Tag Archives: pathogens

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Pathogens, Contamination and Technology in Food Safety Key Themes of 2022 Thus Far

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Nearly halfway into the year, the following are the most-read articles of 2022:

6. Four Testing and Detection Trends for 2022

Four Testing and Detection Trends for 2022


5. Packaging Automation Can Be an Essential Tool for Food Manufacturers

Packaging Automation Can Be an Essential Tool for Food Manufacturers


4. 8 Reasons Sustainability is Critical in Food and Beverage Manufacturing

8 Reasons Sustainability is Critical in Food and Beverage Manufacturing


3. The Costs Of Food Safety: Correction vs. Prevention

The Costs Of Food Safety: Correction vs. Prevention


2. FDA Continues Investigation of Listeria Outbreak in Packaged Salad

FDA Continues Investigation of Listeria Outbreak in Packaged Salad

1. Coca Cola Recalls Minute Maid, Coca Cola and Sprite Drinks Due to Foreign Matter Contamination

Coca Cola Recalls Minute Maid, Coca Cola and Sprite Drinks Due to Foreign Matter Contamination

Kroger Ground Beef

FSIS Issues Public Health Alert About Possible E. Coli O26 Contamination in Ground Beef Products

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Kroger Ground Beef

USDA’s FSIS has issued a public health alert regarding ground beef products that may be adulterated with E. coli O26. Since the products were produced on December 16 and 17, 2021, the products are no longer available for purchase—and thus the agency is not requesting a recall. However, since people frequently freeze ground beef, FSIS is concerned that these products could still in consumers’ freezers. The agency is urging consumers to check their ground beef products and not consumer the products listed in the public health alert.

The products were distributed to warehouses in Oregon and Washington and sold at retail locations, including Kroger. FSIS has provided images of the labels of the affected products.

The issue was uncovered after a consumer submitted one of the affected ground beef products to a third-party laboratory for microbiological analysis. Results confirmed the sample was positive for E. coli O26.

Across the country in New Jersey, Lakeside Refrigerated Services recently recalled more than 120,000 pounds of ground beef products due to concerns of E. coli O103 contamination.

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NARMS Publishes 2019 Report on Antimicrobial Resistance Trends in Pathogens

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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CDC, FDA, USDA logos

The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) has published its 2019 Integrated Report Summary, which reviews antimicrobial resistance trends in Salmonella, Campylobacter, generic E. coli, and Enterococcus. The report also discusses genomic information for Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli in retail meat and food producing animals.

NARMS is a partnership between FDA, CDC, USDA’s FSIS, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Agricultural Research Service, and other state and local public health departments and federal agencies. The national surveillance in the report helps all public health partners identify new types and patterns of resistance and changes over time.

“FSIS and the CDC use NARMS information on a case-by-case basis to investigate foodborne illnesses and outbreaks. FDA routinely uses NARMS data in its regulatory review and approval of new animal antimicrobial drugs, and to develop and update policies on the judicious use of antimicrobial in animals. NARMS findings help public health partners continually assess the nature and magnitude of bacterial antibiotic resistance at different points along the farm-to-fork continuum.” – USDA

The report includes a new way to calculate multidrug resistance (MDR), which means a resistance to three or more antimicrobial drug classes. The method is supposed to provide more consistency to the NARMS year-to-year MDR trend analysis and comparisons.

The Integrated Report Summary is available on FDA’s website.

FDA

Highlights of FDA’s 2021 Achievements in Food

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

At the end of his reflection on FDA’s 2021 accomplishments in the food realm, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas stated that he believes collaboration will enable industry to “bend the curve of foodborne illnesses in this decade”. It would be a significant milestone, and in his latest FDA Voices blog, Yiannas reviewed a host of FDA achievements that bring his statement much closer to a reality:

FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock gives of full report on the agency’s work in the “FDA 2021 Year in Review: Working For You”.

Compare this year’s review with that of 2020, where Yiannas reflected on the agency’s Food Program achievements during the first year of the pandemic and the 10-year anniversary of FSMA.

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IFSAC to Continue Focus on Finding Sources of Foodborne Illnesses

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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CDC, FDA, USDA logos

The Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) has published its 2022–2023 Interim Strategic Plan, placing continued emphasis on foodborne illness source attribution for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter. Over the next year, IFSAC will address several short-term goals surrounding improvement of methods to evaluate and identify foodborne illness source attribution through the use of outbreak and non-outbreak-associated disease data, and continued collaboration with external partners in an effort to boost data access and capabilities. The group will be targeting several efforts in the coming year, including:

  • Analysis of trends related to foodborne disease outbreak-associated illnesses over the past two decades, with a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article that reveals results.
  • Development and improvement of machine-learning methods used to predict food sources of illnesses that have an unknown source. WGS will be used to compare Salmonella isolates of known and unknown sources.
  • Collaboration with FoodNet when assessing key food sources for sporadic Salmonella Enteritidis and Campylobacter illnesses. The group will develop case-control studies using specific FoodNet data.

Formed in 2011, IFSAC is a partnership between FDA, FSIS and the CDC that seeks to strengthen federal interagency efforts and maximize use of food safety data collection, analysis and use. During 2022–2023, IFSAC will publish its yearly reports on foodborne illness source attribution for the previously mentioned priority pathogens.

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The Costs Of Food Safety: Correction vs. Prevention

By Matt Regusci
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ASI Food Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FDA

FDA’s Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan Seeks to Expedite Investigations

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Today FDA released a plan to help the agency and its partners improve the “speed, effectiveness, coordination and communication” of investigations surrounding foodborne illness outbreaks.

“We know that the 21st century has brought new challenges in identifying, investigating and controlling outbreaks of foodborne disease, but it has also brought new tools to meet those challenges,” stated Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, and Stic Harris, D.V.M. director of the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network in an agency news release. “We also recognize that today’s U.S. food system is large and decentralized, with a broad array of widely distributed products, which we must adapt to in order to help ensure the safety of these products. That is why we are taking steps through this improvement plan to evolve our outbreak investigations to meet modern-day needs using the most modern-day tools available. Our investigations must be faster, more streamlined and more effective to identify, pinpoint and remove contaminated food from the market and identify root-cause factors in the food system to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.”

The Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan targets four areas that, if improved, will have the greatest effect on foodborne illness outbreaks:

  • Tech-enabled product traceback: Being smarter about using digital technology, regularly, to streamline traceback investigations
  • Root-cause investigations: Adapting and strengthening procedures for conducting root-cause investigations
  • Working with the CDC, USDA’s FSIS and other partners to improve the analysis and distribution of outbreak data (including identifying recurring, emerging and persistent strains of pathogens)
  • Enhancing performance measures across the agency’s food programs to enable better evaluation of the timeless and effectiveness of outbreak and regulatory investigation activities

In addition to this improvement plan, the agency also released “An Independent Review of FDA’s Foodborne Outbreak Response Processes”, which was contracted with the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. The independent report played an important role in the development of FDA’s improvement plan.

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In the Food Lab

Planning Is Key Component of Listeria Prevention

By Matt Regusci
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ASI Food Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dole Garden Salad

Possible Listeria Contamination, Dole Recalls Garden Salads

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Dole Garden Salad

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

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

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

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USDA Makes Stronger Moves to Reduce Salmonella Illnesses from Poultry Products

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Today the USDA announced an initiative to help reduce the incidence of Salmonella illnesses linked to poultry products. In an effort to reach the national target of a 25% reduction in these illnesses, the agency will be looking for feedback on strategies related to Salmonella control and management in poultry slaughter and processing facilities. This includes pilot projects, the data from which the agency will use to determine whether different methods could be implemented to reduce Salmonella illnesses.

“The effort will leverage USDA’s strong research capabilities and strengthen FSIS’ partnership with the Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area to address data gaps and develop new laboratory methods to guide future Salmonella policy. Meanwhile, the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria in Foods, an independent federal advisory committee, will be asked to advise on how FSIS can build on the latest science to improve its approach to Salmonella control. Since it is not just the presence or absence of Salmonella, but the quantity of bacteria that can impact the likelihood of illness, FSIS will examine how quantification can be incorporated into this approach. Moreover, with emerging science suggesting that not all Salmonella are equally likely to cause human illness, FSIS will focus on the Salmonella serotypes and the virulence factors that pose the greatest public health risk.” – USDA Press Release

Watch On Demand

Food Safety Hazards Series: Salmonella Detection, Mitigation, Control and Regulation
Food safety experts will discuss challenges and tangible best practices in Salmonella detection, mitigation and control, along with critical issues that the food industry faces with regards to the pathogen. This includes the journey and progress of petition to USDA on reforming and modernizing poultry inspections to reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter; Salmonella detection, mitigation and control; and a case study on the pathogen involving crisis management.