Food recalls have become something most of us have been aware of or impacted by. Everything from peanut butter to cantaloupe to baby formula has made headline news. Terms like E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella are on the tips of the tongues of not only food safety specialists, but also of reporters and the general public. Environmental monitoring programs can help work to keep a food production facility safe.
Meanwhile, industry experts are using technology and science to track, fight and prevent outbreaks. Regulations are in place to help protect consumers from foodborne illnesses. The food safety world is shifting from the traditional approach of focusing on the food itself to going to the source of contamination before starts.
In 1998, a Salmonella outbreak sickened 209 people after they ate toasted oat cereal. Ten years later, in 2008, Another Salmonella outbreak affected 28 people who ate puffed rice cereal from the same processing plant. When experts analyzed the strains, they came to a startling realization. The strains implicated in both outbreaks were of the same subtype. In other words, the Salmonella survived in the plant for a decade.
These outbreaks could have been prevented. With the right environmental monitoring program, many foodborne illnesses could be averted or curtailed. Focusing on preventing microorganisms cuts back on dangerous illness and prevents costly recalls in the tight-margin industry of food production.
The Food Safety Modernization Act – known as FSMA – and other regulations around the world are emphasizing the importance of environmental monitoring in both process controls and preventive controls like sanitation. FSMA is the most sweeping change to United States food safety regulation in more than 70 years and requires environmental monitoring for food processing companies.
Experts in prevention
Randy Worobo is a professor of Food Science at Cornell University and co-author of the “Environmental Monitoring Handbook for the Food and Beverage Industries.” He advises food processing companies to focus on preventative programs.
“A lot of companies have reactive programs,” he says. “They wait until a problem arises and then they try to fix it. Environmental monitoring is important because it is a proactive way to identify potential spoilage or safety issues in their facility.”
The environmental monitoring handbook was created to provide a resource for the food industry and academics, bringing a lot of the industry knowledge together. Martin Wiedmann, Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety at Cornell University, says there’s a great need for this industry resource.
“The knowledge is out there, but not consistently in one single piece,” he says. “Some people in the industry need it for training, some need it to refine and check on their systems, and it also provides a resource for academics.”
Professor Wiedmann partnered with 3M and other industry experts to create the environmental monitoring handbook. He also works with them to develop training for safer practices through the 3M Health Care Academy for Food Safety.
“3M really has the company portfolio for addressing environmental monitoring in the food industry, so I was very excited to work with 3M and other partners to develop the guide.”
A clear and comprehensive framework for environmental monitoring
The handbook gives a unified framework to set up a comprehensive plan for environmental monitoring, from adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and indicator organisms, to pathogens, spoilage organisms and allergens, across a range of locations in a facility.
The process should start with hazard analysis and identifying both potential safety hazards and quality issues that could be introduced into the food product during processing and handling in the facility. It should determine critical limits and strategies for corrective actions such as sanitary measures or changes to equipment design. The frequency of monitoring and record keeping should also be established.
Food recalls can be extremely costly – not only impacting human health, but also a company’s brand reputation and profitability. Environmental monitoring is a critical strategy to help prevent recalls and can also enable improvements in overall efficiency by streamlining production processes and facilitating longer run-times for equipment.
What’s in the handbook?
Learn more about the importance of environmental monitoring and the steps you can take to be more proactive about food safety in your facility. Download the full handbook by visiting 3M Environmental Monitoring.
Each chapter includes in-depth guidance on important topics for food processing and handling facilities.
Chapter 1: Learn about the importance of environmental sampling in food safety and quality programs.
Chapter 2: Get a closer look at the purpose of ATP- and protein-based hygiene monitoring. These quick and simple tests can provide a measurable and objective assessment of the cleanliness of equipment and surfaces prior to food processing.
Chapter 3: Read about environmental monitoring for indicator organisms. Indicator organisms reflect the general microbiological condition of a food or the environment. They can be used to understand the microbial ecology of the processing environment and validate cleaning and sanitation.
Chapter 4: Learn about environmental monitoring for pathogens. Companies perform monitoring for foodborne pathogens in food handling or processing facilities to identify and eliminate pathogen sources to reduce the risk of food contamination, which can lead to recalls and foodborne illness.
Chapter 5: Review environmental monitoring for spoilage organisms. Microorganisms that increase the risk of spoilage are often well-adapted to survive in food manufacturing plants. Microbial spoilage can decrease quality, lead to decreased shelf-life and possibly recalls. See how environmental monitoring can reduce spoilage and threats to quality.
Chapter 6: Take a closer look at environmental monitoring for allergens. In recent years, food and beverage manufacturers have focused more on allergens as more people are diagnosed with food allergies. Programs for allergen testing, monitoring and cleaning are helping prevent cross-contact during food processing.
Chapter 7: Read about driving impactful change in your organization through environmental monitoring programs.
Additional information: Review environmental sampling guidance and a glossary.