USDA’s FSIS has issued a public health alert regarding ground beef products that may be adulterated with E. coli O26. Since the products were produced on December 16 and 17, 2021, the products are no longer available for purchase—and thus the agency is not requesting a recall. However, since people frequently freeze ground beef, FSIS is concerned that these products could still in consumers’ freezers. The agency is urging consumers to check their ground beef products and not consumer the products listed in the public health alert.
The products were distributed to warehouses in Oregon and Washington and sold at retail locations, including Kroger. FSIS has provided images of the labels of the affected products.
The issue was uncovered after a consumer submitted one of the affected ground beef products to a third-party laboratory for microbiological analysis. Results confirmed the sample was positive for E. coli O26.
Florida-based Alpine Fresh, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of its “Hippie Organics” French Beans due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The recall affects 1-pound packages from lot# 313-626, and the products were sold across 12 states in Whole Foods, Aldi and LIDL retail stores.
The issue was uncovered during routing company testing and is isolated to the specific recalled lot, according to a company announcement on FDA’s website. Alpine Fresh states that corrective actions have been taken to prevent recurrence.
Thus far no illnesses related to the recall have been reported.
CFSAN and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are conducting research to better understand the factors, including seasonal effects, that could be contributing to E. Coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to bagged romaine lettuce. FDA and USDA scientists presented findings in the BMC Environmental Microbiome, which revealed that E. Coli O157:H7 survived “significantly better in cold-stored packaged romaine harvested in the fall than on the same varieties harvested in late spring.” In addition, the researchers showed that the microbiome present on bagged lettuce changes based on the season, level of deterioration of the lettuce and whether survival of the pathogen on the lettuce was high or low. They also found that the pathogen survived better in lettuce that was harvested in the fall versus lettuce harvested in the spring during cold storage. “This is a significant step toward closing the knowledge gaps identified in the FDA’s Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan and helping the agency and its partners to reduce foodborne illness linked to the consumption of leafy greens,” CFSAN stated in an agency update.
The study, “Seasonality, shelf life and storage atmosphere are main drivers of the microbiome and E. coli O157:H7 colonization of post-harvest lettuce cultivated in a major production area in California”, has been published on the Environmental Microbiome’s website.
Parsippany, NJ-based Ferrero U.S.A., Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of its Kinder Happy Moments Chocolate Assortment and Kinder Mix Chocolate Treats basket over concerns that the products may be contaminated with Salmonella Typhimurium.
“Ferrero deeply regrets this situation. We take food safety extremely seriously and every step we have taken has been guided by our commitment to consumer care. We will continue to work cooperatively with the Food and Drug Administration to address this matter.” – Ferrero, U.S.A.
Several Kinder products have been recalled outside the United States, including in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, France and Luxembourg, as a result of Salmonella contamination. Thus far there have been reportedly 105 confirmed cases of illnesses and 29 suspected cases—mainly in children under 10 years old.
Skippy Foods, LLC issued a voluntary recall of certain peanut butter jars due to concerns of metal fragment contamination, which may have originated from a piece of manufacturing equipment. The recall affects 9,353 cases (161,692 pounds) of product: Skippy Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter (40 oz ), Skippy Reduced Fat Chunky Peanut Butter (16.3 oz), and Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter Blended with Plant Protein (14 oz). The products have various “Best If Used By” Dates ranging from May 4–10, 2023.
The issue was uncovered by the manufacturing facility’s internal detection systems. No other sizes or varieties of Skippy brand peanut butter or spreads are affected by this recall. In addition, no consumer complaints have been associated with this recall thus far.
Undeclared allergens continue to be a big cause of food recalls. For allergen management practices to be effective within food companies, there must be a shared responsibility between food manufacturers, government agencies, regulators and consumers, says Guangtao Zhang, Ph.D., director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Zhang discussed key concerns related to undeclared allergens in food as well as the research that Mars is conducting to improve allergen management.
Food Safety Tech: The presence of undeclared allergens continues to be a hazard in the food safety space. Specific to peanut detection, what challenges is the industry facing?
Guangtao Zhang, Ph.D.: As food materials become more varied and complicated, food allergen management becomes increasingly complex. Robust, accurate and sensitive detection methods are essential to ensure consumer safety as well as compliance with regulatory standards for allergens in the food supply chain.
When you look at the regulatory aspects, detection methods go hand in hand. Firstly, there is a need to ensure that current standard detection methods used in regulatory control of consumer goods are validated for a range of complex food matrices to ensure neither over- nor under-estimation of allergen content occurs within a food supply chain. This is important because underestimation of allergen poses a significant food safety hazard to consumers, while overestimation of allergen can result in unnecessary product recalls, driving up product costs and food waste.
Secondly, validation and monitoring of the effectiveness of cleaning and handling practices in areas of potential cross contamination with allergen containing materials depend on reliable and robust quantitative food allergen test methods for their success. The more robust the testing protocols, the more we can improve our understanding of the risks associated with cross contamination of food allergens, potentially reducing the frequency of accidental contamination events.
It is also important to note that whilst the most common cause of undeclared allergen in the global food supply chain is through accidental contamination in raw materials or finished products, this is not the only method by which undeclared allergen may be found in a product.
For example, peanut flour may be used in economically motivated adulteration (EMA) food fraud cases. In 2018 the European Commission estimated that the cost of food fraud for the global food industry is approximately €30 billion every year. Due to its high protein content, peanut flour has been used as a bulking agent to raise the overall protein content of e.g., wheat flour, thus raising the ‘quality’, and therefore price, of lower value goods. The ability to effectively quantify peanut traces within complex products therefore has the potential to enable consumers of food products to further trust the safety of the food they eat.
ELISA (Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) is the method used most frequently for peanut allergen detection in the food manufacturing industry because of its sensitivity and ease of use. However, it has disadvantages in certain settings. It is not currently validated for complex food matrices, as it is believed that the effects of both food matrices and food processing could result in an underestimation of peanut concentrations in thermally processed foods, leading to false negatives, as well as overestimation in complex food matrices, leading to false positives which are a potential food safety hazard to consumers.
Food Safety Tech: Tell us about the research that the Mars Global Food Safety Center is doing to help the industry with effective methods for peanut quantification.
Zhang: At the Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) we believe that everyone has the right to safe food and that we have a responsibility to generate and share insights to help solve for global food safety challenges. We also know we can’t tackle these alone, which is why we collaborate with external partners. One of our focus areas is advancing understanding and knowledge sharing in peanut allergen detection. As part of that work, we are exploring methods of improving food safety via the development of advanced analytical methods to detect peanut allergen content, in the hopes that it will enable the food industry to expand on current preventative management protocols, including early detection methodologies, for faster response to future food allergen contamination events.
As part of our latest published research, we investigated the accuracy and sensitivity of ELISA-based test methods on raw and cooked wheat flour, wheat flour-salt and wheat flour-salt-oil matrices, which are common ingredients in the food industry. 10 ppm peanut was doped into each matrix during sample preparation. Recovery testing demonstrated that in all matrices the current industry standard ELISA method overestimated results with recoveries ranging from 49.6 to 68.6 ppm.
These findings prompted the development of a new confirmatory method based on liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS) for peanut quantification. When subjected to the same validation testing programme the HPLC-MS/MS technique was demonstrably more accurate and sensitive, with a limit of quantification of 0.3 ppm and the detected peanut concentration ranging from 6.8 to 12.8 ppm for samples doped with 10 ppm peanut.
This work is a first step in the development of a new standard method for peanut detection in complex food matrices and could ultimately inform safer manufacturing Quality & Food Safety (Q&FS) processes across global supply chains to help ensure safe food for all.
Food Safety Tech: What projects are researchers at the Center working on to enhance allergen management as a whole?
Zhang: A successful allergen management program depends on rigorous control of allergenic foods and ingredients from all other products and ingredients at every step of the food production process, from raw material development to the delivery of final products. This means that for allergen management practices to be effective, they must be a shared responsibility between food manufacturers, government agencies, regulators and consumers.
At the Mars GFSC, we take a precompetitive approach to research, knowledge sharing and collaborations—this means we openly share insights and expertise to help ensure safe food for all. This is important in driving forward innovations, helping unlock solutions that may not have previously been possible.
We have shared our latest work both through an open access publication in Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A but also directly with regulatory bodies such as the FDA in the hopes of advancing knowledge in both food safety risk management and allergen management in complex flour-based media within global supply chains. In addition to this, this research contributes to a wider Food Safety Best Practice whitepaper focused on food allergen risk management currently under draft by the Mars GFSC, which will be published in collaboration with Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center and the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology (CIFST) later this year.
We believe that global collaborations such as this are essential to improving food allergen management and mitigating food safety risks. Communication, training and knowledge sharing are core principles of the Mars GFSC and as such form a large part of our ongoing activities in this space. For example, we have hosted Food Allergen Management workshops in collaboration with Danone and Romer Labs focused on helping to raise awareness of current and future food allergen trends. At one such event in 2019, 100 participants from 16 food companies came together to promote food allergen management in the industry and ensure that the next generation of food integrity testing capability is relevant, practical, and directly applicable to the real-world problems experienced by manufacturers and processors throughout the supply chain.
Representatives of the Mars GFSC have also shared our insights externally at a number of international conferences as well as during a Food Enterprise Food Allergen Management Seminar on topics including effective allergen management procedures, our guiding principles for allergen managements at Mars, and shared our approach to encourage and share knowledge with other manufactures in this area.
We continue to support requests for technical insights, for example providing insights during a global consultation session on General Principles for Labeling of Prepackaged Food. This resulted in the addition of characterization requirements for possible allergenic substances, promoting the use of a recognizable naming system in ingredient lists that contain allergen warnings.
Food Safety Tech: Can you comment on additional work your team is doing in the area of food fraud?
Zhang: Food allergen risk management forms only one part of our wider food integrity focus at the Mars GFSC. We are committed to helping ensure food authenticity in an increasingly complex, global food supply chain through collaboration with global partners to develop new and improved tools and analytical methods that help protect the integrity of raw materials and finished products.
We have collaborated with researchers at Michigan State University to develop a Food Fraud Prevention Cycle roadmap (Introducing the Food Fraud Prevention Cycle (FFPC): A dynamic information management and strategic roadmap) which answered questions such as how to detect food fraud, how to start a food fraud prevention program, what to do in terms of testing, how much testing is enough, and how to measure success. Our intention in publishing this research was that the adoption of a holistic and all-encompassing information management cycle will enable a globally harmonized approach and the continued sharing of best practices across industry partners.
More recently, we completed an international collaboration tackling rice adulteration together with Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), Agilent Technologies, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA), and Zhejiang Yangtze Delta Institute of Tsinghua University (Yangtze Delta). This work successfully developed a two-tier testing program, capable of rapidly screening the geographical origins of rice within the global supply chain (Food Fingerprinting: Using a two-tiered approach to monitor and mitigate food fraud in rice). By developing a tiered system, we could ensure that manufacturers use the right techniques for the right occasion, to maximize the information available in investigating food fraud at the best value. As part of this work, we have helped develop hands-on training in Ghana and inform best practice guidance to help build the foundations of a strong food safety culture in rice authenticity across the global supply chain.
USDA’s FSIS issued a public health alert for a Trader’s Joe’s ready-to-eat chicken salad product that could be contaminated with hard plastic. The issue is actually in the salad dressing, which is FDA regulated and was recalled by the producer over the contamination concern. The dressing is used in Trader Joe’s Crunchy Slaw with Chicken, Crispy Noodles & Peanut Dressing, which has a use by date of March 9 through March 12 on the label.The chicken salad is produced by R&G Fine Foods, Inc.
The products included in the alert were shipped to Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah and have the establishment number “P-6247” inside the USDA mark of inspection.
Thus far there have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions or injury related to consuming this product.
Can you explain, in simple terms, what hyperspectral imaging is?
Olga Pawluczyk: Hyperspectral imaging is a form of spectroscopy, which is the science of how wavelengths of light (or really, electromagnetic spectrum) interact with substances. As different wavelengths are absorbed by atomic and molecular bonds, we can measure that interaction and determine the chemistry of the substance under investigation. Essentially, your eyes and brain form a simple 3 color spectrometer: since you see grass as green, you can guess that it contains chlorophyll. Now, hyperspectral images include full 2D spatial information (like a regular camera image) but split the light into hundreds of continuous colors (or wavelengths). Compare this to the three colors (red, green, blue) used by cameras like the one in your cell-phone. Hyperspectral imaging allows much greater precision than other types of spectroscopy.
Why is hyperspectral imaging so effective for finding foreign (FM) materials in food products?
Pawluczyk: Using hyperspectral imaging, a system can see full images of objects and chemical signatures of different materials within those images. That’s what makes this technology so much better than other forms of vision or spectroscopy for distinguishing materials such as clear plastics, rubber and bone that are often hard to see on the line. Not only do we see the chemistry, but can also distinguish very small objects that differ in their chemistry from their surroundings. We can do this on line, at line speeds. PPO’s hyperspectral imaging system has been developed specifically for food processing, with rigorous testing and unique spectrometer design that allows us to see a lot of chemical information, while still enabling producers to run their lines at full speeds.Combining this with our powerful artificial intelligence (AI) engine makes our system uniquely effective at line speed, meaning contaminants can be identified and removed immediately.
What are the advantages of hyperspectral imaging over other types of detection systems?
Pawluczyk: In addition to being highly effective at finding FM, an important advantage of hyperspectral imaging is that it also enables us to see the composition of food products. Since food is chemistry, we can use hyperspectral imaging to assess different chemical properties of food products. For example, our testing has shown that spinach grown in different parts of the same field will have slightly different chemistry. Hyperspectral imaging can see those differences, so we can identify many different quality issues such as woody breast in chicken, fat/lean ratios, freshness and moisture content.
How can food processors use this information on composition and quality?
Pawluczyk: PPO’s Smart Imaging System uses an AI engine to collect and process the data from our imaging system; It ‘learns’ over time and gets even better at detection of FM or quality issues. It also means that PPO’s system can spot trends in your production. For example, using PPO’s technology, one of our clients was able to identify and correct an issue with their de-boning process, which helped them reduce customer charge-backs by 40%.
How confident can processors be that the system will catch the FM and quality issues they care about?
Pawluczyk: Part of PPO’s installation process with a new client is a very thorough testing process. Our team of experts works closely with our client to configure each system to the precise conditions of the plant and the products that are being processed. Using AI, our Smart Imaging System gathers and stores all this information, so it learns over time and is continuously improving.
What makes PPO’s Smart Imaging System different from other visual inspection systems on the market?
Pawluczyk: PPO’s is the only hyperspectral imaging system that is operating on the line in multiple plants across North America. It is being used in a variety of poultry and pork processing facilities and has proven to be highly effective in finding a wide range of foreign materials.
Ultimately, we think happy clients are the greatest proof that our system is working. We’re seeing repeat orders starting to come in from existing clients as they reap the cost benefits of improved detection in their plants.
Learn how food processors can leverage hyperspectral imaging on P&P Optica.
About Olga Pawluczyk
President, CEO and Co-Founder
Olga Pawluczyk is the co-founder and CEO of P&P Optica (PPO), based in Waterloo, Ontario, part of Canada’s largest and fastest growing tech community. Pawluczyk is an expert in medical imaging, with a technical background in systems engineering and deep knowledge of the science of spectroscopy. Under the leadership of Pawluczyk and her co-founder, her father Romek Pawluczyk, PPO launched in 2004 as a research company focused on developing high-end spectrometers. The company has evolved over the past eight years to focus on building solutions to the issues of safety and quality in the food processing industry. Pawluczyk is driven by the opportunity to combine emerging technologies to significantly improve the nutritional quality, safety, and sustainability of our food.
As a leader, Pawluczyk focuses on providing an engaging working environment to like-minded people who are excited to explore new challenges as part of the PPO team. Outside of PPO, She is active in the local tech community in Waterloo Region; is an avid reader who loves to discuss pretty much any topic over coffee (or wine); and enjoys spending time walking and biking.
After finding evidence of rodent infestation during an inspection of a Family Dollar distribution facility in Arkansas, the FDA warned the public of usage and consumption of products purchased at certain stores from January 1 through present time. The affected products, which include food, were distributed to Family Dollar stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
“Families rely on stores like Family Dollar for products such as food and medicine. They deserve products that are safe,” said Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, FDA, Judith McMeekin, Pharm.D. in an agency press release. “No one should be subjected to products stored in the kind of unacceptable conditions that we found in this Family Dollar distribution facility. These conditions appear to be violations of federal law that could put families’ health at risk. We will continue to work to protect consumers.”
The FDA inspection followed a consumer complaint and found both live and dead rodents, rodent feces and urine, and evidence of rodent presence, along with dead birds and bird droppings, throughout the facility in West Memphis, Arkansas. After fumigating the facility, 1100 dead rodents were recovered. FDA’s review of company records also revealed a history of infestation, with more than 2300 rodents collected between March 29 and September 17, 2021.
Among the range of hazards associated with rodents include Salmonella.
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