Tag Archives: outbreaks

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.

Martin Easter, Hygiena
In the Food Lab

The New Normal: Pinpointing Unusual Sources of Food Contamination

By Martin Easter, Ph.D.
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Martin Easter, Hygiena

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in dry flour, and then romaine lettuce. E. coli O104 in fenugreek sprout seeds. Recent announcements of foodborne illness outbreaks have begun involving unusual combinations of bacteria and foods. These out-of-the-ordinary outbreaks and recalls are a small but growing part of the 600 million documented food poisonings that occur worldwide every year according to the World Health Organization. Preventing outbreaks from these new combinations of pathogen and food demand a range of accurate tests that can quickly identify these bacteria. Over the past several years, outbreaks from unusual sources included:

  • E. coli O121 (STEC) in flour: Last summer, at least 29 cases of a E. coli O121 infection were announced in six Canadian provinces. The source arose from uncooked flour, a rare source of such infections because typically flour is baked into final products. Eight people were hospitalized, and public health officials have now included raw, uncooked flour as well as raw batter and dough as a source of this type of infection.
  • E. coli O104:H4 in fenugreek sprouts: One of Europe’s biggest recent outbreaks (affecting more than 4,000 people in Germany in 2011, and killing more than 50 worldwide) was originally thought to be caused by a hemorrhagic (EHEC) E. coli strain that from cucumbers, but was but was later found to be from an enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) strain in imported fenugreek seeds—the strain had acquired the genes to produce Shiga toxins.
  • Mycoplasma in New Zealand dairy cows: While not unusual in cattle, the incident reported in August marks the pathogen’s first appearance in cows in New Zealand, a country known for strict standards on agricultural hygiene. The microorganism is not harmful to people, but can drastically impact livestock herds.
  • Listeria monocytogenes in food sources: Listeria monocytogenes causes fewer but more serious incidence of food poisoning due to a higher death rate compared to Salmonella and Campylobacter. Whereas Listeria has been historically associated with dairy and ready to eat cooked meat products, recent outbreaks have been associated with fruit, and the FDA, CDC and USDA are conducting a joint investigation of outbreaks in frozen as well as in fresh produce.
  • Listeria in cantaloupe: In 2011, one of the worst foodborne illnesses recorded in the United States killed 20 and sickened 147, from Listeria monocytogenes that was found in contaminated cantaloupes from a farm in Colorado. The outbreak bloomed when normal background levels of the bacteria grew to deadly concentrations in multiple locations, from transport trucks to a produce washer that was instead designed for potatoes.

The outbreaks underscore the fundamental need to have a robust food safety program. Bacteria can colonize many different locations and the opportunity is created by a change in processing methods and/or consumer use or misuse of products. So robust risk assessment and preventative QA procedures need to be frequently reviewed and supported by appropriate surveillance methods.

Food safety and public health agencies like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) or the CDC have employed a wide range of detection and identification tests, ranging from pulse field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), traditional cell culture, enzyme immunoassay, and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In the case of Germany’s fenugreek-based E. coli outbreak, the CDC and EFSA used all these techniques to verify the source of the contamination.

These tests have certain advantages and disadvantages. Cell culture can be very accurate, but it depends on good technique and usually takes a long time to present results. PFGE provides an accurate DNA fingerprint of a target bacteria, but cannot identify all strains of certain microorganisms. Enzyme immunoassays are precise, but can produce false-positive results in certain circumstances and require microbiological laboratory expertise. PCR is very quick and accurate, but doesn’t preserve an isolate for physicians to test further for pathogenic properties.

Identification of the pathogens behind foodborne contamination is crucial for determining treatment of victims of the outbreak, and helps public health officials decide what tools are necessary to pinpoint the outbreak’s cause and prevent a recurrence. Rapid methods such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which can quickly and accurately amplify DNA from a pathogen and make specific detection easier, are powerful tools in our efforts to maintain a safe food supply.

Recently, scientists and a third-party laboratory showed that real-time PCR assays for STEC and E. coli O157:H7 could detect E. coli O121, O26 and O157:H7 in 25-g samples of flour at levels satisfying AOAC method validation requirements. The results of the study demonstrated that real-time PCR could accurately detect stx, eae and the appropriate E. coli serotype (O121, O26 or O157:H7) with no statistical difference from the FDA’s Bacteriological Analytical Manual (BAM) cell culture method.

Agencies like the World Health Organization and CDC have repeatedly stated that historical records of food poisoning represent a very small percentage of true incidents occurring every year worldwide. Many of today’s most common food pathogens, like Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 or Campylobacter jejuni, were unknown 30 years ago. It’s not clear yet if unusual sources of contamination arise from increasing vigilance and food safety testing, or from an increasingly interdependent, globally complex food supply. No matter the reason, food producers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and retailers need to keep their guard up, using the optimum combination of tools to protect the public and fend off food pathogens.

Tim Birmingham, Almond Board of California
In the Food Lab

10 Years, 0 Salmonella Outbreaks

By Tim Birmingham
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Tim Birmingham, Almond Board of California

Almond Board of California (ABC) tackled food safety head-on in the wake of emerging Salmonella concerns in the early 2000s. Conventional wisdom of the time suggested that low-moisture foods like almonds presented a minimal threat, but rather than simply accepting this, ABC engaged in research to better understand the risks. The resulting best practices and groundbreaking mandatory pasteurization program developed by ABC remain the gold standard for other sectors—and drive continued food safety and quality efforts for California Almonds.

In 2017, ABC marked the 10-year anniversary of its mandatory almond pasteurization program – and, most importantly, 10 years free of Salmonella recalls and outbreaks attributed to California Almonds. The almond industry is proud of its unified efforts over the last decade, as well as the food safety record we’ve been able to achieve. However, the work to protect and improve food safety and quality continues. Looking back at our initiatives and successes reminds us of how important this work is and drives our exploration of what’s next.

Understanding and Addressing the Risk

Outbreaks of Salmonella in 2001 and 2004 raised questions and concerns about food safety and quality across industries. For California Almonds, one of the biggest challenges was determining the true level of risk. The easy answer seemed to be that risk should be low, that, based on accepted conventions of the time, pathogens should not be able to grow in almonds and other low-moisture foods. However, ABC investigated further and quickly realized that the pathogen could present a problem. The organization decided to take action and tackle Salmonella and other potential threats.

In collaboration with food safety experts and research partners, ABC began research in 2001 to better understand the prevalence and concentration of contamination in almonds, conducted in tandem with efforts to develop strategies for contamination control. ABC was able to gather enough survey data over the course of several years to show that Salmonella was indeed present in about 1% of the almonds tested at very low concentrations. This data was fed into ABC’s risk assessment work, which enabled identification of appropriate performance criteria for ensuring consumer safety (>4-log reduction).

At the same time, ABC also worked to identify effective processing technologies and the best means of validating them. A technical expert review panel was assembled to help ABC develop a plan, assess research needs, establish standards and create guidelines for the industry. Extensive work went into determining how to validate equipment, including the determination of an appropriate surrogate (non-pathogenic microorganisms) that could be used in lieu of Salmonella in the plant. Concurrently, researchers worked to determine the specific time and temperature combinations needed for a >4-log (and 5-log) reduction for a range of pasteurization processes, including oil roasting, blanching and dry roasting, some steam processes and PPO processing. ABC and partners invested significant time and effort into this research, which culminated in the development of the groundbreaking mandatory pasteurization program for Salmonella reduction, and validation guidelines.

Process Implementation and Ongoing Education

Voluntary compliance with the pasteurization program began in 2004, well in advance of September 2007, when it became mandatory. By that time, pasteurization was established as the industry norm and laying the groundwork for ongoing food quality and safety efforts. Today, ABC has more than 1 billion pounds of validated pasteurization capacity for processes that maintain the raw characteristics of almonds, including steam, moist heat and propylene oxide (PPO). It also has close to 1 billion pounds of validated capacity for processes such as dry roasting, oil roasting and blanching. All reduce the level of potential contamination in almonds without diminishing the product’s quality, nutritional value or sensory qualities (taste and crunch).

ABC also developed a comprehensive round of updates to recommended food safety practices, creating a powerful program with tools that help growers and processors achieve their desired results. These tools include Good Agricultural Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices, HACCP guidelines and Pathogen Environmental Monitoring resources.

In total, ABC has made a $5 million investment in food quality and safety research and validated more than 200 treatment processes, to date. It remains committed to this mission, maintaining close connections with the scientific and regulatory communities to stay current on food safety in the broader context as well as issues specific to California Almonds. All relevant insights and information are disseminated to growers and processors in the form of clear, practical resources, including print publications and digital communications, and workshops and one-on-one field trainings.

What’s Next: Research, Tech and Regulatory Practices

The mandatory pasteurization program is now well established, but it isn’t static – ABC continues to stay on top of the latest methods, regulations and needs impacting California Almonds. Industry investment continues to increase, particularly in processes that maintain the raw characteristics of the product. And, while much information regarding processes and technologies are company-specific and confidential, equipment manufacturers continue evolving and growing their offerings, with a particular focus on maximizing almond quality and throughput.

On the regulatory side, FSMA continues to roll out for growers and processors. ABC helps growers and other stakeholders understand which rules apply, what actions to take to ensure compliance and when specific requirements come into effect for different operations, with FSMA-related resources, Preventative Controls and Produce Safety trainings and timely information available online. Many processors and non-farm huller/shellers started 2018 already meeting FSMA Preventive Control requirements, but the number of impacted orchards and huller/shellers expanded in January as the Produce Safety rule came into effect. At this point, the almond industry and the larger community of food and beverage industries have had time to assess the impact on their stakeholders and take action to ensure FSMA compliance.

FSMA reflects the evolving role of FDA in ensuring food safety. Traditionally, FDA has taken a reactive approach to food safety. The agency now has the authority to investigate farms and facilities regularly to ensure food safety regulations are followed. For the first time, growers and huller/shellers falling under the farm definition may be audited by FDA or FDA-designated agencies. While some growers may choose the exemption option, ABC encourages almond growers to understand the rule’s requirements and develop food safety plans appropriate to their farms. It will be new and uncertain territory for some, but with the FDA’s proactive approach, staying ahead of the curve on food safety and quality will be beneficial.

Currently, almonds are the only tree nut with a mandatory pasteurization program and defined performance criteria accepted by FDA. They have paved the way for validation of other tree nuts, and those industries should also consider implementing appropriate preventive controls for Salmonella. ABC’s work can be considered a road map for other nuts and low-moisture foods, but what works for almonds will not always work for other foods. Research specific to each type of nut needs to be conducted to uncover pathogen prevalence and concentration, as well as pathogen/surrogate resistance to various processes. We will continue to be proactive, as well, evaluating current practices and engaging in research to improve how we understand and control microbial contamination in almonds.

Even with a track record to take pride in, the responsibility and work of food quality and safety never end. We will continue to update and evolve programs, not only as a function of compliance, but to protect the almond customers who support us every day.

Listeria

Four Pathogens Cause Nearly 2 Million Foodborne Illness Cases a Year

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Listeria

The CDC estimates that Salmonella, E. coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States. A report just released from the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) analyzed data from more than 1000 foodborne disease outbreaks involving these pathogens from1998 through 2013.

The report found the following:

  • Salmonella illnesses came from a wide variety of foods (more than 75% came from the seven food categories of seeded vegetables, eggs, chicken, other produce, pork, beef and fruit.
  • More than 75% of E.coli O157 illnesses were linked to vegetable row crops, like leaf greens, and beef.
  • More than 75% of Listeria monocytogenes illnesses came from fruits and dairy products.
  • More than 80% of non-dairy Campylobacter illnesses were linked to chicken, other seafood (i.e., shellfish), seeded vegetables, vegetable row crops, and other meat and poultry (i.e., lamb or duck).

A copy of the report, “Foodborne illness source attribution estimates for 2013 for Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter using multi-year outbreak surveillance data, United States”, is available on the CDC’s website.

Cara Pahoyo

5 Burning Questions About The Rise In Foodborne Illness

By Cara Pahoyo
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Cara Pahoyo

The food industry has been one of the most celebrated and fastest-growing industries over the last decade or so. Which is no surprise, considering how much food is now being consumed, or posted on Instagram, on a daily basis. Pop-up food carts and hole-in-the-wall food places have been a huge hit too and even inspired a number of Hollywood films about the tough competition and revolutionary marketing tactics that have taken over the food industry (see: Jon Favreau’s Chef and Bradley Cooper’s Burnt). It’s good times, for sure. Well, for the most part, I mean.

When did foodborne illness become a major concern in the US?

Unfortunately, it’s not just the revenue that’s on the rise, because food borne illnesses too are making the headlines as of late. Talk about spoiling (no pun intended) the fun, eh? Well, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, the number of foodborne disease outbreaks resulting from imported foods increased during surveillance years 2005 to 2010.

Where are the numbers coming from?

Dr. L. Hannah Gould, Ph.D., a senior epidemiologist at the CDC, revealed those findings during an oral presentation here at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2012. According to the CDC, 39 foodborne disease outbreaks were reported in which the implicated food had been imported into the United States. These outbreaks resulted in 2348 illnesses, 434 hospitalizations and 3 deaths.

How many are affected?

Though foodborne illnesses are often never formally reported, about 48 million Americans, or one in six, get sick each year from food, the CDC estimates, with 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. In fact, in 2014, 19,542 cases of infection were traced from 15% of the US population being surveyed by CDC.

Why is it on the rise?

The culprits? Chances are, you’ve been storing them somewhere inside your establishment: packaged caramel-coated apples, frozen ice cream sandwiches, fresh peaches and nectarines, frozen meet, etc. Not exactly the answers you were expecting, perhaps?

According to experts, the growing popularity of packaged foods such as pre-cut fruit and prepared sandwiches has heightened the risk of spreading foodborne illnesses. Furthermore, they have identified that contamination can occur between preparation and packaging, or in high-tech processing plants, after heating to destroy harmful bacteria and before packaging. Which means, somewhere in the last decade, we lost our way (or something like that).

What can we do to stop foodborne disease from spreading?

The whole fiasco regarding foodborne illness is a public safety concern and must be addressed by everyone. However, while adjusting individually may not be a problem for most of us, the same cannot be said for food places and restaurants. Just imagine the public relations horror for restaurant managers if any of their customers get sick while dining at their place?

Restaurants must be more strict and thorough when addressing food safety concerns. The entire crew must be trained when it comes to food handling and a food safety manager must also take charge in overseeing procedures in the kitchen. In fact, proper storage and disposal must also be adequately done at all times. With those safety measures in play, establishments will be able to showcase their commitment to adhere with local food standards and basic food handling procedures. That’s a step in the right direction, for sure.

Summing up, foodborne illness is definitely a manageable concern and will likely not become a factor that will hinder the overall growth of the food industry. However, the fact that it can be controlled and yet still recurring means that there’s still a fair amount of work needed to be done to improve the industry in other aspects—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing (at least not yet).