Raising the Bar
By Bryan Salvage, Editorial Director
Packers and processors are advancing in the war against pathogens.
Yes, the war against pathogens and food-borne illness still rages on, but the meat, poultry, and allied industries are making significant advances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed continuing reductions in food-borne illnesses in the United States earlier this year. These successes correspond directly to continuing reductions in pathogenic bacteria on meat and poultry products, relays the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF).
CDC reported in mid-April that:
• Infections for E. coli O157:H7 are down 42 percent since the baseline years of 1996 through 1998. Over the same time period, the Agriculture Department observed a sustained decline in the positive samples of E. coli O157:H7 in its ground beef sampling program. In March 2005, USDA relayed a 43.3 percent drop in positive E. coli O157:H7 tests in ground beef samples tested by that organization.
• The U.S. has achieved is Healthy People 2010 goal of less than one E. coli O157:H7 infection per 100,000 people five years ahead of schedule.
Listeriosis cases also declined 40 percent since the baseline years. This, AMIF adds, corresponds to a sustained decline in the incidence of Listeria monocytogenes on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products.
Technology on the move
Valuable allies in fighting this war are the technology providers of food safety-related products and services. These suppliers offer their perspective on what’s behind the continuing drop in deadly bacteria.
“The implementation of the Pathogen Reduction/HACCP Final Rule and the zero-tolerance policy for Listeria monocytogenes set by the Food Safety and Inspection Service [FSIS] have had the greatest impact on the reduction of the number of pathogens in poultry and red meat products,” says Adel Makdesi, senior microbiologist, Zep Manufacturing, Atlanta, GA.
As per the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) survey, writing and complying with Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) have been the most effective contributors to reducing pathogen numbers, followed by writing and complying with the HACCP plan, zero-tolerance for fecal matter, and then microbial testing, Makdesi adds. Processors deserve much of the credit in enhancing food safety.
“Processors have committed significant resources to insuring safe food production,” Makdesi continues. “In many cases their internal standards are stricter than what the regulations require. They hold themselves to a higher standard. More emphasis has been placed on sanitation and proper handling practices than ever before. In some plants, processing lines have been redesigned and traffic patterns have been modified to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination.”
Another key feature to HACCP is the implementation of performance barometrics that are suitable for each plant’s process, says Fred Holzhauer, Director, Business Development, Birko Corp., Henderson, CO.
“And proper record keeping insures that suspect product can be accurately traced to batch, handling, raw materials, and machinery,” he adds.
The meat industry has wholly embraced the notion that good sanitation and safe products are good business, relays Lance Bolton, Global Director, Research & Development, DuPont Qualicon, Wilmington, DE.
“The old days of not wanting to know if contaminants are present have passed,” he adds. “Improved interventions, organic acid washes, steam chambers, and improved methods of cleaning that replace the use of high-pressure water with gels and foams for sanitation purposes [helps to improve food safety],” he adds.
Improved testing technology is another food-safety asset.
“Ongoing testing works to identify problems in a timely manner,” Holzhauer says, “the goal being to prevent the distribution of contaminated product by applying the earliest possible interventions.”
“The introduction of PCR [Polymerase Chain Reaction], with its concomitant sensitivity and accuracy far surpassing what had been available in the market, provided the meat industry with a much more powerful tool for recognizing contamination,” Bolton adds. “This technological improvement also provided the industry with a means to study and determine where in their process contamination of meat occurred and thereby better address those areas. Our sources indicate the overall amount of E. coli O157:H7 associated with cattle arriving at a slaughter house has not declined, but through a desire to find contamination if it exists, improved interventions, and more sensitive and accurate testing, the meat supply has become significantly safer.”
The combined effects of HACCP, improved equipment design, as well as new ingredient and process technology, are benefiting industry, says Rick Hull, Vice President/General Manager, World Technology Ingredients (WTI), Jefferson, GA.
The improving food-safety record is being driven by the USDA/FSIS promulgation of regulations for species-specific pathogens and enforcement by FSIS personnel, agrees Mark DiMaggio, Business Manager/Food Safety Markets, Intervent, a BOC Safety business, Murray Hill, NJ.
“USDA/FSIS regulations mandate that packing and processing plants adopt specie-specific validated, proven intervention technologies for treating the primary vectors of potential contamination, those being food, food contact surfaces, plant atmospheres, and processing fluids,” he adds. “This has enabled their customers –such as Sysco, Subway, and Wal-Mart—to become prescriptive purchasers. Many times their customers [retailers and foodservice companies] are asking what interventions are employed, and they’re sometimes making it mandatory. For instance, Sysco will not purchase any ready-to-eat [RTE] product that did not incorporate a validated Listeria post lethality kill step.”
Secondly, the plants’ proactive position on food safety, especially with enhanced continuous sanitation, is making a difference.
“With recent record-breaking recalls and the reality that lives are at stake, awareness in recent years has definitely increased the aggressive adherence to HACCP and greater dedication to food safety,” says Hillard Witt, President of Best Sanitizers Inc., Penn Valley, CA.
Areas that have improved, he says, include:
• Sanitizing water-sensitive equipment
• Reducing bacteria in bathrooms of food processing plants by implementing touchless faucets, flushers, soap dispensers, and hand sanitizers, and using door pulls/pushes that prohibit bacteria growth.
• Sanitizing all tools that are brought onto the production floor.
• Sanitizing hands with advanced sanitizers, like the company’s Alpet E3 Plus.
Reductions in food-borne illnesses and deaths caused by deadly pathogens are attributable to stricter laws, more frequent inspections, and fast response times combined with improved HACCP, SSOPs, and best practices procedures developed and followed by more food plants than ever before. Processors enforce and monitor these procedures closely through a team of food-safety and quality-assurance professionals within the company, says Michele Colbert, Director of Sales and Marketing, Meritech Inc., Centennial, CO.
“Outside and third-party consultants have also proven beneficial in catching faulty or lacking food-safety procedures in a plant,” she adds. “There are also many new technologies on the market geared to improve, simplify, and monitor employee hygiene and plant sanitation.”
The Food Industry is controlling food-borne pathogens by actively combating the problems, says Wendy J. Epstein, vice president, First Spice Mixing Co. Inc., Long Island City, NY. There is also a heightened awareness of critical control points (CCPs), and food processors are adding anti-microbial ingredients.
“Many of our customers are purchasing Meatol and Meatol-P,” she says. “Meatol has been designed as a USDA-acceptable pathogen inhibitor, including listeria.”
Antimicrobial interventions are being used throughout the industry, agrees John Richards, Vice President of Marketing and Development, Meat and Poultry, Ecolab Inc., St. Paul, MN. Over the last several years, there has been an increasing amount of emphasis on in-plant HACCP plans, adds Keith Johnson, Marketing Manager for Meat and Poultry, Ecolab. “You are seeing improved personal hygiene and multiple hurdles in the plant. They’re spending a lot more time making sure their plant is cleaner.”
Suppliers and their customers are working collaboratively together towards common goals; generating solutions that are applicable to each individual plant’s operation, points out Roger Tippett, Ecolab Senior R&D program leader for Meat and Poultry.
Video auditing technology offers the ability to document sanitation practices and HACCP compliance by placing cameras at critical control points (CCPs) in food processing facilities and using third-party auditors to monitor performance, says Lee Pernice, retail marketing manager, ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, FL. “Remote video auditing helps to keep the HACCP program in check twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” Pernice adds.
Effective products, technology
Many products and services are helping to enhance food safety. For instance, Zep’s RC-5 Entryway Foam Sanitizer System helps fight and control cross-contamination at the entryways of ready-to-eat (RTE) areas in food processing plants. Zep’s quat-based sanitizer [Door San] turns into a rich foam that clings to footwear, wheels, etc., Makdesi says. Features include simple installation and operation, adjustable foam quality and delay cycles, manual override button, and dual foam nozzles.
DuPont Qualicon introduced a new BAX® system assay for poultry rinses that detects both Cambylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli, the strains most frequently implicated in human illness. Traditional methods for detecting Campylobacter in meat and poultry are labor intensive, requiring about five days to determine results. By contrast, the automated BAX® system can detect as few as 10 cells of Campylobacter in a 30-ml sample after 24 hours enrichment.
Last year ADT introduced video auditing services based on remote video technology provided by Arrowsight. Using video cameras stationed at critical control points inside a plant, specially-trained, third-party monitoring professionals keep a close watch on activities and e-mail compliance reports to the facility’s management team. These reports help identify whether critical quality assurance policies and procedures are being met at the plant. E-mailed reports are linked to video clips, providing visual documentation of events uncovered by the auditing service.
WTI has developed MOstatins, which are all-natural blends of natural flavors and fruit extracts designed to enhance organoleptic properties of foods while inhibiting the growth of a broad spectrum of bacteria, yeast, and molds. These products also increase the water-holding capacity of meats.
“MOstatins can be used internally and/or externally to achieve level one or two status,” Hull says.
Ecolab’s Sanova is broadly used as an antimicrobial intervention.
“We’re now entering the market with both Sanova and a new research project for treatment of RTE meat products to deal with the listeria threat,” Richards says. “Another new venture is treatment of beef parts and trim that go into ground meat products. Ground meat operations bring in meat from multiple sources so processors are dealing with a constant and variable threat. Sanova helps deal with that threat very effectively.”
“A new application of Sanova is the treatment of bulk trim chicken and turkey,” adds Nahed Kotrola, Ecolab antimicrobial technical service manager.
Meanwhile, Ecolab’s Vortexx is approved for a variety of applications.
“It has historically been used as a sanitizer in the meat and poultry industries,” Tippett says. “We’re now using it for continuous treatment of conveyors during production and processing. Vortexx is applied to the belt, and it is effective in helping to control E. coli O157: H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and salmonella.”
Intervent recently launched two new products.
“We have validated our aqueous Intervent Ozone Technology as an enhanced listeria post-lethality step with a two-plus log reduction on hot dogs and various deli products and received USDA FSIS acknowledgement,” DiMaggio relays. “We’ve introduced this technology to the RTE industry as a continuous antimicrobial tunnel, deli log sanitizer, and in the form of a continuous hot dog sanitizer.”Intervent also recently installed its UV Fluid Sterilization technology.
“This technology utilizes ultraviolet light to treat up to sixteen-hundred gallons a minute of brine chill fluids or marinate injection fluids,” he adds. “On the brine chiller, it is utilized by an RTE plant as a critical control point…a single pass will eliminate any incidence of pathogens.
“We also put similar UV technology at a much lower flow rate to handle the recirculation rate on injection systems,” he continues. “This not only provides the food-safety value, but it also has been validated to provide both shelf-life stability, and in some cases extends shelf life by sterilizing the injection marinade.”
First Spice Mixing Co.’s Meatol is its leading pathogen inhibitor for meat products. “We also have Meatol-P for poultry products,” Epstein says. “Both products are a blend of organic acids that when used as directed have minimal flavor carry-over in the final product.”
Meritech, which has specialized in employee hand and boot hygiene for more than 15 years, introduced four new systems in 2004:
• The CleanTech 500EZ automated handwashing system is a wall-mounted, all stainless steel, water-tight system designed to be smaller, more durable, and less expensive ($2,795.)
• The ProTech Walk-Through Hand and Boot Washing System is a high-throughput system designed to wash and sanitize the hands and boots of up to 30 employees a minute. Also available as a hands-only system.
• The improved Meritech Bootwasher (MBW2) is an improved model of the original Meritech boot-scrubbing system. It incorporates horizontal and vertical brushes.
• Meritech also provides custom walk-through systems that incorporate rotating brushes for the boots while washing hands at the same time. All equipment can be seen on www.meritech.com
Best Sanitizers developed its new Alpet D2, the first food-grade safe alcohol/quat surface sanitizer and disinfectant to address water-sensitive areas like control panels and freezers, as well as meat slicers, packaging equipment, and more. This EPA-registered RTU product is approved for food-contact surfaces, and it is non-corrosive. No rinsing is necessary. “Alpet D2 kills 99.999 percent of bacteria,” Witt says.
Birko’s new Chlorine Dioxide Generator delivers an unprecedented balance among efficiency, safety, and cost considerations, Holzhauer says. It is suitable for in-plant applications such as potable water treatment, chill water systems, deodorizing for rendering or other byproduct operations, cooling tower treatment, and general sanitation.
The future
When it comes to food safety, there is always room for improvement. And cost should not be an issue when choosing solutions to fight the war against pathogens, Witt says.
“Technology providers also need to continue improving their technologies – not only for the efficacy, but also for affordability,” DiMaggio says.
“We work collaboratively with our customers to make recommendations for various intervention and hurdle points in each plant,” says Terri Bringgold, Ecolab Marketing Communications Manager. “It has become a very complex system that requires validations, monitoring, and technical assistance.” NP