Tag Archives: outbreaks

Food Labs Conference

Food Labs / Cannabis Labs 2020 Agenda Announced

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Labs Conference

The agenda for the 2020 Food Labs / Cannabis Labs conference has been announced. The event, which will address regulatory, compliance and risk management issues that companies face in the area of testing and food laboratory management, is scheduled to take place on June 3–4 in Rockville, MD.

Some agenda highlights include a special morning session on June 3 that discusses the proposed FSMA rule on lab accreditation: “FSMA and the Impact on Laboratories and Laboratory Data Users” and “FSMA Proposed Rule on Laboratory Accreditation: What it says and what it should say” presented by Reinaldo Figueiredo of ANSI and Robin Stombler of Auburn Health Strategies, respectively. FDA has also been invited to speak on the proposed rule. Sessions will also cover the role of labs as it relates to pathogens, with presentations from Benjamin Katchman, Ph.D. (PathogenDx) about a novel DNA microarray assay used for detecting and speciating multiple Listeria species and Dave Evanson (Merieux Nutrisciences) on pathogen detection and control. The full agenda is listed on the Food Labs / Cannabis Labs website.

The early bird discount of $395 expires on March 31.

Innovative Publishing Company, Inc., the organizer of the conference, is fully taking into considerations the travel concerns related to the coronavirus. Should any
disruption that may prevent the production of this live event at its physical location in Rockville, MD due to COVID-19, all sessions will be converted to a virtual conference on the already planned dates. More information is available on the event website.

Christine Charlotte Akselsen, Kezzler
FST Soapbox

Connecting the Dots for Food Safety at GFSI 2020

By Christine Charlotte Akselsen
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Christine Charlotte Akselsen, Kezzler

Representatives at this year’s GFSI conference hailed from 53 countries and spanned the food industry, academia, the public sector and beyond. They came together in Seattle, a city that has long stood at the cutting edge of technological innovation, and as such was a fitting host for this year’s theme: “One Connected World. One Safe Food Supply”.

Speakers at the forefront of their fields shared knowledge and showcased creative methods of delivering connectivity—interpersonal, technology-mediated and otherwise, all geared towards the ultimate goal of helping provide safer food for consumers everywhere.

Meanwhile, there were numerous opportunities to connect with representatives of industry giants such as Costa, Nestle, McDonald’s, Amazon and Starbucks, as well as regulatory agencies, certification & accreditation bodies, NGOs, academia and the media, at the various networking sessions.

Urgent Action Required

As the conference kicked off, it was Peter Freedman, the managing director of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), who set out the importance of the task at hand. His message was one of urgency in delivering positive change.

Freedman pointed to recent global events, such as the wildfires in Brazil, as examples of how the world could be at a tipping point. “Action is more urgent than ever”, he told delegates, stating that it is no longer just a matter of responding, but responding urgently. Freedman also pointed to E. coli outbreaks in 2017, 2018 and late 2019 to drive home to industry leaders gathered at the conference that food safety cannot be taken for granted.

The spirit of the event was, as usual, geared towards a collaborative approach. Delegates were asked to leave their commercial interests at the door and work purely towards “a world where all food is safe” for the duration of the event.

“This week is not about us as individuals, it’s about how we come together as a collective of brilliant minds to provide solutions,” GFSI Director Erica Sheward stated. She then invited the audience to stand in recognition of this commitment, and sure enough everyone in the packed auditorium took to their feet demonstrating their commitment to the shared mission.

GFSI’s New Benchmarking Requirements

The GFSI used the conference as a platform to launch its new Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020, which establish a new foundation for food safety. To close the opening session, Sheward joined Mike Robach, Chairman of the GFSI Board, Vice-Chairs Anita Scholte op Reimer and Gillian Kelleher and GFSI Senior Technical Manager Marie-Claude Quentin around a red ‘action button’ to mark their publication.

The requirements are geared towards enabling a common understanding and mutual trust in the supply chain that facilitates trade, improves efficiency and lends nameplate authority to operations certified to a GFSI-recognized program. They incorporate stakeholder input from public consultations and are regularly revised to reflect best practices and evolving needs in the industry.

GFSI positioned the new version as more than just an update, but a complete rethink “representing the beginning of a new generation of recognition”. The two primary objectives of Version 2020, are to achieve transparency and objectivity, with new and strengthened elements that include two new scopes focused on hygienic design, elements of food safety culture and reinforced impartiality of the auditing process and the monitoring of certification bodies.

Shark Tank Sessions

This year’s GFSI program also included a new format to help showcase how the latest technology is being used to further food safety. Leaders in innovation took part in a number of Shark Tank-style breakout sessions to pitch their technology solutions to the sharks and the attendees.

A total of nine cutting-edge companies took to the stage to pitch their concepts to a panel of experts—‘sharks’—who are well-placed to judge their value for the industry. The nine competitors were selected from a large pool of applicants based on their innovative spirit, disruptive potential and feasibility.

Each presenter had 12-minutes to outline the context in which their solution is utilized, the technology supporting it and how it is implemented. Following the pitches, each presenter came under the scrutiny of the sharks who were able to ask clarifying questions.

Kezzler was among the companies to take to the stage with CEO Christine Akselsen sharing insights from work with FrieslandCampina’s infant formula brand, FRISO. Referencing the grass-to-glass case study, she demonstrated how Kezzler’s technology works in practice, tracking information from farms in The Netherlands to consumers in China. Following the sessions an audience vote determined the winner of the competition, which was announced during the final plenary of the conference. Kezzler was also crowned as the first-ever GFSI Shark Tank champion.

Lab grown meat

How Plant-Based Foods Are Changing the Supply Chain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Lab grown meat

The plant-based meat market is anticipated to be worth more than $320 million in the next five years, according to a report released last summer by Global Market Insights. As the popularity of meat-alternative products continues to rise, new challenges are being introduced to supply chain management. Joe Scioscia, vice president of sales at VAI explains some of these hurdles and proposes how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: Is the growing popularity of plant-based foods introducing hazards or challenges to the supply chain?

Joe Scioscia, VAI
“The growing popularity of plant-based foods has presented a new set of challenges for the supply chain,” says Joe Scioscia of VAI.

Joe Scioscia: The growing popularity of plant-based foods has presented a new set of challenges for the supply chain, especially considering many of these organic items are being introduced by traditionally non-organic retailers. Impossible Foods received FDA approval for its plant-based burger in 2019, showing just how new the plant-based movement is to the industry.

Obviously, the organic supply chain and produce suppliers have long followed regulations for handling produce, such as temperature controls, cargo tracking, and supply and demand planning software, so the produce could be tracked from farm to table and in the case of a recall, be traced back to the source. But for meat alternatives that are combining multiple plant-based ingredients, organizations in the supply chain who are handling these products
have new food safety concerns. Considerations on how to store and process meat alternatives, how to treat each ingredient in the product and, most importantly, how to determine temperature controls or the source of contamination are all discussions the food industry is currently having.

FST: How are plant-based foods changing the dynamic of the supply chain from a food safety perspective?

Scioscia: The food supply chain has changed dramatically in recent years to become more complex, with food items traveling farther than ever before, containing more ingredients and required to follow stricter regulations. Many of the changes to the supply chain are for the better—organic and plant-based alternatives offer health benefits for consumers and are a move towards a more sustainable future. But the reality is that the supply chain isn’t quite there yet. Suppliers, retailers and producers at every part of the supply chain need to work together to ensure transparency and food safety compliance—including for plant-based products. Foodborne illnesses are still a real threat to the safety of consumers, and these same consumers are demanding transparency into the source of their food and sustainable practices from brands. All of these considerations are what’s making this next era of the food industry more complicated than ever before.

Because food safety compliance is always top of mind in the food industry to keep consumers safe, this new and complex supply chain has required companies to rely heavily on technology solutions to ensure plant-based products are equally as safe to consume as non-organic alternatives. These same solutions are also helping supply chains become more transparent for customers and streamline food processes to build a more sustainable future.

FST: What technologies can food companies and retailers use to better manage the supply chain risk while supporting the increased consumer demand for meat alternatives?

Scioscia: Utilizing a centralized software system is one tool many food suppliers and distributors can use to better visualize, trace and process products in the supply chain—including for plant-based alternatives. Having access to a central platform for business data to track assets and ensure food safety regulations are being met allows for companies to optimize processes and cut unnecessary costs along the way.

Heading into 2020, many organizations in the food supply chain are also looking at new applications like IoT, automation, and blockchain as ways to curb food safety issues. The FDA has taken steps to pilot blockchain and AI programs to better track drugs and food products, in conjunction with major food brands and technology companies. Other organizations are following suit with their own programs and many are looking at these solutions to improve their food tracking efforts. It’s clear technology has the most potential to make it easier on the industry to comply with food safety regulations while meeting customer demands for plant-based alternatives and organic options—all the while building a sustainable supply chain for the future.

Data protection, security

The Digital Transformation of Global Food Security

By Katie Evans
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Data protection, security

Modern food supply chains are inherently complex, with products typically passing through multiple suppliers and distributors, as well as countries and continents, before they end up on the supermarket shelf. While global supply chains offer consumers greater choice and convenience, they also make protecting the security of food products more challenging. With additional stakeholders between farm and fork, products are exposed to an elevated risk of biological or chemical contamination, as well as food counterfeiting and adulteration challenges—potentially putting consumer health and brand reputation in jeopardy.

Given the importance of maintaining the safety, quality and provenance of food products, global regulatory bodies are placing the integrity of supply chains under increased scrutiny. In the United States, for example, the adoption of FSMA moved the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them by prioritizing comprehensive food testing measures, enforcing inspections and checks, and enabling authorities to react appropriately to safety issues through fines, recalls or permit suspensions.1 Similarly, China’s revised Food Safety Law (known as FSL 2015) is widely considered to be the strictest in the country’s history, and seeks to drive up quality standards by empowering regulators, and enhancing traceability and accountability through robust record-keeping. 2 The European Union continues to closely regulate and monitor food safety through its General Food Law, which is independently overseen by the European Food Safety Authority from a scientific perspective.

Achieving the Highest Standards of Food Security, Integrity and Traceability

For producers, manufacturers and distributors, the heightened regulatory focus on the security and integrity of the food supply chain has placed additional emphasis on accurate record-keeping, transparent accountability and end-to-end traceability. To meet the needs of the modern regulatory landscape, food chain stakeholders require robust systems and tools to manage their quality control (QC), environmental monitoring and chain of custody data. Despite this, many businesses still handle this information using paper-based approaches or localized spreadsheets, which can compromise operational efficiency and regulatory compliance.

The fundamental flaw of these traditional data management approaches is their reliance on manual data entry and transcription steps, leaving information vulnerable to human error. To ensure the accuracy of data, some companies implement resource-intensive verification or review checks. However, these steps inevitably extend workflows and delay decision-making, ultimately holding up the release of products at a high cost to businesses. Moreover, as paper and spreadsheet-based data management systems must be updated by hand, they often serve merely as a record of past events and are unable to provide insight into ongoing activities. The time lag associated with recording and accessing supply chain information means that vital insight is typically unavailable until the end of a process, and data cannot be used to optimize operations in real-time.

Furthermore, using traditional data management approaches, gathering information in the event of an audit or food safety incident can be extremely challenging. Trawling through paperwork or requesting information contained in spreadsheets saved on local computers is time-consuming and resource-intensive. When it comes to establishing accountability for actions, these systems are often unable to provide a complete audit trail of events.

Digital Solutions Transform Food Security and Compliance

Given the limitations of traditional workflows, food supply chain stakeholders are increasingly seeking more robust data management solutions that will allow them to drive efficiency, while meeting the latest regulatory expectations. For many businesses, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are proving to be a highly effective solution for collecting, storing and sharing their QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data.

One of the most significant advantages of managing data using LIMS is the way in which they bring together people, instruments, workflows and data in a single integrated system. When it comes to managing the receipt of raw materials, for example, LIMS can improve overall workflow visibility, and help to make processes faster and more efficient. By using barcodes, radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags or near-field communication, samples can be tracked by the system throughout various laboratory and storage locations. With LIMS tracking samples at every stage, ingredients and other materials can be automatically released into production as soon as the QC results have been authorized, streamlining processes and eliminating costly delays.

By storing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) used for raw material testing or QC centrally in a LIMS, worklists, protocols and instrument methods can be automatically downloaded directly to equipment. In this way, LIMS are able to eliminate time-consuming data entry steps, reducing the potential for human error and improving data integrity. When integrated with laboratory execution systems (LES), these solutions can even guide operators step-by-step through procedures, ensuring SOPs are executed consistently, and in a regulatory compliant manner. Not only can these integrated solutions improve the reliability and consistency of data by making sure tests are performed in a standardized way across multiple sites and testing teams, they can also boost operational efficiency by simplifying set-up procedures and accelerating the delivery of results. What’s more, because LIMS can provide a detailed audit trail of all user interactions within the system, this centralized approach to data management is a robust way of ensuring full traceability and accountability.

This high level of operational efficiency and usability also extends to the way in which data is processed, analyzed and reported. LIMS platforms can support multi-level parameter review and can rapidly perform calculations and check results against specifications for relevant customers. In this way, LIMS can ensure pathogens, pesticides and veterinary drug residues are within specifications for specific markets. With all data stored centrally, certificates of analysis can be automatically delivered to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or process information management systems (PIMS) to facilitate rapid decision-making and batch release. Furthermore, the sophisticated data analysis tools built into the most advanced LIMS software enable users to monitor the way in which instruments are used and how they are performing, helping businesses to manage their assets more efficiently. Using predictive algorithms to warn users when principal QC instruments are showing early signs of deterioration, the latest LIMS can help companies take preventative action before small issues turn into much bigger problems. As a result, these powerful tools can help to reduce unplanned maintenance, keep supply chains moving, and better maintain the quality and integrity of goods.

While LIMS are very effective at building more resilient supply chains and preventing food security issues, they also make responding to potential threats much faster, easier and more efficient. With real-time access to QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data, food contamination or adulteration issues can be detected early, triggering the prompt isolation of affected batches before they are released. And in the event of a recall or audit, batch traceability in modern LIMS enables the rapid retrieval of relevant results and metadata associated with suspect products through all stages of production. This allows the determination of affected batches and swift action to be taken, which can be instrumental in protecting consumer safety as well as brand value.

Using LIMS to Protect Security and Integrity of the Food Supply Chain

Increasingly, LIMS are helping businesses transform food security by bringing people, instruments and workflows into a single integrated system. By simplifying and automating processes, providing end-to-end visibility across the food supply chain, and protecting the integrity of data at every stage, these robust digital solutions are not only helping food supply chain stakeholders to ensure full compliance with the latest regulations; they are enabling businesses to operate more efficiently, too.

References

  1. FDA. (2011). FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/full-text-food-safety-modernization-act-fsma.
  2. Balzano, J. (2015). “Revised Food Safety Law In China Signals Many Changes And Some Surprises”. Forbes. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbalzano/2015/05/03/revised-food-safety-law-in-china-signals-many-changes-and-some-surprises/#624b72db6e59.
Jeremy Schneider, Controlant

Using Technology for Traceability Adds Dimension to Supply Chain, Promises ROI

By Maria Fontanazza
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Jeremy Schneider, Controlant

“As food safety leaders, it is our responsibility to actively investigate the newest technologies in the market with the goal of providing the highest level of safety for our customers. The regulatory environment is rapidly evolving from a position of hazard management to preventative control, which challenges the status quo while promoting innovation. In addition, we are actively working to build food safety cultures within our operations,” says Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance at Controlant. “On top of these mandates, we are consistently being challenged to find ways to improve quality, reduce waste, and assure supply. When taken as a collective mandate, this can be considered a challenge that allows the industry to solve previously unsolvable business problems in new and exciting ways. Utilizing the newest technologies for enhanced supply chain visibility is the solution to some of our most challenging industry-wide problems.”

Schneider has more than 15 years of experience in the food quality, safety, and regulatory sector. His experience spans managing food safety and quality systems within several fast-casual restaurant chains as well as food manufacturing. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Schneider discusses some of the issues that food companies are experiencing surrounding traceability in their supply chain.

Jeremy Schneider, Controlant
Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance at Controlant

Food Safety Tech: What challenges are food companies and retailers facing when it comes to real-time monitoring of their supply chain?

Jeremy Schneider: One of the biggest challenges that the industry faces when it comes to real-time monitoring of the supply chain is where to start. As you can imagine, implementing a program that allows for an organization to monitor all shipments, including those that are shipped internationally, by ship, air freight, over the road or by rail, can be daunting.

As with all food safety programs, it is advised to take a risk-based approach to the project. Begin with the highest-risk items within your supply chain and work to your second- and third-tier items or suppliers. When implemented by category over time, you will find implementation less challenging. It is important to remember that when you begin a real-time program, you will start to discover eye-opening information about your supply chain. It’s important that you develop strategies to deal effectively with these incidents.

Another primary concern for the food industry is the cost of implementation, as well as the return on investment. We have found that, by implementing a real-time monitoring solution, an organization is able to dramatically reduce shipping loss because of temperature abuse. Oftentimes, the program provides a net savings for the organization. When considering the cost of wasted food, freight, liability, lost sales and labor, a real-time supply chain visibility solution becomes a cost-effective program very quickly.

FST: Are there any lessons learned from recent outbreaks or recalls regarding traceability?

Schneider: Over the last several years, the industry has made real progress towards a transparent supply chain. However, it must be said that much work is needed to meet regulatory standards and consumer expectations when it comes to traceability. As we have become accustomed to having information that provides insights into all facets of our life, the same is becoming true of the supply chain.

Being able to have business-critical data immediately, such as real-time supply chain and traceability data, is revolutionizing the industry and is allowing enterprise-wide improvements. During a crisis situation, being able to have insights into your supply chain is paramount. Unfortunately, it has become all too common for organizations to take the ‘’out of an abundance of caution’’ approach and remove all products from the supply chain, regardless of lot code or other data, to ensure consumer safety.

The consequence of such an approach is that much more product is removed than necessary, which compounds the effects of the incident. Having had the appropriate traceability information allows organizations to take a precision-focused approach, allowing for organizations to minimize the impact as much as is safely possible.

To help organizations solve this dilemma, there are a variety of technology offerings available to help companies collect and transform data so that it can be easily used. In addition, layering rich data, such as that which is created from real-time Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and cloud-enabled software technology, helps provide dimensional insights into your supply chain information.

FST: How can companies leverage technology to be proactive in maintaining consistent tracking and tracing throughout the supply chain?

Schneider: As we enter an era of smarter food safety, each organization will be challenged to solve some of the most pressing concerns using state-of-the-art technology. The great thing about having actionable traceability data, beyond its uses to support food safety, is that it allows an organization the ability to gain insights into their supply chain at both the micro- and macro-levels.

As an example, when an organization implements a real-time temperature monitoring program, not only are they able to identify and resolve temperature deviations before they become food safety or quality incidents, logistics can then utilize the data to optimize the shipping lane to reduce costs, and purchasing is able to know exactly where a truck is located on its route. Being able to show the value that location traceability data provides across an enterprise helps to improve the organization at every level.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Technology Tools Improving Food Safety

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

To cap off a tumultuous year for foodborne illnesses, the end of 2018 saw a rather large E. coli outbreak that affected several different types of lettuce. In all, about 62 people got sick in the United States, with another 29 affected in Canada. The outbreak was traced back to a farm in California thanks to a specific DNA fingerprint in the E. coli. It started in a water reservoir and spread to the nearby crops.

Unfortunately, the event was only one of two separate incidents involving romaine lettuce last year. Another E.coli outbreak was traced back to a source in Arizona. Are these outbreaks more common than we realize? The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans fall ill each year from foodborne pathogens. Of those who get sick, 128,000 have to be hospitalized, and about 3,000 perish.

It’s clear that the industry as a whole needs to buckle down and find more effective solutions, not just for preventing outbreaks but also for mitigating damage when they happen. A new level of safety and management can be achieved with the help of many new, innovative technologies.

The following are some of the technology tools shaping the future of food safety and quality management fields.

Blockchain

As a result of the E. coli outbreak, Walmart implemented blockchain technology to track leafy greens and boost supply chain transparency. The systems and infrastructure is anticipated to be in place by the end of 2019.

Blockchain is a secure, digital ledger. It holds information about various transactions and data, all of which are carried out on the network. It’s called a blockchain because each data set within the network is a chunk or “block,” and they’re all linked to one another—hence the chain portion of the name. What this allows for is complete transparency throughout the supply chain, because you can track goods from their origin all the way to distribution and sale.

Each block is essentially a chunk of information, and when it’s entered into the chain, it cannot be altered, modified or manipulated. It’s simply there for viewing publicly. You cannot alter information contained within a single block without modifying the entire chain—which operates much like a peer-to-peer network and is split across many devices and servers.
This unique form of security establishes trust, accuracy and a clear representation of what’s happening. It allows a company to track contaminated foods along their journey, stopping them before they contaminate other goods or reach customers.

Infrared Heating

Thanks to the rising popularity of ready-to-eat meals, the industry is under pressure to adopt preservation and pasteurization methods. Particularly, they must be able to sanitize foods and package them with minimal exposure and bacteria levels. This practice allows them to stay fresh for longer and protects customers from potential foodborne illness.

Infrared heating is a method of surface pasteurization, and has been used for meats such as ham. Infrared lamps radiate heat at low temperatures, effectively killing surface bacteria and contaminants. The idea is to decontaminate or sanitize the surface of foods before final packaging occurs.

Industrial IoT and Smart Sensors

The food and beverage industry has a rather unique challenge with regard to supply chain operations. Food may be clean and correctly handled at the source with no traces of contamination, but it’s then passed on to a third party, which changes the game. Maybe a refrigerated transport breaks down, and the food within is thawed out. Perhaps a distributor doesn’t appropriately store perishable goods, resulting in serious contamination.

This transportation stage can be more effectively tracked and optimized with the help of modern IoT and smart, connected sensors. RFID tags, for instance, can be embedded in the packaging of foods to track their movements and various stats. Additional sensors can monitor storage temps, travel times, unexpected exposure, package tears and more.

More importantly, they’re often connected to a central data processing system where AI and machine learning platforms or human laborers can identify problematic changes. This setup allows supply chain participants to take action sooner in order to remedy potential problems or even pull contaminated goods out of the supply.

They can also help cut down on fraud or falsified records, which is a growing problem in the industry. Imagine an event where an employee says that a package was handled properly via forms or reporting tools, yet it was exposed to damaging elements. The implications of even simple fraud can be significant. Technology that automatically and consistently reports information—over manual entry—can help eliminate this possibility altogether.

Next-Generation Sequencing

NGS refers to a high-throughput DNA sequencing process that is now available to the food industry as a whole. It’s cheaper, more effective and takes a lot less time to complete, which means DNA and RNA sequencing is more accessible to food companies and suppliers now than it ever has been.

NGS can be used to assess and sequence hundreds of different samples at a time at rates of up to 25 million reads per experiment. What that means is that monitoring teams can accurately identify foodborne pathogens and contamination at the speed of the modern market. It is also a highly capable form of food safety measurement and is quickly replacing older, molecular-based methods like PCR.

Ultimately, NGS will lead to vastly improved testing and measurement processes, which can identify potential issues faster and in higher quantities than traditional methods. The food industry will be all the better and safer for it.

The Market Is Ever Evolving

While these technologies are certainly making a splash—and will shape the future of the food safety industry—they do not exist in a vacuum. There are dozens of other technologies and solutions being explored. It is important to understand that many new technologies could rise to the surface even within the next year.

The good news is that it’s all meant to improve the industry, particularly when it comes to the freshness, quality and health of the goods that consumers eat.

sad face

Notable Outbreaks and Recalls of 2018

By Maria Fontanazza
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sad face

As stated by CDC’s John Besser, Ph.D. last month at the Food Safety Consortium, “It’s been quite a year for outbreaks.” Here’s a not-so-fond look back at some of the noteworthy outbreaks and recalls of 2018.

Romaine Lettuce –E.coli O157:H7

2018 was not a good year for romaine lettuce. In the spring, a deadly multistate outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 was linked to romaine lettuce that came from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. “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 at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium. Although the CDC declared the outbreak over at the end of June, the total number of illnesses had reached 210, with five deaths.

Then in November it was revealed that contaminated lettuce was coming from growing regions in northern and central California. According to the latest update from FDA, there have been 59 reported illnesses, with 23 hospitalizations, across 16 states. No deaths have been reported. Earlier this month Adam Bros Farming, Inc. recalled red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and cauliflower, because it may have come into contact with water from the reservoir where the E. coli outbreak strain was found.

Raw Beef Products – Salmonella

At the beginning of the month, JBS Tolleson, Inc. expanded a recall of its non-intact raw beef products due to concerns of contamination with Salmonella Newport. More than 12 million pounds of product have been recalled. The latest CDC update put the reported case count at 333, with 91 hospitalizations across 28 states.

Shell Eggs – Salmonella

In April, Rose Acre Farms recalled more than 206 million eggs after FDA testing determined that eggs produced from the company’s farm were connected to 22 cases of Salmonella Braenderup infections. A total of 45 cases were reported across 10 states, with 11 hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

Pre-cut Melon – Salmonella

In June Caito Foods recalled its pre-cut melon products after a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Adelaide infections were traced back to the products. A total of 77 cases across nine states, with 36 hospitalizations, were reported.

Vegetable Trays – Cyclospora

In July, Del Monte recalled its vegetable trays that contained broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and dill dip following confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis in people who consumed the products. The CDC declared the outbreak over in September, with a final case count at 250 people across four states.

Salad Mix – Cyclospora

Fresh Express salad mix served at McDonalds was linked to a multistate outbreak of cyclosporiasus. The outbreak was declared over in September, with the final illness count at 511, and 24 hospitalizations.

Raw Turkey – Salmonella

Just before Thanksgiving an outbreak of Salmonella linked to raw turkey products was announced. Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales recalled more than 255,000 pounds of raw ground turkey products, however the CDC has not identified a single, common supplier that can account for this outbreak. As of the agency’s latest update on December 21, 216 cases have been reported across 38 states. The outbreak is responsible for 84 hospitalizations and one death.

Honey Smacks Cereal – Salmonella

The early summer outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka linked to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal got a lot of press, and it didn’t help that even though the company recalled the product, many retailers continued to keep the cereal on their shelves. The last illness onset was reported at the end of August. A total of 135 people were reported ill, with 34 hospitalizations.

Duncan Hines Cake Mix – Salmonella

The company recalled four varieties of its cake mixes after a retail sample tested positive for Salmonella Agbeni.

Johnston County Hams – Listeria monocytogenes

The company recalled more than 89,000 pounds of RTE deli loaf ham products over concerns of adulteration with Listeria monocytogenes.

Other outbreaks involving Salmonella this year included dried and frozen coconut, pasta salad, chicken salad and raw sprouts.

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

Stephen Ostroff, FDA

Too Many Recent Outbreaks, FDA Says Significant Food Safety Problems Continue

By Maria Fontanazza
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Stephen Ostroff, FDA

The serious outbreaks over the past few months indicate that industry continues to experience “significant food safety problems”, said Stephen Ostroff, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the IAFP annual meeting last week. He referred to the most recent sizable produce-associated outbreaks involving romaine lettuce, pre-cut melon and veggie trays, as well as the Kellogg Company recall of Honey Smacks cereal and the Rose Acres eggs recall, both of which were due to Salmonella. “We have a lot of work to do,” said Ostroff, adding that the numerous recalls involving kratom products is concerning.

These issues highlight how the increasingly complex supply chain further complicates problems once they arise. Ostroff emphasized the necessity of end-to-end tracing, from product origination to where the consumer can access the product, and that it needs to be efficient, standardized and rapid, especially for commodities. Regarding the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak involving romaine lettuce, FDA is still trying to determine the source and mode of the contamination. And while the recent finding of the outbreak strain in the irrigation canal water is important, it still does not answer the question of how the contamination got into the canal, said Ostroff.

The latest FDA update on the outbreak investigation stated that additional samples are being analyzed on an ongoing basis and any new matches would be publicly disclosed. As of June 28, the CDC announced that the outbreak was over.

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Foodborne Illnesses and Recalls on the Rise

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

The last word a manufacturer wants to hear is “recall”. During 2017, recalls involved everything from salad mix contaminated with a dead bat to hash browns infused with shredded golf balls.

Not all recalls are created equal. Both the USDA and the FDA have three classifications of recalls to indicate the relative degree of health hazard presented by the product being recalled:

  • Class I: A Class I recall is the most serious classification, involving a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
  • Class II: A Class II recall involves a potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food.
  • Class III: A Class III recall involves a situation in which eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences.

During 2017, there were 456 recalls recorded in the United States. The number one reason for those recalls was undeclared allergens.

Identify the weak links in your supply chain: Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Rockville, MD | Learn moreFoodborne illnesses continue to be widespread, as well. In 2017, we saw Robin Hood flour contaminated with E.coli, Soygo yogurt with Listeria, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and ground turkey tainted with Salmonella, and even shredded coconut was responsible for causing a Salmonella outbreak in the United States and Canada. Foodborne illness outbreaks can happen at restaurants, corporate events, private parties, schools and cruise ships—anywhere and everywhere food is served.

Recalls and foodborne illnesses are 100% preventable. Incidents occur because of human error, and all it takes is one weak link to cause serious—and potentially fatal—problems. That’s it. One weak link can cause the traumatic deaths and/or illnesses of customers, and cost your company billions of dollars, loss of sales, plummeting stocks, negative media coverage and a severely damaged reputation.

When there’s a recall or a foodborne illness, products must be destroyed, which is lost revenue for manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, etc. Finding the source of the contamination can be a massive undertaking. The manufacturer may need to close all of their plants for cleaning until the source is identified, which adds up to a tremendous financial burden, and also requires significant time and effort. Class 1 recalls can cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more, to identify the source of contamination, recall products, sanitize facilities, and keep consumers safe.

It takes years for companies to establish a solid reputation, and food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks can obliterate a brand’s reputation overnight. Consumers lose confidence much faster than they gain it, and bad news travels fast (especially in this time of social media where news spreads instantly and widely). And on top of that, there may be litigation as a result of the recall, incident or outbreak, which will result in attorney fees and potential settlements that could be very significant. If the risk of massive expense and bankruptcy isn’t enough, for the past few years, the U.S. District of Justice has been issuing fines and prison terms to company leaders involved in foodborne illnesses outbreaks and food recalls.

The government, media and general public are holding companies (and their leadership) accountable now, so you’d think that recalls and foodborne illness incidents would be on the decline but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. And with advancements in technology, why are we still having so many issues surrounding the safety of our food?

Many media outlets report that foodborne illnesses have been rising considerably in the past few years. However, according to the CDC, a study showed that the six most common foodborne illnesses have actually declined in frequency by 25% over the last two decades. Having said that, though, the severity of foodborne illness outbreaks seems to be increasing, and the number of outbreaks connected to produce has risen, as well. Some experts believe the increases may be due to better reporting processes rather than an actual increase in the number of foodborne illnesses.

There are various theories as to why foodborne illnesses may be getting worse. Some government agencies indicate it has to do with farming policies. The CDC disagrees. More widely accepted beliefs are the increase in popularity of organic produce—grown with manure rather than chemical fertilizer—which can transfer bacteria to the produce. Additionally, there’s debate that the use of antibiotics can cause bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses to become resistant.

Recalls may occur for a variety of reasons. Products may be pushed beyond their shelf life by the manufacturer, or maybe the design and development around the product was insufficient (equipment, building, etc.). Is the manufacturing facility designed in a manner that can prevent contamination—structurally and hygienically? Maybe the production quality control checks failed. Did the manufacturer conduct an adequate food safety risk assessment prior to launching the new product? Profit margins are often thin—did financial incentives prevent the company from implementing a thorough food safety program?

Getting back to the basics of food safety would reduce recalls and foodborne illnesses significantly. Manufacturers must be certain about food safety as well as the integrity of the ingredients they use. They need to be honest with themselves and understand the risks of the ingredients, processes and finished products that they are handling.

Human error is a given. It’s the corporation’s responsibility to minimize the risk. Implement ongoing food safety education and training for all employees, explaining the proper food safety protocols and processes. Develop internal auditing systems, using innovative digital tools. Get rid of the pen and paper forms, where it’s more likely for errors to occur and for pencil whipping to happen. Digital solutions provide more effective internal auditing, meticulousness in corrective action systems including root cause analysis, allergen management, and controls relating to packing product into the correct packaging format—all fundamental to keeping foods, consumers and businesses healthy and safe.