Food Safety Culture

Since I started writing food safety plans, I have been interested in looking at recalls and seeing how a food safety plan could have prevented the recall. Additionally, I like to think about how the food safety plan would need to be updated now there has been a recall for a particular product or ingredient.

For example, today there is a recall of Ritz crackers due to Salmonella in the whey powder which is an ingredient. We don’t currently know who the whey powder supplier and manufacturer are as that has not been released to the public. However, as Mondelēz Global LLC, the food manufacturer who owns Ritz brands, is following Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) standards for supply chain rules, they certainly do. As part of the supply chain controls, they would have guarantees of quality and safety standards, which would include providing a product being free of pathogens, including Salmonella.

What is whey? Remember the nursery rhyme? The curds and whey that Little Miss Muffet was eating on her tuffet is what happens when acid added to milk. You can do this at home by adding vinegar or lemon juice to milk. The milk separates into a lumpy clump solid portion and a liquid. The curds form as the insoluble milk proteins such as casein bind together with the milk fat. The liquid part is whey which contains the water soluble parts of milk including non-casein proteins as well as small amount of milk sugar (aka lactose) and minerals (Dairy Processing Handbook). Commercial whey is a dairy byproduct from cheese production.

Salmonella being present in whey powder is unexpected as milk, in the USA, is typically pasteurized before cheese production and after being separated from the curds, the water is removed first by ultra-filtration and then by drying. Since finding out that their whey powder was contaminated with Salmonella, the processor, and most likely probably FDA and other inspectors, will be looking to see if pasteurization and/or drying were sufficient to be processing preventive controls. They will also be checking their environmental monitoring and sanitation standards to find out where the Salmonella happened and prevent it from happening again. As well as contacting the FDA, they will also be contacting other companies that they provided their whey powder to as part of their recall process.

Fortunately, there is a small chance of Ritz crackers actually causing an outbreak of Salmonella as the crackers are cooked during manufacturing. The manufacturer will have this listed as a process preventive control in their food safety plan and, after this recall, if they haven’t done this before they will be validating the baking step to ensure that it is sufficient to kill Salmonella. This means they don’t have to rely on their suppliers for food safety.

Interested in food safety plans and how to use them to improve your food processing? Leave a comment below.


Salmonella in Tomatoes

So I have been working hard at writing a lecture I am giving next week as part of our continuing education series and I totally missed the latest food scare of Salmonella in raw tomatoes until a friend just asked about it. I’m writing about Food Science for the Non Food Scientist and I totally missed this story. Hits head with hand and groans.

Unripe Tomato on the vine

Raw tomatoes, especially raw Roma, have been implicated in an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul, which seems to be a particularly nasty version of Salmonella. Before you stop eating tomatoes NOW be aware that many types are not implicated in this outbreak. From the FDA:

The following types of tomatoes listed below are NOT likely to be the source of this outbreak.

  • cherry tomatoes
  • grape tomatoes
  • tomatoes sold with the vine still attached
  • tomatoes grown at home

The FDA also lists states from which tomatoes have been grown and harvested which are NOT associated with the outbreak.

One of my friends asked me for the solution and I said cooking the tomato would solve most of the problems. It seems that the FDA does not agree with me and recommends throwing away suspect tomatoes. There have been 12 outbreaks since 1990 that were associated with tomatoes, making up 17% of produce outbreaks.

It is interesting to consider where the problem might occur. Obviously, contamination can occur at anytime during the growing and processing of tomatoes, but how are fresh tomatoes processed?

Well, forget your ideas from home grown tomatoes. Most tomatoes grown commercially are determinate varieties which means all the fruit ripen at the same time. So the harvest can be fully mechanized – there is a mechanized harvester which cuts down the plant and shakes it to get the tomatoes to fall off. These are then sent to the processing plant where they are washed, graded and then stored at quite a high temp to prevent damage and poor flavor development. Some tomatoes are grown using a hydroponic system, which means that they are mineral rich solution instead of in soil.

It is still not clear whether Salmonella ended up inside the tomato, like E.coli O157 H7 did with the spinach. While for spinach, this was an clue to the source of contamination (cultivation water supply), the same cannot be said in this case as fruit such as tomatoes continue to take up water through the stem scar even after harvest.

Looking up for more information I came across this interesting blog: “Barfblog: Musings from the International Food Safety Network” where they have daily updates about the recent tomato scare. I have added it to my blogroll for future reference.