Tag Archives: pathogens

Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel
Food Safety Attorney

Federal Government Takes Regulatory and Criminal Offensive Against Food Industry

By Shawn K. Stevens
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Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel

There was been a significant uptick in the amount of foodborne illness outbreaks and food product recalls (there were more than 500 food product recalls last year), many of which have been caused by dangerous pathogens. As FSMA plays a role in addressing this alarming trend, FDA is making several policy changes that will only continue to intensify. The agency is conducting microbiological profiling both inside food processing facilities during routine inspections and testing large amounts of food at the retail level. In addition, it has launched criminal investigations against food companies distributing products that have the potential to cause human illness. In many of these cases, company executives did not have direct knowledge that their products were causing, or had the potential to cause, illness. Many investigations involve Listeria monocytogenes (LM) found in food processing environments or in food products in commerce. Under FDA’s new approach, the failure to eliminate sporadic LM findings in the environment can subject companies to criminal liability. The immediate challenge to the food industry is to find a more effective solution to identify and reduce pervasive pathogens in the processing environment using pathogen-reduction technologies, while simultaneously employing written food safety protocols that can provide additional protection against criminal sanctions.

PulseNet Makes Foodborne Illness Link

Following the conclusion of the infamous the Jack-In-The Box outbreak that sickened 600 and killed four people more than two decades ago, the federal government recognized that similar outbreaks were probably occurring throughout the country, but there were no viable means of detection. As a result, the CDC created the PulseNet database, a mandatory foodborne illness reporting system to detect and track outbreaks in real time. From there, when a patient tested positive for a pathogen of concern (such as Listeria Monocytogenes, Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7), his or her doctor had to report that finding to the state health department. Each state requests copies of the isolates and tests them for the specific genetic DNA fingerprint of the pathogen of interest. These fingerprints are uploaded to PulseNet, and when indistinguishable genetic DNA fingerprints are uploaded from multiple victims, the CDC can recognize that an outbreak is emerging. The agency shares this information with FDA and other federal, state and local health departments as they work to determine a common source. Despite the fact that most illnesses uploaded to PulseNet remain unsolved, the database has helped CDC and FDA solve hundreds of outbreaks that have affected thousands of victims.

My subsequent columns will look at the emerging challenges faced by the food industry, including recent federal criminal investigations, some solutions designed to assess environmental contamination and reduce pathogens, and strategies that you can employ to reduce criminal liability.

USDA Issues Best Practices for Minimizing Salmonella and Campylobacter in Poultry

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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As part of a federal goal to achieve a 25% reduction in Salmonella illnesses related to meat and poultry products by 2020, USDA’s FSIS has revised and published guidelines for poultry processors. The document, “FSIS Compliance Guideline for Controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter in Raw Poultry”, intends to provide best practices based on scientific and practical considerations for minimizing pathogen levels and meeting FSIS food safety requirements.

The guidance recommends preventive measures that poultry companies can make in the following areas:

  • Pre-harvest (on the farm)
  • Sanitary dressing procedures
  • Further processing practices
  • Antimicrobial interventions
  • Management practices

FSIS is also seeking comment on the fourth edition of the updated document.

There has been little change in the number of confirmed Salmonella cases, which sicken more than 1 million people annually in the United States. The guidance is part of FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan, which was announced in December 2013.

Timothy Ahn, LRQA
FST Soapbox

The Real Cost of Not Having an Effective Food Safety Management System

By Timothy Ahn
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Timothy Ahn, LRQA

If you watch the evening news or read the local newspaper, the chances are pretty good that you will read or see something about a food safety concern or incident.

Consumers and Foodborne Illness
An estimated 1 in 6 Americans fall victim to a foodborne illness annually.

While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year, according to Foodsafety.gov. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Five types of organisms—Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Listeria, norovirus, and Campylobacter—account for 88% of the deaths for which the cause is known.

We watched from the sidelines when major retailers faced public scrutiny over their practices on safeguarding consumer credit card information when their websites were hacked. Today, consumer and regulatory interest in food safety are the new focus areas for the news media, especially in light of the Blue Bell Creameries Listeria and the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) Salmonella outbreaks. Unlike consumer credit information, serious missteps in our industry can kill people, and in the case of PCA, can put you permanently out of business.

In 2008, peanut butter paste manufactured by PCA killed nine people and sickened 714 others, some critically, across 46 states and was one of the largest food recalls in American history, according to the CDC. Although still under appeal, PCA CEO Stewart Parnell was convicted and sentenced to a 28-year prison term for his role in knowingly shipping out salmonella-contaminated peanut butter. Parnell received one of the toughest punishments in U.S. history in a foodborne illness case.

In the Blue Bell case, a total of 10 people with Listeriosis related to this outbreak were reported from four states, with three deaths reported from Kansas, according to the CDC. Blue Bell pulled their products from store shelves on April 20, 2015. On May 7, the FDA released findings from inspections at the Blue Bell production facilities in Brenham, Texas, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Sylacauga, Alabama. The FDA reports highlighted serious problems across multiple sites.

Both cases shine a spotlight on what can happen if you don’t have an effective food safety management system (FSMS). So what makes up a good FSMS, and is it enough to keep you out of trouble? An effective FSMS is built on three elements: Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and a management system. Food safety issues are avoidable, and good processes and a strong culture within an organization make them more unlikely to occur.

Does your leadership  recognize the importance of your FSMS?
Does your leadership recognize the importance of your FSMS? An effective FSMS should be established before a product incident or recall occurs.

Implementing a FSMS does not happen in a few months; it may take up to two years to establish one. No doubt, foundational activities need to be in place for factory operations. In addition to focusing on foundational elements such as making sure equipment is cleaned properly and procedures for allergens are implemented, the leadership team needs to make it clear that it is never acceptable under any circumstances to take shortcuts that could jeopardize food safety. This policy needs to be indoctrinated throughout the organization and thus does not happen overnight.

Underlying an effective FSMS are strong HACCP and GMPs, but food safety should always be the top priority for management and its employees, not share price, earnings or profit margin. Although financial performance is important, food safety must take precedence in the organization, and leadership at all levels needs to send that message loud and clear to all employees. In today’s environment, HACCP is pretty much mandatory from a regulatory standpoint and is an essential part of a FSMS. But the missing piece in many organizations is the support from the top—this is where culture becomes embedded in the organization.

The FSMS culture is the collective behavior from the organization around shared values and beliefs. The organization will follow the actions of leaders, not necessarily what they say—we all know actions speak louder than words. A good food safety culture is one where best practices are openly discussed, defined and rewarded. Food safety culture has become a buzz word and there needs to be a focus on making it come to life through a structured FSMS.

At this year’s Food Safety Consortium conference, Tim Ahn will discuss advancing food safety training and harmonization (November 19). LEARN MOREFood safety training is important not only for first line supervisors and operators, but also for senior managers and leadership, because they define the objectives and policies of the FSMS. What does it mean to conduct an effective management review? What does it mean to do an internal audit? What’s a good corrective action process? Training often misses the mark, because organizations fail to embed it correctly.

For FSMS to thrive, management must commit to the FSMS being a required way of doing things throughout the entire organization. A FSMS is most effective when it benchmarked against a proven standard and verified by an independent third party. Certification against a proven standard will reduce risk within your business.

Select your independent third-party verifier carefully. Do they have the resources and time, and do they know what they are doing? Do they add value to your organization? This is important since once you get certified, your journey starts and it doesn’t end. The value comes in two areas: Identifying risks and developing the appropriate control measures, and ensuring that the process drive continuous improvement in your organization. FSMS is focused on how continuous improvement applies to the management of risk and business operations.

The most effective way to establish an FSMS is to have leadership that recognizes its importance. The worst way is to have a recall or an incident, which draws attention to the fact that there is a problem and something needs to happen. In the case of Blue Bell, they probably understood the importance of food safety and thought they were taking the right actions. However, their management system led them to problems. FSMS must be independently verified against world-class standards to ensure effective performance.

Auditing and FSMS
A thorough auditor won’t look the other way and will find the problems. Call it as you see it–don’t be too soft when getting an assessment.

Companies can develop blind spots where they cannot see their own bad practices, and they become institutionalized over time. Fortunately, experienced independent third-party assessors can shine a spotlight on those bad practices. That is the true value in bringing in outsiders to look at your operations and culture to uncover those blind spots.

At PCA, their poor culture and actions to the problem sealed their fate. In some ways, this criminal case presented a wake-up call to boardrooms across America and highlights how badly leadership mismanaged matters. This case came to light in the context of the public complaining to the regulators that they were not doing enough following several highly visible food poisoning cases. A FSMS would have prevented these problems because the structure would not allow such bad decisions to be made and would have been verified by an independent third party that would test and check everything. A reputable third-party verifier would not miss poor GMP/ HACCP processes.

A good assessor can help a company understand what is really important and what is not so important when it comes to findings (i.e., context). We don’t waste a client’s time with insignificant issues and that is where the experience and judgment of the auditor becomes critical. Last year I met with a client and said, “you need to be checking for Salmonella in your environment—how do you know it is not there?” I pushed them into checking because I understood the changing regulatory environment. I came back a year later, and they had confirmed that regulators were interested in their Salmonella monitoring program during a recent inspection. As an auditor, you have to be confident enough to provide advice and context to the client in a way that is understood and accepted, and that helps to build trust.

With FSMA, the government can now take specific actions against companies. If I am plant manager or CEO, how do I know for sure that I am in compliance with the requirements? How do I know that I don’t have any of these potential issues? The only way to know for sure is to have the FSMS assessed. Just like a bank or publicly traded company hires financial auditors to assure everything is done correctly, companies need to audit their FSMS to ensure compliance. Get a process audit and ensure they drill down deep into the organization—that is where we find issues and gaps. A thorough auditor will find your problems instead of looking the other way. It is important to call it the way you see it and not be too “soft” when getting an assessment.

If I am the CEO, I want to know where those problems exist. Independent third party assurance is the best way to find out how compliant you are with regulations. No CEO wants to deal with the inevitable lawsuits and lost business impacts. At least with an effective FSMS, you can show a level of due diligence when the regulators show up at your doorstep and the culture is such that you want to address any problems.

We have entered an important time for the food industry with FSMA implementation and other food safety regulatory requirements in the United States. These new rules place an emphasis on management accountability, risk assessment and control of supply chains. The bar for due diligence has been raised and it up to all us to show that we have done everything possible, and the best way is with an effective FSMS.

Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
From the Editor’s Desk

Listeria Puts a Spook in Halloween

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

It’s that time of year again: A time when Americans, both young and old, enjoy decorating pumpkins, dressing up in outrageous costumes, visiting houses haunted with ghosts and goblins, and consuming way too much sugar. And then there’s the classic favorite, the caramel apple. I’ve never been a huge fan of the sticky treat, but many Americans just can’t get enough it.

This year’s Food Safety Consortium conference features “Preventing Listeria Workshop: A Practical Workshop on Food Safety Controls” on Tuesday, November 17. REGISTER HERE. Last year caramel apples received a huge amount of negative press as a result of a deadly Listeria outbreak that was traced back to prepackaged caramel apples from Bidart Bros (Bakersfield, CA). In February of this year, the CDC closed its investigation, and provided the final stats: 7 dead and 34 hospitalizations throughout 12 states.

Now here we are, at the height of the season for apples and sweet treats, and concerns over Listeria in caramel apples are back in the media. The good news is that industry is proceeding with caution. The Wall Street Journal reports that Kroger Co. is taking unrefrigerated caramel apples off its store shelves following a recent study that cited a higher likelihood of Listeria growth on the products when at room temperature versus under refrigeration. Published by the American Society of Microbiology, the study, “Growth of Listeria monocytogenes within a Caramel-Coated Apple Microenvironment”, found that “insertion of a stick into the apple accelerates the transfer of juice from the interior of the apple to its surface, creating a microenvironment at the apple-caramel interface where L. monocytogenes can rapidly grow to levels sufficient to cause disease when stored at room temperature”. The researchers also advise that consumers purchase refrigerated apples or eat them fresh.

Although representatives from Kroger said they think the risk of Listeria contamination is minimal, they decided to take a cautionary approach. It’s reassuring to see companies step up and take proactive tactics to mitigating risks, especially when it involves protecting consumers against another potentially deadly outbreak.

Robin Stombler, Auburn Health Strategies
In the Food Lab

Five Questions Food Facilities Should Ask About Testing

By Robin Stombler
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Robin Stombler, Auburn Health Strategies

The FDA issued the first of several final regulations aimed at modernizing the food safety system through the use of hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls. Inherent in this system are a number of requirements that eligible food facilities must follow, such as developing a written food safety plan, monitoring, corrective actions and verification. Laboratory testing is an essential component as well.

Robin Stombler presented “Laboratory Oversight and FSMA: Why and When” at the Food Labs Conference in Atlanta, GA | March 7–8, 2016So, what should food facilities know about laboratory testing within the context of the preventive controls for human food final rule?  First and foremost, the final rule states, “facilities have a responsibility to choose testing laboratories that will produce reliable and accurate test results.”  While a future regulation is expected to address the need for accredited laboratories and model laboratory standards, the preventive controls rule adopts other requirements pertaining to testing. Here are five questions that food facilities should ask about testing and the preventive controls rule.

1. What is the difference between pathogens and microorganisms?

The final rule defines “pathogen” to mean a microorganism that is of public health significance. A microorganism is defined as “yeasts, molds, bacteria, viruses, protozoa and microscopic parasites, and includes species that are pathogens.” Microorganisms that are of public health significance and subject food to decomposition or indicate that the food is adulterated or is contaminated with filth are considered “undesirable.”

2. How must food facilities account for pathogens?

Food facilities must prepare and implement a written food safety plan. One component of the food safety plan must include a written hazard analysis. This analysis must identify known or reasonably foreseeable hazards. These hazards may be biological, which includes parasites, environmental pathogens and other pathogens.

In another example, the food safety plan must include written verification procedures. This is to demonstrate that the facility is verifying that its preventive controls are implemented consistently and are significantly minimizing or preventing the hazards. These verification procedures are intended to be appropriate to the particular food facility, the food in question, and the nature of the preventive control and its role within the facility’s food safety system. With this in mind, facilities must conduct activities such as product testing for a pathogen or an appropriate indicator organism or other hazard, and environmental monitoring.

3. Are there written procedures specific to product testing?

Yes. Procedures for product testing must be scientifically valid and must identify the test microorganisms or other analytes. The procedures for identifying samples, including their relationship to specific lots of products, must be written and implemented. The procedures for sampling, including the number of samples and the sampling frequency, must be outlined. The facility must recognize the laboratory conducting the testing as well as describe the tests that are performed and the analytical methods used. Corrective action steps must also be included.

4. What are the procedures for environmental monitoring?

Similar to product testing, these procedures must be scientifically valid, identify the test microorganisms, and be put in writing. For routine environmental monitoring, the location from which the samples are collected and the number of sites that are tested must be stated. The final rule indicates that the “number and location of sampling sites must be adequate to determine whether preventive controls are effective.”  Written procedures must also identify the timing and frequency for collecting and testing samples. Again, similar to product testing, the laboratory conducting the testing and the tests and analytical methods used must be divulged. Corrective action procedures must also be included.

5. How does the supply-chain program incorporate testing?

A receiving facility is required to document a written supply chain program in its records. A component of that program includes documentation of sampling and testing performed as a supplier verification activity. The documentation must include identification of the raw material or other ingredient (including, if appropriate, lot number) and the number of samples tested. It also means that the tests conducted and the analytical methods used must be identified. The date the test is conducted as well as the date of the test report must be provided, and the identity of the laboratory performing the testing must be revealed. Any corrective actions that were taken in response to a hazard detection must also be reported.

This Q&A provides a glimpse into how the preventive controls final rule for human food incorporates laboratory testing. For more details, access the final rule.

Salmonella outbreak linked to cucumbers

UPDATE: What is FDA Doing About Salmonella in Cucumbers?

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Salmonella outbreak linked to cucumbers

UPDATE: September 9: According to the CDC, 341 people have been reportedly infected with Salmonella from 30 states. Since September 3, the number of cases has increased by 56. Two deaths have now been reported (California and Texas). Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce has voluntarily recalled all cucumbers sold under the “Limited Edition” label (between August 1 through September 3, 2015).

More information has been posted on the CDC website.

Lawsuits regarding salmonella in cucumbers have already been filed.

–end update—

Across 27 states, an outbreak of Salmonella Poona linked to cucumbers grown in Mexico has led to one death and 53 reported hospitalizations, according to FDA. The agency released an update on Friday with the latest figures and information related to the outbreak and the product.

The product:

  • Cucumbers supplied by Andrew and William Fresh Produce of San Diego
  • Cucumbers grown in Baja, Mexico
  • Referred to as a “slicer” or “American” cucumber
  • Shipped in black, green, yellow cartons that read “Limited Edition Pole Grown Cucumbers”

The Salmonella outbreak (as of 9/3):

  • Where: Alaska (8), Arizona (60), Arkansas (6), California (51), Colorado (14), Idaho (8), Illinois (5), Kansas (1), Louisiana (3), Minnesota (12), Missouri (7), Montana (11), Nebraska (2), Nevada (7), New Mexico (15), New York (4), North Dakota (1), Ohio (2), Oklahoma (5), Oregon (3), South Carolina (6), Texas (9), Utah (30), Virginia (1), Washington (9), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (3)
  • Date range: July 3 to August 26, 2015
  • 1 death
  • 53 reported hospitalizations

Additional details are available on FDA’s website, and the agency will provide an update when new information is available.

As with any potential health hazard related to consumption of a food product, FDA is advising consumers not to eat the cucumbers. They are also urging restaurants to ask their suppliers what company supplied their cucumbers.

Purnendu C. Vasavada, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at University of Wisconsin

What Should You Know About Food Safety Testing?

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Purnendu C. Vasavada, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at University of Wisconsin

Food safety is in the news. Recent food industry, regulatory and consumer trends stress proactive, systematic and preventive approach to food safety by managing food hazards and risks. Testing for food safety hazards, particularly microbial hazards and allergens throughout the food production and processing chain is becoming increasingly important in assuring food safety. Food testing is also becoming important for detection of adulteration.

In next week’s Food Safety Consortium to be held in Schaumburg, IL, Purnendu C. Vasavada, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at University of Wisconsin, River Falls, and President of PCV & Associates, LLC, will discuss trends in the food safety testing market and approaches for testing of food and food plant environment, emphasizing microbial and other significant food hazards. In this article, PC, as he is popularly referred to, gives a sneak-peek into his presentation.

Food Safety Tech (FST): You will be speaking about the Food Testing Market – what are some broad trends that you are seeing?

PC: Food Microbiology testing is increasing worldwide but majority of testing is still dealing with food quality assurance and ingredient and product testing. Testing for pathogens seem to be driven by regulatory requirement. According to recent market reports, 76 percent of test volume in North America is for routine microbiology. In the EU and Asia, routine microbiology accounts for 81 percent and 72 percent of test volume, respectively.

Most pathogen testing is for Salmonella, E. Coli 057:H7 and Stex, Listeria and as L. monocytogenes. There is an increasing interest in testing for Campylobacter.

Testing of in-process and environmental samples is more common in NA and Europe. In Asia in-process/environmental testing only accounts for 9 percent of total test volume.

FST: In your presentation at the Consortium, what will you talk about FSMA and its impact on food safety testing?

PC: I plan to include a brief discussion on testing as related to monitoring and verification of Preventive Controls.

FST: Where is food safety testing headed, and what should food safety managers keep in mind?

PC: Given the emphasis on supply chain management and process control to manage identified hazards in preventive mode, food safety managers should understand testing internal and external testing requirements and complexity of sampling, testing tools and approaches not simply focus on cost aspects. Even if testing is outsourced, becoming familiar with various methods and testing tools will be necessary.

FST: Who should attend your presentation and why?

PC: Plant managers, quality assurance supervisors, marketing managers, food safety testing methods, equipment and service providers as well as anyone interested in food safety testing would find this presentation very useful and relevant to their day-to-day activities.

Are you registered for the Food Safety Consortium yet? Sign up now, and hear from over 70 experts in this area.

Ravi Ramadhar, Food Safety Business Director for Life Sciences Solutions, Thermo Fisher Scientific
In the Food Lab

Molecular Diagnostics – Generation 3: 2005 to Present

By Ravi Ramadhar
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Ravi Ramadhar, Food Safety Business Director for Life Sciences Solutions, Thermo Fisher Scientific

In my previous blog, I covered the first two generations of Molecular Diagnostics: Generation one, was the advent of these tests prior to 1995, while the second generation saw the evolution of molecular diagnostics with the emergence of standardized food molecular and method workflow.

The advent of automated DNA sequencing and use of multiple fluorescent dyes by companies like Applied Biosystems and Roche led to the development of multiple fluorescent dyes and real- time quantitative PCR systems (qPCR). At first these qPCR systems were only used in the research environment, but quickly found their way to the food industry.

Applications such as quantitation of GMOs and multiple pathogen targets became common. Real-time PCR systems permitted users to visualize amplification as it happened and enabled simultaneous detection of multiple targets. With the use of newer chemistries and improved enzymes, shorter amplification cycles – sometimes as low as 40 minutes – could be achieved. The real-time systems offered faster time-to-result with additional target probes and thus higher target specificity. As with most molecular methods, the workflow was sensitive to food matrix inhibition and required alternative sample preparation methods to meet the wide variety of food matrixes.

Within this generation of solutions, alternatives were introduced, that promised faster, easier or more sensitive results. These included alternative to either the detection method or enzymes utilized Iisothermal amplification, for example without need for multiplexing capability of qPCR or internal controls, as well as targeting alternative nucleic acid such as RNA were introduced to the food market. These incremental improvements did not lead to any significant new paradigms or improvements to the food testing workflow. Their emergence instead led to an explosion of additional and alternative molecular platforms for food, without any real innovation. Within this, solutions introduced to the food industry eventually brought us to where we are today.

Directly taking systems from the clinical diagnostics workflow and introducing these platforms and systems as food solutions. While these systems automate the entire workflow or automate the PCR setup it remains to be seen if with their higher complexity and high maintenance these systems can survive the food industry. The basic molecular workflow for food has remained intact since its introduction in the late 1990s with innovation more or less stagnant. What’s needed is for someone to truly develop a platform from the ground up with the food laboratory in mind.

Today’s landscape and what’s next

Today, there are some early signals of where innovations and changes for food labs will emerge. A recent poster by Nestle, for example, highlighted the uses of next-generation sequencing (NGS) and DNA sequencing to develop a DNA method to allow the identification of coffee varieties through the value chain, from the field to the finished product. The method is applied on routine basis to guarantee the purity and authenticity of raw material used by Nespresso.

Applications of NGS in outbreak response and trace back investigations are being used in parallel with existing technologies. Finally, availability of new sequencing data enables better assay design and development of adjacent technologies.

NGS was preceded by emulsion amplification and sequencing by synthesis. These developments led to the development and introduction of digital PCR. Within a digital PCR reaction, millions of simultaneous reactions from one sample occur. The advantages of dPCR include lower and absolute, not relative gene copy number. The data has high precision and has better tolerance to inhibitors. These characteristics can lead to better and more precise molecular tests in food. , Before dPCR wide spread adoption is seen, however, the limitations of high cost and limited dynamic range must be addressed.

It’s not only in the testing labs and adjacent technologies that NGS is having an impact. In the labs driving innovation in food and food ingredient development, applications of NGS are being used to develop targeted food ingredients.

Nestle is the leader in this convergence of food, health and nutrition and over the last three years, the company has acquired and formed partnerships targeting the space. In its formation of the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences, Emmanuel Baetge, head of NHIS, emphasized NHIS expertise and research capabilities using systems biology, next generation sequencing, and human genetics.

The world of food safety is as dynamic as the natural flora of food itself. Changing regulations, evolving organisms, technological change and consumers’ changing tastes require new solutions. The requirements of the food laboratory have not changed. They are the protectors of brands and the teams we trust to deliver safe and quality foods. However, how they do that has and will continue to change.

Next time… molecular serotyping.

References:

  1. Wetterstrand KA. DNA Sequencing Costs: Data from the NHGRI Genome Sequencing Program (GSP) Available at: www.genome.gov/sequencingcosts. Accessed 1/13/2014 [DOA 1/13/12014].
  2. Beilei Ge and Jianghong Meng , 2009 14: 235 Advanced Technologies for Pathogen and Toxin Detection in Foods: Current Applications and Future Journal of Laboratory Automation DOI: 10.1016/j.jala.2008.12.012.
  3. Morisset D, Sˇ tebih D, Milavec M, Gruden K, Zˇ el J (2013) Quantitative Analysis of Food and Feed Samples with Droplet Digital PCR. PLoS ONE 8(5):e62583. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062583.
  4. http://www.nestle-nespresso.com/asset-libraries/Related%20documents%20not%20indexed/Nespresso%20poster%20ASIC2012%20DNA%20traceability.pdf
Dan Okenu, Ph.D., Food Safety Manager, H-E-B
Retail Food Safety Forum

Combating Norovirus Hazards in Retail Food Service – Part 3

By Dan Okenu, Ph.D.
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Dan Okenu, Ph.D., Food Safety Manager, H-E-B

In the past two weeks, this blog has covered how Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness worldwide, some potential sources of outbreak, and the importance of proper handwashing, developing an employee health policy, building a comprehensive food safety program, and training of employees. One critical aspect of Norovirus management is proper attention paid to cleaning and disposal of body fluids.

Proper cleaning and disposal of body fluids

The food code requires that retail foodservice establishments have proper procedures in place for emergency body fluids clean-up. Body fluids incidents in the dining room, play areas or back of the house are arguably the single most important source of Norovirus cross contamination in the restaurant, if clean-up and disposal are not performed according to standard operating procedures. The components of an effective and compliant SOP for emergency body fluids clean-up may include the following:

  • Written step by step procedure to contain, isolate, clean and disinfect affected areas;
  • Ready and easily accessible emergency body fluid clean-up kit;
  • Use of PPEs like disposable aprons, gloves and protective eye glasses;
  • Norovirus approved disinfectant as a kill step before and after clean-up;
  • Containment of body fluids spill using absorbent yellow spill pads to reduce aerosols;
  • Affected area should be isolated to avoid accidental dispersal by guests;
  • Discard all affected open food and decontaminate all affected surfaces;
  • Stop all food prep until body fluids are contained, cleaned and affected area disinfected;
  • Perform clean-up with disposable towels and yellow spill pads for easy disposal;
  • Wear triple gloves to avoid contaminating the clean-up kit and storage area;
  • Dispose clean-up trash straight in outside dumpster without passing through kitchen; and
  • Employee must wash hands twice, first in the bathroom and then in the kitchen.

The pathogen kill-step is the most important step in the body fluid clean-up process. The preferred option is to use a disinfectant grade chemical instead of regular sanitizers.

Ecolab’s Insta-Use Multi-purpose Disinfectant Cleaner is effective against Norovirus (and other viruses), mold, mildew and bacteria. It cleans, deodorizes and disinfects in one labor saving step and packaged in an easy to use compact cartridge with less storage space requirement. Caution: Disinfectant is not approved for food contact surfaces and cannot be used as a replacement for regular sanitizers on food contact surfaces.

Proper training of team members and associates is required before use to encourage compliance.

In conclusion, Norovirus is still a major infectious pathogen associated with foodservice operations in spite of several regulatory control and technological advances to curtail its occurrence and prevalence. Until a viable vaccine or an effective drug becomes available against Norovirus, rigorous implementation of food safety procedures, behavioral changes and continuous training of both foodservice workers and customers will remain the industry’s best practices at prevention and control. Overall, it makes a lot of business sense to do all that it takes to protect your customers against the threat of Norovirus infection, and by so doing, equally protect your business brand and the entire public health.

Dan Okenu, Ph.D., Food Safety Manager, H-E-B
Retail Food Safety Forum

Combating Norovirus Hazards in Retail Food Service – Part 2

By Dan Okenu, Ph.D.
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Dan Okenu, Ph.D., Food Safety Manager, H-E-B

Last week, in this blog we discussed that Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness worldwide, some potential sources of outbreak, and the importance of proper handwashing and cleaning and disposal of body fluids. In this second part of the blog, we will cover developing an employee health policy, building a comprehensive food safety program, and training of employees.

Develop an employee health policy

It is important to develop an employee health policy with detailed guidelines for sick employees. Sick foodservice workers are required to stay off work until fully recovered and cleared by their Doctor. When an employee becomes sick at work, such an employee must report to the immediate supervisor, and be allowed to leave work to attend to the ill-health. Reportable diseases must be reported upon diagnosis to enable the Local Health Department and affected foodservice establishment take necessary actions to protect the public health. There should be a crisis management plan in case the media gets involved in any such reportable infectious disease situations. To enable ill-health reporting compliance by employees, foodservice establishments are encouraged to adopt an employee health policy that is not punitive in nature.

Managers and supervisors should also be trained to recognize abnormal behaviors and tell-tale signs of ill-health in employees who may choose not to report due to the potential of losing hourly wages. Employee health policy training should be mandatory – to report injuries, ill-health and to follow the exclusion policy from food prep until fully certified and cleared to return to work by the Doctor.

For more resources on employee health policy, please see FDA’s Employee Health and Personal Hygiene Handbook for practices and behaviors of food service workers that can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases in retail food operations.

Self-auditing of food safety procedures

Active managerial control will enable verification of the food safety program for potential corrective actions that may be required including retraining of staff. A self-auditing system will ensure that risk mitigation is applied at every stage of foodservice operations with HACCP plans implemented and verified. In addition, a third party auditing will identify the weak links in the system and help prepare the establishment for Local Health inspections. Proper cleaning and sanitation of contact surfaces, observing the temperature rule – keeping cold food cold and hot food hot or routine cleaning and sanitizing of high touch points surfaces are examples of food safety procedures that managers can evaluate and verify on daily basis to continue serving safe quality food to customers. Effective implementation of these food safety standard will have a direct correlation with reduction in cross-contamination including Norovirus prevention.

Comprehensive supplier food safety program

Food can get contaminated at any point during the farm to fork journey. A robust supplier food safety program will ensure better control of potential risk transfer in retail food operations. A system that ensures that approved certified suppliers are continuously verified will capture any potential system failure and implement corrective action both at the supplier and retail levels. The use of approved suppliers is an important risk mitigation step that should be mandatory and verified to ensure that all deliveries are of the highest food safety and quality standard. Since risk burden may be accentuated at retail foodservice due to multiple operational processes in the kitchen, it is important to assess the risk burden at the supplier level, to enable effective mitigation. Thus, a dedicated supplier food safety monitoring, evaluation and verification is absolutely required at retail foodservice to assist in eliminating any food safety weak link in the supply chain. The safe quality food outcome will remain complementary and supportive of the supply chain’s mission of “never run out”.

Training of employees on standard operating procedures

Proper and continuous training of employees is fundamental to a successful food safety program in retail food operations. We may have the best food safety program in place but if these important SOPs are not properly implemented at every operational step as a result of training gap, it may in fact introduce a greater risk into the system. Since most hourly foodservice workers are young adults with a higher than normal turn-over rate, effective communication and continuous training will help keep a good handle on the food safety know-how of each batch of employees. Consequently, it is absolutely necessary to have a certified food safety manager as the person-in-charge to oversee foodservice operations. Training the trainers, managers and training directors will assist in meeting the training needs of all employees including hourly and temporary workers and for compliance with food code requirements.

Online food safety courses and training is the preferred method of instruction for most large retail foodservice chains. These training materials can be accessed anywhere in handheld devices and can be updated in real time. Online training however should not be a replacement for personalized one-on-one onsite training on the job. Hand washing compliance, no bare hands contact with RTE foods, clean-up of body fluids, separating high risk raw chicken, beef and sea foods from RTE foods using a color coded system, and observing critical control points in the food prep process are some of the SOPs that require continuous training and verification to ensure compliance.

In conclusion, Norovirus is still a major infectious pathogen associated with foodservice operations in spite of several regulatory control and technological advances to curtail its occurrence and prevalence. Until a viable vaccine or an effective drug becomes available against Norovirus, rigorous implementation of food safety procedures, behavioral changes and continuous training of both foodservice workers and customers will remain the industry’s best practices at prevention and control. Overall, it makes a lot of business sense to do all that it takes to protect your customers against the threat of Norovirus infection, and by so doing, equally protect your business brand and the entire public health.