Tag Archives: contamination

FDA

FDA Restaurant Study Finds Employees Not Properly Washing Hands or Keeping Foods to Temp

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Yesterday FDA released the initial phase of its findings of a 10-year nationwide study that looks at the relationship between food safety management systems, certified food protection managers, and the occurrence of risk factors and food safety behaviors/practices, and how this contributes to foodborne illness outbreaks in retail establishments. This first phase collected data from 2013–2014; subsequent data collection will be from 2017 and 2021. The entire span of the study is 2013–2023.

The data collected and used in the 84-page “Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Fast Food and Full Service Restaurants, 2013-2014” will be used as a baseline to evaluate trends in the occurrence of risk factors during the 2017 and 2021 data collection periods. Key findings in the report include the following:

  • Food safety management systems are important!
  • Restaurants had the most effective control over ensuring there is no bare hand contact with RTE foods as well as cooking raw animal foods (including meat, poultry and eggs) to the required temperature
  • Unsafe food behaviors in fast food and full-service restaurants. Improvement needed in:
    • Employee hand washing (knowing when and how to do it)
    • Proper temperature control of foods that require refrigeration to limit pathogen growth

Study results will be used to help advise retail food safety initiative and policies, industry partnerships and specific intervention strategies that target foodborne illness risk factors. It will also aid in providing technical assistance to state, local and other regulatory professionals. FDA put together a factsheet with highlights of the study.

Gabriela Lopez, 3M Food Safety
Allergen Alley

Five Steps to Creating a Successful Validation Study

By Gabriela Lopez-Velasco, Ph.D.
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Gabriela Lopez, 3M Food Safety

Manufacturing large volumes of food product that must be safe for human consumption with finite resources is, simply put, a demanding responsibility. For many food brands, having dedicated production lines is not always an option, so lines are often shared amongst a variety of food products. A potential problem arises when products containing allergenic foods are manufactured on the same equipment as other products, and those allergenic foods are not meant to be declared in the product label. As a result, residues of the first product manufactured may move to the next product. Known as direct cross-contact contamination, this issue can have a severe adverse impact on allergic consumers.

Cross-contact contamination can occur at various stages of production, but it’s direct food cross-contact in shared production lines that is often found as a particularly significant food safety hazard. Addressing cross-contact through effective cleaning procedures is one of the most critical allergen management activities in establishing preventive controls and minimizing the potential of unintentional presence of food allergens. Allergen cleaning validation enables food manufacturers to evaluate that their cleaning procedure is adequate when it comes to removing ingredients from direct food contact surfaces.

Cleaning validation consists of generating data to demonstrate that allergenic foods are removed from direct food contact areas to a pre-defined acceptable level. A basic cleaning validation design consists of determining the residual level or presence of allergenic food before cleaning (baseline), and then assessing the level of the allergenic food after cleaning.

If the cleaning procedure exists in several steps (i.e., more than one rinse or purge, as with dry cleaning) additional testing to assess the level of allergens between cleaning stages and in the final product can also be incorporated. It is important to remember that a single validation study may not be applicable for an entire site operation. Different production lines within a food production site may require an individualized validation analysis. This determination will depend on the cleaning process as well as the formulation of the products being manufactured.

There are five important considerations for establishing a successful validation study:

  1. Set up a team and assign a leader to carry out the design of the validation. Involving relevant personnel with knowledge in the product formulation, manufacturing process, equipment design and cleaning and sanitation regimes may provide valuable insight to identify processes that should be included in the validation. It may also bring to light critical sampling points in the equipment that should be considered.
  2. Determine the scope of the study. This is where you describe and justify which equipment, utensils, cleaning regime and production processes will be validated. It may be wise to group different processes or select the worst-case scenario. For example, you might choose to focus on food production equipment regarded as hard to clean or equipment that contains the highest concentration of the allergenic food.
  3. Design a sampling plan. This is a critical prerequisite before starting a validation study. The plan should be clearly defined, with critical sampling points and locations prescribed to challenge the effectiveness of the cleaning regime and to find evidence of allergenic food presence. In both open equipment and equipment that will be dismantled as part of the cleaning regime, it is important to select sites where food can get trapped, as well as other sites that are hard to clean. Also consider other surfaces that can be a source of direct cross-contact like protective clothing and utensils. For clean-in-place (CIP) systems, wash water should be collected from the onset of cleaning and then at intervals leading up to the final rinse water. This helps to demonstrate that allergen food levels are diminishing, thereby validating the use of CIP analysis as a verification method. Note that it is important to consider that the sampling plan for the validation should also reflect the sampling plan that will be used during routine verification. Support from a statistician may facilitate the decision to define how many samples and type of samples (swabs, CIP or final product) should be collected for the validation and how many cleaning runs should be performed to demonstrate validity.
  4. Select a method of analysis. Validation and verification involve the use of a specific method to detect allergenic foods. The selected method should be validated as well, an undertaking most often done by the commercial supplier. Then it should be verified by the food processor that the method is fit for purpose, such that the allergenic food will be recovered and detected under the conditions in which samples are routinely collected. This ensures there will not be interference due to the food itself or due to cleaning chemicals. There are a variety of different analytical methods; most are based in technologies designed to detect proteins. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) and immune-based lateral flow devices (LFDs) offer detection of specific protein targets (i.e., egg proteins, milk proteins, peanut proteins) and are ideal for a validation study. ELISA can provide quantitative data from pre-cleaning, at various intervals during the cleaning process, at post-cleaning and at final product, offering a measurable level of the allergenic food during the cleaning process. Rapid detection through LFDs also allows food processors to assess the presence or absence of a specific protein or group of proteins, but different from ELISA, the result is only qualitative. In either case, these rapid tests may be used for both validation and routine verification. In addition, there are non-specific tests that can detect total protein that may be selected for a cleaning validation study. These tests do not provide specific information about the allergen to be managed, and thus may be more suitable for routine verification. During a cleaning validation study, it is important to include the test that will be utilized for verification and ensure it is also fit for purpose and detects the allergenic food to an appropriate pre-defined sensitivity. This is particularly important if the test is different from the analytical method chosen for cleaning validation.
  5. Establish acceptance criteria. Proteins from allergenic foods may cause an adverse reaction at very low levels. To date, there are very few regions in the world in which threshold or permitted levels for allergens in food are established. Each individual food manufacturer should define a criterion to establish when a surface is clean from allergens after routine cleaning. The limits that are set up should be practical but also measurable and verifiable, thus it is important to define a level with knowledge of the sampling and analytical method selected. The sensitivity of the analytical methods currently available may be used as a criterion to verify that levels of an allergen are under control if they fall below the limit of detection of the analytical method.

Once a cleaning regime has been validated and documented, routine allergen cleaning verification should be performed as part of a monitoring program to demonstrate that the cleaning process in place is effective and that the risk of direct cross-contact is consequently being controlled. The validation should be repeated at defined intervals, often once a year. However, it is expected that a cleaning verification will be performed after each production run and cleaning procedure in order to reflect that the validated cleaning process is still effective. Cleaning verification, along with other allergen management activities, strengthens implemented food safety programs and helps to protect consumers.

Chris Keith, FlexXray
FST Soapbox

What Should I Do if I Have a Foreign Material Problem?

By Chris Keith
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Chris Keith, FlexXray

Imagine this: While cleaning a slicing machine during a sanitation break, one of your employees discovered a piece of harp wire was missing from the machine. The meat that had been sliced since the cutting machine’s last inspection had already been added to your product, and the product had been packaged. It had already passed through your company’s inline inspection machines without any foreign contaminants being detected.

You enjoy a spotless reputation in the food industry and know that if consumers lose faith in the product, it will suffer significant damage to both its reputation and its bottom line. So what do you do now?

Here’s a look at four different scenarios and how each one can affect a respected food manufacturer.

Option 1: Dispose of the Full Production Run

Disposing of a full production run will give your company complete confidence that the contaminant issue is resolved and will never reach the public. However, you have to take into consideration the full cost and implications of such a move, such as:

Where to dispose of the contaminated product. The FDA has specific rules about disposing of contaminated food products, but those guidelines can be affected by local, state and even federal regulations. Among the disposal options are landfills, rendering or incineration. You must find the proper facility, arrange the safe transportation of the product and procure all the required permits for the disposal.

Food waste. With 40% of the food produced in the United States going to waste, and 50 million Americans not knowing where their next meal will come from, you don’t want to add to the problem.

Product out of stock. Having your product out of stock will be costly. In addition to the lost sales, there’s a chance that consumers will turn to another brand—and not return to buying your product.

Cost of reproduction. To re-run the entire product line, you will essentially double your costs. You will have to pay for the cost of the products used, as well as pay for new packaging and all labor costs.

Option 2: Rework the Product In-House

You can use your own resources and inline equipment to try and troubleshoot the problem. Running the product through the metal detector to look for the harp wire could salvage most of the product, and would give your company the ability to supervise the entire process. That way, if you find the metal, you’d know firsthand that the contaminated product is out of production and won’t reach consumers.

But there are some expensive downsides to this approach. Among the factors that your company must consider are:

Loss of productivity. Both from the standpoint of equipment utilization and the productivity of employees, reworking the product would be costly to the company. You would have to have to slow the production line and manually re-run all the product through the metal detector to look for the missing wire.

Increased labor costs. You would have to pay overtime to your employees and keep your standard production line running while it re-runs the product and looks for the suspected contamination.

Limitations of their inspection equipment. Your results are only as good as the equipment you are using, and there’s always a risk that the metal detector that missed it the first time won’t find it the second time, either.

It seems like a bit of a gamble; if the metal detector catches it the second time around, then it could be worth it. If the product is re-run and no contaminants are found, however, your company is back where it started and must decide how to move forward.

Option 3: Risk It and Ship the Product to Retailers

Since the metal wasn’t detected by the company’s inline inspection system, you cannot be absolutely sure the metal is in the product. You only know that a broken piece of harp wire is missing; it’s unclear whether that wire made it into the food.

The least expensive option—but also the riskiest—is to go ahead and ship the product, hoping that the missing wire didn’t make it into the food and, therefore, never gets discovered by consumers.

There’s a chance that the metal detector was right, the wire isn’t in the food, and things will be fine. However, if the risky gamble doesn’t go in your favor, the consequences could be severe and this becomes the most expensive option of all. Among the risks the company faces are the following.

Costly recall. Food recalls are always expensive. According to a study from the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average recall runs up a $10 million tab in direct costs alone.

This includes the cost of notifying the supply chain and consumers, retrieving the product, storage, disposal and additional labor costs associated with having to perform all of these actions.

Possible litigation. Food recalls often are accompanied by lawsuits, and if the metal wire is eaten by a customer and causes injury, you could be held liable for everything from medical bills to time lost from work due to pain and suffering.

Bad publicity and lost sales. In today’s 24/7 news world and with the power of social networking, news of a food recall can reach consumers at lightning speed. This equates directly to lost sales and can have a negative impact on your brand reputation and market value.

A recent Harris Interactive Poll found that 55% of consumers would switch brands temporarily after a recall, and 15% would never buy the product again. What’s more, 21% said they would avoid buying any other products made by that manufacturer.

Option 4: Use an X-ray Inspection Service

A fourth option can help avoid lawsuits, recalls and bad publicity, while at the same time sidestepping unnecessary waste and the costs associated with disposing of an entire production run or reworking it internally.

You can have your product shipped to an X-ray inspection facility, or use an X-ray inspection rental service.

A contaminant removal service and professional catalog reporting with full traceability could also ensure that the specific contaminant was located and removed, and you would have the confidence that the problem had been resolved as the product reached consumers. There are several other advantages to using a company that offers this type of solution as well, including:

Reduced waste. Because the only product being thrown away would be the product that was contaminated, there would be minimal waste. This is the only option that allows you to recover the rest of the product, with the certainty that it has been inspected and is safe for its customers.

Advanced detection capabilities. You can be confident in inspection process using custom technology that enables the detection of foreign particles down to 0.8 mm or smaller. In addition to metal, such systems can also detect product clumps, glass particles, stones, bone, rubber, plastic, wood, gasket materials, container defects and missing components.

This type of solution far exceeds the capabilities of inline inspection machines, and, because it can run a single pallet an hour, instead of the average 10,000 pounds an hour, and thus it spends more time focusing on what is passing through the machine to ensure no contaminants pass through.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the quality of your product, it’s better not to take any chances. When you put your product line in the hands of a third-party X-ray food inspection company, you know you will get results since food safety is our specialty — and it’s what they do, all day, every day.

Y-strainer, water filtration

Food Safety: Why Water Filtration is Important

By Tim McFall
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Y-strainer, water filtration

Food and beverage processing requires a lot of water. Whether it’s steam in the preparation or cleaning of dishes and flatware, or as an ingredient in food or beverages, water comes into contact with just about every edible or drinkable item in the food industry. That means the quality of the water used in food preparation or service must be monitored and managed to ensure not only that it tastes good, but also that it is safe for employees and customers.

Making sure water is safe to consume often requires the installation of a water filtration system. The quality of tap water greatly varies depending on where you are located. In some areas, there are higher levels of sediment, chemicals or organic matter in the water, which means that there is a likelihood that not only is the water not ideal for consumption, but it’s also damaging to equipment. Filtration systems will improve the lifespan of equipment that uses water.

How is Filtration Used in the Food Processing Industry?

Water filtration systems are typically used on any type of food processing equipment that uses water. This can include everything from the machinery in large food processing plants to smaller equipment in restaurants and school cafeterias.

When equipment or machinery that use water is run, over time it will develop a build up of scale (mineral deposits), which can lead to equipment breakdowns, malfunctions or even contamination of the food or beverage that is being processed. Using water filtration systems on food processing equipment will help prevent the scale build-up as it filters the water that is used in the equipment.

Water filtration removes sediment, chemicals, minerals and organic matter from water, improving the taste and smell, and safely eliminating contaminants that may be dangerous for the people who will consume the products being processed.

Which Areas are At Risk in Food Processing?

There is a presumption of both quality and safety in the American food and beverage industry by consumers. That is due to, in large part, the fact that there are standards and regulations by which food and beverage processes must abide. The quality burden often rests on the machinery or equipment that are used in processes. Thus, the need for water filtration systems is more than simply wanting to provide consumers with quality products—it is also crucial for the continued operation of manufacturers.

Improved water quality has highlighted filtration in recent years, and rightfully so. Water is a prevalent ingredient, cooking method and means of cleaning. Additionally, air power is used to operate pneumatic machinery, move food products, and sometimes add texture to those products. Water (liquid or steam) and air can easily transfer microbials or other contaminants into the food products, packaging or surfaces on which food comes into contact.

While every process is different depending on the equipment being used, there are generally three areas in the food and beverage process where filtration is critical:

  1. Prefiltration: In areas of the facility where water, air or steam sources are first brought in or are generated.
  2. Intermediate filtration: During the process when water, air and steam move through piping or other equipment prior to making direct contact with food or a surface in which food comes into contact.
  3. Final filtration: At the end of processing, where there is a last opportunity to manage surviving contaminants.

How Strainers Help Water Filtration Systems

One of the most common ways food and beverage processers ensure that there are no unwanted solids in the water or equipment they use is by installing sanitary strainers in the water piping in the above-mentioned areas. One such type of strainer is the y-strainer.

Click on page 2 to read the rest of this article.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
FST Soapbox

Food Fraud Quick Bites: A Look at the Latest Targets

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

Recent food fraud news includes the seizure of a million bags of fraudulently labeled and expired rice in Kenya, fraudulent spices found in a warehouse in India, and a U.S. grocery store chain sued for selling manuka honey that wasn’t 100% manuka. In Spain, tuna intended for canning was dyed and diverted to be sold as fresh and in China, 8,000 bottles of counterfeit wine were seized by the local food and drug administration. In Greece, 17 teenagers became ill after drinking alcoholic beverages containing methanol. Recently published journal articles on detection methods have looked at adulteration of honey with sugar syrups, meat adulteration with other species, authentication of products containing truffles, and Arabica coffee authenticity. One group of researchers evaluated a method to authenticate the botanical and geographic origin of hops.

Vanilla prices have been high, increasing the incentive to substitute natural vanilla extracts with similar flavors. A search of the Food Fraud Database shows a range of fraudulent adulterants associated with vanilla extract: Coumarin, ethyl maltol, ethyl vanillin, maltol, vanillic alcohol, and vanillin (natural or synthetic). Recently published authentication methods include GC-VUV and analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and hydrogen (with GC-IRMS).

In 2004 (another period of high vanilla prices), a company that sourced vanilla beans from Indonesia for use in manufacturing vanilla extract identified mercury contamination in two lots of beans they had received. Mercury was presumably added to increase the weight of the beans. The company quarantined all beans and products that had been manufactured from them. They also had to shut down flavor production to clean and decontaminate the processing equipment.

Due to their high value and physical form (they are often sold in ground or liquid extract form), herbs and spices have a long history of fraudulent adulteration. Many countries have publicly reported being affected by food fraud in herbs and spices over the past 10 years.

Food Fraud incidents, spices
Incidents of food fraud reported in the Food Fraud Database for the past ten years in the category “Herbs, Spices, and Seasonings” (68 total).1

Mitigation measures for products at high risk for fraud include putting in place raw material specifications that include authenticity criteria, implementing analytical surveillance, establishing strong supplier relationships and audit programs, and increasing supply chain transparency.

Resource

  1. The Decernis Food Fraud Database is a continuously updated collection of food fraud records curated specifically to support vulnerability assessments. Information is gathered from the scientific literature, regulatory reports, media publications, judicial records, and trade associations from around the world and is searchable by ingredient, adulterant, country, and hazard classification.
X-ray systems

Production and Inspection: What to Do When Contamination Occurs

By Chris Keith
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X-ray systems

As much as food manufacturers take precautions to avoid all types of contaminants, there can still come a moment when you realize that your best efforts have failed. Maybe you find a broken blade or a missing wire during a sanitation break, but the product has already gone through your inline inspection machines—and nothing was detected.

This is the freak-out moment that no plant manager or quality assurance manager wants to have. Knowing that there’s possible contamination of your food product (and not knowing where that contaminant might be) creates a hailstorm of possibilities that your plant works hard to avoid. And you’re probably wondering how this could have happened in the first place.

X-ray systems
In addition to metal, X-ray systems can find glass, plastic, stone, bone, rubber/gasket material, product clumps, container defects, wood and missing components at 0.8 mm or smaller.

Understanding How Contaminants Get Past Detection

To prevent physical contamination from occurring, it’s important to understand the reasons why it happens. In-house inspection systems often fail to detect contaminants for the following reasons:

  • The equipment isn’t calibrated to detect contaminants to a small enough degree, or the contaminants are materials that aren’t easily detected by the in-house machinery (glass, rubber, plastic, etc.)
  • The machines aren’t constantly monitored
  • The speed of the production line doesn’t allow for detecting small particles

Metal detectors are the most commonly used inline inspection devices in food manufacturing, and they depend on an interference in the signal to indicate there is metal contamination in the product.
Despite the fact that technology has progressed to deliver fewer false positives, the machines can still be deceived by moisture, high salt contents and dense products that could provide interference in the signal. When that continues to occur, it’s common for manufacturers to recalibrate the machine to get fewer false positives—but that also decreases its effectiveness.

Another limitation of the metal detector is that, as the name indicates, it can only find metal. That means contaminants like plastic, glass, rubber and bone won’t be found through a metal detector, but will hopefully be discovered through some other means before the product is shipped out.

Oftentimes, contamination or suspected physical contamination is discovered when a product, such as cheese or yogurt, goes through a filtration system, or when a piece of machinery is inspected during a sanitation break.
If the machinery is found to be missing a part, such as a bolt or a rubber gasket, the manufacturer then has to backtrack to the machinery’s last inspection and determine how much, if any, of the product manufactured during that time has been contaminated.

X-ray inspection
X-ray inspection can find what other forms of inspection cannot, because it’s based on the density of the product, as well as the density of the physical contaminant. In this image, you can see foreign material detected in canned goods.

What To Do When Contamination Occurs

Once a food manufacturer discovers that it may have a physical contamination problem, it must make a decision on how to handle the situation. Options come down to four basic choices, each of which comes with its own risks and benefits.

Option 1: Dispose of the full production run

The one advantage of disposing of a full production run is that it entirely eliminates the possibility of the contaminated product reaching consumers.

However, this is an expensive solution, as the manufacturer has to pay for the cost of disposal in a certified landfill and absorbs the cost of packaging, labor and ingredients. It also presents the risk of lost revenue by having a product temporarily out of stock.

Option 2: Shut down your production lines for re-inspection/re-work

Running the product through inline inspections a second time may result in finding the physical contaminant, but there’s also a risk that the contaminant won’t be found—and now the company has lost money through overtime pay and lost productivity.

If the inspection equipment was not sensitive enough to find the contaminant the first time around, it may not find it the second time, which puts the manufacturer back at square one. The advantage to this method is that the manufacturer maintains complete accountability and control over the process, although it may not yield the desired results.

Option 3: Risk it and ship the product to retailers

There’s always a chance that a missing bolt didn’t make its way into the product. Sometimes, if a metal detector goes off and the manufacturer can’t find any contaminants upon closer examination, they will choose to ship the product and take their chances.

The advantage for them is that, on the front end, this is the least expensive option—or it could be the costliest choice of all if a consumer finds a physical contaminant in their food. In fact, the average cost of a food recall is estimated at $10 million; lawsuits may push that cost even higher and result in a business being closed for good.

Option 4: Use third-party X-ray inspection

X-ray inspection is the most effective way to find physical contaminants. In addition to metal, X-ray systems can find glass, plastic, stone, bone, rubber/gasket material, product clumps, container defects, wood and missing components at 0.8 mm or smaller.

When a food manufacturer has a contamination issue, it can have the bracketed product inspected by a third-party X-ray inspection company and only dispose the affected food, allowing the rest of the product to be distributed. This option allows the manufacturer to maintain inventory and keep food deliveries on schedule while still eliminating the problem of contamination.

X-ray inspection can find what other forms of inspection cannot, because it’s based on the density of the product, as well as the density of the physical contaminant. When X-ray beams are directed through a food product, the rays lose some of their energy, but will lose even more energy in areas that have a physical contaminant. So when those images are interpreted on a monitor, the areas that have a physical contaminant in them will show up as a darker shade of gray.
This allows the workers monitoring machines to immediately identify any foreign particles that are in the food, regardless of the type of material.

Detection is Key to Avoiding Contamination Issues

Handling contamination properly is vital to every food manufacturing company. It affects the bottom line and the future of the company, and just one case of a physical contaminant reaching the consumer is enough to sideline food companies of any size. As X-ray technology continues to evolve, it remains an effective and efficient form of food inspection.

Educating plant managers and quality managers on what to do if inline inspection machines fail to detect contaminants should include information on how X-ray technology can be a food company’s first line of defense. While physical contaminants can’t always be avoided, they can be detected—and the future of your company may depend on it.

Eggs

Rose Acres Recalls Eggs, FDA Investigating Salmonella Link

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Eggs

Rose Acre Farms has voluntarily recalled eggs from its farm in Hyde County, North Carolina following an investigation by FDA, CDC and other agencies involving Salmonella illnesses. FDA testing determined that eggs produced from this farm are connected to 22 cases of Salmonella Braenderup infections; the CDC is confirming illness information with state health departments.

The exact amount of eggs recalled totals 206,749,248.

The eggs are sold under several brand names, including Coburn Farms, Country Daybreak, Food Lion, Glenview, Great Value, Nelms, and Sunshine Farms, as well as restaurants.

FDA is advising restaurants and retailers that they should not sell or use any recalled shell eggs. In addition, they should take measures to avoid cross-contamination of the food processing environment and equipment by washing and sanitizing display cases and refrigerators regularly, washing and sanitizing cutting boards, surfaces and utensils, and washing hands with hot water and soap after any cleaning or sanitation process. Consumers are advised not to eat the recalled eggs.

A full list of the recalled eggs are available on FDA’s website.

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Foodborne Illnesses and Recalls on the Rise

By Francine L. Shaw
3 Comments
Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

The last word a manufacturer wants to hear is “recall”. During 2017, recalls involved everything from salad mix contaminated with a dead bat to hash browns infused with shredded golf balls.

Not all recalls are created equal. Both the USDA and the FDA have three classifications of recalls to indicate the relative degree of health hazard presented by the product being recalled:

  • Class I: A Class I recall is the most serious classification, involving a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
  • Class II: A Class II recall involves a potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food.
  • Class III: A Class III recall involves a situation in which eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences.

During 2017, there were 456 recalls recorded in the United States. The number one reason for those recalls was undeclared allergens.

Identify the weak links in your supply chain: Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Rockville, MD | Learn moreFoodborne illnesses continue to be widespread, as well. In 2017, we saw Robin Hood flour contaminated with E.coli, Soygo yogurt with Listeria, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and ground turkey tainted with Salmonella, and even shredded coconut was responsible for causing a Salmonella outbreak in the United States and Canada. Foodborne illness outbreaks can happen at restaurants, corporate events, private parties, schools and cruise ships—anywhere and everywhere food is served.

Recalls and foodborne illnesses are 100% preventable. Incidents occur because of human error, and all it takes is one weak link to cause serious—and potentially fatal—problems. That’s it. One weak link can cause the traumatic deaths and/or illnesses of customers, and cost your company billions of dollars, loss of sales, plummeting stocks, negative media coverage and a severely damaged reputation.

When there’s a recall or a foodborne illness, products must be destroyed, which is lost revenue for manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, etc. Finding the source of the contamination can be a massive undertaking. The manufacturer may need to close all of their plants for cleaning until the source is identified, which adds up to a tremendous financial burden, and also requires significant time and effort. Class 1 recalls can cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more, to identify the source of contamination, recall products, sanitize facilities, and keep consumers safe.

It takes years for companies to establish a solid reputation, and food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks can obliterate a brand’s reputation overnight. Consumers lose confidence much faster than they gain it, and bad news travels fast (especially in this time of social media where news spreads instantly and widely). And on top of that, there may be litigation as a result of the recall, incident or outbreak, which will result in attorney fees and potential settlements that could be very significant. If the risk of massive expense and bankruptcy isn’t enough, for the past few years, the U.S. District of Justice has been issuing fines and prison terms to company leaders involved in foodborne illnesses outbreaks and food recalls.

The government, media and general public are holding companies (and their leadership) accountable now, so you’d think that recalls and foodborne illness incidents would be on the decline but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. And with advancements in technology, why are we still having so many issues surrounding the safety of our food?

Many media outlets report that foodborne illnesses have been rising considerably in the past few years. However, according to the CDC, a study showed that the six most common foodborne illnesses have actually declined in frequency by 25% over the last two decades. Having said that, though, the severity of foodborne illness outbreaks seems to be increasing, and the number of outbreaks connected to produce has risen, as well. Some experts believe the increases may be due to better reporting processes rather than an actual increase in the number of foodborne illnesses.

There are various theories as to why foodborne illnesses may be getting worse. Some government agencies indicate it has to do with farming policies. The CDC disagrees. More widely accepted beliefs are the increase in popularity of organic produce—grown with manure rather than chemical fertilizer—which can transfer bacteria to the produce. Additionally, there’s debate that the use of antibiotics can cause bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses to become resistant.

Recalls may occur for a variety of reasons. Products may be pushed beyond their shelf life by the manufacturer, or maybe the design and development around the product was insufficient (equipment, building, etc.). Is the manufacturing facility designed in a manner that can prevent contamination—structurally and hygienically? Maybe the production quality control checks failed. Did the manufacturer conduct an adequate food safety risk assessment prior to launching the new product? Profit margins are often thin—did financial incentives prevent the company from implementing a thorough food safety program?

Getting back to the basics of food safety would reduce recalls and foodborne illnesses significantly. Manufacturers must be certain about food safety as well as the integrity of the ingredients they use. They need to be honest with themselves and understand the risks of the ingredients, processes and finished products that they are handling.

Human error is a given. It’s the corporation’s responsibility to minimize the risk. Implement ongoing food safety education and training for all employees, explaining the proper food safety protocols and processes. Develop internal auditing systems, using innovative digital tools. Get rid of the pen and paper forms, where it’s more likely for errors to occur and for pencil whipping to happen. Digital solutions provide more effective internal auditing, meticulousness in corrective action systems including root cause analysis, allergen management, and controls relating to packing product into the correct packaging format—all fundamental to keeping foods, consumers and businesses healthy and safe.

Glen Ramsey, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Using Monitoring Devices to Protect Products from Pests

By Glen Ramsey
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Glen Ramsey, Orkin

They’re sneaking in through your windows, crawling through your front door when nobody is looking and squeezing through tiny openings to steal your food. They’re tough to catch, and even tougher to spot.

Naturally, we’re talking about pests. They come in all shapes and sizes, but have the same goal: To find a reliable, safe place to call home where they have abundant access to food, water and shelter. Unfortunately, food processing facilities offer pests all three of these things, making them susceptible to infestations that can compromise products and hurt the bottom line.

You probably already have an integrated pest management (IPM) program in place to mitigate the risk of pests inside your facility. While these programs are great for offering proactive, preventive solutions that use chemical solutions as a last resort, they shouldn’t be the beginning and end of your pest management efforts.

First and foremost, facility staff should always be familiar with the warning signs of pest issues and what to do if they spot something crawling around the building. Most pest management companies will offer complimentary training sessions for you and your staff, which is a great first step. Then, during your weekly/monthly staff meetings, let your employees know which pests are most likely to cause a problem and include some images of warning signs. Empower them to call out problems, explain the risks of pest damage to your products, and you’ll have a better chance of catching pest problems early.

But your staff can’t be expected to spot everything, and there are always pests that slip through the cracks.

That’s why pest management professionals frequently recommend using a variety of tools to closely watch pest activity and detect emerging hot spots around facilities. Tools like IR thermometers, moisture meters and telescoping cameras help pest management professionals identify these high-risk areas. Once these areas have been identified, your pest management professional can take the next step in advanced detection using monitoring devices to paint the picture of pest activity around your facility.

Monitoring devices make it easier to see where pests are traveling and give an idea for how many may be present. These devices capture pests for identification, assist in early detection and will help to mitigate the risk of infestation through early warning. If you’re particularly worried about an upcoming audit or the recent enforcement deadlines for FSMA, these devices will give you a better chance of scoring well and can help you demonstrate compliance by shifting your pest management plan to a more proactive approach as mandated by these new regulations.

There could be quite a few of these monitoring devices you’d like to start using around your facility today.

Fly Lights

A popular device found in many food processing facilities, fly lights attract flying pests by emitting strong UV lights that draws insects in, at which point they become trapped on a sticky glue board in the back of the light—out of sight and away from your products. They work best when placed inside near doorways and windows where pests might be able to squeeze inside, but they’re effective just about anywhere. Discuss placement with your pest management provider.

Why does it work?

The leading theory on why flying pests are attracted to lights has to do with their reliance on the sun and moon as navigational guides. In the past, insects could use the sun and moon as a guide because it stayed at a constant angle, allowing them to move in a consistent direction. However, artificial light confuses them and causes them to circle around the light source. Insects that move towards light in this way are called positively phototactic, while pests like cockroaches who move away from light are called negatively phototactic.

Mechanical Traps

Most commonly used for rodents, mechanical traps can allow for the humane capture and removal of rats and mice. These traps sound simple, and that’s because it is; the concept hasn’t changed for years. Why? Because it’s effective! Rodent curiosity or bait can draw the rodent inside one of these stations, which have a mechanical door ready to close as soon as it enters. There is also new technology on the way that will instantly notify both customer and pest management professional when this occurs, so the creature can be removed immediately. These stations are most frequently used around the interior perimeter of a facility to keep rodents from getting further than the exterior walls.

Why does it work?
Simply put, rodents will often run along walls. They’re extremely athletic and very clever, which is why it’s never recommended to try to place traps yourself. They can learn from close calls with unsuccessful trapping techniques, which is why it isn’t worth the risk to handle rodent issues alone. With proper knowledge and placement, they can be outsmarted.

Sticky Traps and Glue Boards

Perhaps the simplest tools in the pest professional’s shed, sticky traps and glue boards are meant to reduce the population of crawling insects around a facility. Because they’re not very large, they can be used just about anywhere inside a facility.

Why does it work?

These are usually used for small population control in areas where crawling pests are already present. Sticky traps and glue boards are generally coated with a substance that attract pests, which then ensnares them when they step on the surface of the trap. These are great for catching pests like cockroaches, and give you a sense of how many pests are coming through an area over a period of time. Over time, you’ll be able to see if the population is trending downwards or if the problem is getting worse based on the number of pests captured.

Pheromone Traps

Great for combating the stored product pests that pose a huge threat to food processing facilities with large inventories, pheromone traps trick pests into getting trapped. While sticky traps can be used all over, pheromone traps are more effectively used by placing them strategically around storage areas to help monitor for any stored product pests.

Why does it work?

This type of trap uses synthetically replicated versions of insect pheromones, which are secreted chemicals that insects put out to communicate with each other. In this case, the pheromone traps lure pests out from their hiding/feeding areas. There are also probe-type pheromone traps that are best used in bulk grain storage if necessary.

Now this isn’t an exclusive list of all the monitoring devices a pest management professional can recommend around your facility, but it does give you an idea of the most common, effective devices out there. Keep in mind that sanitation and exclusion must also be a big part of any IPM program, but monitoring devices (along with detailed documentation) can take your program to the next level and give you a better feel for the pest issues your facility deals with the most.

Any time you’re using these tools and devices to detect pest hot spots, it’s important to record the results over time. Your pest management professional will keep a logbook of findings on site, and you should reference that regularly. Also, consider requesting or creating a trend map of pest activity over time to help you see which pests are plaguing your facility the most. That way, it will be easy to work towards improving the pest management program you have in place, which in turn will help protect your products from contamination and protect your bottom line.

Martin Easter, Hygiena
In the Food Lab

The New Normal: Pinpointing Unusual Sources of Food Contamination

By Martin Easter, Ph.D.
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Martin Easter, Hygiena

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in dry flour, and then romaine lettuce. E. coli O104 in fenugreek sprout seeds. Recent announcements of foodborne illness outbreaks have begun involving unusual combinations of bacteria and foods. These out-of-the-ordinary outbreaks and recalls are a small but growing part of the 600 million documented food poisonings that occur worldwide every year according to the World Health Organization. Preventing outbreaks from these new combinations of pathogen and food demand a range of accurate tests that can quickly identify these bacteria. Over the past several years, outbreaks from unusual sources included:

  • E. coli O121 (STEC) in flour: Last summer, at least 29 cases of a E. coli O121 infection were announced in six Canadian provinces. The source arose from uncooked flour, a rare source of such infections because typically flour is baked into final products. Eight people were hospitalized, and public health officials have now included raw, uncooked flour as well as raw batter and dough as a source of this type of infection.
  • E. coli O104:H4 in fenugreek sprouts: One of Europe’s biggest recent outbreaks (affecting more than 4,000 people in Germany in 2011, and killing more than 50 worldwide) was originally thought to be caused by a hemorrhagic (EHEC) E. coli strain that from cucumbers, but was but was later found to be from an enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) strain in imported fenugreek seeds—the strain had acquired the genes to produce Shiga toxins.
  • Mycoplasma in New Zealand dairy cows: While not unusual in cattle, the incident reported in August marks the pathogen’s first appearance in cows in New Zealand, a country known for strict standards on agricultural hygiene. The microorganism is not harmful to people, but can drastically impact livestock herds.
  • Listeria monocytogenes in food sources: Listeria monocytogenes causes fewer but more serious incidence of food poisoning due to a higher death rate compared to Salmonella and Campylobacter. Whereas Listeria has been historically associated with dairy and ready to eat cooked meat products, recent outbreaks have been associated with fruit, and the FDA, CDC and USDA are conducting a joint investigation of outbreaks in frozen as well as in fresh produce.
  • Listeria in cantaloupe: In 2011, one of the worst foodborne illnesses recorded in the United States killed 20 and sickened 147, from Listeria monocytogenes that was found in contaminated cantaloupes from a farm in Colorado. The outbreak bloomed when normal background levels of the bacteria grew to deadly concentrations in multiple locations, from transport trucks to a produce washer that was instead designed for potatoes.

The outbreaks underscore the fundamental need to have a robust food safety program. Bacteria can colonize many different locations and the opportunity is created by a change in processing methods and/or consumer use or misuse of products. So robust risk assessment and preventative QA procedures need to be frequently reviewed and supported by appropriate surveillance methods.

Food safety and public health agencies like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) or the CDC have employed a wide range of detection and identification tests, ranging from pulse field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), traditional cell culture, enzyme immunoassay, and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In the case of Germany’s fenugreek-based E. coli outbreak, the CDC and EFSA used all these techniques to verify the source of the contamination.

These tests have certain advantages and disadvantages. Cell culture can be very accurate, but it depends on good technique and usually takes a long time to present results. PFGE provides an accurate DNA fingerprint of a target bacteria, but cannot identify all strains of certain microorganisms. Enzyme immunoassays are precise, but can produce false-positive results in certain circumstances and require microbiological laboratory expertise. PCR is very quick and accurate, but doesn’t preserve an isolate for physicians to test further for pathogenic properties.

Identification of the pathogens behind foodborne contamination is crucial for determining treatment of victims of the outbreak, and helps public health officials decide what tools are necessary to pinpoint the outbreak’s cause and prevent a recurrence. Rapid methods such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which can quickly and accurately amplify DNA from a pathogen and make specific detection easier, are powerful tools in our efforts to maintain a safe food supply.

Recently, scientists and a third-party laboratory showed that real-time PCR assays for STEC and E. coli O157:H7 could detect E. coli O121, O26 and O157:H7 in 25-g samples of flour at levels satisfying AOAC method validation requirements. The results of the study demonstrated that real-time PCR could accurately detect stx, eae and the appropriate E. coli serotype (O121, O26 or O157:H7) with no statistical difference from the FDA’s Bacteriological Analytical Manual (BAM) cell culture method.

Agencies like the World Health Organization and CDC have repeatedly stated that historical records of food poisoning represent a very small percentage of true incidents occurring every year worldwide. Many of today’s most common food pathogens, like Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 or Campylobacter jejuni, were unknown 30 years ago. It’s not clear yet if unusual sources of contamination arise from increasing vigilance and food safety testing, or from an increasingly interdependent, globally complex food supply. No matter the reason, food producers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and retailers need to keep their guard up, using the optimum combination of tools to protect the public and fend off food pathogens.