Bleach is your friend: produce contamination in the Middle East

My former dean was known as Dr. Clorox while serving in Vietnam.

produce.cloroxI used to give these training sessions to food types headed for Iraq and Afghanistan from Fort Riley (in Manhattan, Kansas) and would sheepishly say, I have no idea what you’re going to face in terms of potable water, but bleach is your friend.

We take so much for granted.

In the developing countries, inaccessibility to safe water, lack of agricultural infrastructures and limitations to implementing good agricultural practices (GAP) are persistent challenges.

To understand the spread of hazards and identify critical areas of transmission in the food chain, a total of 90 samples of raw salad vegetables (parsley, lettuce, radish) were collected from farms and post-harvest washing facilities (n = 12) in an extensively cultivated area in Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and from wholesale market stalls traced back to surveyed fields.

Our results showed high geometric mean indicator levels ranging from <0.7 to 7 log CFU/g (Escherichia coli), 1.69–8.16 log CFU/g (total coliforms), <0.7–8.39 log CFU/g (Staphylococcus aureus). The mean counts of total coliforms and E. coli on fresh produce followed an increasing trend from fields to the markets indicating potential sources of fecal contamination throughout the food chain. Of more concern was the presence of pathogens Listeria monocytogenes (14%) and S. aureus (45.5%) in fresh produce from harvest to retail, and Salmonella spp. was detected in 6.7% of the raw vegetables from the post-harvest washing areas.

the_first_bleach_bottle_by_thebleachbottle-d5h2xeyThese results along with our observations highlight shortfalls in hygienic farming and postharvest practices, including the use of inappropriately treated manure and chicken litter to fertilize the crops on the fields which contributed to the high levels of S. aureus in the product at retail. Unregulated use of wash water, inadequate transportation and storage conditions with risks of cross contamination was also identified.

Suggested control measures should mitigate the risks at the source and put emphasis on developing strict policies on monitoring the safety of water sources and on the application of the good agricultural and hygienic practices (GAP, GHP) on primary production stages, washing, transportation and storage at retail.

 Understanding the routes of contamination of ready-to-eat vegetables in the Middle East

Food Control, Volume 62, April 2016, Pages 125–133

Dima Faour-Klingbeil, Muhammad Murtada, Victor Kuri, Ewen C.D. Todd


Food safety dominates first day of Florida tomato conference

Doug Ohlemeier of The Packer writes that during the opening day of the Florida Joint Tomato Conference, participants heard how the state’s tomato good agricultural practices and tomato best management practices are helping ensure safe shipments.

tomatoSince implementation of TGAPS, tomatoes haven’t experienced any recalls or outbreaks, Keith Schneider, associate professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition with the Gainesville-based University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said during a Sept. 8 tomato safety session.

He also noted the Sept. 4 multi-state salmonella outbreak of Mexican cucumbers distributed by San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.

“All commodities are potential sources of foodborne illnesses,” Schneider said. “No one’s exempt. There is the recall in cucumbers for salmonella. Even things not traditionally associated with foodborne outbreaks (are subject to recalls). Those can be problematic. But I think we’re getting better with tomatoes and the record of tomatoes clearly speaks to that.”

In nine years of state tomato production inspections, the Tallahassee-based Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has issued 163 corrective actions, 120 failed audits and given 831 audit approvals, which means the farms and packinghouses passed the first time, said Steve Eguino, an agency certification specialist.

The average audit time is 3 1/2 hours and during the 2014-15 season, the agency conducted audits at 76 fields, five greenhouses, 81 packinghouses and 12 repacking operations, he said.

David Gombas, senior vce president of food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said, “I’m getting tired of talking with folks that don’t have it. They did a mock recall last year with an auditor and think that’s enough, but it’s like deer in the headlights. It will always be more expensive doing it that way than having one in advance.” 

But will fewer people get sick? USDA seeks alignment of GAPs audit with food safety law

The Good Agricultural Practices audit offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for fruit and vegetable growers will be updated to reflect the requirements of the regulations from the Food Safety Modernization Act.

sunnybrook-auditorThe new joint GAPs review project includes staff from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the Food and Drug Administration and state partners, according to Leanne Skelton, USDA liaison to the Food and Drug Administration on food safety issues.

“We’re just getting started, and the first meeting will be in a couple of weeks,” Skelton told the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee March 10.

She estimated the process may take one year to 18 months to complete.

Risk factors associated with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes contamination of produce fields

Cornell graduate student Laura Strawn and colleagues write in this month’s Applied and Environmental Microbiology (October 2013, volume 79, issue 20):

Identification of management practices associated with preharvest pathogen contamination of produce fields is crucial to the laura.strawndevelopment of effective Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).

A cross-sectional study was conducted to (i) determine management practices associated with a Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes positive field and (ii) quantify the frequency of these pathogens in irrigation and non-irrigation water sources. Over five weeks, 21 produce farms in New York State were visited. Field-level management practices were recorded for 263 fields, and 600 environmental samples (soil, drag swab, and water) were collected and analyzed for Salmonella and L. monocytogenes. Management practices were evaluated for their association with the presence of a pathogen-positive field. Salmonella and L. monocytogenes were detected in 6.1% and 17.5% of fields (n=263), and 11% and 30% of water samples (n=74), respectively. The majority of pathogen-positive water samples were from non-irrigation surface water sources. Multivariate analysis showed that manure application within a year laura.strawn.onfarm.oct.13 increased the odds of a Salmonella-positive field (odds ratio [OR] 16.7), while presence of a buffer zone had a protective effect (OR 0.1). Irrigation (within 3 days of sample collection, OR 6.0), reported wildlife observation (within 3 days of sample collection, OR 6.1), and soil cultivation (within 7 days of sample collection, OR 2.9) all increased the likelihood of an L. monocytogenes-positive field.

Our findings provide new data that will assist growers with science-based evaluation of their current GAPs and implementation of preventive controls that reduce the risk of preharvest contamination.

143 sickened; ‘PLUs were a mess’ mango board pledges improvements

With at least 143 Americans and Canadians sickened with Salmonella Braenderup linked to mangoes from Agricola Daniella of Sinaloa, Mexico, this fall, the National Mango Board decided it might be an apt time to review good agricultural practices (GAPs).

The Packer reports William Watson, executive director of the National Mango Board, told Fresh Summit 2012 attendees the board has undertaken a risk assessment in mango producing nations of Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala and the U.S. A scientific advisory board is being formed to review findings of the risk assessment and develop good agricultural practices – especially for post-harvest operations.

Watson reminded the mango producers and importers that the commodity board’s activities are limited by federal law. He said the board is working with the Food and Drug Administration to develop the GAPs, which should be available to the industry by winter 2013.

“I know now that there are things I would have done differently,” Watson said. “We could have been two or three days faster getting information out. The PLUs were a mess.”

Many consumers and mainstream news reporters were confused about the price lookup codes listed initially by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency early in the recall. The mango board issued statements explaining that the PLUs relate to varieties and sizes of mangoes and not specific brands, but media reports had already done the damage.

Now market it; food safety for all, big or small, even in the heartland

It’s somewhat reassuring that wholesalers in the Kansas area have said food safety requirements applies to all, big or small. I applaud such efforts. But unless I read a trade magazine like The Packer, I have no idea what I’m buying when I go get groceries.

Coral Beach reports that wholesalers and retailers in the heart of America can’t keep up with demand for locally grown produce, but a lack of growers isn’t necessarily the problem.

Rather, a lack of growers with adequate food safety programs is the biggest challenge to meeting orders for local produce according to several sources in the central U.S.

The wholesalers and retailers also said there are more local growers they would like to use, but they won’t budge on the food safety requirements.

“Many of them are doing it, they’re just not documenting it,” said Scott Danner, chief operating officer for Liberty Fruit Co., Kansas City, Kan.

Brent Bielski said new local growers seem to be popping up all the time, but as general manager for Greenberg Fruit Co., Omaha, Neb., he just can’t do business with them unless they have food safety plans that include hazard analysis and critical control point measures.

At C&C Produce, North Kansas City, Mo., vice president Nick Conforti said the company requires all its growers to have GAP certification and third-party audits.

“I’d rather miss a sale than be the company that gets someone sick,” Conforti said, adding that the company recently completed a two-day inspection for a BRC global standard food safety audit.

Take the next step; let consumers choose at retail.

Try harder: retailer tells cantaloupe growers to improve food safety

As the official toll in the listeria-in-cantaloupe outbreak rose to 13 dead and 72 sick in 18 states, a major retailer said cantaloupe growers need to do more to prevent outbreaks of foodborne disease.

“I don’t think the cantaloupe industry can continue on doing the very same thing and expecting a different result,” said Craig Wilson, the head of food safety for Costco, the Seattle-based warehouse retailer, which is regarded as a leader in requiring food safety measures from its suppliers. “It’s time for companies to get more aggressive. If they know this is going to happen, let’s step up and not let it happen.”

William Neuman of the New York Times reports federal officials on Tuesday that there had been at least 19 previous outbreaks involving more than 1,000 illnesses and three deaths resulting from cantaloupe consumption since 1984. We count at least 36 outbreaks.

Wilson further said Costco would consider setting standards for how melons are grown and how they are cleaned and handled after they are picked. He said the company would most likely require that suppliers test melons for pathogens before shipping them to Costco.

He called on the industry to finance research into the best way to wash or clean cantaloupes to remove contaminants.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said that investigators had yet to determine how the melons became contaminated.

Trevor V. Suslow, an extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, who has done industry-financed research into food safety and cantaloupes, said that the fruit’s rough skin made it more susceptible to harboring unwanted bacteria.

“You have these tremendous hiding places, if you will, nooks and crannies, lots of areas for microbes to get in and attach and hide,” Dr. Suslow said.
It is best to keep cantaloupes dry to reduce the possibility that bacteria will grow on them, he said. In California, growers typically do not immerse melons in water to wash them and use chilled air to cool them.

In other regions, he said, cantaloupes are often washed in a large tank or with a water spray and are cooled with sprays of cold water as well. Those techniques may be more likely to spread bacteria.

Stephen F. Patricio, a melon shipper who is the chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, a trade group, said that sales were plummeting, even though only melons from the farm in Colorado were implicated.

“The entire melon category needs to look at the best practices and research that’s been done by the California industry and others to best analyze their own risks,” Mr. Patricio said. “Or we’re all going to continue to suffer.”