Food Safety & FSMA: Preventing Salmonella Contamination
Salmonella spp. bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), causes about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the U.S. every year. Food is the source for most of these illnesses. Most people who get ill from Salmonella have fever along with stomach symptoms, most of which usually begin six hours to six days after infection and can last four to seven days. Some people’s illnesses may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized. The bacteria can be found in a variety of foods, including chicken, beef, pork, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and even processed foods.
Since Salmonella is a pathogen that is prevalent in the gut of many animals (poultry, pigs, cattle, etc.), it can make its way into soil, water, and food from the feces of these animals. The bacteria can easily be introduced into and spread throughout food production facilities via raw ingredients, dirty packaging, equipment, or workers’ hands and clothing. Once introduced into a food production environment, Salmonella thrives in moist, warm environments such as drains, floors, and processing equipment.
In the previous installments of this four-part series on how The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has impacted food safety, including pet foods, we’ve discussed , the shift from proactive to reactive pet food processing, and hazard analysis, & sanitation controls. FSMA is, to date, the most sweeping reform of U.S. safety laws in more than 70 years. FSMA has shifted the U.S.’s focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them. In this final installment, the focus is on how food processors can overcome the fear of Salmonella contamination, including how to stay in compliance with FSMA inspections.
How to Avoid Contamination
How can food processors avoid such dangerous and costly contamination? FSMA’s guidelines on preventing Salmonella contamination are quite specific, but compliance is still in the early phases. According to a recent article in Food Engineering, because the FDA phased the rule implementation over several years, food manufacturers have had time to comply. In fact, according to FE, enforcement of FSMA has not had an adverse impact on production for most food companies.
Many companies already had robust, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points Plan (HACCP)-based programs in place, which could be modified quickly to comply with the Preventive Controls for Human and Animal foods rules. Also, because the FDA eased into its investigation and inspection programs, in essence “educating while regulating,” gave the food manufacturing industry the time it needed to learn FDA expectations and comply accordingly.
First Line of Defense
Food manufacturing and processing plants are considered the first line of defense against Salmonella. It is critical that employees be trained on proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures, handwashing procedures, and contamination-prevention. The facility should have specific measures in place to prevent contamination in finished products and product packaging, as well as to prevent cross-contact between raw ingredients and ready-to-eat foods. Employees must exercise proper hygiene, with an emphasis on handwashing, and supervisors must regularly check that all procedures are followed. The facility’s HACCP should detail the specific approaches the facility will use to prevent Salmonella contamination.
Document, Document, Document
Documentation is a key feature for compliance and follow-up for any food safety program—whether combatting Salmonella contamination or any other foodborne illnesses. Documenting methods for the controlling of hazards has increased, mostly due to more complex regulations coupled with advances in technology. Additionally, new data can be gleaned from bacterial tests, external audits, and sensor measurements. Such data can often be the difference between a recall and convincing inspectors that a product is, indeed, safe. Robust, detailed records of things like finished-product testing or environmental sampling carry weight during inspections.
The series on FSMA’s impact covered many of the issues food manufacturers must tackle to stay in compliance. The shift in focus from being reactive to proactive has been beneficial on many levels—not least of which is to the public (both human and animal). From adapting safety practices and building new facilities to have robust systems in place to advances in technology, food manufacturers can combat food safety—and win.