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Foodborne Illness is on The Rise. Can the FSMA Help?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in six Americans get a foodborne illness each year, which means that approximately 48 million people become sick due to one of the 31 pathogens. About 128,000 of those end up in the hospital, while 3,000 die.

Of the31 pathogens, many are common and have been known for decades. Escherichia coli (E-coli) is commonly found in bovine food products and fresh produce contaminated with bovine waste and was classified in 1982 having been first recognized in 1885. Salmonella and Pseudomonas were recognized in the 1800s and Cyclospora cayetanensis was first recognized in 1979. All of these are foodborne pathogens (bacteria, viruses and microbes) that have led to outbreaks causing deaths.

Foodborne illness is on the rise. Preliminary data from the CDC Food Net report, suggests that Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia infections increased by 96% in 2017 compared with the 2014-2016 average.

These bacteria are not just found in food products, they can also end up in everyday household items such as healthcare products. Case in point, the CDC has recently issued a statement that a baby wash may contain Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Bacteria. The most susceptible to Pseudomonas are those with immunocompromised systems, that being the elderly and infants.

Salmonella Outbreaks
2009Peanut Butter714 ill9 deaths
2009Ground Turkey136 ill1 death
2013Chicken634 ill0 deaths
2015Cucumbers907 ill1 death
Escherichia Coli Outbreak
1993Fast Food Hamburgers100 ill4 deaths
2006Baby Spinach205 ill3 deaths
2006Fast Food Tacos71 ill0 deaths
2015Fast Food Mexican55 ill0 deaths
Botulism Outbreaks
1977Hot Sauce58 ill0 deaths
2015Canned Potatoes29 ill1 death
1985Cheese142 ill28 deaths
1999Hot Dogs100 ill14 deaths
2002Turkey Meat46 ill7 deaths
2011Canteloupes147 ill33 deaths
Hepatitis A from Food
1997Frozen Strawberries153 ill0 deaths
2003Canned Salsa & Con Queso555 ill2 deaths
2016Tropical Smoothie143 ill0 deaths
(figure 1)

Pseudomonas has colonized many natural and artificial environments including soil, water and skin and it can even be found on medical equipment. It causes inflammation and sepsis and when located in the lungs, urinary track or kidneys, can cause death. A typical entry point into the human body is through the ear and it occurs mostly in recreational water. Whirlpools are a common breeding ground, as the high temperatures and aeration enhances growth.

Pseudomonas is often found in lakes and rivers, but seldom in drinking water. When an occurrence in drinking water is discovered, its ability to colonize biofilms in plumbing fixtures, piping and valves is usually blamed. While drinking water is not its normal habitat, it can survive in both deionized or distilled water, equally comfortable in both a high or low nutrient rich environment.

While Pseudomonas is the recent culprit in todays’ news, Salmonella, Cyclospora, E. coli, Listeria and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are all foodborne pathogens that have led to illness and death. Healthline.com has collected a list of the worst foodborne outbreaks in our history (Figure 1). Salmonella is the most common known cause of hospitalization due to food poisoning in the United States.

Knowing that these organisms have been on our watchlist for decades, what then exists to ensure food manufacturers are putting in protective measures to prevent and eliminate them? The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which is still being implemented, is a vehicle for ensuring those responsible for food production are using the best science available to prevent and reduce the risk of illness.

Under the FSMA, the state governments will be the inspectors and oversee food safety compliance for manufacturers, including for produce at point of growth (farms). Food producers will be required to show that a program is in place to prevent and eliminate the risk of foodborne pathogens. This will include the water used in the production of food, all the way down to the irrigation water for produce.

We have a known list of foodborne bacteria that have caused serious illness and death and a Federal program in place (FSMA) that stipulates protective measures must be in place to prevent and eliminate foodborne bacteria. What then are the solutions?

Organism3-log Dose
Escherichia Coli10
Hepatitis A25
Bacillus Subtillis60
Fecal Coliforms13
(figure 2)

One solution is the use of ultraviolet (UV) disinfection technology. UV is widely accepted by the food and beverage industry as an effective treatment method. It is used for the treatment of air, surface and water disinfection. When used to treat water and other liquids within the food and beverage industry, it is an easy technology to implement.

Today, UV systems can easily be incorporated into existing installations with very little changes to piping or the process. The fact UV does not change product taste, odor or appearance, also makes it very appealing to food and beverage producers.

Simple installation and operation are not the only advantages of UV technology, critically it also adds a protective barrier against organisms such as Salmonella and Pseudomonas. Figure 2 shows the dose required to effectively inactivate common food and beverage pathogens up to 3-log (99.99%).

Meeting the FSMA requirements does not have to be a dauting task. Tested, approved and well-proven technology is available that can be easily installed into new or existing production lines. Consult a qualified UV supplier or hygienic distributor to understand more.

By Dan Shaver

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