An ounce of prevention: Understanding the FSMA produce safety rule and how pathogens get into produce

Posted by Lauretta Johnson on Oct 20, 2015 9:47:00 AM

For the past several years, I have had the pleasure of working with the produce industry. Every year, I am amazed by the innovation that happens--from new varieties of kale to new colors of potatoes and carrots and what about the packing improvements--it’s a constant effort to provide creative new products for consumers. Produce and often raw produce are playing an ever more important role as people try to eat more healthy food...and with that, there is more focus on food safety.  

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The FDA has finalized the FSMA rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food and, as expected, it focuses on establishment and implementation of a food safety system that includes an analysis of hazards and risk-based preventive controls. Accurate and robust methods are critical for testing and should be considered as a component of the food safety plan. For complex samples such as soil and many food matrices in the produce industry, method selection for testing becomes imperative. In the pre-harvest produce arena, introduction of foodborne pathogens is a daunting challenge from a risk mitigation perspective and becomes even more complicated for sampling and testing. Understanding where foodborne pathogens may originate, however, aids in developing preventive controls and targeted approaches for reducing risk. In consideration, a common question for consumers and food industry experts alike is “how do pathogens enter into produce production?  Three major foodborne pathogens can impact produce operations:

  1. Listeria monocytogenes
  2. Salmonella enterica
  3. E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli

Let’s look at one potential source of pathogens: animals.

Ruminant animals (for example, cattle and deer) are believed to be a major source of E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. Research has suggested that pathogens may be transmitted from animal production sites to produce fields via bioaerosol, storm events and runoff water, wildlife, insects, rodents, contaminated manure composts or soil amendments and irrigation water (Erickson and Doyle 2012, Islam et al. 2004, Wasala et al. 2013). But other animals, such as pigs and coyotes, can also be carriers (Cooley et al 2013). It is possible that the broad variety of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli strains may have different reservoirs or modes of transmission to make their way onto produce.

Animals are just one source of E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. In addition, L. monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica have their own modes of transmission to make it onto produce and into production facilities. 

To learn more about other sources of pathogens and resources to prevent pathogens from getting to the consumer, request our white paper “Foodborne Pathogens in Produce – How’d they get there?

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Topics: Produce