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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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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Are you experiencing shelf-life issues or increased numbers of Listeria findings in a Ready-to-Eat foods environment? If so, you may want to take a deep dive into your equipment.

Largely, as a consequence of Listeria control efforts, most of us have at least a basic knowledge of hygienic equipment design. In truth, though, we often find inadequacies in the design of the equipment in our facilities, which are magnified with age and/or inadequate maintenance. Couple this with the widespread use of high-pressure water hoses and their ability to drive product residue, microorganisms and water deep inside equipment, and you have all the components needed to create a microbial growth niche. Continue Reading

In addition to routine screening for harmful pathogens, bacterial species identification and further strain differentiation play an important role in food safety and quality investigations. These methods can offer an immediate classification of an existing or new problem in a given facility. Additionally, the resulting data gives manufacturers the ability to track contamination strains and map the bacterial flora present within their facility in order to monitor raw materials, surfaces, finished product and overall sanitation effectiveness. Continue Reading

Food safety requirements start young, even before a child starts eating solid food. Infant formula serves as a partial or complete substitute for breast milk and as a sole source of all nutrients for an infant. Because it comprises much or all of an infant’s diet, the contamination of powdered infant formula with a foodborne pathogen poses an extreme risk to the health of a child, as their immune systems are still developing. One bacterium often found to be the culprit in cases of contamination in powdered infant formula is Cronobacter sakazakii (Cronobacter). Continue Reading

Would you be prepared if the FDA showed up at your facility unexpectedly to perform a swabathon? The FDA is conducting these elevated inspections by swabbing ready-to-eat (RTE) and high-risk food manufacturing facilities in search of foodborne pathogens. To help prepare manufacturers for these swabathons, our subject matter expert, Tim Freier, Ph.D., sat down to answer some questions posed by food industry professionals following our recent swabathon webinar, which is available to stream on-demand for free. Continue Reading

A new draft guidance, “Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods: Guidance for Industry” was published by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on January 13, 2017. Comments for this guidance were due July 26 and many trade associations and food manufacturers have submitted remarks. This draft guidance offers some excellent background information about Listeria control – more than simply using an environmental monitoring program (EMP). It also includes detailed coverage of many of the prerequisite programs (Good Manufacturing Practices) that are integral for Listeria control. In addition, it provides a comprehensive compilation of industry best practices and includes information about the validation of listeriostatic or listeriocidal formulations and processes. Continue Reading