Tag Archives: foodborne illness

Brett Madden, Aviaway
Bug Bytes

Bird Problems and Control Methods for Food Production Facilities

By R. Brett Madden
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Brett Madden, Aviaway

Various types of pest birds can impact food plant structures and facility surroundings. Even a single bird that finds its way into a food plant can trigger a host of concerns such as, failed audits, product contamination, plant closure, production stoppage, lost revenues, fines, structural damage, health hazards to occupants and fire hazards.

In most cases, a food plant operation has a bulletproof pest control plan; however, in most cases, birds are always an afterthought in most pest management plans. After inspecting and consulting numerous food plants, I hear the same story over and over: “I have a person in the warehouse that can chase them out” or, “are birds really a big deal?” or, “why do I have to be concerned about birds?” and on and on. Despite what you may think, birds are a big deal, and you should take them seriously!

Pest management, pigeon droppings HVAC
Larger birds, such as pigeons, can cause more problems around the exterior of a facility on HVAC units as seen here. (Image courtesy of Aviaway Bird Control Services & Consulting)

Since food processing plants contain areas that have very sensitive environments, birds can introduce various adulterants and harmful contaminants. Birds can cause potential harm to humans due to foodborne illness.

Pest Bird Species

There are four main pest birds: Pigeon, Starling, Sparrow and Seagull. Each one of these birds can cause a host of concerns and issues for food processing facilities. Just one bird can cause catastrophic damage. In most cases, small pest birds such as Sparrows and Starlings can gain access into a facility through a variety of ways:

  • Damaged bumpers around truck bay loading dock doors.
  • Open doors (seems obvious, but I always find doors wide open during audits).
  • General building deficiencies.

Larger birds, such as Pigeons and Seagulls, typically cause more problems around the exterior of a facility on ledges, rooftops, HVAC units, loading docks and related areas.

In either case, these various types of pest birds can cause significant problems on the interior and exterior of food plants.

Conducive Conditions

In most cases, facilities want to reduce as many conducive conditions as they can around and within the facility in a timely fashion. A conducive condition is one whereby due to a building condition, structural design, equipment operation, food or water source, or surrounding conditions (i.e., near a public landfill, raw materials mill or body of water) can attract pest birds to a facility. With each of these conditions, great care must be taken to reduce as many conducive conditions as possible.

Examples of Conducive Conditions

Structural Conditions

  • Loading docks/canopies with open beams and rafters
  • HVAC equipment
  • Pooling water (roof and landscaping)
  • Structural overhangs and ledges
  • Open access points
  • Landscaping (types of plantings)
  • Damaged truck bay bumpers
  • Gaps and opening around the structure
  • Doors with improper sealing

Human Conditions

  • Open dumpsters
  • Overflowing dumpsters
  • Dirty dumpsters
  • Product spillage
  • Employees feeding birds
  • Doors left open

All these conducive conditions, if left unresolved, can lead to significant bird problems. Reducing as many conducive conditions as possible will be the first step of any bird management program.

Bird Control Methods

From the start, your facility should have a bird management plan of action. For the most part, bird problems should not be left to be handled internally, unless your staff has been properly trained and has a bird management plan in place.
Most birds are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. However, Pigeons, Sparrows, and Starlings are considered non-migratory birds and are not protected under this Act. Even though these three bird species are not protected, control methods still need to be humane. More specifically, your bird control program must also comply with is the American Veterinary Medical Association (“AVMA”) Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals if this is the control method selected. The AVMA considers the House Sparrows, Feral Pigeon, and the Common Starling “Free-Ranging Wildlife.” And Free-Ranging Wildlife may only be humanely euthanized by specifically proscribed methodology.

In addition to the above-mentioned regulations, various regulations regarding the relocation of birds/nests may also apply. I also always recommend checking with local and state agencies to ensure that there are no local regulations that may apply. Bottom line: Don’t rely on untrained internal practices; one misstep could result in heavy financial fines and penalties.

Bird Management Strategies

First Line Defense

  • Stop any bird feeding around the facility immediately
    • Any bird management plan should have a clear policy prohibiting employees from feeding birds. Once birds have been accustomed to routine feeding, the birds will continue to return.
  • Eliminate Standing Water Sources
    • All standing or pooled water needs to be eliminated. Thus, routine roof inspections need to be conducted to ensure drains are working properly.
    • Landscape irrigation needs to be calibrated to ensure no puddling of water in areas of low sun exposure.
  • Proper Sanitation Practices
    • Ensure that dumpster lids are closed when not in use.
    • Trash removal frequency adequate.
    • Routine cleaning of trash receptacles.
    • Immediate removal of spilled food.
  • Eliminate Entry Points
  • Survey the facility to ensure that all holes are properly sealed.
    • Around truck bay bumpers and doors
  • Exhaust vents are properly screened.
  • Windows are closed and have screens when in use.

The most appropriate bird control strategy will be determined based on the severity of the bird pressure. For example, if the bird pressure is high (birds have nested), then in most cases, you will only be able to use bird exclusion methods. Whereas, if the bird pressure is light to moderate (birds have not nested), bird deterrent methods can be used. This is an important distinction. Bird exclusion is physically changing the area to permanently exclude said pest birds. Whereas, bird deterrent devices inhibit birds from landing on treated areas.

Bird Deterrent Methods

After the previously mentioned first-line strategies have been implemented, the next step would be to install bird deterrent products (birds have not nested).

  • Bird Spikes
  • Bird Wire
  • Electrified Shock Track
  • Bird Gel
  • Sonic & Ultra Sonic Devices
  • Lasers and Optical Deterrents
  • Hazing & Misting Devices
  • Pyrotechnics
  • Live Capture

Bird Exclusion Methods

If the birds have nested in or around the facility, the next step would be to install bird exclusion products (birds have nested).

  • Bird Netting
  • Ledge Exclusion (AviAngle)
  • Architectural modifying structural
  • Aggressive Harvesting (Targeting)

Prevention Strategies

The best prevention strategy is planning and knowledge. Conduct a bird audit and develop a bird management plan before birds get near or inside the facility. The key is to act quickly, as soon as an incident occurs. I find countless times when I am called in to consult or service a food plant, that the birds got into the facility and no one knew what to do, and as a result, the birds remained within the facility for an extended period, thus increasing the risk of exposure. It is always much easier to remove a bird when they are unfamiliar with their surroundings. Whereas, it is much more difficult to remove birds from a facility that has had a long-standing bird problem.

Once you have a plan, who oversees the bird management plan? Are thresholds determined and set for various areas of the facility? For example, a zero threshold in production areas? Threshold levels will be set based upon by location and sensitivity of the said location. What steps are going to be taken to remove the bird? For how long is each step conducted? These questions need to be answered and developed to stay ahead of bird problems.

Reduce as many conducive conditions as possible. The longer a conducive condition stays active, the more likely birds, as well as other wildlife or rodents, will be attracted to the site and find a way into the facility.

Pathogen Contamination & Hazards

Birds present a host of problems, whether they are inside or outside of a facility. Birds can roost by air vents, and the accumulation of bird feces can enter the facility air system. Bird droppings on walkways and related areas allow for the possibility of vectoring of said dropping when employees step on droppings. Thus, spreading fecal matter/spores and other contaminants to areas throughout the facility.

If birds are within the facility, droppings can spread on product lines, raw materials, stored products, equipment and more, thus, causing contamination. Because of a bird’s ability to fly, they are perfect creatures to spread various diseases, pathogens, ectoparasites and fungal materials. Diseases such as Histoplasmosis, Salmonella, Encephalitis, E-coli, Listeria, and more. Birds have been known to transmit more than 60 infectious diseases!

Besides the spread of potentially harmful contaminants throughout the facility, bird droppings and nesting materials can also create a host of additional problems:

  • The acidity in bird droppings can damage building finishes, façade signs, lighting and more.
  • Wet bird droppings can create a slip and fall hazard.
  • Bird nesting materials can create a fire hazard around façade signs, exit signs and light fixtures.
  • Bird nesting and debris can clog roof drains and cause roof leaks from standing water.
  • Introduction of ectoparasites into the facility such as bird mites, lice, fleas, ticks and more.

Conclusion

In summary, taking a proactive approach to bird control is the best practice. Reduce food, water and shelter sources (aka conducive conditions) promptly. Pest management programs need to implement a more in-depth section of the program for bird control. Like integrated pest management, bird control should be based upon an integrated method. Each facility will have its unique challenges. As such, each bird management plan needs to be tailored to the specific site. A well designed and balanced, integrated bird management program will provide long-term and cost-efficient bird control.

The next article in this series takes a closer look at how to prepare an integrated bird management audit program.

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.

Recall

ADM Milling Expands ALDI Flour Recall Due to E. Coli Concern

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

ADM Milling Co. announced that it is expanding a current recall to include all five-pound bags of Baker’s Corner All Purpose Flour that is packaged for ALDI due to possible presence of E. coli. The issue was uncovered when the Rhode Island Department of Health conducted testing of the product.

The particular strain of E. coli has been connected to 17 illnesses in eight states, but the recall affects flour that was distributed in ALDI stores in 11 states (Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia.

The previous recall only affected two lots of the five-pound bags of flour. ADM Milling is advising consumers against consuming flour that has not been thoroughly cooked.

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FDA Report on E. Coli Outbreak in Romaine Lettuce Points to “Significant” Finding of Strain in Sediment of Water Reservoir

By Maria Fontanazza
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The November 2018 outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce caused 62 illnesses across 16 states. The FDA zeroed in on the Central Coast growing regions of northern and Central California as being responsible for the contamination. The outbreak was declared over on January 9 and yesterday FDA released the report, “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Romaine Lettuce Implicated in the Fall 2018 Multi-State Outbreak of E.Coli O157:H7”, which provides an overview of the investigation.

The report states that a sediment sample coming from an on-farm water reservoir in Santa Maria (Santa Barbara County, California) tested positive for the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. Although this particular farm was identified in several legs of the Fall 2018 traceback investigations that occurred in the United States and Canada, as well as being a possible supplier of romaine lettuce in the 2017 traceback investigations, the FDA said that the farm is not the single source of the outbreak, as there is “insufficient evidence”. The traceback suggests that the contaminated lettuce could have come from several farms, because not all tracebacks led to the farm on which the contaminated sediment was found.

“The finding of the outbreak strain in the sediment of the water reservoir is significant, as studies have shown that generic E. coli can survive in sediments much longer than in the overlying water. It’s possible that the outbreak strain may have been present in the on-farm water reservoir for some months or even years before the investigation team collected the positive sample. It is also possible that the outbreak strain may have been repeatedly introduced into the reservoir from an unknown source,” stated FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas in a press announcement.

(left to right) Stic Harris, FDA; Matt Wise, CDC; Dan Sutton, Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange; Scott Horsfall, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement discuss the first E.coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce during a panel at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium. Read the article about the discussion.

Although the exact route of contamination cannot be confirmed, the FDA hypothesizes that it could have occurred through the use of agricultural water from an open reservoir, which has increased potential for contamination.

The investigation teams also found evidence of “extensive” wild animal activity and animal burrows near the contaminated reservoir, as well as adjacent land use for animal grazing, all of which could have contributed to the contamination.

Although FDA did not directly name the farm in the report, it provided a link about the recall that was initiated by the farm, Adam Bros. Farming, Inc., in December.

Considering the significant effect that the past two E.coli outbreaks involving romaine lettuce have had on both the public as well as the produce industry, FDA made several recommendations on preventive measures that leafy greens growers and industry can take to avoid such pathogenic contamination, including:

For growers:

  • Assessing growing operations to ensure they are in line with compliance to FSMA and good agricultural practices
  • Making sure that any agricultural water that comes into direct contact with the harvestable portion of the crop, food contact surfaces and harvest equipment is safe and sanitary
  • Address and mitigate risks associated with agricultural water contamination that can occur as a result of intrusion by wild animals
  • Address and mitigate risks associated with the use of land near or adjacent to agricultural water sources that can lead to contamination
  • Conduct root cause analysis whenever a foodborne pathogen is identified in the growing environment, agricultural inputs like water or soil, raw agricultural commodities, or “fresh-cut” ready-to-eat produce

For the broader industry:

  • The development of real-time procedures that enable rapid examination of the potential scope, source and route of contamination
  • All leafy green products should have the ability to be traced back to the source in real time, and information include harvest date. In November, FDA requested voluntary labeling [https://foodsafetytech.com/news_article/cdc-alert-do-not-eat-romaine-lettuce-throw-it-out/] to help consumers identify products affected during an outbreak
  • The adoption of best practices in supply chain traceability

Resources

  1. FDA report: “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Romaine Lettuce Implicated in the Fall 2018 Multi-State Outbreak of E.Coli O157:H7”
  2. FDA statement from Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas
  3.  FDA investigation of source of E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce
Steve Ardagh, Eagle Protect
FST Soapbox

Glove Polymers: The Unregulated Food Safety Threat

By Steve Ardagh
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Steve Ardagh, Eagle Protect

Various polymers are used in food contact applications that include food packaging and disposable gloves. More than 30 different types are used in packaging and up to six in disposables gloves. In terms of safeguards for the U.S. food supply as well as user safety, it is worth noting that 87% of the production of packaging polymers is based in the United States and subject to FDA regulation and monitoring. On the other hand, all (100%) of the 100 or more glove factories supplying the United States are based in Southeast Asia, according to a report by the British Medical Association and are not subjected to the same FDA monitoring or scrutiny.1

Packaging production is carefully overseen by the FDA, is included in FSMA, and covered in the HACCP process. Toxicology of food packaging is carefully prescribed and subject to strict enforcement action from production to storage.

Glove factories, however, are generally self-regulated, with FDA compliance required for a rough outline of the ingredients of the gloves rather than the final product. Few controls are required for glove manufacturing relating to the reliability of raw materials, manufacturing processes and factory compliance. A clear opportunity exists for accidental contamination within the glove-making process. More significantly, because of the geographic and economic implications in workforce and workplace conditions, intentional contamination potential is greatly increased. Polymer gloves utilized in food processing and service have been implicated in 15–18% of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States.2

There is a striking difference in the requirements for these two different types of food contact polymers. Food packaging is extensively regulated, gets tested within the context of completed food product and has production primarily in the United States under close supervision. Disposable gloves, on the other hand, rely on self certification, often with testing results only on glove constituents, and little or no oversight of factory process and conditions. It seems as though this is a glaringly obvious but little accounted for risk to the U.S. food sector.

As a result, based on the root cause analysis of food cross contamination, a selection of tests and certifications, some of which are unique to the glove industry, are being implemented by one particular glove supplier. These tests ensure that their gloves coming into the United States are made in clean, well-run factories, free of any type of contamination and are consistent in material makeup to original food safe specifications. This glove fingerprint testing program consists of a number of proprietary risk reduction steps and targeted third-party testing methods, includes gas chromatography combined with mass spectroscopy (GC/MS, surface free energy determination, in vitro cytotoxicity analysis, and microbial viability-linked metagenomic analysis.

With a great deal of faith placed on a glove supplier’s ability to deliver disposable gloves sight unseen, I believe these tests are essential to further reduce the food safety risks associated with them. Objective…Zero surprises!

References

  1. Bhutta, M. and Santhakumar, A. (March 2016). In Good Hands. Tackling labor rights concerns in the manufacture of medical gloves. British Medical Association. Retrieved from https://www.bma.org.uk/collective-voice/influence/international/global-justice/fair-medical-trade/medical-gloves-report.
  2. Michaels, B. (2018). Determination of the % of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks Attributed to Glove-Related Cross-Contamination. Unpublished report

The author would like to acknowledge Barry Michaels, an international scientific consultant on food safety, infectious disease transmission and glove use, who has assisted in the fingerprint testing program discussed in this column.

Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

With Retirement in 2019, A Farewell from Deirdre Schlunegger

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness

It is hard to believe that nearly nine years have passed since I joined Stop Foodborne Illness to lead the organization. I will be retiring at the end of May 2019, and many memories will journey with me for the rest of my days on planet earth. I have learned so much through constituents, colleagues and new-found friends. It is so humbling and such a deep honor to serve our constituents. I hold deep gratitude for the individuals and families who give so much during their time of grief while working to improve food safety; they give so freely of their time to share their stories to make a difference for others. It is only for their stories and their sharing that the organization exists. Engaging with food safety professionals throughout the food industry in an effort to improve food safety has been gratifying, and working alongside food safety advocates and consumer groups has been humbling. The staff members at Stop Foodborne Illness are relentless in their commitment and hard work, and they will be remembered. I hope that we leave a mark, a legacy that moved the needle in some small way towards the improvement of food safety. And I hope that the momentum will continue, that there will be people who will not be sick because of the work that has been done under my leadership alongside others, and that the needle will continue to advance forward so that others don’t have to experience the intense and deep pain that comes from being ill or watching a loved one suffer.

I would like to thank Stop’s Board of Directors, who have spent countless hours devoting their time and efforts in their commitment public awareness.

Thank you to everyone who has served as a guide, mentor and friend over the years. You will be remembered. Thanks for all that you do to advance food safety!

Editor’s Note: We would like to that Deirdre for her contributions to Food Safety Tech over the years in the Food Safety Culture column and for her service to the industry. We wish her the best of luck! Deirdre’s cause will continue, as the publication will continue to welcome contributors to this special column.

Lettuce

Latest on E. Coli Outbreak Involving Romaine Lettuce

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Lettuce

Yesterday FDA issued an update on the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce grown in California. The agency’s traceback investigation continues, and it is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), as there is a similar outbreak in Canada.

FDA stated that the contaminated lettuce likely originates from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and Central California (Counties of Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura).

“Traceback information from four restaurants in three different states so far has implicated 10 different distributors, 12 different growers, and 11 different farms as potential sources of rthe contaminated lettuce. The information indicates that the outbreak cannot be explained by a single farm, grower, harvester, or distributor.”

FDA’s latest update states that 52 illnesses and 19 hospitalizations have been reported across 15 states (the highest cases are in California and New Jersey with 11 illnesses each).

Earlier updates:

(UPDATE) CDC Alert: Do Not Eat Romaine Lettuce, Throw It Out

Romaine Lettuce Outbreak: We Knew It Would Get Bad Quickly

By Maria Fontanazza
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This year’s multistate outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce affected 210 people, killing five. Although the outbreak was officially declared over by the end of June, questions still remain as to the exact source. Given the widespread nature of the outbreak and the speed with which illnesses occurred, there are many lessons to be learned from the case.

During last week’s annual Food Safety Consortium, industry stakeholders from the FDA, CDC and produce associations gathered to discuss agency action upon learning of the outbreak and where there is room for improvement.

The investigation began in April 2018 when the New Jersey Department of Health contacted the CDC about a cluster of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses from people who said they ate salads at various locations of the same restaurant chain. Three days later, the agency was able to confirm eight O157 isolates from six states with the same patterns using PulseNet. And five days after that, the CDC posted a notice on its website about the investigation of 17 cases across seven states.

“We knew right away that this was going to get bad and that it would get bad quickly,” said Matthew Wise, deputy branch chief for outbreak response at the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch of the CDC. “We saw illnesses ramp up quickly.” He added that the agency saw a lot of illness subclusters, all with romaine lettuce as the common ingredient.

The epidemiological evidence clearly indicated chopped romaine lettuce, and it appeared that all the affected romaine was coming from the Yuma, Arizona growing region, noted Stic Harris, director of the Coordinated Outbreak Response & Evaluation Network at FDA. But then things got even more confusing, as an Alaskan correctional facility was also investigating a cluster of cases. This allowed the agency to trace the source directly back to Harrison Farms as the sole supplier to the correctional facility. However, as the multi-agency investigation continued, they uncovered that the source was not just one farm. “There were three dozen farms in the Yuma region that supplied romaine lettuce,” said Harris, adding that we may never know which exact farm, and even if it was one farm, that was the source of the outbreak.

(left to Right) Stic Harris, FDA; Matt Wise, CDC; Dan Sutton, Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange; Scott Horsfall, California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement

During June, July and August, the FDA sent a multidisciplinary team of 16-18 people to conduct an environmental assessment of the affected area. Upon taking 111 samples, they found 13 different Shiga toxin-producing E. coli strains, but only three matched the strain of the outbreak. Water from 14 locations, including discharge, reservoir and canal water, was also tested. The environmental assessment found pervasive contamination in the water. But here was the big problem, said Harris: “There was no smoking gun. We don’t know how the E.coli got into the water, and we don’t know how the water got onto the lettuce.” He added that additional research is needed, and that government and non-government work must continue to identify the source.

There are several challenges associated with the complexity of this type of produce outbreak, said Harris and Wise:

  • The production lot information disappears at the point of service
  • Having a commingled product hinders traceback
  • Records present a challenge because agencies try to look at each company and their individual records, and every company has their own way of doing things—this takes time
  • The breadth of the impacted area—trying to do an environmental assessment for that area was staggering work
  • People who eat lettuce eat it often
  • Many people don’t remember what type of lettuce they ate
  • The product has a short shelf life
  • Communication: The packaging isn’t transparent on where it’s grown

Scott Horsfall, CEO, California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement, chimed in on the challenges posed by the complexity of the outbreak. “If you compare these numbers with the 2016 spinach outbreak…they’re very similar [in the] total number of illnesses [and] number of states involved. But in [the spinach outbreak], it led to a specific farm. What we saw this time was very different.”

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One of the large successes in dealing with the outbreak is that the agencies issued public warnings quickly, said Wise. The produce industry also came together to form the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force. In addition, FDA is expanding its sampling for the coming harvests, according to Harris. “I think that in terms of the speed of the environmental assessment, we need to be quicker with that. We apparently hadn’t done one in quite a long time at FDA,” he said.

Harris and Wise also stressed that for industry to work more effectively together, they need to work with the FDA and CDC before there is an outbreak.

“This outbreak was a frustrating experience for all of us,” said Horsfall. “We have to communicate more and better when we can. And as an industry, stop these outbreaks from happening.”

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

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John Besser, CDC, 2018 Food Safety Consortium

CDC: Quite a Year for Outbreaks, Exciting Time in Food Safety

By Maria Fontanazza
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John Besser, CDC, 2018 Food Safety Consortium

This year Salmonella outbreaks hit chicken, shell eggs, ground beef, pre-cut melon, dried and frozen coconut, pasta salad, chicken salad, turkey, ground beef, raw sprouts and breakfast cereal. There were also significant Cyclospora infections linked to salads sold at McDonalds as well as vegetable trays. For the first time in 10 years, a Listeria outbreak was linked to an FSIS regulated product (deli ham); ground beef was affected by E. coli O26. And perhaps the most notable outbreak of the year was the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region.

“It’s been quite a year for outbreaks,” said John Besser, Ph.D., deputy chief, enteric diseases laboratory branch, at CDC, referring to the pathogens that have plagued a variety of consumer products in 2018. “Out of this group, there are a lot of the things you’d expect, but also some brand new unexpected [products affected] like shredded coconut and Honey Smacks cereal.”

Despite the number of outbreaks that have hit the food industry in 2018, “this is a really exciting time to be in public health and food safety, because there are a lot of tools we can use to help make food safer,” said Besser. Most of the diseases that impact the food industry are preventable if their source can be identified, and using big data can have a tremendous impact on improving food safety.

Yesterday John Besser informed attendees at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium about CDC’s latest efforts in foodborne disease surveillance, which he defines as the
systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health data. The agency is actively working to identify unrecognized gaps in the food supply chain and provide the industry with information it can use to make products safer. “The most important reason for detecting outbreaks is so we can identify the problem and fix it,” said Besser.

There are two ways that CDC detects outbreaks. The first is via the “citizen reporters” who are observant and alert the agency. (This is actually how E.coli O157 was discovered). The second is through pathogen-specific surveillance where CDC takes lab information and links cases that are geographically diverse. These cases are often widely dispersed and are the most effective way to find food production and distribution problems, and are often easier to address than local issues, according to Besser.

He went on to review the successes of PulseNet and the promise of whole genome sequencing (WGS) and metagenomics. The CDC’s PulseNet nationwide WGS implementation project is underway and will result in a “tsunami of data”, with the timeline as follows:

  • January 15, 2018: Listeria monocytogenes
  • October 15, 2018: Campylobacter jejuni/coli
  • January 15, 2019: Diarrheagenic E.coli (including STEC)
  • March 15, 2019: Salmonella enterica

Metagenomics will continue to play a large role in enabling unbiased sequencing of all nucleic acids in an environment. It will help to directly characterize sequences from samples, food and people (i.e., the gut), and could aid in pathogen discovery.

“I think within just a few years, it’s going to be the standard for tests,” said Besser. “My prediction is that you’ll be able to do this test in the production environment.”

Deadly Outbreaks and the Role of Metagenomics

FDA

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

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

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

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

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

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