Tag Archives: disinfection

Colleen Costello, VitalVio
FST Soapbox

Shining New Light on Preventing Food Recalls

By Colleen Costello
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Colleen Costello, VitalVio

Recalls have become an unfortunate reality for the food and beverage industry. It seems every month, another grocer pulls inventory from its shelves due to contaminated products that are potentially harmful for consumers.

Last month, it was Kroger that was forced to remove beef products from stores in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana as part of Aurora Packing Company’s recall of more than 62,000 pounds of meat that may have been infected with E. coli. Not only do these situations hurt the reputation and bottom line of companies across the food supply chain—from the manufacturer to the retail store—there is the potential for these issues to become deadly.

The CDC counts 3,000 deaths, 128,000 hospitalizations and 48 million foodborne illness cases every year. While the food industry has put stricter guidelines into place for recalling contaminated products, the key to preventing illness is to take an even more proactive stance toward making food free of harmful pathogens before it reaches consumers’ plates.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

The 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo features an entire track on sanitation | October 1–3 | Schaumburg, ILComplexities of the Food Supply Chain

The food industry faces unique supply chain challenges. First, consider that the industry is dealing with products that come from the ocean or earth. Once obtained, these products are boxed, sent, in many cases long distances, to a facility via truck or cargo ship, where our foods undergo a number of processing mechanisms before being put back in a shipping container and sent off to a store. When they finally make it in-store, they’re moved from the backroom to the store floor. After all this, these products go into our mouths and through our digestive systems.

There are often many complex steps food has to go through before it makes it into our homes—and with each level of the food supply chain comes a new opportunity for things to go wrong and contamination to happen. What makes the food supply chain even more frightening is that pinpointing the root cause of harmful pathogens—such as E. coli or Listeria—by retracing all the potential contacts points is very challenging given their microscopic nature. All in all, the germs are beating us.

Old Disinfection Techniques Aren’t Cutting It

To mitigate the issue of contamination and avoid those dreaded recalls, food companies have prioritized disinfection. Most often, techniques include manually washing processing equipment with chemicals to keep them sanitized, and even spraying food products with antibiotics to directly kill harmful germs. However, these solutions have many limitations and are either intermittent in their use or insufficient to tackle the complexity of challenges associated with the food processing environment.

First, the tide is beginning to turn on the use of chemicals on food products, with consumers having growing concerns with introducing antibiotics in their food. There’s heightened and justified skepticism over the use of antibiotics and fears over the potential impact on resistance through overuse. In other words, consumers are afraid of the potential side effects from ingesting these chemicals on a daily basis and the alternative resistance bacteria they promote.

The truth is that the excessive use of antibiotics makes them less effective. This is due to frequently exposed bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics over time. The result is that antibiotics are no longer as effective at killing these germs, which is at the heart of great concern for the public’s health.

Resistant bacteria can be passed from food-producing animals to humans in a number of ways. If an animal is carrying resistant bacteria, it can be passed on through meat that is not handled or cooked properly. Plus, food crops are regularly sprayed with fertilizers, which can contain animal manure with resistant bacteria. Once spread to humans, resistant bacteria can stay in the human gut and spread between individuals. The consequences of the introduction of these germs and the subsequent consumption of them include infections that would not have happened otherwise.

Second, cleaning equipment with chemicals and disinfectants is important, but only intermittently effective. While someone working in a food processing plant uses chemicals to clean off a surface or container before food touches it, there’s still an opportunity for harmful bacteria to land on the space in between washes from many sources including the air, packaging, other food, etc. Not to mention there is a wide variety of different surfaces and nodes that food touches as it moves throughout a plant and across the supply chain. Every single surface is a distinct and new opportunity for germs to live, and simply scrubbing these areas a few times a day (or once a day in some cases) simply isn’t enough to keep these germs away. By solely relying on the intermittent use of chemicals to sanitize, it seems virtually impossible to ensure contamination is not ever introduced along the way to your table.

The Introduction of Continuous Disinfection Using Light

Intermittent sanitization hasn’t been disproven to be a wholly effective way to kill germs—it’s simply not a strong enough line of defense in and of itself. Perhaps, one of the best ways to protect our food from harmful bacteria and prevent expensive recalls altogether is to introduce and layer in a new breed of “continuous disinfection” technology using bacteria-killing visible LED lighting directly into the process.

Going back to more than a century ago, scientists have known that certain wavelengths of light are highly effective at destroying bacteria. Ultraviolet (UV) light is extremely powerful, but it is also especially dangerous to humans and causes things like plastics to become brittle and crack. UV light directly impacts the DNA in people, animals and plants, along with bacterial cells.

There is, however, a very human-friendly frequency of light (405 nanometers), which is in the visible spectrum of light, that is completely harmless to humans, but just as devastating to bacteria. It activates the porphyrin molecules that exist only within unicellular organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Humans, animals and plants do not have these particular molecules. Exposure to 405 nm light directly activates these molecules and essentially rusts bacteria from the inside out destroying any bacteria that is exposed to this human-friendly light. The ability of this new LED tool to be safely used around the clock allows for it to be acting continuously. This continuous nature goes above and beyond the existing limitations of intermittent cleaning.

With the advent of LED lighting, it is now possible to “tune” the frequency of light with extreme precision. The significant breakthrough of isolating light to this specific frequency of violet-blue light has now begun to enter the food processing industry. It is taking its place as a critical component to the layered defenses against harmful bacteria entering the food chain. When left on, this light continuously kills bacteria, preventing any germ colonies from forming and replicating. This has now become the perfect complement to the proper cleaning and sanitizing of all surfaces used in food processing and preparation—intermittent chemical cleaning working together with continuous disinfection from light.

In short, avoiding outbreaks and infection crises is all about smart prevention. Recalls are a reactionary solution to the problem. The key to preventing these potentially deadly (and costly) situations is to make sure that all facilities that process and handle food are continuously disinfected. The good news is that tech startups are at the helm of developing these new tools for killing germs before they even have a chance to have a seat at our tables.

Alert

Flooding and Food Safety: A Two-Part Plan for Extreme Weather Season

By Paula Herald
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Alert

The spring of 2019 saw record rain fall across North America, causing historic, severe flooding in the Great Plains, parts of the Midwest, and the Southern United States. That above-normal precipitation doesn’t look to be ending, either. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts that wide swaths of the United States could face above normal precipitation for the remainder of 2019.

In addition to disrupting power to critical equipment and damaging property, when food businesses flood, food safety is put at risk. Flood waters can be contaminated with debris, sewage, chemicals, pests and more. In a restaurant or foodservice operation, any product, object or surface that flood waters touch becomes contaminated.

Pre-Flood Preparation

Having a documented flood emergency plan in place can give location staff a step-by-step course of action to follow in times of increased stress and panic. It can also help minimize losses for a business.

For national chains in particular, it can be harder to ensure that all locations have the resources and tools available in their area. Corporate operations can assist by identifying vendors and resources ahead of time.

  • Designate roles and responsibilities. Having a clearly outlined plan with designated roles and responsibilities can prevent confusion and extra work during the crisis. Have an updated phone contact list of key contacts available for those with designated roles and responsibilities.
  • Sandbags. Placing sandbags in front of doors or other openings may help limit flood damage.
  • Vital records. Both paper and digital/electronic records can be at risk. Businesses using electronic records should ensure that files are automatically backed up regularly. Businesses using paper records should ensure that vital records are secured in such a way that they can be quickly removed to a safe place or elevated to prevent damage.
  • Equipment. Flood waters can damage or destroy expensive equipment. Have a plan in place to remove equipment to a safe place.
  • Food storage. If flood waters contact food supplies, many may need to be destroyed. Arranging for food storage in a secure place away from flood waters can help minimize losses. This may require refrigeration storage.
  • Turn off electric and gas. Turning off natural gas lines can prevent devastating damage and contamination from occurring. Turning off and unplugging equipment that uses electricity can help protect the safety of rescue workers or staff returning for cleanup.
  • Refrigeration. If it is not possible to remove food, be certain that all refrigerated units are equipped with accurate thermometers. If possible, monitor the temperature in the units during the disaster situation.

Post-Flood Recovery

Even with a rock-solid pre-storm plan in place, Mother Nature’s extreme weather events can wreak havoc on facilities. In the wake of a storm, sorting out what needs to be done to restore order to operations can be a hefty task.

Post-storm recovery can be an extensive task, especially if flooding is involved. It may require work of many staff members or outside vendors, such as remediation specialists. Safety should be absolutely paramount. No one should enter a space that has been flooded without confirmation that there are no electrical shock hazards, gas leaks or debris that could harm people. Structural damage that could lead to collapse or other injury is possible. Mold is also a risk following floods. All personnel involved in flood clean-up must wear personal protective equipment—eye protection, gloves, disposable aprons, rubber boots, and masks or respirators, etc.

The following guidelines can help prioritize steps to ensure food safety won’t be a factor holding back a location from re-opening.

  • Safe water. Facilities cannot prepare food without a clean, potable water supply. If the water system was affected by flood or the local water supply was unsafe, the local health department should be involved in clearing re-opening.
  • Disinfection of equipment. Any food equipment that was exposed to flood water or other non-potable water must be disinfected prior to use, including ice machines, which are often overlooked. Discard any ice already present in a machine. Thoroughly clean and sanitize the machine before turning it on. Once the machine is running again, discard the first two cycles of ice.
  • Disinfection of surfaces. Any surface (countertops, walls, ceilings, floors, equipment surface, etc.) that was contacted by floodwaters must be disinfected before reopening.
    • Use a commercial disinfectant with effectiveness against norovirus or make a chlorine bleach solution to disinfect affected areas.
    • Use unscented bleach and wear gloves.
    • Make fresh bleach solutions daily.
    • Food contact surfaces that are disinfected must be rinsed with clean, potable water, and sanitized before use.
    • Discard any mop heads or absorbent materials used to clean flooded areas.
  • What to discard. Inevitably, there will be items that cannot be salvaged following a flood event. The following items should be discarded if they have come into contact with floodwater or non-potable water or were subjected to temperature abuse due to power outages. If there is any doubt, throw it out.
    • Unpackaged food (examples: fruits, vegetables)
    • Food in permeable packaging (examples: flour in bags, produce in cardboard boxes)
    • Food packaging materials
    • Refrigerated food in a refrigerated unit where the temperature rose above 41°F for more than four hours
    • Any refrigerated product that was not temperature-controlled for more than four hours
    • Frozen food product that has thawed to a temperature of above 41°F for more than four hours
    • Canned items with damaged seams, swelling or dents
    • Items with screw tops, twist-off caps, or other semi-permeable packaging
    • Single service/use items
    • Any linens that contacted floodwaters that cannot be laundered with bleach and dried in a mechanical dryer
  • What can be safely kept. Not everything will need to be discarded.
    • Canned foods free of dents or rust can be kept after labels are removed, they are disinfected, washed, rinsed in clean water, and sanitized; cans with any signs of bulging or leaking must be discarded; canned foods should be also be relabeled with the name of the food product, as well as the expiration date
    • Linens that can be safely laundered with bleach and dried in a mechanical dryer
    • Dishes, utensils, pots and pans, and other service items that are free of rust and can be disinfected, washed, and sanitized

As climate change continues to advance, the threat of extreme weather and flooding situations may soon be a reality for areas of the United States that have never experienced them before. In the Congress-mandated Fourth National Climate Assessment, compiled by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the authors warn of the future of severe weather events.

“More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.” – Fourth National Climate Assessment

Even for businesses that have not had to consider flooding before, it may be time to sit down and develop a flooding and food safety plan of action. The time invested in training and educating staff members may help to protect investments and keep food safe in the event of flooding and weather emergencies.

Peas, UV light

Controlling and Mitigating Pathogens Throughout Production

By Troy Smith
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Peas, UV light
Sampling
Product sampling

As the enforcement of rules, regulations and inspections get underway at food production facilities, we are faced with maintaining production rates while looking for infinitesimal pathogens and cleaning to non-detectible levels. This clearly sets demand on the plant for new and creative methods to control and mitigate pathogens pre-production, during production and post production.

As this occurs, the term clean takes on new meaning: What is clean, and how clean is clean? Swab and plate counts are now critically important. What method is used at the plant, who is testing, what sampling procedure is used, and how do we use the results? As we look at the process from start to finish, we must keep several key questions in mind: What are harboring points in the process, and what are the touch-point considerations to the product? Let’s review the overall processing progression through the factory (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Figure 1. The progression of processing of a food product through a facility.

Now consider micro pathogen contamination to the product, as we look deeper in the process for contamination or critical control points as used in successful HACCP plans. Consider contamination and how it may travel or contact food product. It is understood through study and research of both pathogens and plant operations that contamination may be introduced to the plant by the front door, back door, pallet, product, or by a person. In many cases, each of these considerations leads to uncontrolled environments that create uncontrolled measurements throughout, which lead to cleaning procedures based on time rather than science. This is certainly not to say that creating a preventive maintenance schedule based on a calendar is a bad thing. Rather, the message is to consider a deeper look at the pathogens and how they live and replicate. From the regulatory and control measures this should be a clear message of what food-to-pathogen considerations should be taken at the plant level as well as measurement methods and acceptable levels (which is not an easy answer, as each product and environment can change this answer). A good example to consider is public schools and children. Health organizations work to help the schooling system understand what immunizations children should have based on the current health risk tolerance levels. In food production, the consideration is similar in an everchanging environment. As we see contamination levels change the methods, techniques and solutions to proper food production must account for the pathogens of concern.

Contamination, Risk tolerance, Opportunity for Growth

Contamination, risk tolerance, and opportunity for growth are the considerations when looking at a plant design or a plant modification. Modification to modernization should be a top-of-mind critical quality control measure. If there are a few things we know, it is how to produce food at high rates of speed, measure and value production rates, and delays or failures can be measured by equipment and personnel performance. In the case of quality control, we must review, comprehend, and protect process risk. From a management or non-technical viewpoint, quality control can be very difficult to understand. When discussing pathogens, our concerns are not visible to the human eye—we are beyond a dirty surface, weare looking at risk tolerance based on pathogen growth in logarithmic measurement. When combining quality control and production, the measurement control and mitigation measures complement the effort. The use of quality control is expected and should coordinate with production to ensure the product is produced at the expected quality level.

Mike Hardegree, Proton Towels

Advancing Technology in Disinfection and Sanitation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Mike Hardegree, Proton Towels

“There is a lot of new technology that has taken place in sanitizers, [and] in practices, procedures and protocols to reduce the risk of foodborne illness,” said Mike Hardegree of Tietex International, Ltd at the Food Safety Consortium. “The cotton towel and the disinfecting and cleaning towels most often used are the same ones that have been used for many, many years.”

In the following video, Hardegree and Margaret Hearon, market development manager at Teitex share how the single-use towel technology is reducing the risk of cross contamination.