Food from Unsafe Sources: CDC Risk Factor #5

A view of a market stall with lots of colorful fruit and vegetables.
Where we get our food from is an important decision. Image from Pixabay.

When I was a graduate student, I visited Malta and I bought home nougat for my friends. Only to find when I gave it to my friends that there were ants in the packet. Ugh, some gift that turned out to be. Make sure you know the source of all your ingredients and check that they don’t have ants and that the package is intact when you receive them. 

Many small food businesses start out buying ingredients from their local supermarket. We can trust food bought at the supermarket because it has been manufactured and packaged by businesses that have to follow federal food safety regulations. However, as you grow this might not be the best source of your ingredients and you may need to buy greater quantities than they keep in stock. As you buy larger quantities of ingredients, you need to consider your supply chain program.

To support the local food system, you may also buy from small local farms and food businesses. You must ensure their practices meet your standards for food safety and that the farmer is following food safety procedures and good handling practices and you receive the best quality ingredients. 

The best way to ensure that your ingredients come from a safe source is to have a list of approved suppliers. These are farms, local businesses, supermarkets that you have checked to make sure they handle your ingredients to maintain their quality and safety.

Blueberries representing local agriculture.
Blueberries: What do you expect when you buy blueberries? Image by Kai Reschke from Pixabay

Individually checking each supplier can get time consuming and you can ask each farmer or supplier if they follow certain standards. For example, you can ask for their food safety plan or for their third party audit.

In addition to having an approved supplier list, you also need standards for each ingredient. You can ask your suppliers to provide a certificate of analysis (CoA) to come with each batch of ingredients. For example, if you use peanuts, you will want to make sure that they are free of aflatoxin, a known carcinogen. Many peanut farmers and distributors test for aflatoxins and provide certificates to their buyers.

A supply chain program is required as part of the FSMA regulations and restaurants are expected to have an approved supplier list too. Not sure how to start to set up an approved supplier program? Let’s chat so I can support you.

Image says "Be Safe, Wash your damn hands, wear a mask, eat healthy"

Poor Employee Health and Hygiene: CDC Foodborne Illness Risk Factor 4

Handwashing is just one responsibility of food workersf
We should all be washing our hands all the time, especially if we work in a food business. Image from Pixabay.

As we continue our series on the risk factors towards foodborne illness, remember that keeping consumers safe is one of the most important responsibilities you have as a food business owner or manager.  This is the fourth in the series discussing the CDC Foodborne Illness Risk Factors. In the previous articles I discussed holding food at an improper temperature, cooking or processing food at an improper temperature and using utensils and equipment that are contaminated. Today I am going to discuss the role of employees in maintaining safety within a food facility.

Continue reading “Poor Employee Health and Hygiene: CDC Foodborne Illness Risk Factor 4”

Contaminated Utensils and Equipment

The third CDC foodborne illness risk factor is Contaminated Utensils and Equipment. This is the use of dirty utensils and equipment which spreads bacteria and may also cause allergens to be somewhere unexpected. I want to discuss these and also look at storage.

Bacterial Cross contamination

E.coli is a danger!
E.coli (STEC) is a bacteria that causes foodborne illness. Image from Pixabay.

Bacteria are spread through cross contamination when bacteria spread from a high risk food such as raw meat to food that is normally low risk and eaten without heating, such as fresh vegetables and fruit. Storing all ingredients and food to prevent cross contamination is equally important. The classic example of cross contamination is using cutting boards or knives for raw meat and then reusing them ready-to-eat vegetables and fruit. Hopefully we all know is wrong wrong, wrong. 

Continue reading “Contaminated Utensils and Equipment”

Food Safety Factor 2: Cooking/Processing at an Improper Temperature

Measuring temperature with a calibrated thermometer is an important food safety check.

In this series of posts I am discussing how the knowledge of the CDC foodborne illness risk factors can be used by us, as consumers and food entrepreneurs, to reduce foodborne illness. The CDC foodborne illness risk factors are the top five ways that restaurants and food manufacturers cause foodborne illness. FightBac gives consumers four core practices, chill, cook, clean, and separate, for food safety at home. To produce safe food we need to make sure these risk factors are NOT present in our facilities or homes. Last week I discussed why keeping food cold was important. 

This week I am discussing the second risk factor, Cooking or Processing at an Improper Temperature. This is covered for consumers by the FightBac practice of cook. Cooking temperature was previously discussed in the first of my articles on HARM, H=heat. In that post I wrote:

Pan on stove with lid being opened. What is inside? Is the food being cooked properly?
Is food being heated to the right temperature to stop foodborne illness? Image by Lucia Vinti (https://luciavinti.com/)

“[T]he most common way to remove microorganisms by using heat. No one likes being boiled, microorganisms are no exception. We can either kill all of them by heating the food to a really high temperature, this is called sterilization. Or we can heat the food to a reasonably high temperature to kill off the pathogenic microorganisms. This is pasteurization.”

Continue reading “Food Safety Factor 2: Cooking/Processing at an Improper Temperature”

Food Safety Factor 1: Holding at an Improper storage temperature

Measuring the temperature of food is good first step to controlling foodborne pathogens.
Food Safety can be increased if we heat food and if we cool food correctly. Image by Cathy Davies

Keeping our consumers safe is one of the most important responsibilities of a food business. Whether you run a local restaurant or a multinational food business, I hope the last thing you want to do is to make your customer ill or worse. 

In my last article I discussed the top five factors that the CDC considers the most important causes of foodborne illnesses. These risk factors apply to consumers as well as to food businesses.

The first CDC risk factors was “Holding at an Improper storage temperature”. What does that mean?

I call this food safety factor, the “keep hot food hot and cold food cold” rule. 

Holding your food at an improper temperature means holding food in the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 F which is 5 to 60 C) for too long, (2 hours or more).. If you are making food to store for longer than 2 h, you must cool it down as food that is kept hot keeps cooking and the bacteria can keep growing. For the quality perspective, think about when you have put food in a oven to keep warm when your kids are late for dinner. It isn’t very attractive after an hour, is it?

Food manufacturers make sure that any food they heat to process is quickly cooled to refrigerated temperatures, below the danger zone. This need to cool quickly doesn’t apply to a hot fill process or an aseptic process because the kill step and the packaging ensure that no bacteria are present to grow as the food cools down through the danger zone. An example of a hot fill process might be bottled barbeque sauce or jams and jellies.

Other places in the production flow where the “holding at an improper temperature” might occur putting our consumers at risk in when we receive refrigerated or frozen product and when we thaw frozen ingredients. As responsible food processors, we monitor the temperature of food to make sure that it arrives cold or frozen and we make sure that food is thawed either slowly in a refrigerator or more quickly under running cold water. We follow the recommendations of how to cool hot food down and we don’t store high risk food in the danger zone.

Are you holding food at a proper temperature? If you are not 100% sure and you are not keeping records, you MUST book a call NOW so we can address this immediately. The health of your consumers and the survival of your business depends on you preparing food properly and keeping good records.

Words say "Be Safe. Wear a mask. Wash your damn hands. Eat a health diet. Remember: Food Safety First. Non-compliance = Death."

What are five things you can do to produce safe food?

Food on a table at a buffet. Hopefully it has been prepared and held at the right temperatures.
Buffet food must be held at the right temperature. What else do food entrepreneurs need to do to make their food safe? Image from Pixabay.

As food entrepreneurs we have the responsibility to make and sell safe food. The overwhelming wealth of information about how to make our food safe makes it hard to filter out the best way to make safe and tasty food.

The CDC’s five top foodborne illness risk factors which would be good to avoid if you are producing food for other people to eat. Start with these five when you are beginning to develop a new food product to ensure that it will be safe from day one. 

The top five risk factors towards causing a foodborne illness outbreak are:

  1. Holding at an Improper storage
  2. Cooking/processing at an improper temperature
  3. Contaminated utensils and equipment
  4. Poor Employee Health and Hygiene 
  5. Food from Unsafe Sources

Over the next few weeks I shall write more about how we, as food entrepreneurs, can prevent each one of these five factors from happening in our processing facility. Make sure you are following this blog!!

Food thermometer in orange juice checking that it is cold.
Measuring temperature is an important food safety process. Image by CDavies

Let’s start by looking at the Food Safety Partnerships four steps that consumers must take to ensure their food is safe. There is quite a bit of overlap with the CDC factors. The recommendations for consumers are to cook, chill, clean, and separate

Cook is cooking to the right temperature

Chill is storing at the right temperature

Clean means not using contaminated utensils and equipment and WASH your damn hands

Separate means avoiding cross contamination and storing food so that raw meat juices, for example, aren’t dripping onto your lettuce

One thing we have all learned from COVID-19 is that public safety is being considered in ways it never was before. This means food safety is more important than in the past. Do not risk losing your business & potentially killing someone because of a silly food safety mishap – schedule your food safety chat now.

Be safe. Wear a mask. Wash your damn hands. Eat a healthy diet.

Remember: Food Safety First.

Non-compliance = Death

This Country Lacks Leadership

Painting of a child looking horrified with burning background. I am outraged. She is outraged.

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.” Representative John Lewis July 2020

Currently I am outraged.

I am outraged that we lack leaders with compassion and understanding who care about those who are less powerful and need help.

I am outraged about food business leaders not showing full responsibility to their suppliers, workers and consumers.

I am outraged about needless deaths caused by our political leaders failing in their responsibility to support their citizens to be the best people they can be.

I am outraged that not all people have access to healthy, safe, and culturally appropriate food.

I am outraged about COVID-19 being unnecessarily out of control in most states, and about the economy tanking with little or no support for those who cannot work due to the pandemic.

I am outraged that on July 31st 2020 both the extra $600/week for unemployed will end with NOTHING to take its place AND the eviction moratorium ends. This leaves 12 million tenants at risk of becoming homeless and leaves many more having to choose between paying rent and buying food.

I am outraged about the risks faced by essential grocery and restaurant workers from people who apparently think wearing a mask takes away their freedom. Being DEAD takes away your freedom. If you don’t want to wear a mask, DON’T GO OUT!

Painting of a child looking horrified with burning background. I am outraged. She is outraged.
Be Outraged. Act like a leader. Image by Prawny from Pixabay

Unlike meat companies and political leaders, let us take responsibility as food entrepreneurs. We can help our clients, our suppliers, our co-workers, and our customers by putting in processes and infrastructure which will ensure their safety. For example we can set up our facilities to make sure co-workers can work 6 ft apart, train them to put their masks on safely, and create a business culture that allows co-workers to take sick leave if they feel unwell. Perhaps you will check with your suppliers to see if they are being responsible and treating their employees with dignity and respect.

By now you should have a COVID-19 response plan. If you still don’t have a plan as you are not sure what it should include, schedule a call TODAY. We can work together to responsibly support you business, your team, and ensure that your customers are safe.

Keep safe. Wear a mask. WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS.

Hands being washed because everything is safer with clean hands!
Wash your hands! Image from Pixabay.

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Responsibility of Meat Companies

The welfare of farm animals shouldn't be left up to the farmer.

Do big businesses have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees? What about towards their customers? Or is the only reason big food businesses worry about the health and safety of their employees and their customers is because of government regulations? If given the choice, would food businesses go back to the days without food safety regulations, without adulteration or misbranding laws and let anything go as long as they make a profit? It deeply concerns me that the big food businesses would throw away all regulations if given the chance and leave us all at risk from foodborne illness. This is why I take food safety so seriously.

Drawing of a pill jar with nothing on the label. We just don't know what is in some dietary supplements
What is actually in your dietary supplement? Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

We saw something like this happening after the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1984 when dietary supplements manufacturers produced products without evidence of their efficacy and without really testing for active ingredients. Some dietary supplements were so dangerous that they were banned by the FDA because they killed people.

We’ve also seen the reactions of the CEOs of the meat slaughterhouses after they were required to close by their local health department due to the spread of COVID-19 infections within their facilities. Rather than slow the lines down, test every employee, split shifts, support employees taking sick leave, and install protective equipment; they pressured Trump into passing a Defense of America order making meat processing critical infrastructure. 

Steak. Is it from an business that follows safe employee practices?
Steak with rosemary. Image by Divily from Pixabay

Other ways we have seen food companies lack responsibility is in their refusal to follow animal welfare recommendations which are required by law in Europe. So instead of caring for farm animals properly using acceptable husbandry practices, the animals are given antibiotics and hormones. Apparently it is just too costly to look after farm animals in the US!

Chickens running.
Chickens. Should they roam free? Image by Prettysleepy from Pixabay

These companies have shown over and over again that their employees are replaceable and are as little value (or possibly less) than the meat that they are processing. This lack of respect concerns me because I think it also extends to the customer. Food safety is only as good as the regulations and the inspectors implementing them.

This is why we need a better, more resilient, sustainable and equitable food system. One in which employees are treated with respect and humanity and where animal welfare is an equal priority along making a profit. A profit without these is not an honest result. Here are three things you could do:

  1. Buy meat and poultry from a local source where you can check that the animals and workers are well cared for;
  2. Show in your company and personal values that worker and animal welfare are priorities;
  3. Develop policies around animal welfare, worker health and safety, and customer safety, including an excellent food safety plan as offered by the Food Industry Employment Program LLC. Click here NOW to get your plan setup or updated.

Now wash your damn hands!

Food Safety Must Be A Priority

A view of a market stall with lots of colorful fruit and vegetables.
Blueberries representing local agriculture.
Blueberries Image by Kai Reschke from Pixabay

You’ve probably seen that my tagline is Non-compliance = Death and hopefully the COVID-19 pandemic helps you realise why I have this tagline! Recent research has shown that investing in food safety training and infrastructure helps all farmers and small farmers, while they spend the most relatively, get the most financial benefit in terms of sales. Furthermore, having a food safety plan reduces loss of product due to production errors and selling food that is grown and produced under a good food safety culture benefits consumers. This is a win-win-win situation:

Win=Safer food

Win=More profit

Win=Happy consumers

I know that you have a lot of expenses when you are running a small business, especially when it is a small food business. Food safety is only one of many priorities that you must carry along with packaging and buying equipment, let alone making the products you sell.

When you first start out as a food entrepreneur, food safety doesn’t seem that important. You took Serv-safe, Good Food Handlers, or equivalent course and the city or your local health department gave you a licence to produce food. So you’re good to go, right? However, a few months later you get an opportunity to supply your product to a local supermarket and they want to know your food safety practices or perhaps Wholefoods is interested in carrying your product locally and they want a food safety plan. Now what do you do?

Pan on stove with lid being opened. What is inside? Is the food being cooked properly?
Is food being heated to the right temperature to stop foodborne illness? Image by Lucia Vinti (https://luciavinti.com/)

If you reach out to a food safety consultant like me, you find that I talk a strange language of prerequisite programs, Good Manufacturing Practices, Critical Control Points, Preventive Controls, Record Keeping, Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA, etc.. Can you learn this language and put this food safety stuff together on your own and run your company and produce all the products you need for your new markets?

Make sure you don’t miss out when a good marketing opportunity comes by. Don’t cut corners now and improve your bottom line by making food safety a priority today by scheduling a free food safety chat NOW!. Don’t wait until you HAVE to have a food safety program in place.

Hands being washed because everything is safer with clean hands!
Wash your hands! Image from Pixabay.

Now wash your damn hands.

Cyclospora in Bagged Salad

Picture of fresh express chopped salad
Fresh Express has recalled many of its products as a precaution against a recent cyclospora outbreak. This may be one of the products caught up in the recall. Image from Fresh Express website.

This outbreak started over the weekend of Jun 20-21 when the FDA announced that it was investigating an outbreak of cyclospora probably caused by eating contaminated bagged salad which was at that point affecting consumers in six states.

Salad does seem to be a risky thing to eat at the moment. This makes me glad I have my CSA; otherwise I would probably be buying leafy greens at the local supermarket. While I don’t live in one of the six states currently affected by this outbreak; the outbreak did expand into other states including NJ.

Foodborne illness on top of COVID-19 is not what we need at the moment. As food manufacturers and food entrepreneurs we need to do what we can to increase food safety. Washing those hands is always a good start.

Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. People can become infected with Cyclospora by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite which typically has been contaminated with feces (poo). So for this week’s outbreak  it seems likely that contaminated irrigation water was used for growing or cleaning these leafy greens.

The CDC implies that cyclospora mostly comes from people consuming imported fresh produce. No cases related to commercially frozen or canned produce. I have no idea where the salads that caused this week’s outbreak originated. For some reason I always assume that leafy greens are grown in the US. Not a good assumption apparently. 

As this outbreak unfolded I was thinking that outbreaks of cyclospora were rare and of more recent origin. This doesn’t seem to be the case as there are outbreaks in the US going back to before 2000. Two big outbreaks in 2014 and 2015 were most likely caused by cilantro imported from Mexico. This is why it is important we know where our food comes from and how it is grown. The global food system is so large, that it is often hard to find out information about the origin of our food.

It is tricky to prevent Cyclospora. Consumers and food retailers are recommended to wash their hands and equipment using hot soapy water and wash their fresh produce under running water before consuming. However, while these standard cleaning and sanitation are important, we must recognize that because C. cayetanensis is a parasite, it is unlikely to be killed as easily by disinfectants and sanitizers as pathogenic bacteria.

Hands being washed.
Wash your hands! Image from Pixabay.

Finally at the end of June we got news from the FDA about the recent outbreak with the parasite Cyclospora. This outbreak has been traced back to one facility owned by Fresh Express. On June 27, 2020, Fresh Express recalled products containing either iceberg lettuce, red cabbage or carrots. I cannot bear to think about what the cost of this will be to Fresh Express. Will they have to shutdown? Could this mean an end to their business? This is why every I write about outbreaks and other food safety issues I tell you that you need to make sure you have an strong reliable food safety system. Remember the Food Industry Employment Program LLC can help you put this in place.

While the FDA and CDC are working with Fresh Express at their Streamwood Illinois facility, we still don’t know HOW cyclospora contaminated these salads. I still haven’t read if this was caused by contaminated water or contaminated products. Additionally if it was caused by contaminated products, where were these products harvested and were the farmers following the Produce Safety Rule or Good Agricultural Practices? Where did the supply chain fail in this case?

By the time I am writing this on July 1st, over two hundred people were ill and twenty three required hospitalization. The highest number of cases was in Iowa, with Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin also reporting cases. The recall covered produce sold in over half of the US states.

This map shows the states that were known to have received products recalled by Fresh Express. Products could have been further distributed and sent to additional retailers and states. Image from FDA.

In my opinion this outbreak also shows the risk of centralizing food production systems. There would be a smaller outbreak if food was packaged and sold locally.

If you are a food manufacturer, make sure you only buy food ingredients from approved sources and preferably from farms that follow the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rules and/or Good Agricultural and Handling Practices. 

You need to be one hundred percent certain where your  ingredients are coming from and you must be keeping records of everything you receive and ship. Remember people’s lives as well as the sustainability of your business depend on it, Otherwise you may cause a foodborne illness such as cyclospora and struggle to carry out a recall. Contact me about putting a supply chain verification program in place to ensure your business is producing and selling safe food.

Now wash those damn hands!