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Cockroaches: 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 type relationship.
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 years.¡±
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
The Problem.
¡°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.¡±
Proactive Sanitation.
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 by FDA.¡±
As a result, from the moment the extent of the Salmonella food poisoning became public, ¡°the issue of safety within food facilities became a front-page story.¡±
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 future problems.
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

Meat processors 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

Produce Guidelines 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. 24.
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" and "voluntary."
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 any teeth."
"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 universal.

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 of business.

"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 very difficult.

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 3 years.

E. coli 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 plants."
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 or contaminated.
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 thorough cleaning.
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 against contamination.
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, and utensils.
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 devices.
Observation 17. Hand-washing facilities lack running water of a suitable temperature.
Observation 18. Failure to provide adequate screening or other protection against pests.
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 and

Did Haiti 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 strain."
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 denied.
SanGar has said its own tests would disprove the health department's findings.
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."

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