A Contributing Factor to Foodborne Disease
Salmonella has been implicated in food recalls from peanut butter to
dog food and, most recently, eggs.
While the root cause of the recalls is often unsanitary conditions,
such conditions and pests go hand in hand in a chicken-or-egg-first
In food and beverage processing plants, rodents tend to be the primary
pest both introduced and controlled?sometimes to the neglect of other
potential pest problems.
For example, the loathsome cockroach ¡¦
According to a University
of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) publication, ¡°Cockroaches have been found
to be the cause of Salmonella food poisoning that can be life-threatening.¡±
Noting that other pathogenic bacteria, including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus
and coliforms, have been found in cockroaches, UNL explains, ¡°This is
because after feeding on contaminated food, disease bacteria can remain
in the cockroach digestive system for a month or more. Later, human
food or utensils can become contaminated with cockroach feces. It has
been shown that Salmonella bacteria survive in cockroach feces for several
The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has published a white
paper, ¡°Pest Management in the Wake of the Peanut Corporation of America
Salmonella Outbreak,¡± including reference to conducive cockroach conditions
at PCA at the time of the 2009 recall. (Read the full paper at www.qualityassurancemagazine.com.)
¡°Cockroaches can spread 33 different kinds of bacteria,¡± said Missy
Henriksen, NPMA Vice President of Public Affairs. ¡°What we are seeing
right now is that it really does underscore the importance of sanitation
and proper pest management.¡±
Like all pests, and other living creatures, cockroaches seek three things
for survival: food, water and shelter, Henriksen said. And with the
haven that a food or beverage plant provides for all of these, a cockroach
will take any opportunity to enter and make your plant its home and
your food area its literal stomping grounds.
A Limited Solution. Prior to the 1990s, cockroaches were a greater problem
in plants. But the advent of gel baits, which have more application
potential, brought much of the problem under control, said Tom Dobrinska,
Training Director for Anderson Pest Solutions. ¡°Once the baits came
out, that significantly knocked down the populations,¡± Dobrinska said.
However, the technological advance has a downside, that of an over-dependency
on the baits to the neglect of sanitation and other integrated pest
management practices. ¡°I think there¡¯s a false sense of security,¡± Dobrinska
said, ¡°so that can make [cockroach contamination] more of a threat.¡±
Entry and Harborage.
In processing plants, cockroaches are most likely to enter and be found
in areas such as:
employee locker rooms, brought
in from infested homes. According to the UNL manual, ¡°Cockroaches are
easily transported from infested dwellings to new places.¡±
stored goods areas/warehouses, having come in on supplies, both in food
and packaging. ¡°German cockroaches, specifically, love that corrugated
cardboard,¡± Dobrinska said. These cockroaches can then transmit foodborne
disease, or get into the food. ¡°That¡¯s why it takes due diligence wherever
supplies are coming in.¡±
dark, hidden areas, entering through open doors or windows. ¡°That makes
a very easy entry point,¡± Henriksen said.
Although all can be modes of entry, the primary mode will vary by cockroach
species. Oriental cockroaches, for example, may crawl under a door or
through cracks. Sewer system repairs may send displaced American cockroaches
up into buildings. German cockroaches usually come in with supplies
or employees, rather than from outdoors. But in most cases, seeing one
cockroach means there are more. Regardless of the species, ¡°they are
not single pests,¡± Henriksen said..
Communication is critical, particularly in 24-hour plants, Dobrinska
said. The nooks and crannies of unsealed equipment can provide ideal
harborage, but it can be difficult for a pest management provider to
conduct regular inspections when the equipment is continually running.
Thus, ¡°It is very important to have open communication among workers
on the production line,¡± he said, adding that if any worker sees a pest
or evidence at any time, it should be reported immediately to a manager,
then to the pest management provider.
¡°Communication is absolutely imperative,¡± he said. ¡°Even if there isn¡¯t
a cockroach issue, your company needs to be telling you how to implement
a plan to be proactive.¡±
Keeping cockroaches out and maintaining sanitary conditions so as to
not facilitate cockroach survival can be simpler than eliminating a
problem after an infestation is established.
As noted in the NPMA white paper, the FDA investigation of PCA revealed
extensive unsanitary and harmful conditions: ¡°From mold growing on ceilings
to rainwater leaking into the production areas; from gaps large enough
for rodents to easily access the facility to the presence of dead cockroaches
throughout the plant, the conditions were termed unsanitary and harmful
As a result, from the moment the extent of the Salmonella food poisoning
became public, ¡°the issue of safety within food facilities became a
While acknowledging that the lack of pest management was not the central
cause of the outbreak, the paper adds, ¡°Yet, when one considers the
presence of such conducive conditions for pests, the presence of cockroaches
throughout the facility and the simple fact that Salmonella was transmitted,
¡¦ poor or improper pest management practices could be viewed as a contributing
factor in creating this crisis situation. ...The situational details
reflect the need for strong, effective and consistent pest management
practices within food facilities.¡±
The difficulty in many plants arises when priorities are established.
¡°In food manufacturing, pest management is accepted as a necessity,¡±
Henriksen said. But, in practice, the necessary financial and time commitment
to proper pest management tends to fluctuate, with proactive pest prevention
often relegated to a second-tier priority because of financial considerations.
However, she added, if pest management is viewed as anything less than
a top organizational priority, it can lay the groundwork for significant
The ultimate goal in pest management, Dobrinska said, is to be preventive.
The presence of dead and live pests in the PCA plant is a reminder of
the significant health risks. ¡°No matter the size or severity of an
infestation, a pest problem is not a situation to be taken lightly,¡±
the paper said.
¡°The PCA crisis compels food facilities to reprioritize so that safety
truly is first. One way in which to do so is to focus renewed efforts
on implementing proper pest management programs.¡±
The author is Managing Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at
By: Lisa Lupo
should get ahead on STECS: food safety expert
By Tom Johnston on 11/1/2010
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. ? Meat processors should take the opportunity to get
out ahead of the emergence of non-O157:H7 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli,
Jim Marsden, senior science advisor for the North American Meat Processors
Association, told attendees here at the group¡¯s annual outlook conference.
In 1992, E. coli O157:H7 was an emerging pathogen with which the meat
industry was familiarizing itself. In 1993, when the Jack in the Box
recall occurred, the bug became more than familiar and the industry
has been battling it ever since then.
¡°The industry needs to get in front of the issue,¡± said Marsden. ¡°Don¡¯t
even let USDA drive it.¡±
USDA currently is driving the development of validated testing to identify
the six most commonly occurring STECS, particularly in raw beef. Dan
Engeljohn, chief policy writer for the agency¡¯s Food Safety and Inspection
Service, said in an earlier presentation that FSIS is almost there.
¡°We have that test validated for four of the six non-O157 STECS. We¡¯re
very close to having a methodology for all six,¡± Engeljohn said. ¡°Your
expectation should be that a federal register notice would identify
a rationale as to how the agency believes it could and should move forward
with an enforcement strategy.¡±
Afterward, Engeljohn said, there would be some period of time in which
agency would have public meetings and issue guidance. Implementation
would be slow because the agency is not yet ready to conduct full-scale
testing of all its raw beef sampling, and the industry should expect
FSIS to initially focus on trim.
Ultimately, he said, FSIS would expect processors to reassess their
food safety systems to determine whether or not they need to adjust
them to address non-O157 STECS.
Marsden said in his presentation that the adjustments should not be
too difficult to make.
¡°It¡¯s very likely that the interventions that we have in place to address
O157:H7 also address STECS, but that needs to be shown and we need to
make sure that those interventions are universally applied,¡± he said.
GMP = Food Safety Educational Video
Urge, Don't Require Compliance
by Cookson Beecher | Nov 02, 2010
In the ongoing quest to improve food safety, the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration is asking for comments on its proposed guidelines aimed
at minimizing food-safety hazards in fresh-cut fruit and vegetables.
The call for comments, along with information about the guidelines,
was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 25. Comments are due Nov.
Pointing to the increased consumption of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables
and the potential for foodborne illness associated with these products,
the document says that the FDA recognizes the need for guidance specifically
geared to the processing of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.
As such, its "Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of
Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables" provides processors with the agency's
recommendations on how to avoid having their products contaminated with
pathogens that can cause food borne illnesses.
According to the document,
FDA's recommendations are based on "the current state of science."
But some food-safety advocates find fault with the agency's recommendations,
saying that the proposed guidelines veer away from anything smacking
of mandatory requirements and instead resort to words such as "encourages"
A paragraph near the beginning of the document has this to say: "Accordingly,
FDA encourages fresh-cut produce processors to adopt the general recommendations
in the guidance and to tailor practices to their individual operations."
And in a subsequent paragraph
comes this sentence: "The recommended procedures contained in the
guidance are voluntary."
Another sentence later in the document says: "Following the recommendations
set forth in the fresh-cut guidance is the choice of each individual
fresh-cut operation, plant, or processor."
Nancy Donley, president of
S.T.O.P., Safe Tables Our Priority, a national, nonprofit, public health
organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne
pathogens, told Food Safety News that just as her organization has said
many times before "guidelines are just guidelines. They don't have
"When it comes to food safety, FDA needs something stronger,"
she said. "We need everyone to implement and abide by one set of
rules, with no free pass for anyone."
Pointing to the many foodborne
illness outbreaks and recalls during the past several years, Donley
said it's clear that guidance documents don't do enough.
"We need mandatory requirements to protect people," she said.
"FDA has been operating under guidance documents for years, and
it hasn't worked. Nothing has changed."
Attorney and food safety
advocate Bill Marler, publisher of Food Safety News, said, "After
dozens of outbreaks linked to leafy greens that have sickened hundreds
if not thousands in the last decade--some reported and some not--the
time has long passed for voluntary guidance, no matter how well-meaning."
Greg Komar, food-safety director
at California-based Growers Express, told Food Safety News that FDA
has been seeking comments on how it can update its guidance materials
for some time, and he listed some challenges that need to be addressed:
Categorizing risks. "Guides
are useful," Komar said, "but we are at a point where we need
more concrete measures."
He pointed out that commodities
such as peanuts, which were once thought to be "safe," could
be subjected to practices that ultimately make them unsafe to eat.
He said that because there
are so many different industry practices and so many different kinds
of produce, FDA needs to figure out what's risky and then focus its
resources on proper levels of oversight. All through the chain.
Komar said that while it's
important to enact standards for food safety, the reality is that grocery
chains also need to enact food-safety purchasing standards that are
If they do not, he said,
then FDA's produce guidelines are meaningless, because food safety is
only as strong as the weakest link in the chain -- even if the link
is at the end of the chain.
Small vs large. Komar believes
that it's crucial that all entities that deal with food production and
handling abide by the same food-safety "rules."
And while the argument is
that large entities have the resources to adopt FDA's recommendations
and that smaller ones do not, Komar said that enacting GAPs (good agricultural
practices) and good food-safety practices does not have to be at a cost
-- monetarily or time wise -- that will put companies or farmers out
"But ultimately, whether
you buy food from a co-op, a farmers market, a grocery store, or online,
it really is in the consumer's best interest if everyone plays by the
same rules," said Komar.
Foreign and domestic. Similar
to the "small vs large" arguments, Komar said that domestic
and foreign entities need to follow the same rules.
"The FDA needs to release
a guide that takes into consideration world-wide commerce, and it needs
to develop a system to assure that foreign producers are only exporting
produce that meets the requirements and guidelines set forth by the
FDA," he said.
When FDA asks for help. Komar
said he has participated in many food-safety meetings where representatives
from the FDA are present to discuss the new guidelines.
"The reps listen to
feedback from the industry and listen to this person or that person
say that the FDA should do this or do that," he said. "But
then the FDA rep ultimately replies with 'How? How is the FDA going
to do this? What should the metric be? How can this be measured?' And,
unfortunately, the answer usually comes in a tidbit that does not solve
the question at hand."
Komar said he thinks many
of the industry experts give nothing more than "tidbits" because
they are just as perplexed with the answers because the answers are
And while food-safety principles
can generally be considered as "common sense," Komar said
that when you are dealing with global supply, even washing your hands
after using the bathroom seems to get difficult.
"No one wants to be
wrong," he said. "No one wants to paint with too broad of
a brush. No one wants his or her commodity put under a microscope. And
execution is challenging."
He'd like to see the formation
of small working groups that focus on one subject at a time.
"GAPs and field food
safety really do boil down to just a few things," he said. "So
if the working groups can have participants from different sections
of the produce community, I do feel that some of the answers that are
needed will surface even if they are not 100 percent accepted by all."
When contacted by Food Safety
News, officials from Western Growers and the National Sustainable Agriculture
Coalition said their organizations had not yet looked through the proposed
guidance document and therefore could not offer any comments.
In the document, FDA describes
fresh-cut fruits and vegetables as produce that has been processed by
peeling, slicing, chopping, shredding, coring, trimming, or mashing
-- with or without washing or other treatment prior to being packaged
for sale to consumers in a ready-to-eat form.
It also points out that the
way produce is grown, harvested, and processed may contribute to its
chance of being contaminated with pathogens and therefore capable of
transmitting foodborne illnesses.
It lists possible causes
for this: the high degree of handling and mixing of the product; the
release of cellular fluids (which can attract pathogens) during cutting
or mashing; the high moisture content of the product; the absence of
a step (such as subjecting the produce to high temperatures to kill
pathogens) during production; and the potential for temperature abuse
(not keeping the product at a low enough temperature) in the processing,
storage, transport, and retail display. (Information in parentheses
supplied by Food Safety News.)
According to the document,
all of these can increase the potential for pathogens to survive and
grow in fresh-cut products.
Recalls and tracebacks. The
agency recommends that fresh-cut processors establish and maintain written
traceback procedures so they can respond to food-safety problems when
they arise. As part of that, they should establish and maintain a written
contingency plan they can use to initiate a recall and put it into place.
The agency also recommends
that processors establish a program that documents and tracks fresh-cut
products back to the source of their raw ingredients and keep records
of product identity and specifications, the products in inventory, and
where, when, and to whom, and how much of the product is shipped.
Many food processors say
that being able to trace a contaminated product back to its source is
key to being able to identify a product and quickly recall it.
Prevention. The agency says
that a preventive control program is valuable for managing the safety
of food products. It refers specifically to HACCP (Hazard Analysis &
Control Points) as one used commonly in the fresh-cut industry. A HACCP
plan identifies inherent risks and where they can occur, which allows
a processor to take the necessary steps at critical points in production
to control potential risks.
Paperwork. The agency recommends
that operators develop and implement both a written Standard Operating
Procedures plan and a Sanitary Standard Operation Procedures plan, both
of which are important ways to implement and monitor good handling practices
required for processed food operations.
For many fresh-cut produce
companies, the agency's recommendations are nothing new. In fact, according
to FDA, more than 50 percent of the companies already have HACCP plans
and the recommended paperwork procedures in place.
When it comes to traceback
and recalls, the document says that the agency "previously estimated
that firms in the industry would choose a traceback program after the
guidance was made available. . . . "
The document also provides
information about how much time and how much money it would cost to
put its recommended guidelines into place. According to FDA, there are
280 fresh-cut plants operating in the United States, with approximately
10 new firms expected to enter the industry each year over the next
thrives near plant roots, can contaminate young produce crops
November 3, 2010 by Brian Wallheimer
E. coli can live for weeks around the roots of produce plants and transfer
to the edible portions, but the threat can be minimized if growers don't
harvest too soon, a Purdue University study shows.
Purdue scientists added E. coli to soil through manure application and
water treated with manure and showed that the bacteria can survive and
are active in the rhizosphere, or the area around the plant roots, of
lettuce and radishes. E. coli eventually gets onto the aboveground surfaces
of the plants, where it can live for several weeks. Activity in the
rhizosphere was observed using a bioluminescent E. coli created by Bruce
Applegate that glows when active. Applegate, a co-author on the project,
is an associate professor in the food science and biological sciences
departments at Purdue.
"E. coli is actually quite active in the rhizosphere. They're eating
something there - probably plant exudates," said Ron Turco, a professor
of agronomy and co-author of the study published in the November issue
of the Journal of Food Protection.
Turco said the E. coli didn't survive on the plants' surfaces more than
40 days after seeds were planted. Harvesting produce at least 40 days
after planting should reduce the possibility of contamination, but he
warned that E. coli could still come from other sources.
"In actual field application, you pick up other things that are
all around," Turco said. "You don't just get the plants that
are 40 days old. An animal getting loose in a field could also contaminate
Mussie Habteselassie, Turco's former postdoctoral researcher and now
an assistant professor of soil microbiology at the University of Georgia's
Griffin campus, said harvesting practices in manure-treated fields can
be critical for produce crops.
"If you harvest young and old plants together or mix them after
harvesting, there is risk of contamination of the older plants,"
Habteselassie said. "If plants are uprooted during harvest, there
is also a possibility of contamination from E. coli living in the rhizosphere."
Producers should apply manure to fields well in advance of planting
and harvesting. Turco said a wait of 90-120 days between manure application
and harvesting, with a minimum of 40 days between planting and harvesting,
should minimize the chance of E. coli contamination.
Turco said he would continue studying E. coli's ability to survive in
different situations, including in water and processed produce. The
U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the research.
Provided by Purdue University (news : web)
FDA 483 Inspection
Report Sinks SanGar - Multiple Problems and Positive Tests Results in
Texas Plant Likely Cause of Celery Listeria Outbreak
Posted by Bill Marler on November 04, 2010
For a Company that sells (or used to sell) vegetables to our kids and
grandparents, the below is not a good FDA 483 Inspection Report. This
of course also follows positive Listeria tests within the plant and
the linking of SanGar celery to nearly a dozen illnesses and as many
as five deaths.
Observation 1. Failure to take necessary precautions to protect against
contamination of food and food contact surfaces with microorganisms.
Observation 2. Failure to conduct cleaning and sanitizing operations
for utensils and equipment in a manner that protects against contamination
of food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials.
Observation 3. Employees did not wash hands thoroughly in an adequate
hand-washing facility at any time their hands may have become soiled
Observation 4. Personnel with adverse health conditions are not instructed
to report to their supervisors.
Observation 5. Failure to clean food-contact surfaces and utensils as
frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food.
Observation 6. Failure to take apart equipment as necessary to ensure
Observation 7. Failure to take effective measures to protect finished
food from contamination by raw materials and refuse.
Observation 8. Failure to store raw materials in a manner that protects
Observation 9. The design, construction, and use of equipment and utensils
fails to preclude the adulteration of food with contaminants.
Observation 10. Failure to maintain equipment, containers, and utensils
used to store food in a manner that protects against contamination.
Observation 11. Lack of adequate drainage of areas which may contribute
to contamination of food by seepage, food-borne filth, and providing
a breeding place for pests.
Observation 12. Failure to hold foods which can support the rapid growth
of undesirable microorganisms at a temperature that prevents the food
from becoming adulterated.
Observation 13. The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to
allow floors and walls to be adequately cleaned and kept clean and kept
in good repair.
Observation 14. Plumbing
constitutes a source of contamination to food, water supplies, equipment,
Observation 15. Failure to maintain buildings, fixtures, or other physical
facilities in a sanitary condition.
Observation 16. Lack of a sanitary towel service or suitable hand drying
Observation 17. Hand-washing facilities lack running water of a suitable
Observation 18. Failure to provide adequate screening or other protection
Observation 19. Appropriate training in food handling techniques and
food protection principles has not been provided to food handlers.
Seriously, what school lunch
room or retirement center is planning to stock product from this plant
in the near future? Tip o¡¯ the Pen to my good friends at www.efoodalert.blogspot.com
Cholera Strain Originate in South Asia?
by Helena Bottemiller | Nov 02, 2010
Public health authorities are furiously working to contain and understand
the origins of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed more than
300 people and hospitalized almost 5,000.
Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shed light on how the food-
and water-borne bacteria, which is not historically found in Haiti,
may have spread to the earthquake-ravaged country. According to CDC,
the cholera strain matches strains commonly found in South Asia, adding
a new level of legitimacy to speculation that United Nations peacekeepers
from Nepal could have recently brought the bacteria to Haiti.
The outbreak appears to be centered around an area downstream from a
U.N.base located above a tributary to the Artibonite River, where the
Nepalese peacekeepers are based. Public health experts say they do not
have enough information to determine what sparked the outbreak. The
cholera strain common in South Asia could also have originated from
India, Pakistan, or another country in the region.
"Although these results indicate that the strain is non-Haitian,
cholera strains may move between different areas due to global travel
and trade," Haiti's Minister of Health Dr. Alex Larsen said in
a statement. "Therefore, we will never know the exact origin of
the strain that is causing the epidemic in Haiti."
As leading experts point out, understanding the cause of the outbreak
is not nearly as important as containing it.
"Our primary focus here is to save lives and control the spread
of disease," said CDC medical epidemiologist Dr. Jordan Tappero,
the head of CDC's cholera response team in Haiti. "We realize that
it's also important to understand how infectious agents move to new
countries. However, we may never know the actual origin of this cholera
According to the U.N. World Health Organization, the strains of Vibrio
cholera 01 Ogawa isolated in Haiti showed resistance to antibiotics
trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, furazolidone, nalidixic acid, and streptomycin.
The strains are sensitive to tetracycline, doxycycline and ciprofloxacin.
The National Public Health Laboratory and CDC are currently working
on genetic sequencing of the strains.
The World Health Organization is not recommending any travel or trade
restrictions based on the outbreak. "Travelers do not require proof
of cholera vaccination, nor is there a need to screen travelers ...
There is no need to establish quarantine measures at the border, a measure
that diverts resources and may hamper cooperation between institutions
and countries," WHO said in its most recent update.
Facilitated by poor water and sanitation, a lack of immunity among the
Haitian population, and a short incubation period, the disease has spread
rapidly--the first case was discovered just 12 days ago.
Authorities remain extremely concerned about controlling outbreak, especially
as Haiti is preparing for Tropical Storm Tomas, which may potentially
become a category 1 hurricane later this week. If disaster strikes the
fragile region, it could further facilitate the spread of disease through
flooding and the decimation of existing water infrastructure.
FDA Tests Confirm
Listeria at Texas Food Plant
Published November 03, 2010
| Associated Press
Federal health officials found the listeria bacteria at a San Antonio
food processing plant that Texas authorities have linked to four deaths
from contaminated celery, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.
The federal agency said it found the pathogen in multiple locations
in the SanGar Produce & Processing Co. plant, confirming the testing
announced last month by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The Texas health authority shut the plant down Oct. 20 and ordered a
recall of all produce shipped from there since January. A hearing on
the case is set for Nov. 17 in Austin.
"It comes as no surprise to us," Texas health department spokeswoman
Carrie Williams said Wednesday of the FDA's findings. "If there
was any doubt out there, this erases it. It's another layer of confirmation
that this plant had serious issues."
FDA spokeswoman Patricia El-Hinnawy said in an e-mail the agency would
not comment on the results.
Jason Galvan, an attorney for SanGar, said he couldn't immediately comment
on the FDA report.
"The FDA and the state have not turned over to us the documentation
supporting their findings. We cannot comment on these most recent findings
until the documentation is provided for independent evaluation by our
experts," Galvan said.
After the closure of the plant, which also produced lettuce, pineapple
and honeydew, the company alleged the state health inspector who took
samples from the plant Oct. 11 could have contaminated them by being
dressed improperly and touching surfaces ? an assertion the state department
SanGar has said its own tests would disprove the health department's
The state health department initially traced six of 10 known cases of
listeriosis during an eight-month period to celery processed at the
SanGar plant, including four deaths. The department last week linked
a seventh case to SanGar, Williams said. The agency is investigating
the origins of the other three cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 500
people die of listeriosis each year in the U.S., and about 2,500 people
become seriously ill.
Those with weaker immune systems ? including pregnant women, young children,
the elderly and those battling serious illness ? are most at risk of
becoming seriously ill or dying because of listeriosis, the CDC says.
Healthy adults and children occasionally are infected with the disease
but rarely become seriously ill.
The health department has prohibited SanGar from reopening the plant
without agency approval.
"We're working with them to clean up their business so that they
may be able to reopen in the future," Williams said. "The
bottom line is we need to be sure the company can produce safe food
before it reopens."