The recent Romaine lettuce recall—two in the last year—has turned the leafy green industry upside down. Flashbacks of the 2006 spinach recall in California’s Salinas Valley haunt the area’s farmers, the same farmers who after the 2006 outbreak implemented stringent practices through the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement aimed at stopping the next outbreak.

But it happened again. Why?

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Co-authored with Erdogan Ceylan

Every summer, I sit under the carport with my family and shuck a few buckets of corn that we later boil and quickly freeze. I never thought much about that home process until I started working at the Mérieux NutriSciences Food Science Center and interacting regularly with customers who are on a much larger and elaborate scale doing the same thing with their vegetables.

Blanching vegetables not only improves product quality by changing the texture, preserving the flavor and color, but it can also serve as a critical control point in regards to pathogen inactivation.  Continue Reading

Co-authored with Erdogan Ceylan

More than ever, consumers are becoming aware and following food safety recalls in the produce industry. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with leafy greens have been particularly newsworthy. A popular meme, “right now chocolate is good for you and romaine lettuce can kill you,” is circulating around the internet. But there is some sad underlying truth to this statement. In 2018, there were two high-profile outbreaks in romaine lettuce. The first, starting in March and lasting through June, effected 210 people, 96 of which were hospitalized, 27 who developed uremic syndrome (which is a type of kidney failure) and 5 of which who died. The second starting in October, effected 62 people, 25 which were hospitalized and two who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. Internet memes aside, pathogenic E. coli is incredibly dangerous and at the forefront of consumer’s minds. This burden on public health is largely preventable. Continue Reading

Training for on-farm fruit and vegetable operations in the Produce Safety Rule is proceeding. The FDA and state departments of agriculture are offering on-farm educational inspections prior to regulatory inspections in their “educate before we regulate” approach. With the emphasis placed on worker hygiene, soil amendments, wildlife & domestic animal intrusion and irrigation water testing; I wonder if we may be missing an important aspect in post-harvest handling. Sanitation of harvest and packing shed equipment is critical to ensure pathogens don’t become established in the equipment and serve as a source of contamination.

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Testing for bacterial pathogens that cause foodborne illness is common in today’s food industry. Viruses such as norovirus (NoV) and Hepatitis A (HAV) can be sources of foodborne illnesses, but testing for these viruses in food is much less common.

Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne illness in the United States, accounting for 58% of foodborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus causes between 19-21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis yearly, contributing to an estimated 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths each year. 

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Mérieux NutriSciences and Biofortis are excited to welcome our new Principal Scientist, Oliver Chen, PhD, formerly the Interim Director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University. Oliver is a great addition to our science team, assisting our research sponsors with their clinical nutrition projects. We sat down with Oliver for a quick Q&A to pick his brain on some important topics in the industry.
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In a previous blog post, I explained that the new produce safety regulations released as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) do not address the cause of past foodborne illness outbreaks, leaving the produce industry in limbo. It also leaves consumers unprotected because they view most produce items as being “ready-to-eat” (RTE), meaning that they are able to be consumed without any additional washing or cooking. Regardless of where a farm or packing shed falls within the regulations, this perception by consumers raises significant concerns for public health, which then fall to the grower or packer to address. Continue Reading

An integral part of choosing your ingredient suppliers is verifying the safety and quality of the product they’re sending you. Perhaps you work in a quality assurance or food safety role at an FDA-registered facility. Perhaps your facility’s hazard analysis states the ingredient in question is associated with a hazard that requires a supply chain-applied control. Do you know what to do if you’re volunteered to conduct the onsite audit of a potential ingredient supplier? Maybe you’re an ASQ Certified Quality Auditor, but you’ve never actually audited a supplier before. You may be panicking a bit… wondering where to start, yes? Of course you are!

To help with this process, I’ve broken down the seven steps you can take to ensure the successful audit of an ingredient supplier: Continue Reading