Food Safety Information Sharing in PracticeOctober 29th, 2009 by Dr. Randy Huffman
Canadian food processors, retailers, distributors, institutions, trade associations, government agencies and listeria experts came together last Friday, in the spirit that Food Safety should not be treated as a competitive issue, to discuss global best practices in food safety at our ThinkFOOD! Centre in Mississauga. What united us was our shared concern in understanding the latest thinking on food safety broadly, but specifically in recent practices and research findings on Listeria prevalence, persistence and growth control technologies, so we as an RTE (ready-to-eat) food industry can continue to do a better job of protecting public health.
The focus of this food safety symposia was on Listeria – as the company behind the listeriosis outbreak that resulted in 22 deaths listeria control is one of our highest food safety priorit ies . The Listeria presentations focused on two general themes:
1) Listeria monocytogenes is pervasive in the food environment
2) The critical importance of preventing growth of Listeria to high numbers in foods.
Dr. Martin Wiedmann from Cornell University and Dr. Kathy Glass from the University of Wisconsin, who both presented, are leading scientists in this area.
Dr. Weidmann presented compelling data to show Listeria monocytogenes has widespread distribution, from very pristine environments to urban environments as well as food processing plants, retail stores, and home refrigerators. His evaluation of the genetic analysis of strains that are known to be persistent in seafood plants was very relevant to our understanding of control in RTE food plants. Listeria is different from other pathogens as the concentration level at the time of consumption determines whether people become ill. We also know that vulnerable populations such as the elderly, pregnant women and people who have compromised immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. Listeria it is also different from other pathogens in that it can grow at low temperatures, however higher storage temperatures speed its growth. The key for preventing illness is to keep foods that could contain Listeria below 4ºC. We learned from Dr. Glass, based on modeling done in the US , that reducing refrigeration temperatures in the supply chain from current levels to consistently below 5ºC could reduce the number of cases of listeriosis in the United States from 2,500 to just 28!
The researchers also spoke to ingredients that ingredients that can be used that further control the growth of Listeria. Ingredients such as lactates and diacetates, which are very common and safe food ingredients that can function to raise the pH level and inhibit the bacteria’s growth are widely used in the U.S. Now approved for use in Canada, we are actively pursuing adding these ingredients to our products in addition to exploring the use of emerging technologies that can also be successful in mitigating risk against foodborne pathogens.
Our plan is to hold these Food Safety conferences annually bringing together our peers, government agencies, industry and others as the opportunity for learning and sharing global best practices in food safety is endless.