In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recorded 125 food recalls, an average of more than one every three days. The agency designated 97 of the recalls Class I, meaning they presented “a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.” For example, on two separate occasions last year, romaine lettuce infected significant numbers of Americans with E. coli prior to being recalled.
Having worked across dairy, beverage and food processing settings, I have seen firsthand the critical importance of food safety. Consulting trained specialists with a keen biological understanding of food and beverage processing best practices can make the difference between a plant thriving and becoming the source of the next big recall.
Following Food Safety Regulations
Each year in the U.S., one in six people contract a foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The FDA designed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which went into full effect in 2016, to shift the focus from responding to foodborne illness outbreaks to avoiding them altogether. Processing plants need to comply with FSMA to avert essentially playing a game of Russian Roulette with food safety.
Understand the law
While FSMA mandates certain preventive controls and produce safety standards for all plants, it also recognizes that these measures improve food safety “only to the extent that producers and processors comply with them.” Accordingly, plant managers should understand that the FDA is required to inspect their facilities, access their records and conduct laboratory tests on their products to ensure compliance. In addition, FSMA grants the FDA broad discretion in responding to problems, including issuing mandatory recalls and suspending a plant’s registration, effectively stopping it from distributing food.
SecureCheck the ‘safety’ box
SecureCheck is a Diversey knowledge-based solution designed to help food and beverage processors address food safety and operational efficiency challenges while reducing their total cost of operation. SecureCheck is also a great resource for plants looking to become fully FSMA-compliant. The program’s various modules are aimed at preventing specific microbiological risks, such as Listeria, and promoting the safety of specific products, including red meat.
As a microbiologist, I understand the numerous near-invisible problems that can plague food and beverage processing plants. I emphasize a holistic approach to food and beverage safety, rooted in my observations of seemingly minor oversights leading to serious consequences. Broadly, my advice to food and beverage processors consists of three main recommendations: practice preventative maintenance, consider partnering with a team of specialists and comply with FSMA. Diligently following those guidelines will set a plant up for safety.
Practicing Preventative Maintenance
At Diversey, we assist customers with pressing problems, but much of the value we provide comes from preventative maintenance – creating and sustaining processes to optimize production and minimize food safety risks and equipment failures. By working toward improved preventative maintenance in a plant, we often discover areas of potential cost-savings, including opportunities to save water, both in clean-in-place (CIP) and open plant cleaning (OPC) situations.
Partnering with a team of specialists
I started at Diversey 20 years ago, and have since completed stints as a Dairy Specialist, a Beverage Project Manager and a Sector Specialist. My range of experience and background in microbiology give me familiarity with processes across the food and beverage spectrum and have aided me while developing educational materials geared toward food safety for Diversey employees, partners and suppliers.
I’ve appreciated being able to develop course content for the Diversey Hygiene Academy, a training resource for employees in the food and beverage sector who are looking for valuable food safety education. I also helped create an assessment for our sales representatives that equips them with key questions to ask plant managers and helps them thoroughly evaluate each prospect’s operation. Finally, I’ve gotten to work directly with our customers to solve serious issues, including collaborating with a team of specialists to discover the cause of a Listeria outbreak at a cheese plant – saving the business vast amounts of money and keeping the public safe from infection.
Partnering with a team of experts is a great way to prioritize preventative maintenance because it brings extra sets of eyes and a deeper volume of knowledge to the plant. It can also serve as a stark reality check for some plant managers, who may not realize the risks that exist until a partner points out a biofilm hotspot or improperly cleaned equipment.