The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in meat and meat products from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. Over the next several weeks, Food Safety Tech will provide readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report.
View last week’s hazards in poultry.
Rodents are vectors of more than 50 pathogens, including plague.1 While plague may be considered a problem of the past, according to the World Health Organization, between 2010 and 2015, there were 3,248 cases of reported plague worldwide and 584 deaths. While it is clearly not the 1300’s when the plague killed millions, the CDC confirms, “plague occurs in rural and semi-rural areas of the western United States, primarily in semi-arid upland forests and grasslands where many types of rodent species can be involved.” While the fact that plague is still lurking is a bit surprising, it should be no surprise that rodents can spread more than 50 diseases. Not the least of these diseases is Salmonella braenderup, the cause of recall of approximately 206,749,248 eggs in 2018. The good news: In the age of IoT, new technology can enable an immediate response to help prevent infestations from growing out of control.
With rodent populations on the rise due to climate change and the resultant public health issues in major cities across the United States, public health officials and pest managers face unimaginable challenges in staying ahead of rapidly growing and spreading rodent infestations. Earlier this year, Los Angeles had a typhus outbreak that resulted from a rat infestation near an encampment for those experiencing homelessness. The unsanitary conditions created a harborage for rats that spread the flea-borne illness. Cases of typhoid have doubled in the area since 2012. When and where will the next pathogen outbreak from rodent activity hit?
If that’s not frightening enough, it is important to highlight that once an infected, flea-carrying rodent enters a facility, eliminating the rodent does not always necessarily mean eliminating the presence of plague pathogens. The World Health Organization explains that once vectors have been introduced through rodents and their fleas, it is not enough to eliminate rodents. Vector control must take place before rodent control because “killing rodents before vectors will cause the fleas to jump to new hosts.”
Controlling the spread of pathogens via rodents is becoming increasingly important, particularly in sensitive environments like food processing and manufacturing facilities. Effective management begins with early and accurate detection and sustained through continuous monitoring. However, the traditional method of manual rodent inspection by its very nature cannot provide facility and pest managers with either early detection or continuous monitoring.
Thanks to IoT, monitoring systems can now be used in a wide variety of rodent monitoring devices inside and outside a facility. The systems transmit messages in real time over wireless networks and provide pest managers, facility management and public health officials with 24/7 visibility of rodent activity in a monitored location, which will enable more timely responses and help improve the effectiveness of mitigation efforts. Digital IoT technologies are rapidly becoming the modern proactive tool used to help predict and control rodent issues before they occur in an age when traditional, reactive methods are insufficient.
- Meerburg, B.G., Singleton, G.R., and Kijlstra, A. (2009). “Rodent-borne Diseases and their Risk for Public Health”. Crit Rev Microbiol.
There’s a reason you can eat or drink pretty much anything you want from American grocery stores and not get sick. Food manufacturing is highly regulated and subject to rigorous quality control.
Before food and beverages hit store shelves, the manufacturer must have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system in place. The HACCP system requires that potential hazards—biological, chemical and physical— be identified and controlled at specific points in the manufacturing process. In addition, fresh foods undergo a kill-step. This is the point in the manufacturing or packaging process where food is treated to minimize and remove deadly pathogens like bacteria, mold, fungus and E. coli.
Generally speaking, when cannabis hits dispensary shelves, a less stringent set of rules apply, despite the fact that cannabis is ingested, inhaled and used as medicine. Cultivators are required to test every batch, but each state differs in what is required for mandated testing. Compared to the way food is regulated, the cannabis industry still has a long way to go when it comes to consumer safety—and that poses a considerable public health risk. In the early stages of legalization, the handful of legal states did not have rigid cannabis testing measures in place, which led to inconsistent safety standards across the country. State governments have had a reactionary approach to updating testing guidelines, by and large implementing stricter standards in response to product recalls and customer safety complaints. While local regulators have had the best intentions in prioritizing consumer safety, it is still difficult to align uniform cannabis testing standards with existing food safety standards while cannabis is a Schedule I substance.
The stark differences in safety measures and quality controls were first obvious to me when I moved from the food and beverage industry into the cannabis industry. For five years, I operated an organic, cold-pressed juice company and a natural beverage distribution company and had to adhere to very strict HACCP guidelines. When a friend asked me for advice on how to get rid of mold on cannabis flower, a light bulb went off: Why was there no kill step in cannabis? And what other food safety procedures were not being followed?
What to know more about all things quality, regulatory and compliance in the cannabis industry? Check out Cannabis Industry Journal and sign up for the weekly newsletterThe current patchwork of regulations and lack of food safety standards could have dire effects. It not only puts consumer health in jeopardy, but without healthy crops, growers, dispensaries and the entire cannabis supply chain can suffer. When a batch of cannabis fails microbial testing, it cannot be sold as raw flower unless it goes through an approved process to eliminate the contamination. This has severe impacts on everyone, starting with the cultivator. There are delays in harvesting and delivery, and sometimes producers are forced to extract their flower into concentrates, which really cuts into profits. And in the worst cases, entire crop harvests may have to be destroyed.
So, what do cannabis cultivators and manufacturers have to fear the most? Mold. Out of all the pathogens, mold is the most problematic for cannabis crops, perhaps because it is so resilient. Mold can withstand extreme heat, leaving many decontamination treatments ineffective. And most importantly, mold can proliferate and continue to grow. This is commonplace when the cannabis is stored for any length of time. Inhaling mold spores can have serious adverse health effects, including respiratory illness, and can even be deadly for immunocompromised consumers using it for medical reasons.
What the industry needs is a true kill step. It’s the only way to kill mold spores and other pathogens to ensure that they will not continue to grow while being stored. States that mandate microbial testing will benefit from the kill step because more cultivators will be in compliance earlier in the process. In states that don’t require comprehensive microbial testing, like Washington and Oregon, the kill step is a critical way to provide consumers with a preemptive layer of protection. Microbial testing and preventative decontamination measures encourage customer brand loyalty and prevents negative press coverage.
Adopting a HACCP system would also build additional safeguards into the system. These procedures provide businesses with a step-by-step system that controls food safety, from ingredients right through to production, storage and distribution, to sale of the product and service for the final consumer. The process of creating HACCP-based procedures provides a roadmap for food safety management that ultimately aligns your staff around the goal of keeping consumers safe.
It’s high time for the cannabis industry to adopt FDA-like standards and proactively promote safety measures. Cannabis growers must implement these quality controls to ensure that their products are as safe to consume as any other food or drink on the market. Let’s be proactive and show our consumers that we are serious about their safety.
Last Friday Brand Castle, LLC announced a recall of 25 oz and 32 oz glass jars of its Brand Castle and Sisters’ Gourmet cookie and brownie mix due to concern over E. coli contamination. The voluntary recall is in cooperation with the recall being conducted by ADM Milling, as the company is a supplier of flour to Brand Castle. There is a full list of the affected products, along with product photos, in a company announcement on FDA’s website.
On June 14, King Arthur issued a voluntary recall of its five-pound bags of unbleached all-purpose flour in connection with the current E. coli outbreak related to ADM Milling Co.
Another customer of ADM Milling Co., King Arthur Flour, Inc., is voluntarily recalling its five-pound bags of unbleached all-purpose flour due to potential contamination with E. coli O26. The recall affects 14,218 cases of product with six specific lot codes and “best used by” dates of 12/07/19, 12/08/19 and 12/14/19. According to a King Arthur Flour company announcement, ADM Milling notified them that certain wheat used to make the above-mentioned product lots has been linked to an ongoing E.coli outbreak. King Arthur Flour states that this recall does not affect its products sold through the company’s website, Baker’s Catalogue or its Baker’s Store in Norwich, VT.
Just a couple of weeks ago, ADM Milling expanded its flour recall to include all five-pound bags of Bakers Corner All Purpose Flour, which is packaged by ALDI.
Consumers are advised to discard the product or return them to the place of purchase for a credit or refund.
Thus far, the investigation of E.coli O26 involving ADM Milling Flour has been linked to 17 illnesses and three hospitalizations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The food industry is beginning to transition into an era of big data and analytics unlike anything the industry has ever experienced. However, while the evolution of big data brings excitement and the buzz of new possibilities, it also comes coupled with an element of confusion due to the lack of tools for interpretation and lack of practical applications of the newly available information.
As we step into this new era and begin to embrace these changes, we need to invest time to educate ourselves on the possibilities before us, then make informed and action-oriented decisions on how to best use big data to move food safety and quality into the next generation.
Stephanie Pollard will be presenting “The Power of Advanced NGS Technology in Routine Pathogen Testing” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | November 13–15One of the big questions for big data and analytics in the food safety industry is the exact origins of this new data. Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) is one new and disruptive technology that will contribute significantly to a data explosion in our industry.
NGS-based platforms offer the ability to see what was previously impossible with PCR and other technologies. These technologies generate millions of sequences simultaneously, enabling greater resolution into the microbial ecology of food and environmental surfaces.
This represents a seismic shift in the food safety world. It changes the age-old food microbiology question from: “Is this specific microbe in my sample?” to “what is the microbial makeup of my sample?”
Traditionally, microbiologists have relied on culture-based technologies to measure the microbial composition of foods and inform risk management decisions. While these techniques have been well studied and are standard practices in food safety and quality measures, they only address a small piece of a much bigger microbial puzzle. NGS-based systems allow more complete visibility into this puzzle, enabling more informed risk management decisions.
With these advances, one practical application of NGS in existing food safety management systems is in routine pathogen testing. Routine pathogen testing is a form of risk assessment that typically gives a binary presence/absence result for a target pathogen.
NGS-based platforms can enhance this output by generating more than the standard binary result through a tunable resolution approach. NGS-based platforms can be designed to be as broad, or as specific, as desired to best fit the needs of the end user.
Imagine using an NGS-based platform for your routine pathogen testing needs, but instead of limiting the information you gather to yes/no answers for a target pathogen, you also obtain additional pertinent information, including: Serotype and/or strain identification, resident/transient designation, predictive shelf-life analysis, microbiome analysis, or predictive risk assessment.
By integrating an NGS-based platform into routine pathogen testing, one can begin to build a microbial database of the production facility, which can be used to distinguish resident pathogens and/or spoilage microbes from transient ones. This information can be used to monitor and improve existing or new sanitation practices as well as provide valuable information on ingredient quality and safety.
This data can also feed directly into supplier quality assurance programs and enable more informed decisions regarding building partnerships with suppliers who offer superior products.
Similarly, by analyzing the microbiome of a food matrix, food producers can identify the presence of food spoilage microbes to inform more accurate shelf-life predictions as well as evaluate the efficacy of interventions designed to reduce those microbes from proliferating in your product (e.g. modified packaging strategies, storage conditions, or processing parameters).
Envision a technology that enables all of the aforementioned possibilities while requiring minimal disruption to integrate into existing food safety management systems. NGS-based platforms offer answers to traditional pathogen testing needs for presence/absence information, all the while providing a vast amount of additional information. Envision a future in which we step outside of our age-old approach of assessing the safety of the food that we eat via testing for the presence of a specific pathogen. Envision a future in which we raise our standards for safety and focus on finding whatever is there, without having to know in advance what to look for.
Every year we learn of new advancements that challenge the previously limited view on the different pathogens that survive and proliferate on certain food products and have been overlooked (e.g., Listeria in melons). Advanced NGS technologies allow us to break free of those associations and focus more on truly assessing the safety and quality of our products by providing a deeper understanding of the molecular makeup of our food.
On June 1, Food Safety Tech is hosting a web seminar (also penned a “virtual conference”) about food hazards in the realm of pathogens and allergens. “Food Hazards: Detection, Mitigation & Control” begins at 11 am ET, kicking off with a presentation from Mickey Parish, Ph.D., senior science advisor at CFSAN, about the agency’s policy on Listeria monocytogenes. The following is a preview of what you’ll learn during the complimentary event (that’s right, it’s free for all attendees).
Critical Elements for a Successful Pathogen Environmental Monitoring Program
Nearly every segment of the food and pet food industries are either working on implementing pathogen environmental monitoring programs (PEMPs), or are working to optimize programs already in existence. Programs are increasing in complexity with many now covering multiple environmental pathogens, hygienic facility zones and sampling zones. Regulators and customers are stepping up requirements for aggressive, science-based PEMPs. The seven most critical elements for a successful PEMP will be discussed. These elements include: management commitment, determining the need for and stringency of the program, risk evaluation, sampling plan, sampling methods, data management and corrective actions.
Allergen Detection & Control
While global market demand for free-from food products is increasing, undeclared and mislabelled allergens, sulphites and gluten, throughout the supply chain, continue to be the number one cause of consumer product recalls.
To meet the varied regulatory landscape and protect consumers, effective preventative management systems must be implemented, verified and validated. What are the challenges, risks and opportunities for manufacturers and retailers to protect their brands? This informative session will provide insights into:
- Government regulations and how management systems can align with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Safe Food for Canadians Act
- Successful interventions and protocols to reduce the risk of gluten and allergen related recalls
- Differences between Management System/ Process and Product Third-Party Certifications
Pathogen Mitigation: Sanitary Design in Facilities and Sanitation Methods
This presentation will go into detail regarding pathogen mitigation strategies for food processing facilities. The relationship between hygienic design and sanitation as they factor into pathogen mitigation will also be discussed. The presentation will then examine various sanitation methods and how they can be applied within the food industry to help eliminate and control pathogens.
Each educational session will be followed by a technology spotlight and an interactive Q&A between attendees and speakers. Don’t miss out on this event—Register here!
NGS, or next generation sequencing, is described as the “most updated automated DNA sequencing technology available,” according to Eurofins’ Gregory Siragusa, Ph.D. and Douglas Marshall, Ph.D. Over the past few years, there’s been quite a bit of discussion around the technology and its role in transforming food safety testing.
Clear Labs has been especially vocal about the potential of NGS, as the company has built itself on an NGS platform with capabilities that include GMO testing, pathogen detection and ingredient authenticity. The company just announced a pilot program for its NGS platform that aims to bring the technology into the realm of routine food safety testing. Mahni Ghorashi, co-founder of Clear Labs, recently discussed the program with Food Safety Tech.
Food Safety Tech: Is the platform entering the pilot the same as the technology we talked about in the Q&A,“New Whole Genome Sequencing Test Monitors Threat of Pathogens” a couple of years back?. If so, have there been developments since? If this is a different platform, how long has it been in development and what is the novelty and advantages?
Mahni Ghorashi: That’s a good question, and I understand why this could be a little confusing, especially for someone who has followed the development of Clear Labs over the years. (Thank you!).
The current platform being piloted is based on the same fundamental technology we’ve always had, but we have built it out considerably and adapted it for routine food safety testing.
At its core, our platform is based on industry-leading NGS technology paired with IP-protected bioinformatics. It’s always been backed by the world’s largest reference database for genomic food markers and food sample metadata.
Over the last year and a half, we’ve built capabilities into the core platform that allow our system to be deployed at high testing volumes for food safety testing, at scale.
We’ve built in robotics and automation to make this system truly “end-to-end” and to speed the process from start to finish.
We’ve reduced the cost by another order of magnitude, with faster turnaround time and greater accuracy than competing market products.
In short, the latest version of the platform is the first automated system that takes advantage of advanced DNA sequencing, bioinformatics, and robotics.
This pilot represents a new era for Clear Labs and the food safety industry at large. While our tests have always been higher-resolution and higher-accuracy than PCR, we now believe we can compete with the turnaround times and cost of PCR.
FST: What is the duration of the pilot study? What is the goal of the pilot?
Ghorashi: The goal of the pilot study is to demonstrate that NGS is ready to be adopted as the new standard for routine food safety testing. We believe that our pilot study will also help the industry to fully appreciate how NGS technologies will modernize food safety programs, without changing the way food safety is conducted today.
The pilots last for two weeks. Because our platform is for high-volume, routine safety testing, it doesn’t take long to have tested a statistically significant number of samples. We’re able to quickly provide our customers with a report comparing our results to that of their legacy, PCR-based tests.
FST: What feedback have you received about the platform thus far? What is its potential?
Ghorashi: The feedback we’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. We can’t talk specifics until the pilot is complete, but I can tell you in broad terms that our early pilot customers have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
The potential is enormous. This NGS platform—the first of its kind—is going to usher in a new era of food safety testing.
Traditional techniques have high rates false negatives and false positives. In 2015, a study from the American Proficiency Institute on about 18,000 testing results from 1999 to 2013 for Salmonella found false negative rates between 2% and 10% and false positive rates between 2% and 6%. Several Food Service Labs claim false positive rates of 5% to 50%.
False positives can create a resource-intensive burden on food companies. Reducing false negatives is important for public health as well as isolating and decontaminating the species within a facility.
The costs savings, but even more important the peace of mind that comes from a near fail-proof system is invaluable to the leading food brand and service labs we’ve been working with.
FST: What are the clearest areas of impact for NGS in food safety?
Ghorashi: The impact of NGS is going to be felt broadly because it will replace existing PCR systems for high-throughput safety testing. Across the food industry, wherever there are PCR systems, we will soon see NGS-based system that will be more comprehensive, accurate, and cost-effective.
And unlike some PCR techniques that can only detect up to five targets on one sample at a time, the targets for NGS platforms are nearly unlimited, with up to 25 million reads per sample, with 200 or more samples processed at the same time. This results in a major difference in the amount of information yielded.
FST: Do you have any additional comments on the pilot program or NGS in general?
Ghorashi: While I can’t talk about specific customers, I should note that our pilot program is already deployed across half of the U.S.’s third-party service labs as well as major food production companies engaged in high-volume, routine safety testing.
The majority of the food safety industry is well aware of how transformative NGS systems can be for both their food safety programs and their bottom line. This pilot will go a long ways toward demonstrating that NGS technology has arrived for primetime in the food safety industry.
We’re still accepting applications for the pilot, and we’re excited to help brands recognize the value of and move forward with this vital progression in testing. After the pilot phase, we’ll be rolling out the full platform at IAFP in July of this year.
We’ll keep you updated!