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By Charles Breen, Independent Advisor for FSMA

The Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) report, “Foodborne illness source attribution estimates for 2016 for Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter using multi-year outbreak surveillance data, United States”, highlights why FSMA is so important a tool in driving the food industry to do more to prevent foodborne outbreaks. Each year in the U.S., an estimated 9 million people get sick, 56,000 are hospitalized, and 1,300 die of foodborne disease caused by known pathogens. IFSAC identified four priority pathogens, Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter that together cause 1.9 million foodborne illnesses each year. In addition to their frequency, these pathogens are also well-known for the severity of the illnesses they can cause, and the fact that targeted interventions can significantly reduce their incidence.

The IFSAC statistical analysis showed 1,255 outbreaks between the years 1998 and 2016 (3,553 in raw data) in which a confirmed or suspected food or foods could be assigned to a single food category: 762 caused or suspected to be caused by Salmonella, 235 by E. coli O157, 37 by Listeria, and 221 by Campylobacter. Using outbreak data, the report estimates:

  • Salmonella: Illnesses came from a wide variety of foods, of which more than 75% of illnesses were attributed to seven food categories: Seeded Vegetables (such as tomatoes), Chicken, Pork, Fruits, Other Produce (such as nuts), Eggs, and Beef.
  • E. coli O157: Nearly 75% of illnesses were linked to Vegetable Row Crops and Beef.
  • Listeria monocytogenes: Illnesses were most often linked to Dairy products and Fruits.
  • Campylobacter: Over 80% of non-Dairy foodborne illnesses were attributed to Chicken, Other Seafood (such as shellfish), Turkey, Other Meat/Poultry (such as lamb or duck), and Vegetable Row Crops, with the majority of illnesses most often linked to Chicken.

Since FSMA’s passage in January 2011, FDA has worked hard to educate stakeholders on the many new food safety requirements covering all foods (with limited exceptions) under FDA’s purview. The message of the newly released IFSAC report strongly suggests that manufacturers and processors of implicated food categories should take special care. If not FDA coming to look, it will be FSIS to check on food safety measures and controls.

For example, the Produce Safety Rule and more recent Guidance for Industry establish science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. Specific requirements include agricultural water (pending further research), biological soil amendments, worker hygiene, building and equipment requirements. Growing sprouts is given special attention because of the inherent risk.

After the largest E. coli O157 outbreak in a decade, the Agency confirmed in early November that three samples of irrigation canal water were found to be contaminated with the H7 strain that sickened so many and killed five. Shortly before this announcement, the Agency released a Draft Guidance for Industry on minimizing food safety hazards for cut produce that discusses how to comply with new Good Manufacturing Practices as well as hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls.

You may have also want to read EAS Senior Director for Food Consulting Services, Allen Sayler’s recent article in Dairy Foods Magazine on how FDA’s enforcement of Appendix T in the 2017 Pasteurized Milk Ordinance is focusing on FSMA-like requirements. I expect this to be a game changer for the Dairy industry.

Reports such as IFSAC’s find that the majority of severe foodborne illnesses can be mitigated through better controls, and more diligent efforts at safety. We can only be encouraged as FSMA compliance dates tick forward and we learn more of the “whats” and “hows” of preventive controls and better implementation methods. Unfortunately, we also learn much from cases where preventive controls did not work. When that happens, all of the industry should take note, assess their own procedures and make adjustments as needed so that we can collectively continue to create a safer food supply.

Posted in EASeNews, Foods, FSMA Perspective and tagged .