Tag Archives: pathogens

Kevin Smedley, High Performance Systems
FST Soapbox

Importance of Flooring for Food Processing Plant Hygiene

By Kevin Smedley
No Comments
Kevin Smedley, High Performance Systems

Food processing is a multi-trillion dollar industry that encompasses facilities such as bakeries, meat and poultry plants, bottling lines, dairies, canneries and breweries. For all of these food processing plants a commercial flooring system is essential for maintaining a hygienic environment. Few areas of a plant provide as much opportunity for the spread of bacteria, mold, fungi and dust as the floor. Hazardous materials from a contaminated floor can easily be spread from worker’s shoes and mobile equipment. Food processing plants present a unique set of challenges that require careful consideration of floor properties and installation.

Food processing plants floors are subjected to constant, high concentrations of salt, alkaline and oil compounds that substantially degrade the floor and thereby risk food contamination and facility shutdown. These compounds can come from common food production by-products like oils, fats, dairy products, sugar solutions, blood, and natural acids or from harsh cleaners and disinfectants. Even with frequent and thorough cleaning these substances can—and will—result in microbial growth and the spread of bacteria in untreated concrete or poorly installed resinous flooring.

Food processing plant hygiene, flooring
A commercial flooring system is critical to maintaining a hygienic environment in a food processing plant. (Image courtesy of High Performance Systems)

Cleaning floors is an essential part of maintaining food processing operations to keep up with government standards. A proper floor coating is a necessity for dealing with the vigorous, harsh cleaning procedures that typically include very hot water and aggressive cleaning chemicals. Depending on the exposure to corrosive, temperature and moisture conditions a thin film coating may suffice; however, in most cases, a thick, durable floor coating is needed to endure the cleaning operations. If too thin of a coating is used the repeated barrage of high pressure, high-temperature hot water and steam will strip the floor coating. Only an experienced flooring professional can determine the proper floor coating for a facility.

In addition to the properties of the floor coating, proper installation is essential for maintaining a hygienic, safe facility. If a floor is not seamless even the best floor coatings are vulnerable to germ buildup within gaps and cracks. To prevent harmful substance accumulation, a seamless coving transition from the floor to the wall is needed. Not only does that make the floors unsanitary, but it also can spread to other parts of the facility, equipment and product. Coving also aids in the cleaning process by allowing for hosing around the sides and corners of the room where germ buildup is most common.

An often-overlooked—yet critical—aspect of floor installation is having the proper pitch to promote water drainage. Having pools of water is not only dangerous for workers but for product safety. Such an examples of this issue is the Listeria outbreak at cantaloupe producer Jensen Farms, which led to 33 fatalities, 143 hospitalized victims, and ultimately, the end of their business. In the 2011 FDA released a report that focused on “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Fresh, Whole Cantaloupe Implicated in the Multi-State Listeria monocytogenes Foodborne Illness Outbreak”. The conclusion was reached that the leading cause of Listeria spreading was due to a poorly constructed packing facility floor that was difficult to clean and allowed water to pool. The best way to prevent a similar situation at your plant is to make sure you get an experienced flooring expert, who understands your facility’s needs, to choose a floor with the right properties and to properly install it.

Colleen Costello, VitalVio
FST Soapbox

Prevention Takes Center Stage to Address Food Recalls

By Colleen Costello
No Comments
Colleen Costello, VitalVio

In the complex food supply chain, a single product travels a long journey before reaching consumers’ plates. It’s no wonder that it has become so difficult to control the quality and safety of food. As food moves from trucks to conveyor belts and through grocery store shelves and shopping carts, the risk for harmful bacteria to contaminate products rises immensely. What’s worse is pinpointing the source of contamination can be nearly impossible, leaving food manufacturers scrambling to “fix” the error without even knowing the cause.

In recent recalls, processing plants completely shut down operations in an effort to resolve the issue and thoroughly sanitize their entire facilities. While this is good news for consumers, this type of reactive response will undoubtedly have a long-term, irreversible impact on the business—both financially and potentially for the brand’s reputation. Consumers remember the name of the company they heard on the evening news that had to pull thousands of pounds of products from shelves in their city or region. Then, when they make their weekly trip to the grocery store, they likely make sure to avoid that company’s products in fear of potential quality issues that could make them and their families sick. It’s a deadly cycle for consumers and public health, as well as business livelihood.

Product and consumer safety must continue to be the top priority for the food industry. The success of these companies literally depends on it. With so much on the line, the food industry must come together to spark a shift in how they operate to prevent food recalls rather than having to respond to them.

Stopping Recalls to Save Lives and Businesses

To move in the direction of mitigating pathogens from ever coming into contact with food and therefore preventing recalls altogether, processors must develop and deploy new strategies that keep facilities consistently clean. The U.S. government is stepping in with regulations such as FSMA that urge companies to shift from reactively responding to safety issues, to proactively working to prevent them. This is the fundamental shift that is needed across the food supply chain in order to protect consumers and food producing businesses.

Important new technologies have emerged in recent years that can add new layers of meaningful protection to continuously combat contamination across the supply chain. When coupled with existing disinfection and cleaning practices, these new technologies can help mitigate the introduction of harmful pathogens as food moves from point A to point B, with all the stops made in between.

One example is the advent of a new class of technology that incorporates antimicrobial LED lighting, which enables food processors to take an “always on” approach to keeping surfaces free of harmful pathogens. Since these lights meet international standards for unrestricted and continuous use around people, they’re able to irradiate large places and the smallest of spaces, all while workers are present.

However, simply deploying these new technologies isn’t enough. For new prevention strategies to be truly successful, food processors should consider the bigger picture. A large percentage of food processors focus primarily on bolstering their sanitation approaches in the areas that have the highest likelihood of coming into contact with food products. This is logical, as Zone 1 and Zone 2 are typically the highest risk for contracting and spreading harmful pathogens.

Environmental Safety Zones
Environmental safety zones. Figure courtesy of Vital Vio.

However, processors are leaving holes in their sanitation strategies by not taking measures to keep areas, such as Zone 3 and Zone 4, also well protected. To ensure food remains free of contaminants, plant managers must ensure the entire environment is fully protected, including the belts and vessels that the food touches, as well as the break rooms where employees rest and offices where management holds meetings. If these areas aren’t kept equally as clean, facilities are risking outside contaminants to enter Zone 1 that can ultimately compromise their food products.

Food recalls have become eerily common, putting a strain on public health and businesses. To stop what seems to be rising to crisis level, all companies involved in the food supply chain need to take a proactive stance toward prevention. This means deploying advanced technologies that continuously prevent harmful pathogens from taking root anywhere in their facilities. Simple yet thoughtful solutions, such as antimicrobial LED lighting, ensure food companies are one step closer to keeping all of us and their businesses safe.

Dairy

Q3 Hazard Beat: Milk & Dairy Products

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Dairy

The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in milk and dairy 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. For the past several weeks, Food Safety Tech has provided readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report. Next week will conclude this series.

Mailk dairy hazards, HorizonScan
2019 Data from HorizonScan by FeraScience, Ltd.

View last week’s hazards in fruits and vegetables.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

How Will AR and VR Improve Safety in the Food Industry?

By Megan Ray Nichols
No Comments
Megan Nichols

The food and beverage sector is a huge presence in the U.S. economy. As of 2017, the industry employed 1.46 million people across 27,000 different establishments. Total food and beverage sales stand at around $1.4 trillion and add $164 billion in value to the economy as a whole.1 This presents significant opportunities and risks alike. Companies that trade in food products are held to some of the highest regulatory standards. With globalization ongoing and a higher demand than ever for variety and niche products, companies find they need to expand the mobility of their services. They must also broaden their product choices without missing a beat when it comes to quality.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have emerged as unlikely allies in that quest. These technologies are already having a positive impact on food and worker safety in the industry.

Improves New Employee Training

Onboarding and training new employees is a costly and time-consuming endeavor in any industry. Moreover, failure by companies to impart the necessary skills, and failure by employees to retain them, can have ghastly consequences. Errors on assembly lines may result in faulty products, recalls, worker and customer injuries, and worse.

The stakes in the food and beverage sector are just as high as they are in other labor- and detail-oriented industries. VR provides an entirely new kind of training experience for employees, whether they’re working on mastering their pizza cutting technique or brewing the perfect cappuccino. Other times, “getting it right” is about much more than aesthetic appeal and immediate customer satisfaction.

Animal slaughtering and processing facilities represent some of the more extreme examples of potentially dangerous workplaces in the larger food and beverage industry. Between 2011 and 2015, this U.S. sector experienced 73 fatal workplace injuries. Excepting poultry processing, 2015 saw 9,800 recordable incidents in animal processing, or 7.2 cases for every 100 full-time employees.

Some adopters of VR-based employee training claim that virtual reality yields up to an 80% retention rate one year after an employee has been trained. This compares extremely favorably to the estimated 20% retention rate of traditional training techniques.

Training via VR headset can help companies get new hires up to speed faster in a safe, detailed and immersive environment. Food processing and service are high-turnover employment sectors. The right training technology can help workers feel better prepared and more engaged with their work, potentially reducing employee churn.

Helps Eliminate Errors in Food Processing

Augmented reality is already demonstrating great promise in manufacturing, maintenance and other sectors. For instance, an AR headset can give an assembly line worker in an automotive plant detailed, step-by-step breakdowns of their task in their peripheral vision through a digital overlay.

The same goes for food and beverage manufacturing. AR headsets can superimpose a list of inspection or processing tasks for workers to follow as they prepare food items in a manufacturing or distribution facility.

In 2018, there was an estimated 382 recalls involving food products. Augmented reality alone won’t bring that number down to zero. However, it does help reduce instances of line workers and inspectors missing critical steps in processing or packaging that might result in contamination or spoilage.

Eases the Learning Curve in Food Preparation

There are lots of food products in the culinary world that are downright dangerous if they’re not prepared properly and by following specific steps. Elderberries, various species of fish, multiple root vegetables, and even cashews and kidney beans can all induce illness and even death if the right steps aren’t taken to make them fit for consumption.

In early 2019, inspectors descended on a Michelin-starred and highly respected restaurant in Valencia, Spain. The problem? A total of 30 patrons reported falling ill after eating at El País, one of whom lost her life. Everyone reported symptoms similar to food poisoning.

The common element in each case appeared to be morel mushrooms. These are considered a luxury food item, but failure to cook them properly can result in gastric problems and worse. Augmented reality could greatly reduce the likelihood of incidents like this in the future by providing ongoing guidance and reminders to new and veteran chefs alike, without taking the bulk of their attention away from work.

Brings New Efficiencies to Warehousing and Pick-and-Pack

Consumers around the globe are getting used to ordering even highly perishable foodstuffs over the internet—and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods is an indicator of what’s to come: Hundreds of freezer-equipped and climate-controlled warehouses located within a stone’s throw from a majority of the American population.

Ensuring smooth operations in perishable food and beverage supply chains is a major and ongoing struggle. It’s not just a practical headache for companies—it’s something of a moral imperative, too. The World Health Organization finds that around 600 million individuals worldwide fall ill each year due to foodborne illnesses.

Augmented reality won’t completely solve this problem, but it may greatly reduce a major source of potential spoilage and contamination: Inefficiencies in picking and packing operations. Order pickers equipped with AR headsets can:

  • Receive visual prompts to quickly find their way to designated stow locations in refrigerated warehouses after receiving refrigerated freight.
  • Locate pick locations more efficiently while retrieving single items or when they already have a partial order of perishable goods picked.

In both cases, the visual cues provided by AR help employees navigate warehousing locations much more quickly and efficiently. This substantially lowers the likelihood that food products are stuck in limbo in unrefrigerated areas, potentially coming into contact with noncompliant temperatures or pathogens. The FDA recognizes mispackaged and mislabeled food products as a major public health risk.

For food and beverage companies, AR should be a welcome development and a worthy investment. FSMA recognized that 48 million Americans get sick each year from compromised foods. The act required these entities to be much more proactive in drawing up prevention plans for known sources of contamination and to be more deliberate in standardizing their processes for safety’s sake.

AR and VR Boost Food, Worker and Customer Safety

Augmented and virtual reality may seem like an unusual ally in an industry where most consumers are primarily focused on the aesthetic and sensory aspects of the experience. However, there’s a whole world that lives and dies according to the speed and attention to detail of employees and decision-makers alike. Augmented realities, and entirely new ones, point the way forward.

Reference

  1. Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board. (March 2017). “Economic Contribution of the Food and Beverage Industry. Retrieved from https://www.ced.org/pdf/Economic_Contribution_of_the_Food_and_Beverage_Industry.pdf.

Mark Your Calendars: Pathogens Web Seminar on December 5

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments

Next month Food Safety Tech is hosting a complimentary virtual event, “Pathogens: Getting to the Source, Prevention Strategies that Work“, which takes on Thursday, December 5 from 1–4 pm ET. The web seminar brings together subject matter experts who will share their perspectives on pathogen contamination, smarter facility design and operational hygiene, and important prevention strategies.

Speakers include:

  • Larry Cohen, Principal Microbiologist, Food Safety Department, TreeHouse Foods, Inc.
  • David Pirrung, Owner, DCP Consulting
  • Dave Evanson, Technical Consultant, Merieux NutriSciences

Attendees will have the opportunity to ask speakers questions during the live Q&A session that follows each presentation. Register now for this special Pathogens Web Seminar.

This event is sponsored by Millipore Sigma and Bayer Digital Pest Management.

Brett Madden, Aviaway
Bug Bytes

How to Prepare an Integrated Bird Management Audit Program

By R. Brett Madden
No Comments
Brett Madden, Aviaway

Birds of different species can become a pest problem depending upon where they are landing, roosting or nesting. In terms of food facilities, birds can cause various concerns: Product safety risks, possible contamination (bird droppings/feathers), poor audit grades, inspection failure, secondary insect pest problems, vectoring of foodborne illness pathogens, plant closures or fines. It is for these reasons that it is essential that food, beverage and product manufacturers (FBP) establish an integrated bird management (IBM) program.

An IBM program will ensure that every essential team member is on the same page in terms of the protocols for managing pest birds within and around the facility. Even if a facility has taken a proactive approach to bird control, the potential exists for birds to enter a facility. Especially considering bird pressures around adjacent properties, buildings, bodies of water and food sources near the facility.

Read Part I of this series: Bird Problems and Control Methods for Food Production FacilitiesIBM for food industry facilities is a systematic approach to preventing birds from gaining access within a facility and reducing the length of time birds remain within a facility. Nuisance birds, depending upon how severe the bird pressure—i.e., how many birds are landing, roosting and/or nesting within a given area—can cause severe damage to equipment, property, food products, displays, vegetation, façade signage, ledges, roofs, HVAC equipment, drains, fire suppression, electrical equipment and more. The longer that birds are permitted to remain within and around a facility, the more damage they can cause, and the harder it is to remedy the problem. Thus, it is critical to remove any birds that have gained entry as soon as possible to prevent possible FBP contamination and the birds getting comfortable within the facility.

There are several components to developing an IBM program. First, you need to conduct a complete inspection of the interior/exterior of the facility, followed by a review of the current data as well as any historical bird data. Now that you have all the raw data, you can begin developing the site-specific IBM plan for the FBP facility. Now that you have the program designed, the program can be implemented. Finally, after a defined timeframe that the IBM program has been active, the program needs to be evaluated to determine if any adjustments need to be made to the program.

Inspection

The first step in developing an IBM program is to conduct an initial site inspection audit of the interior and exterior of the facility.

Integrated bird management, audits, food safety
An example of an integrated bird management food safety audit checklist. Credit: Aviaway

The following various elements need to be inspected and with said findings documented.

Interior audit, pest management
An example of an interior audit spreadsheet. Source: Aviaway. (Click to enlarge)

On the interior of the facility, look at the following items:

  • Active Birds with the Facility
    • List the areas and locations of birds
      • Example: Location(s): Food prep area(s), warehouse, etc.
    • Any history of birds and related areas
  • Interior Landscaping
    • Type(s) and necessity
  • Food Processing Areas
    • Any active control measures in place
    • Assess the level of risk
  • Bay Doors
  • Location(s): Gaps
  • Location(s): Bumpers
  • General Doors
    • Location(s): Gaps
    • Location(s): Bumpers
    • Location(s): Structural
    • Location(s): Doors left open
  • Additional Access Point(s)
    • Check all equipment areas that enter/exit building
  • Pipe-Line Penetrations
  • Sanitation
  • Conductive Conditions
    • Location(s): Standing water
    • Location(s): Food Sources
    • Debris
  • Bird Droppings or Nesting Materials
  • Staff feeding birds
    • All access to food and water
Exterior audit, pest management
An example of an exterior audit spreadsheet. Source: Aviaway. (Click to enlarge)

On the exterior of the facility, look at the following items:

  • Active birds with the facility
    • List the areas and locations of birds
      • Example: Locations(s): Rear loading dock
    • Any history of birds around the exterior of the facility
  • Adjacent Structures
    • Accessory buildings and structures
  • Sanitation Practices (Exterior)
    • Location(s): Dumpsters
    • Exposed food sources and spillage
  • Trash Receptacles
  • Trash Removal Frequency
  • Food Waste on Ground
  • Cleaning Practices
  • Cleaning Practices Schedule
  • Cleaning Food Waste Bins
  • Motion Doors
  • Bay Doors (Exterior)
    • Location(s): Gaps
    • Location(s): Bumpers
    • Location(s): Structural
  • General Doors (Exterior)
    • Location(s) Doors Being Left Open
  • Additional Access Point(s)
  • Bodies of Water
  • Conductive Conditions
  • Structural (Exterior)
    • Location(s): Pipe-Line Penetrations
    • Location(s): Flashing
    • Location(s): Pipes
    • Location(s): Openings
    • Location(s): Roof
    • Location(s): Roof Hatches
    • Location(s): Windows
    • Location(s): Canopy (Front/Rear)
    • Location(s): Awnings (Front/Rear)
    • Location(s): Façade Signage (Front/Rear/Side)
  • Drainage
  • Standing Water
  • Clogged Drains
  • Landscaping
    • Retention ponds
  • Bird Droppings or Nesting Materials
  • Exterior Storage
  • Merchandise Displays
  • Existing Bird Control Devices

Review

Next, after all the above items have been inspected and findings recorded, all the data needs to be reviewed. In addtion, all the current bird management practices within the facility, documentation practices, and current audit/inspection findings should be all evaluated together. All this information is your road map for developing your IBM Program. Make sure that while you are collecting all the said raw data, you also speak with all necessary staff to get the most accurate information possible.

Documentation

Now that you have conducted your inspections and collected all the data, it’s time to create a site-specific IBM Policy & Plan for the facility. The development and implementation of the IBM plan will provide the appropriate procedures that are to be implemented to prevent, control and exclude birds from entering a facility and from keeping birds an acceptable distance away from the facility. With proper training and implementation of IBM procedures, there will be a reduced likelihood that birds will be able to enter the facility, and the length of time birds remain inside the facility will be reduced—thus, reducing the level of pest bird damage caused, reducing hazards to food sources, equipment, the public, and the facility environment.

Each facility is unique in its operation, location and potential for bird activity. The facility’s IBM plan will be designed to factor its control options when remedying and preventing bird pressure.

Implementation

Now that you have an IBM Plan, it’s time to implement the plan. First, make any necessary changes based upon findings of the audit and review of all data. Next, correct any conducive conditions that were discovered during the inspection. All the items that may require adjustment may need to be planned out depending upon budgetary constraints. Define staff roles regarding bird control efforts on a front-line facility level. Each member of the action team must fully understand their role and responsibility about the implementation and day-to-day operation of the plan.

The IBM Plan is the roadmap that should be followed for managing pest birds throughout the interior and exterior of the facility and related structures. It will set forth the facility’s bird threshold levels and site-specific facility needs. Furthermore, the IBM Plan will provide in detail how each phase of the plan will be implemented at each facility. The facility coordinator, in collaboration with the IBM coordinator, shall be responsible for the administration and implementation of the IBM plan. Each of their roles and responsibly should be thoroughly reviewed and understood.

Next, conduct staff training on proper bird control removal methods if handing live removal internally. Otherwise, what are the approved processes for third-party vendors who are providing removal services? Finally, conduct a review of the new documentation process to record all necessary data for the IBM program. Data collection is a critical component in evaluating the success of the plan and determining if any adjustments need to be made.

Evaluation

To ensure goal compliance, the IBM program should be evaluated at each site annually. The review must consist of all records, the number of birds that gained access into the store, corrective actions taken (at the facility level and outside efforts), and any plan adjustments. By reviewing all the data collected, the plan’s effectiveness can be determined, and whether alterations need to be made. Note that the IBM plan is not a static document that sits in a binder. The plan will have to evolve as operations change, or the set goals of the program are not met.

Conclusion

A proactive approach to reducing bird populations is critical for food industry facilities. As such, the IBM program will ensure that your entire staff is adequately trained on all the site-specific bird control methods, reduce the frequency of birds entering the facility and create a documented bird control program that is designed for your specific facility.

Seafood

Q3 Hazard Beat: Seafood

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Seafood

The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in seafood 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 past and next few weeks, Food Safety Tech is providing readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report.

hazards, seafood, HorizonScan
2019 Data from HorizonScan by FeraScience, Ltd.

View last week’s hazards in herbs and spices.

Alert

Q3 Hazard Beat: Meat and Meat Products Trends

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Alert

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.

HorizonScan, Meat hazards
2019 Data from HorizonScan by FeraScience, Ltd.

View last week’s hazards in poultry.

Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management
Bug Bytes

If You Think Plague Is a Thing of the Past, Think Again

By Alec Senese
No Comments
Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management

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.

Reference

  1. Meerburg, B.G., Singleton, G.R., and Kijlstra, A. (2009). “Rodent-borne Diseases and their Risk for Public Health”. Crit Rev Microbiol.
Jill Ellsworth, Willow Industries
FST Soapbox

Modeling Cannabis Safety from Food and Beverage Quality Regulations

By Jill Ellsworth
1 Comment
Jill Ellsworth, Willow Industries

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.