Tag Archives: Listeria

chicken, beef, dairy, lettuce

Foodborne Illness Report Highlights High-Risk Food Categories

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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chicken, beef, dairy, lettuce

This month, the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration’s (IFSAC) released it newest annual report , “Foodborne illness source attribution estimates for 2020 for SalmonellaEscherichia coli O157, and Listeria monocytogenes using multi-year outbreak surveillance data, United States.” IFSAC is a collaboration between the CDC, FDA and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The report was developed to help shape the priorities of the FDA, inform the creation of targeted interventions to reduce foodborne illnesses caused by these pathogens, inform stakeholders and improve regulatory agency’s to assess whether prevention measures are working.

The report identified 3,749 outbreaks that occurred from 1998 through 2020 and were confirmed or suspected to be caused by Salmonella, E. coli O157, or Listeria, including 192 outbreaks that were confirmed or suspected to be caused by multiple pathogens or serotypes.

The IFSAC excluded 96 of these outbreaks according to its pathogen-exclusion criteria, leaving 3,653 outbreaks. The agency further excluded 1,524 outbreaks without a confirmed or suspected implicated food, 836 outbreaks for which the food vehicle could not be assigned to one of the 17 food categories, and six that occurred in a U.S. territory.

The resulting dataset for the report included 1,287 outbreaks in which the confirmed or suspected implicated food or foods could be assigned to a single food category. These included 960 caused or suspected to be caused by Salmonella, 272 by E. coli O157 and 55 by Listeria. Outbreaks from 2016 through 2020 provide 71% of model-estimated illnesses used to calculate attribution for Salmonella, 67% for E. coli O157 and 62% for Listeria.

Salmonella illnesses came from a wide variety of foods, with more than 75% of illnesses attributed to seven food categories: Chicken, Fruits, Pork, Seeded Vegetables (such as tomatoes), Other Produce (such as fungi, herbs, nuts, and root vegetables), Beef and Turkey.

More than 80% of E. coli O157 illnesses were linked to Vegetable Row Crops (such as leafy greens) and Beef.

More than 75% of Listeria monocytogenes illnesses were linked to Dairy products, Fruits and Vegetable Row Crops, though the IFSAC noted that “the rarity of Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks makes these estimates less reliable than those for other pathogens.”

Attribution estimates for Campylobacter outbreaks were not included in this year’s report, though they have been included in the past. IFSAC said that this was “due to continued concerns about the limitations of using outbreak data to attribute Campylobacter illnesses to sources … these concerns are largely due to the outsized influence of outbreaks in certain foods that pose a high individual risk for Campylobacter infection but do not represent the risk to the general population.” For example, 91% of reported Campylobacter outbreaks related to dairy products were associated with unpasteurized milk, while 57% majority of chicken-related outbreaks were due to chicken liver products, which are not widely consumed.

enokie mushrooms

Bulb Onions and Imported Mushrooms Focus of New FDA Food Safety Prevention Strategies

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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enokie mushrooms

The FDA has announced two new food safety prevention strategies. The first is for imported enoki and wood ear mushrooms. The second is focused on bulb onions. Both food groups were identified in foodborne illness outbreaks in 2020.

In 2020, a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) infections that sicked 26 people was linked to the consumption of imported enoki mushrooms. Testing conducted by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) identified a matching strain of L. monocytogenes in enoki mushrooms from the Republic of Korea.

Also in 2020, CORE, in collaboration with the CDC and state and local partners, investigated a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Stanley infections linked to the consumption of imported wood ear mushrooms. A total of 55 salmonellosis illnesses were reported in 12 states. Testing conducted by CDPH identified a matching strain in a sample of imported wood ear mushrooms from China. These were the first outbreaks reported to FDA in 20 years related to these products.

As a result of the outbreak findings, the FDA will conduct research to better understand how L. monocytogenes contaminates enoki mushrooms and to better understand the survival of L. monocytogenes and Salmonella on enoki mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms.

The agency will also increase strategic and targeted FDA sampling of imported specialty mushrooms at U.S. ports of entry and at U.S.-based retail sites on the state level. When specific producers are linked to the contaminated shipment, FDA may also detain future shipments until the producer can assure the FDA that the conditions that gave rise to the appearance of the violation have been resolved.

The FDA will also be working with industry to ensure international specialty mushroom producers have access to training intended to help them meet requirements for ensuring the safe production of mushrooms for import into the U.S.

Bulb Onions

In 2020 and 2021, Salmonella outbreaks associated with the consumption of bulb onions produced in the U.S. and Mexico caused more than 2,100 confirmed cases of foodborne illness in the United States.

As a result of the outbreak investigation, the FDA will engage domestic and foreign industry and government partners to promote a broad understanding of the outbreak investigation findings, applicable Produce Safety Rule requirements and the importance of root cause analysis after outbreaks.

Additional actions under the new safety prevention strategy include:

  • Prioritizing inspections of bulb onion farms in the U.S. and Mexico that are covered by the FDA’s Produce Safety Rule.
  • Identifying and assessing practices and conditions associated with onion curing.
  • Supporting research efforts to better understand bulb onion production practices, including the impact of different soil conditions and curing practices on the safety of bulb onions.
  • Supporting industry-led efforts to develop and implement best practices for bulb onion production.
  • Prioritizing Foreign Supplier Verification Program inspections of bulb onion importers to ensure that onion importers are verifying that foreign suppliers follow processes and procedures that provide the same level of public health protection as U.S. food safety requirements.
  • Increasing strategic and targeted sample collection and testing of imported bulb onions from the State of Chihuahua, Mexico.
  • Continuing to collaborate with Mexican competent authorities through the established Food Safety Partnership to help ensure the safe production of bulb onions in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico.

 

Listeria

Thermo Scientific SureTect Listeria PCR Assays Granted AOAC Official Methods First Action

Listeria

A poster by Thermo Scientific presented ay the 2022 IAFP Conference in August showed validation methods of the company’s SureTect Listeria monocytogenes and Listeria species PCR Assays, which led to AOAC recognition for official method of first action.

For the unpaired collaborative study, Evangelos J Vandoros, et al, compared the SureTect Listeria PCR Assays Method to the method outlined in the FDA-Bam Chapter 10. The matrix used for the study was full-fat cottage cheese with a test portion of 25g.

The researchers validated both SureTect Listeria PCR Assays (Listeria species and Listeria monocytogenes) in this study, as they follow the same method protocol and are validated for the same matrices.

Outcomes showed consolidated dLPOD data from 12 collaborators for the SureTect Listeria PCR methods and the FDA-BAM Chapter 10 reference method. The data was within confidence intervals showing that there was no significant difference between the SureTect methods and the reference method. The time to result was less than 24 hours.

Based on these findings, the SureTect Listeria monocytogenes and Listeria species PCR Assays were both granted AOAC Official Methods First Action

The validated categories for the assays include milk and dairy, fresh produce, seafood, raw meat, ready to eat/reheat and environmental,

Alpine Fresh Green Beans

Listeria Alert: Recall of Green Beans Spans 12 States

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Alpine Fresh Green Beans
Alpine Fresh Green Beans
Alpine Fresh’s “Hippie Organics” French Beans

Florida-based Alpine Fresh, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of its “Hippie Organics” French Beans due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The recall affects 1-pound packages from lot# 313-626, and the products were sold across 12 states in Whole Foods, Aldi and LIDL retail stores.

The issue was uncovered during routing company testing and is isolated to the specific recalled lot, according to a company announcement on FDA’s website. Alpine Fresh states that corrective actions have been taken to prevent recurrence.

Thus far no illnesses related to the recall have been reported.

ASI Food Safety
FST Soapbox

The Costs Of Food Safety: Correction vs. Prevention

By Matt Regusci
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ASI Food Safety

Every company that grows, produces, packs, processes, distributes and serves food has a food safety culture. In the food industry, when looking at food safety culture there are essentially two groups: The correction and the prevention groups. Basically, the prevention group is constantly improving their food safety practices to minimize foodborne illness while the correction group waits until there is an outbreak to make changes.

The correction group isn’t proactive and has a number of excuses that keep them from implementing a food safety program. Oftentimes owners or managers think, “The chances of my company being involved in a food safety outbreak are so rare, I just won’t worry about it.” Or they think, “The cost of having a food safety program is so prohibitive that I’d rather handle the consequences of an outbreak if it were to arise.” Also, sometimes there’s a lack of knowledge and some producers don’t even know about food safety programs and don’t have or want to take the time to learn about them.

If your food company is in the corrective group, you are not alone. Three years ago a private study was done to see how many food facilities could pass a basic Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) and/or Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) audit. It was discovered that less than 20% of these companies would be able to pass the most basic food safety audit. This number is staggering and unfortunately the correction group is much larger than anyone thinks—it equals a majority of the facilities at around 80% of the food industry. This statistic is frightening and needs to be addressed to help reduce outbreaks.

What does the preventative group look like? Well it is more of an investment up front, but in the end helps reduce risk and costs. Companies that take on this responsibility go through an audit and implement procedures that prevent outbreaks. That is level one. The next level of protection involves applying and gaining a certification. All of these procedures help to give your organization a barrier against costs such as crisis management with a PR firm, a recall that leads to lost product and sales, and a thorough clean-up process.

Food safety prevention is an ongoing journey of understanding your many risks and implementing procedures and processes to minimize these risks. Prevention is not a one person job, but rather the whole company needs to join the common cause of protecting the brand and more importantly customers lives.

The cost though is always a huge consideration and can become a deterrent to implementation. Oftentimes owners or managers of facilities will say, “The cost of food safety prevention is so prohibitive that we can’t implement a program.” Yes, there is a cost to building, implementing, and maintaining a preventative food safety program. However, this cost pales in comparison to a corrective program.

Overall Cost of Correction: FDA – Lives – Individual Companies (Restaurants and Farms)

Just recently CDC posted that the economic impact of pathogenic food safety outbreaks is $17.6 billion which is $2 billion higher than 2013. The CDC calculates this based on medical expenses, productive decreases in wages, and ultimately loss of American lives. This large number and massive increase in economic cost has made headlines recently as a huge problem, but few in the media understand this number is small compared to the true cost of foodborne illness.

So what is the true cost annually of the collective in the corrective group to the food industry and America as a whole? To come up with that number we need to look at all the costs of an outbreak: Legal costs, fines, bankruptcies, decrease of overall commodity market share, decrease in public trust, and jail time. And let’s not forget, the real cost is that lives were lost due to lack of prevention.

To understand the cost, let’s look at a few examples, starting with Chipotle. Last year the company agreed to pay the largest fine in history of $25 million for its part in multiple outbreaks from 2015–1018 sickening more than 1,000 people. This fine is tiny in comparison to the stock market loss. In 2015 the stock went from $740 a share to a low of $250, and in fact Chipotle’s stock did not get back to $740 until July of 2019. That is billions of market opportunities lost.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health did a study and concluded that foodborne illness costs the American food service industry $55.5 billion annually. On average each food safety outbreak costs the establishment between $6,330 to $2.1 million, depending on size of the operation and how widespread the outbreak is. Chipotle has a lot of resources to manage and recover from a crisis; many small and/or over-extended companies go bankrupt and are forced to close down.

There are plenty of examples on the supply chain side. The first example is the Salmonella outbreak of Peanut Corporation of America. The largest part of this tragedy is that 714 people got sick, about half of whom were kids, and nine people lost their lives. Due to this, three executives went to jail, not for a few months for decades. The economic cost is astounding; Peanut Corp of America had an annual revenue of around $25 million, but the cost of the outbreak was over $1 billion. This may seem like a very large number, but don’t forget peanuts are an ingredient in many other products. Kellogg’s estimates they lost $65–70 million in products they needed to recall from this one outbreak, and Kellogg’s is just one of many Peanut Corp of America customers.

Another example is the Jensen Farms Listeria outbreak that sickened 147 people and of those 33 died. The brothers, of this multiple generation farm, Eric and Ryan Jenson, went bankrupt and were sentenced to five years probation and six months of home detention; each had to pay a $150,000 fine. Again, this small family’s operations outbreak had massive ramifications for the cantaloupe industry, which suffered significant damage as a result. Walmart reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount in 23 lawsuits involving the Listeria outbreak linked to the cantaloupes

Overall Cost of Prevention: Internal Programs, Supplier Programs, Testing and Audits

The FDA has conducted a few studies on the industry cost of the many leafy greens outbreaks. One study showed the spinach industry alone lost more than $200 million just in retail sales and many more millions in opportunity sales from the 2006 E. coli outbreak. And a recent leafy green outbreak in 2018 cost the industry an estimated $350 million. With staggering numbers like these, the LGMA was created in 2007 to help raise the bar for food safety prevention in this high-risk product. The LGMA study found that their members, which are large leafy green marketers, including Dole, Taylor Farms and Ready Pack, increased their spending three times for true prevention measures.

What does it look like to go from the corrective group to the preventative group? First you have to make the decision of implementation and get buy-in from your entire team. If you are starting from zero, asking your clients and competitors what standards they are utilizing and being audited to, or should be audited to, is a good starting point. This will help in developing a plan of action.

Once you have the checklist, audit human resources. Do you have a Food Safety and/or QA person or team? Are they capable of guiding the executives on this journey? If not, hire a consultant to help you get started.

Once they are on the journey of prevention, people see their entire operation in a different way. They see risks where they never previously saw them—risks with people, equipment, products, building, and the surrounding area. This can get super overwhelming, but if they don’t panic they will be excited about the future. The paradigm will change and they can build, implement and maintain practices to minimize risks one by one, starting with the biggest risks.

In accounting for the physical costs of prevention, the largest will come from the human resources component. Hiring people to build, implement and manage your food safety program will be your largest expense. Another human resources cost is the continued training for the entire staff on food safety expectations. After that cost drops significantly, annual audits and microbiological testing come into play, and the cost will vary on the size of your operation and the risk of your products. For instance the LGMA study showed on average the cost of their members went from $200,000 to about $600,000 annually for prevention, but these are very large multiregional organizations with a very high risk product.

The most important things in life come with hard work and at a price. Every person who has climbed Mount Everest did so one step at a time. Food safety prevention is no different. Is there a cost in money, time, and stress? Yes. Is that cost less than sitting on the beach with your head in the sand of the correction camp? No doubt. But the choice of leaving the majority that are wrong to the minority that are right is yours. Hopefully, you make the right decision.

ASI Food Safety
In the Food Lab

Planning Is Key Component of Listeria Prevention

By Matt Regusci
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ASI Food Safety

Reading the news in recent months, it seems like there is a new outbreak every week or at least a new recall of various food products contaminated with Listeria, specifically Listeria monocytogenes. Companies have recalled broccoli, kale, cantaloupes, smoked salmon (lox), mushrooms, soft cheese, sprouts, frozen chicken, and even hot dog buns in the last several months.

Listeria monocytogenes is a species of pathogenic bacteria that is very unique. Unlike many pathogens that are mainly fecal bacteria, like E. Coli and Salmonella, Listeria can be found just about anywhere including soil, water, dust and animal feces, to name a few.

We are around Listeria all the time. For example, when moms encourage their children to play outside to enhance their immune systems, one of the bacteria kids are likely exposed to is Listeria. This kind of exposure is generally acceptable, as the vast majority of people that get sick from Listeria exposure typically ingest quite a bit of it. That’s why it is essential to get in front of Listeria to avoid ready-to-eat products from becoming contaminated.

Listeria is one of the few bacteria to survive freezing temperatures and grow, albeit slowly, in a refrigerator. The exact range for growth of Listeria is 39.2°F (4 °C) to 98.6°F (37°C). To successfully kill Listeria using temperature controls, it must be cooked at least at 165°F (73°C). Left at room temperature, the pathogen grows rapidly. If you have ready-to-eat food contaminated with Listeria and it is taken out of the fridge, left on the counter for a couple of hours, then eaten, it’s a recipe for disaster.

If you are healthy, the vast majority of the Listeria bacteria will be attacked and killed by the immune system, preventing the ability for infection to take hold. If the immune system is compromised by conditions such as cancer, AIDS, pregnancy, geriatrics, etc., then Listeria becomes an infection called Listeriosis—an invasive infection.

The FDA and the CDC published some facts about Listeriosis and foodborne illness in general, and the diagnosis is stark. The FDA estimates that 1 in 6 Americans or 43 million people will get a foodborne illness annually. Of those that get sick, the FDA estimates 128,000 will be hospitalized, and about 3,000 die.

In the United States, the CDC estimates that about 1,600 people will get Listeriosis each year, and of those cases, 1,500 will be hospitalized (94%), and 260 will likely die. Listeriosis has a mortality rate of 20-30%, according to the FDA. Unfortunately, these numbers indicate that if the doctor diagnoses you with Listeriosis, the chances of survival are low.

According to FDA research, you are 18 times more likely to contract a Listeriosis infection if you are pregnant, and 16–27% of all Listeriosis infections are in pregnant women. While most other adults show signs of gastrointestinal symptoms once contracting Listeriosis, the FDA says a pregnant woman experiences a fever for a few days, and about 20–30% will ultimately miscarry.

The unique thing about Listeria is the incubation period could last up to 70 days. A possible scenario could be a person eating cantaloupe from a farm with a known Listeria outbreak and then 70 days later showing signs of Listeriosis. This was a reality during the Jensen Farms outbreak, where people were terrified that they may have been infected from Listeriosis after eating cantaloupe. Still, they had to wait for six weeks for assurance they were safe.

What Steps Should Industry Take to Prevent or Mitigate the Presence of Listeria?

The first step is to kill Listeria and prevent it from contaminating food. To kill this particular pathogen, heat and/or sanitization is necessary. The best way to avoid contamination is by cooking food, but cleaning and sanitizing regularly is the next best measure if you can’t cook the product.

All food manufacturing facilities need a cleaning and sanitizing routine. Typically, when a Listeria outbreak occurs, it is because of a series of unfortunate errors in quick succession. Facilities need to practice regularly on finding the potential errors in a cleaning/sanitizing system and fix them immediately. This attention to detail and strategy help correct the problem before an issue arises.

The same is important for the kitchen of a restaurant. Keep raw products away from cooked products. Utilize different sections within the kitchen to prep food in various stages, use separate cutting boards and be sure to use different utensils on raw vs. cooked food. Also, have a solid cleaning and sanitizing routine to kill lingering Listeria in the facility.

The second step is a solid continual testing regimen. A testing rotation is an effective tool in the pathogen prevention arsenal. Every facility should utilize an environmental testing program that regularly looks for Listeria in the facility. While all use outside certified labs, some also have in-house labs looking, more frequently, for pathogens. For instance, few fresh produce companies test the wash water for pathogens in every lot. If they find even the smallest trace of any pathogen, including Listeria, they trash it.

Another effective testing technique is “search and destroy”. In the “Search” process your team swabs everything in the facility looking for Listeria in the facility. When you do find an area with Listeria then you swab everything within a radius starting with one foot, expanding to three feet, then even wider to six feet, etc. until you find every major contamination point. Flag those areas as hot spots for continual checks in your future testing rotation.

The extremely important step three is the cold chain. Cold chain systems help reduce the growth of foodborne pathogens. To minimize the growth of pathogens, including Listeria, it is important to keep products cold at all times possible. This includes harvesting, packaging, storing, distributing, and especially. Also, consumers can play a role in helping reduce contamination by keeping food cold and putting it in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible. Every minute a product is left at room temperature can mean massive bacteria growth.

Step four is knowing where your food comes from. In the food industry, we call this supply chain compliance and traceability. A relationship of trust between food producers, suppliers and consumers is vital for the food industry. Raw and finished food products are moving through the supply chain rapidly, so good communication is crucial so that contaminated products are removed quickly to contain an outbreak and save lives.

With these practices in place, we can keep the Listeria outbreaks to a minimum. However, extra care is recommended if you are pregnant, immunocompromised, or over the age of 65. In fact, the FDA has a list of foods to avoid or at least cook very thoroughly. These include deli meat, raw vegetables, and unpasteurized milk products, to name a few.

Dole Garden Salad

Possible Listeria Contamination, Dole Recalls Garden Salads

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Dole Garden Salad

Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. issued a voluntary recall of certain cases of its garden salad over concern of possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Although no illnesses have been reported, the company is pulling select lots of its garden salads marketed under the Dole, Marketside, Kroger and Salad Classics names.

The recall was taken as a precaution after a single sample of garden salad tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes in random sampling conducted by the Department of Agriculture in Georgia.

The company announcement states that the product is beyond its “best if used by” date and should no longer be on store shelves. The products were distributed in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.

Tyson Foods, Chicken Recall, Listeria

Tyson Foods Recalls More Than 8 Million Pounds of RTE Chicken Due to Potential Listeria Contamination

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Tyson Foods, Chicken Recall, Listeria
Tyson Foods, Chicken Recall, Listeria
One of the recalled RTE chicken products from Tyson Foods. Labels of recalled products are available on the FSIS website.

Tyson Foods, Inc. is recalling 8,492,832 pounds of ready-to-eat (RTE) chicken products over concerns that the product may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes. The Class I recall affects frozen, fully cooked chicken products that were produced between December 26, 2020 and April 13, 2021, and shipped nationwide to retailers and facilities that include hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, schools and Department of Defense locations. The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. P-7089” on the product bag or inside the USDA mark of inspection.

Thus far three people have been sickened with Listeriosis, and one death has been reported, according to the CDC investigation.

The FSIS website lists all products affected by the recall—which includes diced chicken, frozen, fully cooked chicken strips, diced chicken, chicken used for fajitas chicken wing sections, and pizza with fully cooked chicken.

The CDC is advising that businesses do not serve or sell recalled products, and that any refrigerators, containers or surfaces that may have touched the recalled products be thoroughly cleaned.

Listeria

Virtual Event Targets Challenges and Best Practices in Listeria Detection, Mitigation and Control

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Listeria

–UPDATE: Watch “Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation” on demand now!

 

Next month, Food Safety Tech will host the first event in its Food Safety Hazards Series, “Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation” on April 15. The virtual event features Sanjay Gummalla, Ph.D., senior vice president of scientific & regulatory affairs at AFFI; April Bishop, senior director of food safety at TreeHouse Foods; and Douglas Marshall, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Eurofins. These experts will address Listeria from the perspective of food manufacturing and preventing the introduction of the pathogen; risk based and practical approaches to address the presence of Listeria in food production and achieve key publish health goals relative to the pathogen; how to implement a strong Listeria control program; and the testing challenges from a lab perspective.

The event begins at 12 pm ET on Thursday, April 15.

Presentations are as follows:

  • Listeria Control and New Approaches to Addressing Risks, by Sanjay Gummalla
  • Managing Food Safety and Sanitation in the Digital Age, by April Bishop
  • Listeria Testing: Choosing the Right Method and Target, by Doug Marshall

The presentations will be followed by a panel discussion and a live Q&A with attendees.

Register now for the Food Safety Hazards Series: Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
From the Editor’s Desk

Top 10 from the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

2020 has taken a lot away from us, but it has also taught us the importance of being able to quickly adapt (can you say…“pivot”?) to rapidly changing, dire circumstances. For Food Safety Tech, that meant shifting our in-person annual Food Safety Consortium to a virtual event. I really look forward to the Consortium each year, because we are a virtual company, and this is the one time of year that most of the Food Safety Tech and Innovative Publishing Company team are together. When we made the decision to move the event online, we really wanted to be considerate of our attendees, who more than likely were quickly developing webinar and Zoom fatigue. So we created a series of 14 Episodes that spanned from September until last week. I am not going to single out one episode or speaker/session in particular, because I think that all of our speakers and sponsors brought a tremendous amount of education to the food safety community. Thank you.

With that, the following are my top 10 takeaways from the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series—and this simply scratches the surface. Feel free to leave a comment on what you learned from our speakers and the discussions this fall.

  1. COVID-19 has served as the springboard for digital transformation, more of which we have seen in the past nine months than in the last several years or even decade. Tech advances are increasing efficiencies, adding the ability to be more predictive, giving more visibility and traceability in the supply chain and offering increased accessibility. These include: IoT; Advanced analytics; Artificial intelligence (FDA has been piloting AI technology); Graph technology used in supply chain visibility; blockchain; mixed reality; and remote monitoring.
  2. There are new responsibilities that come with being a part of America’s critical infrastructure and protecting essential frontline workers.
    • Companies must have a strong relationship (or work to build one) with local health departments and authorities
    • Name a COVID Czar at your company: This is a designated person, located both within a production facility as well as at the corporate location, who manages the bulk of the requirements and precautions that companies should be undertaking to address the pandemic.
  3. Every company should have an emergency risk management plan that centers around good communication.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder to us that the threat for viruses is always lurking beneath the surface. There is still work to be done on the food labs side regarding more rapid assays, leveling the playing field regarding conducting viral testing, and technology that enables labs to get safe, effective and consistent results.
  5. Lessons in sanitation: Investment in sanitation is critical, there are no shortcuts, and empower your sanitation employees, give them the tools they need to effectively do their jobs.
  6. The FDA’s FSMA Proposed Traceability rule is expected to be a “game changer”. It will lay the foundation for meaningful harmonization. FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas said the pandemic really put a spotlight on the fact that the U.S. food industry needs better tracking and tracing.
  7. Know your suppliers, know your suppliers, know your suppliers!
  8. Biofilms are ubiquitous, and the process of detecting and eliminating Listeria in your facility is a marathon with no finish line.
  9. Food Safety Culture is a profit center, not an overhead department.
  10. “If I’m not well, I can’t do well.” Making sure your needs are met personally and professionally plays an important role in being a better contributor to your company’s success.

As part of a special offering, we are making four episodes of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series available on demand for free. Head to our Events & Webinars page to register to view the sessions on or after January 2021.