Tag Archives: foodborne illness

Janice Buchanon, Steritech
FST Soapbox

Is Food Safety Part of Your Crisis Management Plan?

By Janice Buchanon
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Janice Buchanon, Steritech

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been hard to miss the food safety-related headlines of the past month: E. coli in romaine lettuce, Salmonella-tainted eggs, norovirus-infected oysters sickening hundreds, and hepatitis A crises across several states, to name just a few. Since 1993 when an E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef at a fast food chain resulted in the deaths of several children, food safety has been on the radar of most major foodservice groups. Yet, surprisingly, food safety often doesn’t have its own crisis management plan within organizations.

A Single Food Safety Crisis Can Ripple Across Your Operation

A food safety crisis can have tremendous impacts on an organization, leading to lost sales, negative media and social media publicity, unsavory online reviews, temporary restaurant closure, lost wages for your staff, increased scrutiny on other locations, lawsuits and more.

In a 2016 survey of more than 500 consumers, it was revealed that food safety incidents stick with consumers—and that can impact your reputation and your bottom line for much longer than you may realize.

  • Of the respondents, 62.5% said they were aware of a food safety incident at a restaurant in the last six months.
  • A foodborne illness outbreak isolated to a single location of a chain restaurant would prevent many of the survey respondents from dining at other locations in the chain; 34.1% of respondents said that if they knew about an outbreak at a single location, they’d avoid eating at other restaurants in the chain for more than six months. Worse, 17% said they’d never eat at the chain again.
  • If a foodborne illness outbreak is linked to multiple locations of a restaurant, consumers get even tougher. A whopping 37.5% would avoid eating at the entire chain for more than six months. There’s more disturbing news: 31.7% of the respondents said they’d never eat at that chain again.

Food safety incidents don’t have to be large scale to be significant and get into the consumer eye. They happen every day, in small scale, for many foodservice operations. Think about how the following incidents could impact food safety in your organization:

  • A power outage knocks out refrigeration for a single location for 12 hours
  • A boil water advisory is issued for a large city
  • A fire extinguisher is discharged in a kitchen to put out a small fire
  • A hurricane brings widespread flooding to a metropolitan area
  • A child whose parent asks about peanut allergies is served a food containing peanuts
  • A child becomes ill in a restaurant and vomits
  • A kitchen employee is diagnosed with hepatitis A and continues to work without disclosing the illness
  • A location is closed by the health department for a pest infestation
  • Several locations were supplied with a food item involved in a major recall for contamination

Each of these incidents is related to food safety. Would your employees, from the top down, know what actions to take in each specific situation? Most senior or executive-level C-suite personnel might know what to do, but that type of training often never makes it down to the operator level. When an incident does happen, it leaves location level management and employees scrambling to figure out what to do; often, the steps they take are incorrect, and can even exacerbate the situation.

What’s Trending in Food Safety Incidents
Over the last 24 months, we’ve helped many major brands in resolving crisis situations. The top five types of crisis incidents we’ve assisted with include:
– Potential Hepatitis A exposure
– Potential Norovirus outbreaks/exposure
– Health department closure
– Power outages
– Boil water advisory

Just as organizations prepare for other crises—fire drills, food shortages, staffing problems, active shooters—having crisis plans for food safety incidents can help an organization’s players know what to do when a food safety incident occurs. This goes beyond risk mitigation to actually knowing what steps to take when specific types of crisis happen. Proper planning for crisis management includes:

  • Identifying the most likely crisis situations and developing a plan of action for each of them.
  • Identifying who all the key players are going to be in the management of the crises, from C-suite to public relations to individual location responsibilities, and communicating that to all team members
  • Outlining all the steps to be taken in a crisis
  • Building familiarity with a defined plan for operators of an individual location
  • Presenting an opportunity to practice the plan before a crisis occurs (training)
  • Crisis management doesn’t end with the crisis; following any crisis, key stakeholders should review the crisis management plan for that incident to determine if updates or changes are needed

What to Look for in a Crisis Management Partner

Crisis management isn’t something to go alone if you don’t have internal expertise on your team. Crisis management goes beyond public relations—it should include training and step-by-step processes for each specific type of crisis. So what should you look for in a food safety crisis management partner?

  • A partner who has food safety knowledge and practical experience in dealing with crisis
  • A partner who has familiarity with the different types of crises you outline as critical for your organization
  • A partner who engages team members and can help you conduct training from the top down

Why Now?

Crisis management should be part of every organization’s plan already, but if it’s not, there are some key reasons to act now. A number of current events are having a substantial impact on the foodservice community, increasing the need for food safety crisis management plans.

  • Hepatitis A outbreaks. States including California, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana have had a significant increase in the number of hepatitis A cases reported. While this problem doesn’t start in the foodservice community, it does impact it—because as communities see higher cases, the chances of a food handler coming into contact with an ill person and contracting hepatitis A increase. Hepatitis A can be easily spread through food, so it’s critical that foodservice operations have a crisis management plan to deal with exposure incidents.
  • Norovirus. Norovirus-related outbreaks and foodservice operation closures—and the media exposure that goes along with them—have been on the rise for the last several years. Norovirus can create problems for operations in a number of ways, from employees working while sick, to customers getting sick in the establishment, to foods being contaminated with norovirus. Knowing how to respond to norovirus incidents is critically important, as norovirus outbreaks can lead to location closures, costly disinfection costs, unwanted publicity, lawsuits, and more.
  • Increasing turnover. With unemployment rates at record lows, foodservice operations are facing an employment crisis, unable to hire enough workers. This can increase the opportunity for food safety incidents as routine tasks and processes may be “short cut” during an employment shortage.
  • Delivery. The skyrocketing demand for delivery has led chains to quickly put together delivery plans. Crisis management should be addressed as part of any delivery plan, as there are any number of variables which could lead to potential incidents in delivery.

Don’t wait until a food safety incident occurs to figure out your crisis management plan. Start work today to ensure that when a food safety crisis occurs, your team and your brand can weather the storm.

Recall

Caito Food Recalls Pre-Cut Melon Products Following Salmonella Outbreak

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

An investigation of a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Adelaide infections has been traced back to pre-cut melon distributed by Caito Foods, according to an outbreak update from FDA. The agency, along with CDC and state and local officials, are investigating the outbreak involving 60 people in five states in the Midwest, and have traced it back to fruit salad mixes that include pre-cut melon. As a result, Caito Foods has issued a voluntary recall of these products, which were distributed to Costco, Jay C, Kroger, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon. No deaths have been reported.

The illnesses occurred between April 30 and May 28. The FDA is advising consumers to refrain from eating the recalled cut watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and fresh-cut fruit melody products that were produced at the Caito Foods facility in Indianapolis, IN.

Lettuce

FDA: 172 Ill, 1 Death, Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak Likely Over

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Lettuce

The multi-state E.coli O15:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce may be nearly over. According to the FDA, romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is no longer being harvested or distributed, which means “it is unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still available in stores or restaurants due to its 21-day shelf life,” the agency states. The last harvest date was April 16.

Spanning across 32 states, thus far the case count of infections is at 172, with 75 hospitalizations and one death, according to the CDC.

The FDA investigation continues, and the agency is looking at all potential avenues of contamination throughout the chain—including growing, harvesting, packaging and distribution.

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
FST Soapbox

Four Core Principles of Food Safety

By Jordan Anderson
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Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

As winter ends and summer approaches, most of us will emerge from our houses and start enjoying the nice weather. Even better, hopefully we all will be hosting or attending numerous BBQ’s and get-togethers. Burgers, chicken, salads and the like will be readily available; however, how can we be sure we’re keeping our food and guests safe from a foodborne illness?

The more hands and foods involved, the higher the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. Fortunately, today, we know much more about proper hygiene, food handling and preparation to combat these harrowing outbreaks.

According to the CDC, one in six Americans become ill due to foodborne illness each year. As the fight to combat this issue wages on, there are specific measures we can take to protect ourselves daily. While foodborne illnesses will likely never be eradicated, utilizing the ‘Core 4’ principles of food safety remain a viable approach to limiting its prevalence. This column outlines these ‘Core 4’ principles.

Clean

Infectious bacteria can thrive anywhere within the kitchen. By placing an emphasis on hand, utensil and surface washing, we begin to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. The following are some easy-to-follow cleansing tips:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm running water before and after handling food or using the bathroom.
  • Wash the surfaces of cutting boards, counters, dishes and utensils after each use with warm, soapy water.
  • Use paper towels to clean counters or spills as they soak in potential contaminants, rather than spread them like cloth towels.
  • Rinse or blanch the surfaces of fresh fruits and vegetables to rid of any dirt or bacteria.

Separate

Even though we now wash our hands and surfaces consistently, we can still be exposed to dangerous illness-inducing bacteria by not properly separating raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs. To avoid cross-contamination, we can follow these tips:

  • Avoid placing ready-to-eat food on a surface that previously held raw meat, seafood, poultry, or eggs. An example would be: Placing your now-grilled chicken on the same plate in which you carried it to the grill.
  • Use separate cutting boards when preparing fresh produce and uncooked meats. This eliminates the spread of any bacteria either may be carrying to the other.
  • Request or separate raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs in your grocery bags. This eliminates the spread of bacteria in the event there is an unsealed package.
  • Always properly wash the surfaces exposed to these raw items under warm, soapy running water.

Cook

Regardless of how proactive we are with cleaning and separating, we still must ensure that we cook our food to the appropriate internal temperature. Undercooking may result in the survival of dangerous bacteria that could make us ill. Foodsafety.org recommends the following safe minimum temperatures:

  • Steak/Ground Beef: 160°F.
  • Chicken/Turkey: 165°F.
  • Seafood: 145°F.
  • Eggs: Until the yolk and white are firm; for egg dishes warm until 160°F.

Chill

Last yet not least, we must also learn to appropriately chill our food. Chilling is important because it decelerates the bacterial growth process. By mitigating this, it allows us to reduce the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. The following suggestions are encouraged:

  • For starters: Always keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below.
  • Do not over-pack your refrigerator. Proper airflow circulation is paramount.
  • Refrigerate any meats, egg, or perishables immediately upon return from the store.
  • Do not allow raw meats, egg, or fresh produce to sit out for more than two hours without refrigeration.

By taking these principles into consideration, you can ensure the protection of your friends, family and self, leading to better times and memories gained.

Resource

FoodSafety.gov. Food Poisoning. Retrieved from http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/index.html

Lettuce

Is There Any End in Sight for the E.Coli Outbreak in Romaine Lettuce?

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Lettuce

The number of illness cases linked to the E.Coli 0157:H7 outbreak has jumped to 98. Fourteen more people from eight states were added since Wednesday, and three more states have reported sick people: Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The current number of states affected is 22, and hospitalizations have increased to 46. No deaths have been reported.

The multi-agency investigation still indicates that the romaine lettuce comes from the Yuma, Arizona growing region, and CDC is giving the same advice it has for the past week: If you can’t confirm the source of romaine lettuce, throw it out.

Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric
FST Soapbox

Effective Testing: Developing Rigorous, Reliable and Relatable Questions

By Ibidun Layi-Ojo
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Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric

Success Factor 2: Develop rigorous, reliable and relatable exam questions (items) that are developed, tested and continuously evaluated to correlate with market needs and trends.

My previous column in Food Safety Tech outlined the single most important factor in ensuring that all employees have the proven ability to keep the public safe from foodborne illness: Education. Only rigorous, continually evaluated exams, designed for a company’s particular industry segment, can give employers the assurance that employees have the skills they need to make food safe.

Constructing and administering those exams starts with partnering with the right food safety assessment provider. Once that provider has been chosen, the next step is to develop questions—and ultimately an exam that exemplifies the three R’s: Rigorous, reliable and relatable.

Rigorousness begins with the process by which questions are created. This process must be a step-by-step effort to ensure that the final exam asks the right questions, based on the industry segment and the skills needed to be measured, and that the questions meet or exceed current industry standards. The ultimate aim is to give employees the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, which results in a sense of empowerment that makes them effective stewards of food safety every day.

To meet these goals, a company must work closely with its food safety assessment provider throughout the test development process, which begins with an analysis of the job (or jobs) for which the exam is being created (i.e., what are employees’ important tasks for which performance must be measured?). This analysis informs the development of precise specifications for the exam, and with those specifications established, the food safety assessment provider can begin collaborations with subject matter experts to formulate questions for the exam. Every question on the exam should dovetail with needs and trends in the marketplace, with emphasis on the client’s position in the marketplace.

The next step in the process—item review (question validation) —is key to making sure the exam is comprehensive. In effect, this is a ‘test of the test’ and should address the following:

  • Does the exam ask all the right questions?
  • Are the questions free of ambiguity that could lead to an inaccurate measurement of knowledge?
  • Are the questions in line with current industry standards?

Once every question has been subjected to validation, a passing score for the exam is set concurrent with best practice guidelines for making scoring decisions. Next the food safety assessment provider and the client collaborate on the best way to administer the examination (e.g., whether on paper or online, taken at work or home).
Only then is the test ready to be given, scored and analyzed.

It might seem, at this point, that the exam-creation cycle has been completed. On the contrary, the cycle must be a continuous process, with results from the initial test administration serving as a baseline for ongoing test maintenance and fine-tuning.

This continuity is critical, because standards and practices for food safety are always evolving. FSMA gave the FDA broad authority to prevent contamination of food in every step of the supply chain. In the seven years since then, regulations at the federal, state and local levels have been constantly amended and updated across the entire spectrum of the food industry, from growers, manufacturers and processors to grocers, retailers and even culinary schools. Only ongoing test maintenance—including the development and validation of new test items—can ensure that exams stay in lockstep with the FDA food code and safety guidelines.

Exam questions also must be aligned with the accreditation guidelines of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the private, nonprofit organization that, since 1918, has been the overseer of U.S. standards for consumer protection.

Developing and maintaining accurate, reliable food-safety exam content is complex and challenging, requiring a commitment to continuous validation and “testing of the test” to meet the needs of the marketplace and the requirements of federal, state and local regulators. Partnering with the right food safety assessment provider is crucial in meeting those needs and requirements, protecting the public, and ensuring a company’s reputation for providing safe, wholesome food.

Look for Part 3 of this series to learn more about how to create food safety exams that factor in a best-practices approach to properly assess the workforce.

Lettuce

Romaine Lettuce Likely Source of Widespread E. Coli Outbreak

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Lettuce

At least 35 people in 11 states have been infected with E.coli O157:H7, according to the CDC, and the FDA is investigating a likely link to these infections and chopped romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona. The reported illnesses occurred between March 22 and March 31, and 93% of the 28 people interviewed reported eating romaine lettuce (mainly from a restaurant) during the week that they became ill.

The FDA and CDC are advising consumers to ask restaurants and other food service establishments where they source their romaine lettuce from and to avoid any that came from Yuma, Arizona. In addition, they should not buy or eat it if they cannot confirm the source.

“Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators should not sell or serve any chopped romaine lettuce from the winter growing areas in Yuma, Arizona. If you cannot determine the source of your chopped romaine lettuce, do not sell or serve it. The FDA currently does not have information to indicate that whole-head romaine lettuce or hearts of romaine have contributed to this outbreak.” – FDA

The agencies will continue to investigate this outbreak. FDA emphasized that this outbreak is not related to a multistate outbreak that occurred last November to December involving leafy greens, as those infections had a different DNA fingerprint of the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.

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.

Scott Kiernan
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Color Code to Food Safety

By Scott Kiernan
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Scott Kiernan

Over my 30-year career in the food industry, I have worked for small, corporate and private businesses. Food safety and the prevention of foodborne illness has always been a priority in all kitchens I have worked in and I have seen the challenges facing the industry. I have experienced difficulties in getting all food handlers to adhere to food safety policies, whether it is due to employing a large staff, lack of training, inefficient systems, miscommunication between front of house and back of house, or an inability to find qualified staff.

Awareness of Food Safety Today and Social Media

Industry professionals know that a culture of food safety is critical to preventing foodborne illness; in fact, 95% of chefs cite customers getting sick as their top concern according to a recent study that surveyed nearly 1,000 American Culinary Federation member chefs.1 In a time when more Americans are aware of and educated about food allergies than ever before, it is important for food professionals to pay close attention to recent developments regarding food allergens and sensitivities, and their implications. Customer demands have increased and nearly three-in-five chefs say staying on top of food safety issues and regulations is critically important.

Rubbermaid Commercial Products, color coding
Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP) conducted a survey to better understand the attitudes and behaviors of chefs toward food prep and storage. Infographic courtesy of RCP.

This heightened awareness, coupled with social media, can have a lasting impact on a business. More consumers are relying on online reviews as much as personal recommendations, making it vital that all staff are trained and proficient in food safety practices to protect professional reputations and maintain safe and healthy environments. A bad review can damage a restaurant’s reputation and cause both customers and sales to decline. Beyond that, a foodborne illness can have a dramatic impact on insurance premiums, create negative media exposure and potentially lead to lawsuits and legal fees.

Food safety takes a large portion of chefs’ time on the job. Actually, 96% of chefs say they spend a fair amount of their day making sure food is being handled and stored correctly in their kitchen, while nearly half find food safety practices to be very time consuming.1 When you’re working in a commercial kitchen environment, you need products that are not only compliant with food safety regulations but also save time on the job.

Tackling Food Safety with Color Coding

A few months ago, I trialed a color-coded food storage and prep tools system. It delivers a way to tackle cross-contamination and potential foodborne illness in my kitchen, while providing my staff with a tool that is simple and saves time. The system comes in seven colors, each for use with a specific food type. Each utensil or storage container is matched to the appropriate food for a safer, more sanitary kitchen.

Color coded food service system
A color-coded food service system can help facilitate compliance.

My tips for a safer kitchen:

  • Color-coding is an easy visual tool on the job. A color-coded system makes it easier for staff to organize and identify stored items. All products in the line are made of quality, food-safe materials that are durable for a commercial setting. When you’re looking for a system, make sure the quality can withstand the daily demands of a commercial kitchen.
  • Taking the time for training is key. A color-coded system helps prevent cross-contamination and the spread of foodborne illness as long as it is used as intended. The system is easy to learn, but only effective if all staff members are properly trained. Take time to train your team on how to use and adhere to the designated color codes.
  • Make sure you have enough storage containers to meet your operation’s needs. You don’t want to run out of storage and cause staff to mix and match with other containers when they’re in a pinch. Incorporating containers that aren’t part of the system and not as easy to identify can lead to simple mistakes. Keeping your containers and cutting boards neatly organized on designated shelf space for each item will make it easier for staff to find and utilize the proper container. While containers are being used for storage, you may want to follow the “first in, first out” rotation when you have multiples of the same item.
  • Don’t forget to consider storage. I like the idea of removing ingredients from their original boxes and storing them in their assigned, color-coded containers because there is no telling what contaminants may be on the outside of the boxes from leakage, dust and/or other elements during warehousing and shipping. Staff should take the same care with storage as they are with the product when it’s in use.

Make Your Food Safety Solution Work for You

Overall, I found the color-coded food storage system easy to use and helpful in keeping things organized. When implementing a system, make sure to consider what works best for the size of your operation, whether you need larger or smaller containers based on the amount of production, and storage of product used in your operation. I feel the system I used would be most effective in a small- to mid-sized operation. It could be a challenge to get everyone in larger facilities on board, but with proper training and good communication it could be beneficial to any operation in the reduction and prevention of foodborne illness.

The system is use is designed to be an added benefit and safeguard to a company’s existing food safety program, so make sure you’re equipping staff with the training and knowledge they need to be successful. The color-coded food storage system can make food storage safe and easy, and it’s important to remember that all food handling and safety regulations need to be followed in accordance with your local health department and state guidelines.

All food service industries face the ongoing task of preventing cross contamination and it is our responsibility to train and manage our staff, and hold them accountable to adhering to all local health code and company policies regarding food safety. A single error on the job can jeopardize any safeguards that may be in place putting yourself, other employees and the public at risk. Proper hygiene, labeling, storage and having an HACCP system will not work if all food handling staff from receiving to delivery of the product to customer do not have the proper training and supervision.

References

  1. Coloring in the Lines of Food Safety Product Survey. Rubbermaid Commercial Products and Cohn & Wolfe Branding & Insights Group.
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.