AMS administrator wants to help fill food safety gaps

Tom Karst of The Packer reports that when it comes to produce safety, Elanor Starmer wants the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to be a big part of the solution.

supermarket_produceStarmer has been the AMS administrator since January, succeeding Anne Alonzo in the post. Previously, she had served as senior advisor to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

While she may have less than a year left in her post before the next administration names a new AMS administrator, Starmer said she is trying to accomplish all she can in the limited time left.

Speaking with The Packer June 21 during the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual conference, Starmer said the USDA-AMS wants to help various sectors of the industry understand how they will be affected by Food Safety Modernization Act regulations.

Starmer said AMS wants to help the industry be aware of USDA resources and tools. For example, research agencies can look at the realities of compliance with the water standards or what the manure standard might look like, she said.

Starmer said the USDA has ongoing work and communication with the FDA to make sure that the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices audits are correctly aligned with FDA regulations. At the same time, the USDA GAP program is being benchmarked with the Global Food Safety Initiative.

As always, more research required: Study analyzes tomato production practices

Doug Ohlemeier of The Packer writes that tomato production practices don’t significantly affect bacteria levels and the study’s results point to the need for additional research, according to University of Maryland and Rutgers University researchers.

tomato.traceabilityThat’s the conclusion of a study scheduled to be published in the March issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology.

From July to September 2012, researchers from the College Park-based University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Center for Food Safety and Security Systems and New Brunswick, N.J.-based Rutgers’ Cooperative Extension collected and tested 422 samples from 24 conventional and organic tomato farms from four growing regions in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

The researchers analyzed 259 tomato fruit samples and also examined irrigation water, compost, field soil and pond sediment for Salmonella enterica, shiga toxin and bacterial indicators in pre-harvest tomatoes.

They didn’t detect any salmonella on the farms and the prevalence of shiga toxin, a byproduct of E. coli, was very low, said Shirley Micallef, an assistant professor who heads the Maryland university’s food safety center and Plant Science and Landscape Architecture department.

One curious finding was an apparent difference in bacteria present on tomatoes that touch the ground vs. tomatoes higher in a vine canopy that don’t contact the plastic or straw mulch.

Researchers found indicator bacteria on the ones that connected with the ground but no pathogens, Micallef said.

That discovery doesn’t mean tomatoes that touch the ground shouldn’t be harvested but only points to the need for additional investigation, she said.

Another finding was groundwater from the end of drip lines possessed higher indicator bacteria counts than the source water, Micallef said.

tomato.dump.tankThe difference in microbiological quality of water signals potential risk and points to the need for growers to conduct more frequent drip line system maintenance by testing water at the end of the line, she said.

The research also found no difference in contamination risk between conventional and organic tomatoes and study was also different because it focused on small and medium-sized growers, Micallef said.

“It was encouraging we didn’t find a huge problem because here in the Mid-Atlantic, we have had outbreaks associated with tomatoes,” she said. “It’s good to see growers really paying attention to GAPs (good agricultural practices) and trying to implement food safety practices as best they can in the fields. They probably do help to reduce the risk.”

Salmonella transfer potential onto tomatoes during laboratory-simulated in-field debris removal

Florida Tomato Good Agricultural Practices (T-GAPs) mandate the removal of dirt and debris from tomatoes during harvest but do not provide any specific regulations or guidance; thus, the current practice of using cloths needs to be evaluated. This study examined Salmonella transfer from inoculated green tomatoes to uninoculated cloths and from inoculated cloths to uninoculated tomatoes, upon single and multiple touches.

food-art-tomatoTomatoes were spot inoculated with a rifampin-resistant Salmonella cocktail (107 CFU per tomato) and were touched with cloth (clean, dirty-dry, dirty-wet) at 0, 1, or 24 h postinoculation. Salmonella was enumerated on tryptic soy agar, followed by enrichments when necessary. The transfer direction was then reversed by touching freshly inoculated cloths with uninoculated tomatoes. Transfer coefficients (TCs) were then calculated. Salmonella TCs from inoculated tomato and cloth were highest when the inoculum was wet (0.44 ± 0.13 to 0.32 ± 0.12), regardless of the condition of the cloth. Although Salmonella TCs from inoculated tomato to uninoculated cloth decreased significantly when the inoculum was dried (0.17 ± 0.23 to 0.01 ± 0.00), low levels of Salmonella were detected on cloth even after 24 h of drying. Inoculated dirty cloth did not transfer more Salmonella compared with inoculated clean cloth, and Salmonella survival was not higher on dirty cloth. When inoculated clean cloth (wet) was touched with 25 tomatoes, significantly higher levels of Salmonella were transferred to the first, second, and fourth tomatoes (0.03 ± 0.10 to 0.09 ± 0.02). However, inoculated dirty-wet (below limit of detection) and dirty-dry (0.00 to 0.04 ± 0.01) cloths transferred similar levels of Salmonella to all 25 tomatoes.

Results indicate a low risk of potential Salmonella contamination when the same cloth is used multiple times for debris removal, especially under high moisture levels. Results also show that the use of dirty cloths did not increase the risk of Salmonella cross-contamination.

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 7, July 2014, pp. 1052-1240, pp. 1062-1068(7)

Sreedharan, Aswathy1; Schneider, Keith R.2; Danyluk, Michelle D.3

No surprises in Wegmans food safety requirements

It’s 2013, not 1998, so Bill Pool, manager of food safety for the Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets, is completely accurate when he told Produce Retailer, “I don’t think any grower ought to be shocked that a retailer lettuce.skull.nororequires documentation that they have practices and procedures in place. It doesn’t make a bit of difference if it’s an organic product or a conventional product. Growers have to have some kind of baseline, some kind of minimal standards across the board.”


Now advertise those food safety requirements at retail so consumers can choose.

Grow harvest sort pack or ship fresh cilantro? FDA has some guidance

Sorenne and I continued with our gardening this morning, concluding that it was finally warm enough to plant some cold tolerant crops down in the main garden. We also noticed that several of our herbs are emerging from seed.

I find rosemary the most versatile for cooking, but basil and cilantro have their roles. Unfortunately, basil and cilantro are particularly prone to bacterial contamination, even in home gardens (Sorenne, the snails are back).

Recognizing the number of recalls and outbreaks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidance on March 31, 2011 for those who grow, harvest, sort, pack or ship fresh cilantro.

Some highlights are below. The complete document is available at:

FDA is concerned about positive sample findings for human pathogens in fresh cilantro and recommends that this produce industry segment take action to enhance the safety of these products.

Since 2004, FDA has confirmed the presence of Salmonella species in 28 samples of fresh cilantro that was in, or entering into, commerce. The samples of fresh cilantro were of both U.S. and non-U.S. origin.

Fresh cilantro is commonly consumed in its raw state without processing or cooking to adequately reduce human pathogens. The manner in which it is grown, harvested, sorted, packed, and shipped is crucial to ensure that the potential for microbial contamination is minimized, thereby reducing the potential risk of illness to consumers.

In 1998, FDA issued a “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fruits and Vegetables,” (Ref. 3; the GAPs Guide). The GAPs Guide recommends good agricultural practices (GAPs) and good manufacturing practices (GMPs) that growers, harvesters, sorters, packers, and shippers can use to address risk factors common to the growing, harvesting, washing, sorting, packing, and transporting of fresh fruits and vegetables and thereby minimize food safety hazards potentially associated with fresh produce.

“… in view of continued positive findings for Salmonella spp. in fresh cilantro, FDA recommends that firms in the fresh cilantro industry review their current operations in the context of the GAPs Guide, as well as other available information regarding adequately reducing pathogens in or on fresh produce. We further encourage these firms to assess hazards unique to the production of cilantro and to develop commodity-specific preventive control strategies that would identify potential hazards that may be specific to fresh cilantro. Since the available information concerning some of the recent positive findings for Salmonella spp. does not definitively identify the point of origin of the contamination, we recommend that firms take these steps for all points from the farm through distribution.

1. FDA. 2010. Compliance Policy Guide Sec. 527.300, Dairy Products – Microbial Contaminants and Alkaline Phosphatase Activity.1
2. FDA. 1995. Compliance Policy Guide Sec 555.300, Foods, Except Dairy Products – Adulteration with Salmonella (CPG 7120.20)2.
3. FDA. 1998. Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fruits and Vegetables.3
4. Institute of Food Technologists. 2001. Analysis and Evaluation of Preventive Control Measures for the Control and Reduction/Elimination of Microbial Hazards on Fresh and Fresh-Cut Produce4.
5. FDA. 2004. Letter to Firms that Grow, Pack, or Ship Fresh Lettuce and Fresh Tomatoes.5
6. FDA. 2005. Letter to California Firms that Grow, Pack, Process, or Ship Fresh and Fresh-cut Lettuce.6
7. FDA. 2009. Letter to Seed Suppliers, Distributors, and Sprouters.7
8. International Fresh-Cut Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Western Growers. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Lettuce and Leafy Greens Supply Chain – 1st Edition.8
9. Commodity specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Production, Harvest, Post-Harvest, and Valued-Added Unit Operations of Green Onions9
10. FDA. 2009. Guidance for Industry: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Melons; Draft Guidance.10
11. FDA. 2009. Guidance for Industry: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Tomatoes; Draft Guidance.11
12. FDA. 2009. Guidance for Industry: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Leafy Greens; Draft Guidance.12

Water, hands and poop: produce production practices under study in NZ

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is conducting a new study into how water and natural fertilisers – such as manures, biosolids and compost – are used by the horticultural industry.

NZFSA specialist advisor Marion Castle says the study will help growers continue to produce safe fruits and vegetables and avoid problems that have hit the fresh produce industry overseas. The study will also look at how contaminants from these sources that might be introduced to fresh produce are currently controlled.

Internationally, outbreaks of foodborne illness have resulted from contaminated irrigation water, contaminated water used to wash fresh produce, improperly treated manures, animals defecating on fresh produce, and poor personal hygiene practices.

NZFSA’s new study will look at organic and conventionally grown fresh produce. It will focus on fresh produce intended to be consumed raw, or as a raw dried or semi-dried product.

In 2009 NZFSA conducted a survey of illness-causing bacteria in fresh ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables at retail. The survey indicated a very low level of contamination in New Zealand produce, and pathogens were only detected in two of 900 samples. Both were Salmonella-contaminated lettuces from the same grower.

Reported produce-related food safety outbreaks in New Zealand are rare. Instances include an outbreak of Hepatitis A associated with raw blueberries in 2002. In 2005 consumption of raw carrots was identified as the probable cause of an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul.

As part of this new study NZFSA will be talking with growers about their current practices.

Does more money mean safer food? World Bank funds food safety in China

If China already owns everything why does China need $100 million from the World Bank to pump up their food safety efforts?

According to a World Bank fluff press release, the Government of China has made food safety a top priority in recent years and is taking clear actions to upgrade their food safety system. The Jilin Agricultural Product Quality and Safety Project is part of the national efforts to upgrade food safety infrastructure, procedures and enforcement capacity to implement these new national laws.

Jilin Province in northeast China is a major agricultural producer and supplier of agricultural products to other parts of China. The project aims to help Jilin Province improve its agricultural product quality and reduce agricultural product safety risks. This will be achieved through introducing good agricultural practices, improving the implementation of agricultural product safety related regulations, and strengthening the agricultural product safety monitoring system.

$100-hundred million for test the water, don’t add shit to the soil and wash the shit off hands? That’s GAPs. Oh, and apparently use plant and animal drugs as intended.

All the best plans and guidelines don’t mean anyone will actually follow them in the field. That gets to food safety culture. And I’m not sure it can be bought.