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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.

Kroger Ground Beef, recall

14 Tons of Ground Beef Recalled Due to Possible E. Coli Contamination

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Kroger Ground Beef, recall

Following third-party lab testing that revealed a positive E. coli O157:H7 sample, Oregon-based Interstate Meat Dist, Inc. is recalling 28,356 pounds of ground beef products. The products were shipped to retail locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, according to a USDA FSIS announcement, and have bear establishment number “EST. 965” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

“The issue was reported to FSIS after a retail package of ground beef was purchased and submitted to a third-party laboratory for microbiological analysis and the sample tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. FSIS conducted an assessment of the third-party laboratory’s accreditation and methodologies and determined the results were actionable.” – FSIS, USDA

The USDA posted images of labels and product details related to the Class I recall, which have been distributed to Wal-Mart, WinCo, Kroger and Albertsons.

Recall

FDA Continues Investigation of Listeria Outbreak in Packaged Salad

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

— UPDATE — January 12, 2022

Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. has now issued a voluntary recall of Dole-branded and private label packaged salads processed at its Springfield, OH (product ID lot code “W” and “Best if Used By” date December 22, 2021–January 9, 2022) and Soledad, CA production facilities containing iceberg lettuce.

–END UPDATE —

The FDA and CDC are investigating a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes illnesses linked to Fresh Express Packaged Salad and Dole Packaged Salad.

Last month Dole Fresh Vegetables issued a voluntary recall for salads processed at its facilities in Bessemer City, NC and Yuma, AZ due to the health risk. The company also temporarily suspended operations at both facilities. The brand names in which the salads were sold under include Dole, Kroger, Lidl, Little Salad Bar, Marketside, Naturally Better, Nature’s Promise and Simply Nature. The products have “Best if Used By” dates between November 30, 2021 and January 8, 2022.

The agencies’ investigation of Fresh Express Packaged Salad resulted in the company stopping production at its Streamwood, IL facility. It also initiated a recall of certain varieties of its branded and private-label salads that were produced at this facility.

The FDA’s investigation into the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to both Dole and Fresh Express is ongoing. Thus far, no deaths linked to the outbreak have been reported.

Recall

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

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

The Coca Cola Company has recalled specific Minute Maid Berry Punch, Fruit Punch and Lemonade products, along with certain Coca Cola 12-ounce cans and Sprite 12-ounce cans. Thus far the voluntary recall has not been posted on FDA’s website but reports indicate that the Minute Maid products could be contaminated with metal pieces. The products were distributed in Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maine and Virginia. The Coca Cola products were reportedly distributed to Southeastern states.

Register to attend the complimentary Food Safety Hazard Series: Physical Hazards | Thursday, December 16 at 12 pm ET.

Dole Garden Salad

Possible Listeria Contamination, Dole Recalls Garden Salads

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Dole Garden Salad

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

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

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

Recall

Onions Named as Source of Salmonella Outbreak, Distributors Agree to Recall

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

— UPDATE October 22, 2021 — Keeler Family Farms, based in Deming, New Mexico, also issued a voluntary recall for red, yellow and white onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico and shipped from July 1 through August 25. Thus far no onions from Keeler Family Farms have tested positive for Salmonella.

— END UPDATE —

The source of the fast-growing Salmonella outbreak reported late last month has been identified: Fresh whole red, white and yellow onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico and distributed by Illinois-based ProSource Inc.

Since late last month, the outbreak has grown from 29 to 37 states (However, the products were distributed nationwide), and from 280 to 652 reported illnesses. According to the CDC, the last of the onions were imported into the United States on August 27 (note, the import date ran from July 1 until August 27). However, businesses and consumers keep onions in storage for up to three months.

Illness subclusters have been linked to restaurants and food service locations. FDA is currently working to determine if these onions have also been distributed to customers via grocery stores. The agency is also continuing to traceback investigations to determine whether more products or suppliers have been affected by the contamination.

“ProSource Inc. has agreed to voluntarily recall red, yellow, and white onions imported from the State of Chihuahua, MX, with import dates from July 1, 2021 through August 27, 2021. Descriptions of these onion types include, but are not limited to, jumbo, colossal, medium, and sweet onions. Additional recall information will be made public as soon as it is available from ProSource Inc.,” according to recall information posted on FDA’s website.

Currently no deaths have been reported, but 129 people have been hospitalized. The last illness onset recorded was September 30.

Recall

Baker Farms Recalls Kale Due to Listeria Contamination

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

Baker issued a recall of its Baker Farms, Kroger, & SEG Grocers brand names of kale following a customer notification of Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The 1-lb plastic bags of kale have best buy dates of 09-18-2021 and were distributed to retail stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Caroline, New York and Virginia. Thus far no consumers have reported illness.

More information about the Baker Farms kale recall is available on the FDA website.

More information about the Kroger bagged kale recall is available on the FDA website.

Beretta Fratelli

Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Uncured Italian Meat, Fratelli Beretta Recalls 862,000 Pounds of Antipasto Products

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Beretta Fratelli
Beretta Fratelli
Recalled product produced by Beretta Fratelli. More information available from the USDA website.

New Jersey-based Fratelli Beretta USA has recalled about 862,000 pounds of uncured antipasto products over concern of contamination with Salmonella Infantis and/or Salmonella Typhimurium. Sold nationwide, the Fratelli Beretta prepackaged Uncured Antipasto trays have a best by date of August 27, 2021 through February 11, 2022 and UPC code 073541305316. Thus far, 36 illnesses and 12 hospitalizations have been reported in connection with this outbreak, spanning 17 states. No deaths have been reported.

The Class I recall does not include Italian-style meats sliced at a deli.

The CDC continues its investigation into determining whether more products are linked to the outbreak.

Recall

McCormick & Company Initiates Voluntary Recall of Italian Seasoning Products and Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Ranch Seasoning

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

McCormick & Company, Inc. has initiated a voluntary recall of its McCormick Perfect Pinch Italian Seasoning, McCormick Culinary Italian Seasoning and Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Ranch Seasoning over concerns of Salmonella contamination. FDA uncovered the issue during routine testing.

The recalled products were shipped nationwide, as well as to Bermuda and Canada. between June 20 and July 21, 2021.

Thus far there have been no reports of illnesses related to this issue. McCormick has alerted customers and grocery retailers to remove and discard the product.

Attend the On-Demand Virtual Event:

Food Safety Hazards Series: Salmonella Detection, Mitigation, Control and Regulation

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

Grimmway Carrots

Possible Salmonella Contamination: Grimmway Farms Recalls Certain Carrot Products

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Grimmway Carrots

Grimmway Farms has issued a voluntary recall of six types of carrot products due to concern of potential Salmonella contamination. The recall was initiated following a routine, internal company test. Thus far no illnesses have been linked to the recall.

The recalled carrot products, which include organic cut baby carrots and shredded carrots, were sold to food manufacturers and food service distributors.

 

Attend the On-Demand Virtual Event:Food Safety Hazards Series: Salmonella Detection, Mitigation, Control and Regulation

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