated, about this outbreak investigation, the Connecticut Department of Public Health collected product samples of El Abuelito-brand Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses from a store where a sick person bought cheeses. Sample analysis showed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in samples of El Abuelito Queso Fresco sold in 10 oz packages, marked as Lot A027 with an expiration date of 02/26/2021,” the company stated in an announcement posted on FDA’s website. “Samples are currently undergoing Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) analysis to determine if the Listeria monocytogenes found in these samples is a match to the outbreak strain. At this time, there is not enough evidence to determine if this outbreak is linked to El Abuelito Queso Fresco.”.

The recalled products were distributed to Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Thus far seven people, all of whom have been hospitalized, have fallen ill.

FDA recommends that consumers, restaurants and retailers do not consume, sell or serve any of the recalled cheeses. The agency also states that anyone who purchased of received the recalled products use “extra vigilance in cleaning and sanitizing any surfaces and containers that may have come in contact with these products to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.”

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Our Petition to USDA: The Time for Change Is Now

By Mitzi Baum
1 Comment
Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness

On January 25, 2021 Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP), in collaboration with Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America and five STOP constituent advocates filed a petition with USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to reform and modernize poultry inspections. The goal of these reforms is to reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination in raw poultry thus drastically decreasing foodborne illnesses due to these pathogens.

According to the CDC, in 2019, these two pathogens combined were responsible for more than 70% of foodborne illnesses in the United States. As Mike Taylor, former FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, shares in his
Op-Ed, the time for change is now as the current regulatory framework is inadequate and has not delivered the desired results of reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter outbreaks.

Today, the USDA’s mark of inspection is stamped on poultry, although birds may exceed the performance standards; there are no clear consequences for establishments that do not meet the current guidelines. Without science-based standards or penalties for non-compliance, the burden of this problem falls upon consumers.

At STOP, we share the voices of consumers whose lives have been altered due to preventable problems such as this. Our constituent advocates share their journeys through severe foodborne illness to share the WHY of food safety. Real people, real lives are impacted when we do not demand action. STOP board member, Amanda Craten, shares her son Noah’s story:

“My toddler suddenly came down with a fever and diarrhea, but it wasn’t until weeks later that I learned that his symptoms, which nearly killed him, were caused by a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella.

After being admitted to the hospital, his doctors found abscesses in the front of his brain caused by infection and they were creating pressure on his brain. He underwent surgery and weeks of antibiotic treatments.

My 18-month son was seriously injured and permanently disabled as a result of Salmonella-contaminated chicken.” – Amanda Craten.

Unfortunately, Noah’s story is not rare, which is why Amanda supports this petition for change and has provided a powerful video about Noah’s foodborne disease journey and his life now.

Because there are too many stories like Noah’s, STOP and its partner consumer advocacy organizations want to work with FSIS and industry to:

  1. Develop real benchmarks that focus on reduction of known, harmful pathogens in poultry
  2. Modernize standards to reflect current science
  3. Implement on-farm control measures
  4. Re-envision the standards to focus on the risk to public health

As a new administration begins, capitalizing on this opportunity to modernize poultry inspection that can benefit consumers and the food industry makes sense. STOP and its partners are hopeful that leadership at USDA/FSIS will take this opportunity to create consequential and relevant change. Ultimately, this transformation will reduce the incidence of foodborne illness due to contamination of poultry and increase consumer confidence in the USDA’s mark of inspection. Please comment on this petition.

Have you been impacted by foodborne illness? Tell STOP Foodborne Illness about it.

FDA

FDA Responds to Subcommittee Report on Toxic Metals in Baby Food

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
FDA

Following a report released nearly two weeks ago about the potential danger posed by toxic heavy metals found in baby foods manufactured by several major companies, FDA has issued a response. The report, “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury”, was released by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy on February 4. The Subcommittee stated that FDA should require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals and require any toxic heavy metals be reported on food labeling. It also stated that FDA should set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals allowed in baby foods.

“The FDA has been actively working on this issue using a risk-based approach to prioritize and target the agency’s efforts. Consumers should know that FDA scientists routinely monitor levels of toxic elements in baby foods, along with other foods consumed in the country’s diet, through the Total Diet Study,” the agency stated in a CFSAN update. “Further, the FDA also monitors baby food under the FDA’s compliance program for Toxic Elements in Food and Foodware, and Radionuclides in Food and through targeted sampling assignments.”

FDA cited its work in sampling infant rice cereal for arsenic, which it says has resulted in safer products on the market, along with its recent court order to stop a U.S. company from distributing adulterated juice that had potentially harmful levels of inorganic arsenic and patulin (a mycotoxin).

The CFSAN update, however, did not specifically address the companies or baby foods called out in the Subcommittee’s report.

FDA

FDA to Test Yuma-Grown Romaine Lettuce for E. Coli and Salmonella

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
FDA

Today the FDA announced a new plan to collect samples of romaine lettuce as part of its ongoing surveillance after the spring 2018 multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. The samples, which will be tested for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Salmonella, will be collected from commercial coolers in Yuma County, Arizona during the current harvest season.

FDA plans to collect and test about 500 samples (each of which will consist of 10 subsamples), beginning in February and continuing through the end of the harvest season. In order to reduce the time between sample collection and reporting results, an independent lab close to the collection sites in Arizona will be testing the samples. FDA expects to receive test results within 24 hours.

“Helping to ensure the safety of leafy greens continues to be a priority of the FDA. This assignment adds to other work underway in collaboration with stakeholders in the Yuma agricultural region to implement actions identified in the Leafy Greens Action Plan, including a multi-year study to assess the environmental factors that impact the presence of foodborne pathogens in this region. Consistent with the action plan, the agency will engage with industry on conducting root cause analyses for any positive samples found during this assignment. Root cause analyses are important in that they seek to identify potential sources and routes of contamination, inform what preventive measures are needed, and help prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness,” FDA stated in a release.

COVID-19 precautions will be taken during the sampling plan. Agency investigators will preannounce visits and wear PPE while conducting the work.

Nestle Pepperoni Hot Pockets

Nestlé Recalls More than 762,000 Pounds of Pepperoni Hot Pockets Due to Contamination with Glass and Hard Plastic

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Nestle Pepperoni Hot Pockets
Nestle Pepperoni Hot Pockets
An image of the recalled Pepperoni Hot Pockets, as provided on the USDA website.

Nestlé Prepared Foods has recalled about 762,615 pounds of not-ready-to-eat pepperoni hot pockets over concerns of foreign matter contamination. The products, which were produced between November 13 and November 16, 2020 and have a shelf life of 14 months, could be contaminated with glass and hard plastic. Thus far the company has received four consumer complaints of extraneous material in the pepperoni hot pockets, one of which has been associated with a minor oral injury.

The recall involves the following product: 54-oz carton packages containing 12 “Nestlé Hot Pockets Brand Sandwiches: Premium Pepperoni Made with Pork, Chicken & Beef Pizza Garlic Buttery Crust. According to a USDA announcement, the recalled product has a best before February 2022 date with lot codes 0318544624, 0319544614, 0320544614, and 0321544614. It was shipped nationwide and bears the establishment number “EST. 7721A” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Partnerships in Promoting Prevention (of Foodborne Illness)

By Mitzi Baum
No Comments
Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness

At Stop Foodborne Illness, or STOP, we know about collaborative partnerships. For more than 26 years, affiliating with like-minded organizations to prevent foodborne disease is the mainstay of our success and continues to provide beneficial results today.

The mission to prevent illness and death due to contaminated food resonates with our allies and aligns with their goals to coordinate and expand efforts. At any given moment, STOP is working with a diverse spectrum of individuals and industries to move the needle on foodborne illness prevention. Today, STOP’s work is focused on constituent services and food safety policy with the overarching goal of public health. Below are examples of current collaborative projects that are uniquely effective.

Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness (Alliance) is an initiative of STOP, leading food companies, and other organizations committed to the goal of preventing foodborne illness. For 25 years, Stop Foodborne Illness has communicated the compelling personal stories of people and families who have experienced serious foodborne illness or the death of loved ones. The goals of communicating these personal stories are to make clear why food safety must be a central value of the food system and to help motivate people in both the food industry and government to do their best every day to reduce hazards and prevent illness. Through the Alliance, STOP and leading food companies are collaborating to expand the reach and impact of personal stories to strengthen food safety cultures and prevent foodborne illness.

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness has a mission to:

  • Forge partnerships between STOP and leading food companies to build trust and support strong food safety cultures.
  • Collaboratively design and implement innovative, well-tailored programs that make compelling personal stories an integral motivational element of food safety culture and training programs.
  • Expand the reach and impact of personal stories through outreach to the small- and medium-size companies that are key contributors to modern supply chains.

Current Alliance members: Costco, Cargill, Conagra Brands, Coca-Cola, Yum! Brands, Nestle USA, LGMA, Empirical Foods, Maple Leaf Foods, Mars, Walmart, Wegmans, and Amazon.

Constituent/Advocate Engagement

Working with those who have been impacted by severe foodborne illness is base to our prevention work. We engage our constituent/advocates in many projects and continually seek additional opportunities.

  • STOP’s new website houses a navigational map for anyone who is in crisis, post-crisis or managing the long-term consequences of surviving severe foodborne disease. This structured, informational composition was created by constituent/advocates that are sharing their lived experiences. This incisive work provides incredible insight into the journey that may lie ahead and how to manage the potential labyrinth.
  • With our partner, Center for Science in the Public Interest, we have created a national platform for survivors of salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis to speak about their experiences surviving these diseases.
  • The Alliance has created multiple working partnerships with individual constituent/advocates.
  • STOP’s speaker’s bureau provides opportunities for our constituent/advocates to share their personal stories with large groups in person or virtually.
  • A recent college graduate who is a constituent/advocate is leading the creation of a new program for the organization.

Dave Theno Fellowship

Dave Theno Fellowship is a partnership with Michigan State University (MSU) that provides a recent public health, food science, animal science or political science graduate (undergraduate or graduate degree) the opportunity to conduct two distinct research projects, engage in STOP programming, participate on coalition calls and earn a certificate in food safety from MSU.

STOP is working with MSU to create a new course for its Online Food Safety Program that focuses on food safety failures and the impact of those system breakdowns on consumers.

Early Detection of Foodborne Illness Research

In conjunction with North Carolina State University, Michigan State University, Eastern Carolina University and University of Michigan, STOP is engaging in research to identify gaps in knowledge and application of the 2017 Infectious Disease Society of America Clinical Practice Guidelines of the Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diarrhea (IDSA) for healthcare workers. Our early findings have identified that most healthcare workers do not know about nor follow the IDSA guidelines, which include reporting of cases of infectious diarrhea and identification of the pathogen for identification and prevention of potential widespread outbreaks.

To support this research, STOP is completing a systematic literature review with the intent to publish.

Recall Modernization Working Group

STOP has been convening a group of experts comprised of individuals from academia, Alliance members, external industry partners, food industry associations, public health organizations, and industry consultants to deep dive into food recalls to define the current landscape, discuss systemic changes necessary for expedient and efficient execution of recalls for both industry and consumers and develop recommendations on how to accomplish those changes.

Everyone is susceptible to foodborne illness; thus, we need a varied, coordinated approach. Each of these partnerships helps our colleagues meet their goals while promoting prevention of foodborne illness by straddling both industry and consumer focused work. Executing our mission takes many forms and that requires diversity in partnerships, a shared vision and tangible, sustainable results.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Many Bad Apples Spoil the Bunch

By Susanne Kuehne
No Comments
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Rotten apples
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Food fraud can have a substantial impact on a consumer’s health, like in this case of fruit juice that was sold (including to school lunch programs) in spite of contamination with arsenic and mycotoxins. The fruit used for the juice was decomposing, and also processed in a facility that unacceptably violated hygiene and food safety standards. The FDA filed a lawsuit against the company, which in the meantime has ceased operations.

Resource

  1. Vigdor, N. (November 10, 2020) “School Lunch Program Supplier Sold Juice With High Arsenic Levels, U.S. Says in Lawsuit”. The New York Times.

 

Dole Organic Lettuce

Dole Recalls Limited Amount of Organic Romaine Hearts

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Dole Organic Lettuce

Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of a limited number of cases of organic romaine lettuce hearts over E.coli contamination. The recalled products, Dole Organic Romaine Hearts 3pk, combined English/French packaging (with Harvested-On dates of 10-23-20 and 10-26-20), and Wild Harvest Organic Romaine Hearts (with Harvested-On dates of 10-23-20 and 10-26-20).

The products were harvested and packed nearly four weeks ago, according to the FDA release and were distributed in AZ, HI, IA, IL, IN, KS, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND and VA. No illnesses have been reported.

FDA

FDA’s New Outbreak Table an Effort Toward Earlier Transparency about Outbreaks

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
FDA

FDA has released an outbreak investigation table that aims to disseminate information about foodborne illness outbreaks right when the agency begins an investigation. The table, published by the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network, will be updated with important information before a public health advisory or food recall is issued.

“The outbreak investigation table is a demonstration of our continued commitment to more frequent and transparent communication with stakeholders and consumers about outbreaks we’re investigating,” said Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at FDA, in an agency statement. “We have already taken steps to release information early, in some cases prior to a specific food being linked to an outbreak, including in our recent communications on investigations into three ongoing E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks.”

As of November 18, the table listed seven outbreak investigations, only one of which identified a product linked to illnesses. Yiannas pointed out that during the early stages of an investigation, there may not be any action that a consumer can take—however, the tool is in line with the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, which commits to releasing outbreak information in the “earliest stages of an investigation”.

The FDA’s outbreak investigation table is available on the agency’s website.