Tag Archives: prevention

ASI Food Safety
FST Soapbox

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.

ASI Food Safety
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.

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Partnerships in Promoting Prevention (of Foodborne Illness)

By Mitzi Baum
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Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness

At Stop Foodborne Illness, or STOP, we know about collaborative partnerships. For more than 26 years, affiliating with like-minded organizations to prevent foodborne disease is the mainstay of our success and continues to provide beneficial results today.

The mission to prevent illness and death due to contaminated food resonates with our allies and aligns with their goals to coordinate and expand efforts. At any given moment, STOP is working with a diverse spectrum of individuals and industries to move the needle on foodborne illness prevention. Today, STOP’s work is focused on constituent services and food safety policy with the overarching goal of public health. Below are examples of current collaborative projects that are uniquely effective.

Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness (Alliance) is an initiative of STOP, leading food companies, and other organizations committed to the goal of preventing foodborne illness. For 25 years, Stop Foodborne Illness has communicated the compelling personal stories of people and families who have experienced serious foodborne illness or the death of loved ones. The goals of communicating these personal stories are to make clear why food safety must be a central value of the food system and to help motivate people in both the food industry and government to do their best every day to reduce hazards and prevent illness. Through the Alliance, STOP and leading food companies are collaborating to expand the reach and impact of personal stories to strengthen food safety cultures and prevent foodborne illness.

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness has a mission to:

  • Forge partnerships between STOP and leading food companies to build trust and support strong food safety cultures.
  • Collaboratively design and implement innovative, well-tailored programs that make compelling personal stories an integral motivational element of food safety culture and training programs.
  • Expand the reach and impact of personal stories through outreach to the small- and medium-size companies that are key contributors to modern supply chains.

Current Alliance members: Costco, Cargill, Conagra Brands, Coca-Cola, Yum! Brands, Nestle USA, LGMA, Empirical Foods, Maple Leaf Foods, Mars, Walmart, Wegmans, and Amazon.

Constituent/Advocate Engagement

Working with those who have been impacted by severe foodborne illness is base to our prevention work. We engage our constituent/advocates in many projects and continually seek additional opportunities.

  • STOP’s new website houses a navigational map for anyone who is in crisis, post-crisis or managing the long-term consequences of surviving severe foodborne disease. This structured, informational composition was created by constituent/advocates that are sharing their lived experiences. This incisive work provides incredible insight into the journey that may lie ahead and how to manage the potential labyrinth.
  • With our partner, Center for Science in the Public Interest, we have created a national platform for survivors of salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis to speak about their experiences surviving these diseases.
  • The Alliance has created multiple working partnerships with individual constituent/advocates.
  • STOP’s speaker’s bureau provides opportunities for our constituent/advocates to share their personal stories with large groups in person or virtually.
  • A recent college graduate who is a constituent/advocate is leading the creation of a new program for the organization.

Dave Theno Fellowship

Dave Theno Fellowship is a partnership with Michigan State University (MSU) that provides a recent public health, food science, animal science or political science graduate (undergraduate or graduate degree) the opportunity to conduct two distinct research projects, engage in STOP programming, participate on coalition calls and earn a certificate in food safety from MSU.

STOP is working with MSU to create a new course for its Online Food Safety Program that focuses on food safety failures and the impact of those system breakdowns on consumers.

Early Detection of Foodborne Illness Research

In conjunction with North Carolina State University, Michigan State University, Eastern Carolina University and University of Michigan, STOP is engaging in research to identify gaps in knowledge and application of the 2017 Infectious Disease Society of America Clinical Practice Guidelines of the Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diarrhea (IDSA) for healthcare workers. Our early findings have identified that most healthcare workers do not know about nor follow the IDSA guidelines, which include reporting of cases of infectious diarrhea and identification of the pathogen for identification and prevention of potential widespread outbreaks.

To support this research, STOP is completing a systematic literature review with the intent to publish.

Recall Modernization Working Group

STOP has been convening a group of experts comprised of individuals from academia, Alliance members, external industry partners, food industry associations, public health organizations, and industry consultants to deep dive into food recalls to define the current landscape, discuss systemic changes necessary for expedient and efficient execution of recalls for both industry and consumers and develop recommendations on how to accomplish those changes.

Everyone is susceptible to foodborne illness; thus, we need a varied, coordinated approach. Each of these partnerships helps our colleagues meet their goals while promoting prevention of foodborne illness by straddling both industry and consumer focused work. Executing our mission takes many forms and that requires diversity in partnerships, a shared vision and tangible, sustainable results.

Retail Food Safety Forum

The New Normal for Grocery Store Health and Safety

By Todd Frantz
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Grocery stores have become some of the most important retail establishments over the past few months. They’ve kept people fed and provided access to essential supplies such as toilet paper, cleaning agents and over-the-counter medications. Grocery retailers have taken extraordinary steps to help protect the health and safety of their workers and customers during the worldwide pandemic, understanding that viruses can spread quickly with high customer traffic.

While many grocery stores made operational changes to stay open during this time, more adjustments are needed to help stem future infections. Guest occupancy limits, face-covering recommendations and single-directional aisles are here to stay, at least for the near term. Customers are likely to continue online shopping, which has its own set of challenges for food and delivery safety. It will be critical for retailers to obtain reliable information, specific to the store’s location and to follow local, state and federal mitigation guidelines. Trusted sources of such information include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), plus state and local health departments.

Grocery retailers should also consider how and when employees interact with customers. Acrylic barriers at checkout lines are one method of physical control. Providing personal protective equipment and appropriate training on its use is another good method for maintaining infection control. As regulations relax, retailers need to evaluate what, if any, other changes should occur to keep safety at the forefront.

There are many other common sense practices retailers can adopt to help minimize the spread of any virus. Viral illnesses spread primarily between individuals, so the most important act of prevention is to keep employees healthy and safe. Hand washing is one of the most important steps we can take to help prevent the spread of illnesses. Most states require grocery stores to post restroom signs mandating that employees wash their hands, but these signs typically lack specific instructions. The CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The steps are the following:

  1. Dispense a paper towel, so it is ready before wetting hands
  2. Wet hands with warm (100°F/38°C) water
  3. Apply an appropriate amount of soap
  4. Rub hands vigorously together for 20 seconds
  5. Clean between the fingers, the backs of the hands and the fingertips
  6. Rinse hands under warm water to remove soap
  7. Dry hands with the paper towel
  8. Turn off faucet with a paper towel
  9. Use the paper towel to contact door surfaces to exit
  10. Throw away paper towel in a trash receptacle

Because grocery store workers touch food, increasing their handwashing frequency can help prevent the transmission of other types of illnesses beyond respiratory viruses. Employees should take care to wash their hands before donning gloves for any food preparation, after touching exposed skin, after handling soiled utensils and after engaging in any other activities that could soil hands.

Facility sanitization is another essential aspect in preventing the spread of illnesses. Grocery stores already have rigorous cleaning protocols that explain how to mix and use chemicals correctly. Additional instruction on how to apply cleaning agents to surface areas as well as visual reminders reminding workers how long a cleaning solution needs to remain before wiping with a cloth. To prevent the spread of infection, many stores have added more frequent cleaning for high-touch surfaces like door handles, touch screens and carts.

When approved sanitizers run low, however, some people turn to chlorine sanitizing agents like unscented bleach. Bleach can be a highly effective sanitizer, but it can also be potentially hazardous when misused. Specifically, when mixed with other cleaning products that contain ammonia, it creates a highly toxic chlorine gas. The cleaning staff needs proper training on how to mix and use cleaning solutions, use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as wearing gloves or a protective outer garment, and to provide appropriate ventilation in rooms where sanitizers are mixed and stored.

Grocery stores have been at the forefront of the pandemic response for some time and they will be the first to adopt “new normal” procedures. Specific guidelines around health and safety evolve, but the fundamentals of health and safety stay the same. Stores that strive to maintain high standards around cleanliness and sanitation are likely to be better positioned for the inevitable next time.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Four Ways To Improve Your Food Safety Management System

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Foodborne illnesses cost billions of dollars each year in the United States. A lack of standards can lead to severe consequences, including loss of customers, negative impact on brand reputation and employees missing work due to illness. As a result, safety is vital for any brand that is committed to high-quality food and maintaining a positive brand image.

Food safety management systems—the processes and procedures that companies set up to prevent contamination—are essential in reducing the risk of foodborne illness and ensuring the safest products possible.

By FDA regulation, most food processors must have HACCP as well as corrective actions/preventive action (CAPAs) plans in place. Even with the right safety guidelines, however, contamination or exposure to food hazards can still occur. The following are four ways to improve the quality of your food safety management system.

1. Conduct Regular Audits

Even if your business’s HACCP is highly effective in theory, it won’t prevent contamination unless actual practice lines up with documentation. Regular audits can ensure employee practice complies.

HACCPs are structured around identifying both potential food hazards and critical control points (CCPs) where your system has the opportunity to prevent, mitigate or eliminate a potential issue. Usually, this means storing food items or performing some biological, physical or chemical action to a target limit— like a specific temperature—to prevent or mitigate contamination.

For example, in the manufacturing of chicken products, cooking and hot-holding are critical control points at which the product needs to be heated to a certain temperature to eliminate or prevent potential hazards. Here, an audit would be a chance to ensure employees cooked and hot-held foods at the proper temperatures. If they aren’t, the food safety management team can make policy changes that ensure practice lines up with planning.

The audit process should be consistent and occur regularly. It should also cover every aspect of your HACCP strategy and place a particular focus on potential hazards and CCPs. These audits can be a way to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of your current HACCP strategy. Companies can use this information to build upon existing practices or demonstrate how procedures could be more effective.

Stainless steel
Stainless steel is popular in food handling due to impermeable surface and resistance to corrosion, two characteristics that help reduce the risk of food contamination. (free image from Splash)

2. Consider a CCP Monitoring System

You can use automated or digital systems to ensure that CCPs aren’t deviating from control limits. With the right sensors, it’s possible to ensure that food remains between target limits at each CCP. For example, automated sensors can quickly alert plant staff if the temperature of food in cold storage rises above a certain threshold, or if there is a deviation from a given CCP.

These alerts can help staff quickly respond to deviations, ensuring compliance, and reducing the risk of contamination by food hazards.

3. Review and Maintain Equipment

An thorough equipment program can be highly effective in reducing the risk of food contamination. To minimize risk, your plan should look at the equipment needed in your plant, as well as how it’s constructed and maintained. For example, choosing industry-standard or food-safe materials can help prevent contamination. Investing in the right kind of stainless steel can both improve operating costs and help reduce the risk of food exposed to hazards.

Preventive maintenance plans for food safety equipment can also reduce the risk of contamination by ensuring the proper functioning of site equipment.

4. Provide Employee Support and Encourage Buy-In

Training programs are an essential component of any HACCP. If your employees don’t know how to handle food properly or aren’t aware of HACCP documentation or the CCPs in the food processing pipeline, they won’t be able to execute the plan and prevent contamination.

While training programs are crucial, they don’t necessarily guarantee compliance. Common pitfalls exist that can discourage employees from following the plan. To encourage employee buy-in, training should begin by discussing the importance of food safety and the potential risks of contamination.

The training should also be robust enough that employees feel confident when executing the HACCP. Training staff should be sure to provide visual demonstrations and opportunities for employees to practice before they become responsible for food safety. Tests or evaluations both during and after training can be useful tools in determining how well your employees understand your business’s HACCP strategy. Regular follow-ups on training can also ensure compliance and reduce the risk of contamination.

Improving Food Safety Management Systems

For any business that works with food, safety programs are essential in ensuring the safest and highest quality product possible. Existing food safety management systems can often improve with the right methods. For example, automated monitoring systems can reduce the risk of deviating from CCP limits. Employee training and regular audits can also ensure that a plant’s food safety practices line up with the documented plan.

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

Did You Know Some Rats Can Jump Up to Four Feet?

By Alec Senese
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Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management

Given this fact, you may need to look up as well as down. Did you know that a rodent’s teeth is strong enough to gnaw through cinderblock? Or that they are smart enough to memorize floor plans and solve puzzles, enabling them to find multiple entrances into a facility? Did you know that a female mouse starts reproducing at only six weeks of age and can have up to 180 babies a year? That means there are 180 opportunities per mouse in your facility or home to reproduce, contaminate, and damage your products and property.

Rodent trivia can range from fun and interesting to downright shocking. The fact of the matter is that rodents are strong, agile and smart animals. The intelligence of rats is often ranked among some of the smartest in the animal kingdom. Since rodents can carry over 35 different diseases that are harmful to humans, it is a good reminder for those in food safety that these small skilled creatures require vigilance in order to keep them from spreading pathogens across your facility.

Resources

  1. Carolina Pest Management. (October 14, 2016). “10 Fascinating (but Scary!) Facts About Rodents. Retrieved from https://www.carolinapest.com/10-fascinating-scary-facts-rodents/
  2. debugged. (December 20, 2011). “10 Amazing Facts about Rats”. Retrieved from https://www.rentokil.ie/blog/10-rat-facts/
Colleen Costello, VitalVio
FST Soapbox

Prevention Takes Center Stage to Address Food Recalls

By Colleen Costello
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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.

Mark Your Calendars: Pathogens Web Seminar on December 5

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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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.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Public Food Standards

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D., Steven M. Gendel, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

In 1995, a honey processing company was indicted on charges of adulterating industrial honey labeled “USDA Grade A” with corn syrup to increase profits. Ultimately, the jury found in favor of the honey processor, in part because there “weren’t enough regulations governing honey to make the charge stick.”

Honey is defined as “the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees” from the nectar of plants. However, there is not currently an FDA standard of identity for honey in the United States, which would further define and specify the allowed methods of producing, manufacturing and labeling honey (there is, however, a nonbinding guidance document for honey). Some of the details of honey production that a standard of identity might address include allowable timing and levels of supplemental feeding of bees with sugar syrups and the appropriate use of antibiotics for disease treatment.

In circumstances where strict regulatory standards for foods are not available, they may be created by other organizations.

What Is a Food Standard?

A food standard is “a set of criteria that a food must meet if it is to be suitable for human consumption, such as source, composition, appearance, freshness, permissible additives, and maximum bacterial content.”1

To ensure quality, facilitate trade, and reduce fraud, everyone in the supply chain must have a shared expectation of what each food or ingredient should be. Public standards set those expectations and allow them to be shared. They help ensure that stakeholders have a common definition of quality and purity, as well as the test methods and specifications used to demonstrate that quality and purity. Public standards help ensure fair trade, quality and integrity in food supply chains.

How Is a Standard Different from a Method?

A method is generally an analytical technique to assess a particular property of the content or safety of a food or food ingredient. For example, methods for detection of nitrates in meat products or baby food, coliforms in nut products, or high fructose syrups in honey. Methods are an important component of food standards.

A food standard goes a step further and provides an integrated set of components to define a substance and enable verification of that substance. Standards generally include a description of the substance and its function, one or more identification tests and assays (along with acceptance criteria) to appropriately characterize the substance and ensure its quality, a description of possible impurities and limits for those impurities (if applicable), and other information as needed (see Figure 1).

FCC Standard, USP
Figure 1. The Anatomy of an FCC Standard (Source: Food Science Program, Food Chemicals Codex, USP)

Figure 1. The Anatomy of an FCC Standard (Source: Food Science Program, Food Chemicals Codex, USP)

A standard defines both what a food or food ingredient should be and documents how to demonstrate compliance with that definition.

Public Standards and Food Fraud Prevention

Many of the foods prone to fraud are those that are not simple food ingredients, but agricultural products that can be more complex to characterize and identify (such as honey, extra virgin olive oil, spices, etc.). Milk products are an example of a commodity that is prone to fraud with a wide range of adulterants (for example, fluid cow’s milk is associated with 155 adulterants in the Food Fraud Database). Ensuring the quality and purity of a product link milk requires implementation of multiple analytical techniques or the development of non-targeted methods.

The creation of effective public standards with input by a range of stakeholders will be particularly important for ensuring the quality, safety and accurate labeling of these high value commodities in the future.

Reference

  1. A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition 2005, Oxford University Press.

Resources

  1. The Food Chemicals Codex is a source of public standards for foods and food ingredients. It was created by the U.S. FDA and the National Institute of Medicine in 1966 and is currently published by the nonprofit organization USP. The FCC contains 1250 standards for food ingredients, which are developed by expert volunteers and posted for public comment before publication.
  2. The Decernis Food Fraud Database is a continuously updated collection of food fraud records curated specifically to support vulnerability assessments. Information is gathered from global sources and is searchable by ingredient, adulterant, country, and hazard classification. Decernis also partners with standards bodies to provide information about fraudulent adulterants to support standards development.
FDA

FDA Receives Record Turnout As Industry Eager to Discuss New Era of Smarter Food Safety

By Maria Fontanazza
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FDA

Industry from the public and private sector joined for a record turnout during the FDA public meeting yesterday to discuss the agency’s initiative, a new era of smarter food safety. The meeting, which was at maximum capacity for both in-person as well as webcast attendance, began with a call to action from FDA Deputy Commissioner, Office of Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas on the importance of all stakeholders in the industry to work together to drive the change. As Yiannas has previously commented, the food industry is in the midst of a revolution. The world is changing faster than ever, and the FDA is challenged with not just creating a safer, more technology-centric and traceable food system, but also getting there faster and more effectively. “I’ve always believed that words we use are important,” he said. As the day’s various discussions would be around the new era of smarter food safety, Yiannas gave the audience a definition to consider: “A new era is a memorable or important date or event, especially one that begins with a new period in our history.”

FDA held breakout sessions centered on areas critical to the initiative:

  • Tech-enabled traceability and outbreak response
  • Smarter tools and approaches for prevention
  • Adapting to new business models and retail modernization
  • Food safety culture

During each session, FDA facilitators asked the audience questions. The following are some key points brought out during the breakouts.

Tech-Enabled Traceability and Outbreak Response

  • FDA should consider all parts of the supply chain when thinking about traceability
  • Take into account considerations for sharing sensitive data along the supply chain
  • Speaking a common language and creating data standards, along with necessary minimum data elements for traceability is critical
  • Better communication related to data sharing as well as more meetings with FDA and stakeholders, especially during outbreaks
  • Show industry the ROI of the data
  • Provide a roadmap or recommendation for companies on where they can begin on their traceability journey
  • Request for unity across government agencies (i.e., FDA, USDA), as it would provide more clarity during an outbreak

Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention

  • Trust and transparency are key
  • Safeguards that address privacy concerns and liability
  • Data
    • Data sharing: Concern about retroactive investigations
    • Types of data: With the “treasure trove” of existing data out there, which is the most important and helpful in improving food safety?
  • Environmental assessments and root cause analysis—more dialogue between FDA and industry

Adapting to New Business Models and Retail Food Safety Modernization

  • More need for collaboration
  • Globalization and use of best practices
  • Establishing a common standard to level the playing field
  • Establish best practices for tamper resistance
  • The last mile: Food safety training for food delivery personnel as well as harmonization for last mile delivery
  • More consumer education

Food Safety Culture

  • Emphasis on behavior and humanizing the work: Focusing on what happens within organizations at all levels
  • Clarity and communication are important
  • Leveraging current food safety culture best practices as well as any relevant existing standards (i.e., ISO, Codex)
  • Partnerships are critical, finding the balance between compliance and collaboration

Other Factors FDA Must Consider

The FDA meeting also included panel discussions that drew out the realities FDA must consider in this rapidly changing environment. “These are exciting times and this initiative is recasting our thinking in a whole new light,” said CFSAN Director Susan Mayne, adding, “We need to get ahead of these challenges and not be in reactive mode.”

Consumer awareness and demands for healthy, locally sourced and minimally processed food, for example, are creating increased pressures on food companies and retailers. In addition, the digital savvy and diverse Generation Z (the population born between 1990 and 2010, which will comprise nearly 40% of the U.S. population by 2020) has buying habits and a strong desire for transparency that is shifting how food companies will need to do business, according to Mary Wagner, president of MX Wagner & Associates.

“Trust represents safety, quality and commitment on a much more personal level to our consumers,” said Dirk Herdes, senior vice president at the Nielsen Company, emphasizing the need to communicate with authenticity. “Consumers have never been more informed, but never have been more overwhelmed with information. It’s not data—it’s trust. Trust is the new currency with which we’ll operate.”

FDA and USDA also remain committed to building a stronger relationship between the agencies, said Mindy Brashears, Ph.D., deputy undersecretary for food safety at USDA. “As science moves forward, we have to allow our policies to move forward to keep consumers safe,” she added.

The comments shared during yesterday’s meeting, along with written and electronic comments (with a deadline of November 20), will be considered as FDA puts together its blueprint document for a new era of smarter food safety. More information about providing comments can be found on the Federal Register page.