At the end of his reflection on FDA’s 2021 accomplishments in the food realm, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas stated that he believes collaboration will enable industry to “bend the curve of foodborne illnesses in this decade”. It would be a significant milestone, and in his latest FDA Voices blog, Yiannas reviewed a host of FDA achievements that bring his statement much closer to a reality:
The Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) has published its 2022–2023 Interim Strategic Plan, placing continued emphasis on foodborne illness source attribution for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter. Over the next year, IFSAC will address several short-term goals surrounding improvement of methods to evaluate and identify foodborne illness source attribution through the use of outbreak and non-outbreak-associated disease data, and continued collaboration with external partners in an effort to boost data access and capabilities. The group will be targeting several efforts in the coming year, including:
Analysis of trends related to foodborne disease outbreak-associated illnesses over the past two decades, with a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article that reveals results.
Development and improvement of machine-learning methods used to predict food sources of illnesses that have an unknown source. WGS will be used to compare Salmonella isolates of known and unknown sources.
Collaboration with FoodNet when assessing key food sources for sporadic Salmonella Enteritidis and Campylobacter illnesses. The group will develop case-control studies using specific FoodNet data.
Formed in 2011, IFSAC is a partnership between FDA, FSIS and the CDC that seeks to strengthen federal interagency efforts and maximize use of food safety data collection, analysis and use. During 2022–2023, IFSAC will publish its yearly reports on foodborne illness source attribution for the previously mentioned priority pathogens.
The ongoing pandemic, food fraud, food insecurity, supply chain disruptions and shortages, maintaining and fostering a robust food safety culture, and foodborne illness outbreaks kept the food industry very busy last year. Looking ahead to 2022, these challenges will continue, but many food companies are becoming better at forecasting and course correcting. During a recent interview with Food Safety Tech, Waylon Sharp, vice president and chief operating officer at Bureau Veritas, discussed trends affecting food safety this year, along with how companies should respond to incoming challenges.
Food Safety Tech: What challenges did food companies face in 2021 and how can they apply their lessons learned in the new year?
Waylon Sharp: Supply chain disruptions were a big challenge for food companies in 2021, as much of the North American food system is reliant on production or raw materials from international locations. This theme will continue into 2022, as logistics become more costly and challenging from a labor perspective, food companies will naturally gravitate to exploring alternatives. This shift in supply will increase the need for verification of product quality and safety of new suppliers. In addition to, or alternatively, some producers may choose more local options to reduce delays and increase stability of supply.
FST: What are the key trends impacting food safety in 2022?
Sharp: This year we’ll see food safety impacted by sustainability, consumer preferences and health and wellness:
Sustainability: Connecting with a purpose will be a key driver for both attracting new customers and enticing top talent to join food organizations. All aspects are critical, including sourcing raw materials, the packaging used, and minimizing the CO2 footprint in production and logistics. Consequently, I suspect there will be bad actors that see the advantage of appearing to be responsible but not doing what they say. Services that hold these organizations accountable will likely continue to grow.
Consumer Preferences: Migration to hyper-local, community supporting businesses can be directly correlated to the COVID financial fallout. Buying local helps support the areas we reside in, and this trend will likely persist. The feel-good support should also result in fresher product with less supply chain challenges for consumers.
Health & Wellness: Sustainable, plant-based products are expanding in prevalence. Traditional meat alternatives witnessed an increase in volume and new entrants such as seafood alternatives also grew in consumer acceptance. I expect more to launch in 2022 to meet the rising demand for healthy and environmentally conscious alternatives.
FST: What technologies will play a role in helping food companies tackle their biggest hurdles this year?
Sharp: Technology will continue to play an important role in the industry this year. Additional automation and digital tools to manufacture, assess food quality and safety, and distribute food are all likely to grow. Staffing challenges will continue to impact those highly manual production environments and the more work that can be performed without human intervention will gain favor over labor-intensive functions. In addition, remote audits and inspections allow for an experienced individual to assess a situation without traveling and being present on-site to limit human contact.
Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. has now issued a voluntary recall of Dole-branded and private label packaged salads processed at its Springfield, OH (product ID lot code “W” and “Best if Used By” date December 22, 2021–January 9, 2022) and Soledad, CA production facilities containing iceberg lettuce.
–END UPDATE —
The FDA and CDC are investigating a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes illnesses linked to Fresh Express Packaged Salad and Dole Packaged Salad.
Last month Dole Fresh Vegetables issued a voluntary recall for salads processed at its facilities in Bessemer City, NC and Yuma, AZ due to the health risk. The company also temporarily suspended operations at both facilities. The brand names in which the salads were sold under include Dole, Kroger, Lidl, Little Salad Bar, Marketside, Naturally Better, Nature’s Promise and Simply Nature. The products have “Best if Used By” dates between November 30, 2021 and January 8, 2022.
The agencies’ investigation of Fresh Express Packaged Salad resulted in the company stopping production at its Streamwood, IL facility. It also initiated a recall of certain varieties of its branded and private-label salads that were produced at this facility.
The FDA’s investigation into the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to both Dole and Fresh Express is ongoing. Thus far, no deaths linked to the outbreak have been reported.
Today FDA released a plan to help the agency and its partners improve the “speed, effectiveness, coordination and communication” of investigations surrounding foodborne illness outbreaks.
“We know that the 21st century has brought new challenges in identifying, investigating and controlling outbreaks of foodborne disease, but it has also brought new tools to meet those challenges,” stated Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, and Stic Harris, D.V.M. director of the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network in an agency news release. “We also recognize that today’s U.S. food system is large and decentralized, with a broad array of widely distributed products, which we must adapt to in order to help ensure the safety of these products. That is why we are taking steps through this improvement plan to evolve our outbreak investigations to meet modern-day needs using the most modern-day tools available. Our investigations must be faster, more streamlined and more effective to identify, pinpoint and remove contaminated food from the market and identify root-cause factors in the food system to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.”
Food industry professionals know how supply chain transparency plays a major role in keeping everything running smoothly. Brand representatives want confirmation that their agricultural partners can fill upcoming orders. If things go wrong and people get sick from what they eat, better visibility is vital in addressing and curbing such issues.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a critical part of better food supply chain awareness among all applicable parties. This article briefly discusses some interesting examples.
Applying AI to Crop Management
Even the most experienced agricultural professionals know farming is far from an exact science. Everything from pests to droughts can negatively impact a growing season, even if a farmer does anything they can to influence production in their favor.
However, AI can help predict yields, enabling farmers to maintain transparency and set accurate expectations for parties further down the supply chain. That’s especially important in the increasingly popular farm-to-table movement, which shortens how far produce travels and may entail using it on the same day someone picks it.
One newly developed machine-learning tool relies on computer vision and ultra-scale images taken from the air to categorize lettuce crops. More specifically, it captures details about the size, quality, and quantity of the heads. Combining that with GPS allows more efficient harvesting.
Tracing Foodborne Illness
CDC Statistics indicate foodborne illnesses sicken one in six people every year in the United States. FSMA contains rules and actions for food processing facilities to prevent such instances, but outbreaks still happen. AI could be yet another useful mitigation measure.
Researchers at the University of Georgia determined that, since the 1960s, approximately a quarter of Salmonella outbreaks have been from the Typhimurium variation. They trained a machine-learning algorithm on more than 1,300 Typhimurium genomes with known origins. The model eventually achieved 83% accuracy in predicting certain animal sources that would have the Typhimurium genome. It showed the most accuracy with poultry and swine.
Reducing Food Waste
Waste is a tremendous problem for the food supply chain. In the United States, data shows that upwards of 40% of packaged consumables get discarded once they reach the use-by date. That happens whether or not the products are actually unsafe to eat.
However, better visibility into this issue has a positive impact on food distribution. For example, some restaurants give people discounted meals rather than throwing them away. In other cases, grocery stores partner with charities, helping people in need have enough to eat.
Scientists in Singapore have also created an electronic “nose” that uses AI to sniff out meat freshness. More specifically, it reacts to the gases produced during decay. When the team tested the system on chicken, fish and beef, it showed 98.5% accuracy in its task. Using AI in this manner could bring transparency that cuts food waste while assuring someone that a food product is still safe to eat despite the appearance of it being expired based on Best Before’ labeling.
Removing Guesswork From Dynamic Processes
People are particularly interested in how AI often detects signs that humans miss. Thus, it can often solve problems that previously proved challenging. For example, even the most conscientious farmers can’t watch all their animals every moment of the day and night, but AI could provide greater visibility. That’s valuable since animal health can directly impact the success of entire farming operations.
One European Union-funded AI project took into account how animal health is a primary factor in milk production. The tool compared cows’ behaviors to baseline levels and characteristics of the animals at the most successful farms. It then provided users with practical insights for improvement. Europe has at least 274 million dairy cows, and their milk makes up 11%-14% of Europeans’ dietary fat requirements. Those statistics show why keeping herds producing as expected is critical.
AI is also increasingly used in aquaculture. Until recently, fish farming professionals largely used intuition and experience to determine feeding amounts. However, that can lead to waste. One company uses artificial intelligence to sense fish and shrimp hunger levels and sends that information to smart dispensers that release food. The manufacturers say this approach causes up to a 21% reduction in feed costs. Other solutions track how much fish eat over time, helping farmers adjust their care protocols.
Fascinating Advancements in Supply Chain Transparency
These instances are only a sampling of what AI can do to support the food supply chain. Although most of them are most relevant to producers, consumers will likely reap the benefits, too. For example, some food labels already show the precise field associated with the potatoes used for a bag of chips. Once technology reaches a point where most consumers could have advanced AI apps on their phones, it could be a matter of aiming a smartphone’s camera at any food product and instantly seeing the path it took before reaching the consumer. It’s too early to know when that might happen. Nevertheless, what’s already possible with innovative technology is compelling in its own right and makes people rightfully eager to see what’s on the horizon.
— UPDATE October 22, 2021 — Keeler Family Farms, based in Deming, New Mexico, also issued a voluntary recall for red, yellow and white onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico and shipped from July 1 through August 25. Thus far no onions from Keeler Family Farms have tested positive for Salmonella.
— END UPDATE —
The source of the fast-growingSalmonella outbreak reported late last month has been identified: Fresh whole red, white and yellow onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico and distributed by Illinois-based ProSource Inc.
Since late last month, the outbreak has grown from 29 to 37 states (However, the products were distributed nationwide), and from 280 to 652 reported illnesses. According to the CDC, the last of the onions were imported into the United States on August 27 (note, the import date ran from July 1 until August 27). However, businesses and consumers keep onions in storage for up to three months.
Illness subclusters have been linked to restaurants and food service locations. FDA is currently working to determine if these onions have also been distributed to customers via grocery stores. The agency is also continuing to traceback investigations to determine whether more products or suppliers have been affected by the contamination.
“ProSource Inc. has agreed to voluntarily recall red, yellow, and white onions imported from the State of Chihuahua, MX, with import dates from July 1, 2021 through August 27, 2021. Descriptions of these onion types include, but are not limited to, jumbo, colossal, medium, and sweet onions. Additional recall information will be made public as soon as it is available from ProSource Inc.,” according to recall information posted on FDA’s website.
Currently no deaths have been reported, but 129 people have been hospitalized. The last illness onset recorded was September 30.
The lettuce was tested for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), specifically enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), and Salmonella spp. The FDA collected 504 romaine samples, and an independent lab conducted the testing.
E.coli O130:H11 was found in one sample, and as a result, the FDA conducted an investigation at the farm to find potential sources and routes of contamination—samples of soil, water, sediment and animal fecal material were taken, and the agency also looked at farm equipment and other surfaces. Out of 24 samples, just one came back positive for STEC, and this sample was taken from the outer leaves of the lettuce. It was determined that the strain was low risk to human health, and FDA did not find that this strain was linked to any past known foodborne illness outbreaks.
“The agency’s goal in conducting this assignment was to determine whether the target pathogens and specific strains may be present in romaine lettuce from the Yuma agricultural region, to help prevent foodborne illness when possible,” FDA stated in a constituent update. “If product that tested positive for EHEC or Salmonella was found, the Agency planned to work with industry and state regulatory partners to identify the cause (e.g., farm follow-up investigation) to inform future regulatory and/or research efforts and to develop strategies that could help preventive additional outbreaks.”
Each year the CDC estimates that more than 3000 people die as a result of contracting a foodborne illness. This month—National Food Safety Education Month—STOP Foodborne Illness is launching a fundraising campaign to educate the broader community about the issue, by encouraging participants to take 3000 steps per day.
STOP3000 begins today and runs through the entire month of September. This fundraiser will help STOP Foodborne Illness in its continued efforts to push food safety initiatives forward while engaging with key industry stakeholders, including federal regulatory agencies, food manufacturers, food retailers and the food service community.
“This is a way for everyone to participate in raising awareness about food safety,” Mitzi Baum, CEO of STOP told Food Safety Tech. “It’s about how you can make small changes in your daily habits to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. People can sign up to walk, ask friends and family to post on their social media, or you can make a donation. Each day we’ll push out food safety facts and information, so you’re getting a little bit of knowledge every day during National Food Safety Education Month.”
If you’re interested in participating in the campaign, you can sign up on the JustGiving website. You can also search for and donate to current participants by typing “STOP3000” into the Search box on the JustGiving site.
The food safety testing industry is constantly experiencing new developments, technological advances and regulatory pressures as the burden of foodborne illness remains a prevalent concern. Growing consumer preference for convenience and processed foods is a pivotal trend augmenting the industry outlook.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that every year nearly $110 billion is lost across middle- and low-income countries due to unsafe food. From the health risk perspective, pathogens, pesticides or toxins cause more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers. Since most foodborne illnesses are preventable, WHO and other public health organizations worldwide are taking necessary action to establish strong and resilient food safety systems and enhance consumer awareness.
Food products may become contaminated at any stage of production, supply or distribution. Testing food and beverage products for safety is a critical component of the food and beverages sector. In terms of annual valuation, the global food safety testing market size is anticipated to hit $29.5 billion by 2027.
Pathogen Testing Demand Rises as E. coli, Salmonella Infections Persist
Pathogen testing is of utmost importance to the food & beverage industry, as there remains a large number of virus and bacteria causing pathogens and microbial agents responsible for foodborne illnesses. Numerous instances of pathogen contamination have come to light recently, augmenting the need for food pathogen testing, especially during a time when COVID-19 poses a significant threat.
For instance, in July, the CDC and the FDA announced that they are working with other public health agencies to investigate an outbreak of E. coli O121 infections across 11 states. Meanwhile in the European Union, several countries have started investigating Salmonella illnesses linked to imported tahini and halva. Since 2019, about 80 people are estimated to be affected in Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Pathogen testing demand will likely increase across North America and Europe with further spread of infections. These regions are among the major consumers of processed meat, seafood and poultry products, augmenting the need for reliable food safety testing solutions.
Meat, Poultry and Seafood Consumption Drive Foodborne Infection Risks
Globally more individuals are consuming processed poultry and meat products at home, in restaurants, fast food restaurants, and other locations. The worldwide meat consumption is estimated to reach 460 to 570 million tons by the year 2050, as per data from The World Counts.
It is essential to ensure optimum product quality during meat processing to minimize the perils of foodborne microorganisms. Meat quality testing standards are continuously evolving to ensure that food manufacturers bring the best-quality products to the market. In July this year Tyson Foods recalled more than 8.9 million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products due to potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The significant recall quantity itself represents the scope of pathogen testing requirements in processed meat sector.
E. coli O157 is considered to increase the risk of toxins that lead to intestinal problems and can cause significant illness among geriatric people, pregnant women and other high-risk populations. Earlier this year, PerkinElmer introduced an E. coli O157 pathogen detection assay to be used for testing raw ground beef and beef trim. The solution is greatly suited for food and beverage sector customers that need to test high volumes of food samples regularly. The development indicates an incessant fight to offer effective food safety testing products to tackle the threat of pathogen-related illnesses.
USDA’s FSIS also recently revised guidelines for controllingSalmonella and Campylobacter infections in raw poultry. The updated guidelines provide poultry establishments with best practices that they may follow to reduce the risk of such infections in raw products.
Food Safety Testing Trends amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Food safety testing demand has experienced a notable uptick since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, as food security and sustainability have been recognized as key areas of focus.
Globally, a rise in online orders of groceries and restaurant meals has been observed. Major food regulators such as the FDA have released food safety protocols and guidelines for food companies, hotels and restaurants. These practices help ensure optimum food quality as well as the safety of employees, staff and consumers.
The FDA has been working with the USDA and FSIS as well as state authorities to investigate foodborne illnesses and outbreaks amid the pandemic. Many regions are also updating food safety policies to help overcome the challenges of the pandemic. While pathogen and toxin testing demand are growing in most regions, the inadequacy of food control infrastructure may limit food safety testing industry expansion in emerging economies.
Drawbacks of existing technologies and the need to reduce sample utilization, lead time and testing cost are driving new innovations in food safety testing. Ongoing developments are focused on providing accurate results in limited timespan.
The food safety testing market landscape will continue to evolve as new regulations are introduced, public awareness rises, and food consumption patterns change. The rapid testing technology segment, which includes PCR, immunoassay and convenience testing, is estimated to hold a major share of the overall industry owing to faster results provided, which benefits the organizations in terms of productivity and processing costs. In addition to previously discussed PerkinElmer, Eurofins Central Analytical Laboratories Inc, Bio-Rad Laboratories, Intertek Group PLC, Bureau Veritas SA, and SGS AG are some of the other notable names in the industry.
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