Yesterday the CDC reported that the E.coli outbreak linked to romaine lettucegrown in the Salinas, CA growing region is over. The contaminated lettuce should no longer be available, and FDA states that consumers do not need to avoid romaine lettuce from Salinas. The agency will continue its investigation into the potential factors and sources that led to the outbreak.
The FDA did identify a common grower link to the E.coli O157:H7 contamination as a result of its traceback investigation. However, a statement released yesterday by FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas points out that “this grower does not explain all of the illnesses seen in these outbreaks.”
To be specific, the FDA, CDC and other public health agencies were tracking three outbreaks involving three separate strains of E.coli O157:H7 linked to romaine lettuce. During the course of the investigation FDA, CDC, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health conducted sampling of the water, soil and compost of several of the fields in the lower Salinas Valley that were connected to the outbreak. “So far, sample results have come back negative for all of the three outbreak strains of E. coli O157:H7. However, we did find a strain of E. coli that is unrelated to any illnesses in a soil sample taken near a run-off point in a buffer zone between a field where product was harvested and where cattle are known to occasionally graze,” Yiannas said in the agency statement. “This could be an important clue that will be further examined as our investigation continues. However, this clue does not explain the illnesses seen in these outbreaks.”
Finding the contamination source(s) is critical, as it will aid romaine growers in putting safeguards in place to help prevent future contamination.
As for the final case count (with last illness onset on December 21, 2019) of this outbreak, there were 167 total illnesses and 85 hospitalizations across the United States. No deaths were reported.
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.
Using whole genome sequencing (WGS), FDA has confirmed 96 illnesses in 11 states that were caused by Salmonella Javiana. Thus far, traceback evidence indicates that a fruit mix from New Jersey-based Tailor Cut Produce is the possible source of the outbreak.
FDA provided its latest update about the ongoing investigation today: Of the 96 illnesses, 27 have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported. The highest number of illnesses have been reported in Delaware (39), Pennsylvania (34) and New Jersey (12). The agency stated its inspection at Tailor Cut Produce continues and it is collecting records to support a traceback investigation.
As of December 17, seven infections were reported, with four hospitalizations and one death across five states. The hard-boiled eggs were sold both in bulk pails to food processors, restaurants and retailers, as well as directly to consumers at the retail level, and have “Best If Used By Dates” through March 2, 2020.
FDA used whole genome sequencing to find a genetic match in the outbreak strain from samples collected at Almark’s facility during agency inspections in February and December of this year.
In the latest FDA update about the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak involving romaine lettuce, the agency has stated that consumers should not eat romaine lettuce that has been harvested from Salinas, California. Traceback investigations related to three different E. coli outbreaks (three different strains, all of which involve romaine lettuce) have pointed to a common grower located in Salinas. Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response, called the identification of a common grower a “notable development” but also stated in a press announcement, “Because of the expansive nature of these outbreaks, our investigation remains a complicated work in progress, and it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions.”
FDA, CDC and California partners have sent out a team to conduct new investigations at ranches used by the grower as part of the process in finding the contamination source, according to an FDA update.
Thus far, 102 illnesses have been reported across 23 states, with 58 hospitalizations. No deaths have been reported. The last illness onset was reported on November 18.
Thus far Swedesboro, NJ-based Missa Bay, LLC has recalled more than 75,000 pounds of salad products because of a lettuce ingredient that might be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This lettuce was also found to be in packaged salad that the Maryland Department of Health said contained E. coli.
FDA states that thus far lettuce grown indoors has not been indicated in the outbreak.
The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in nuts, nut products and seeds 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. This week’s hazard snapshot concludes the series.
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.
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