FUNCTION OF INDUSTRY IN THE PREVENTION AND MITIGATION OF POTENTIAL FOODBORNE DISEASE
In the 1950s and early 1960s, industry did a remarkable job in correcting many of the problems that led to foodborne disease and therefore the greatest concern was typically at the local level. However, in subsequent decades, with globalization and the increase in vulnerable populations in the United States and the rest of the world, there was a significant increase in foodborne disease problems related to original sources of food and their processing. Some corporations elected to be excellent corporate citizens, while others were strictly concerned with profits and ignored the potential for outbreaks of foodborne disease.
In 2009, a very serious outbreak of foodborne disease occurred, with its origin in a peanut butter processing plant. Nine people were reported to have died and 22,500 people were reported ill. The plant had many serious environmental health problems ranging from rodents to various types of other contamination. Although the facility had been inspected by a company paid by the facility and problems had been noted by the individual carrying out the inspection, corrections were not made and the product was sent out to other manufacturers as an ingredient in the other manufacturers’ products. Industry-type good citizenship was totally lacking. In addition, the reliance of regulatory agencies on certain industries to evaluate and control ongoing problems without proper supervision or with limited supervision, in some areas, because of lack of funding and/or incompetence or neglect, is a serious concern.
This is but an example of the potential for outbreaks of foodborne disease from a large variety of industries today. To determine some of the problems and their extent, it is necessary to examine data gathered, analyzed, and put out for consumption on a regular basis by the CDC.
Regulatory agencies alone cannot accomplish the goal of excellent food protection without the full cooperation and intense level of preemptive programs carried out by highly qualified professionals in environmental health working in industry. This programming is not in lieu of regulatory work, but is rather a highly significant portion of the total effort to protect the consumer at the national, state, and local level. After all, the regulators may see a given food operation once a year, maybe twice a year, or even four times a year in some instances, but the industry supervises the food protection operation on a daily basis.
A serious current problem in a multistate investigation of foodborne illness is a lack of uniform protocol and forms issued by regulatory authorities. This leads to confused and inaccurate data collection and therefore hinders resolution of the disease outbreak.
Best Practices in Industry
• Work cooperatively with other parts of the industry, including competitors and suppliers, to determine potential sources of contamination and techniques for removing them from the food processing chain.
• Utilize highly professional environmental health staff with excellent credentials and substantial field experience within the industry to control potential disease outbreaks and maintain product quality.
• Use outside experts to resolve specific problems which cannot typically be handled by in-house staff.
• Work closely with local, state, and federal food protection programs to resolve problems before they become substantial in size and costly.
• Recognize that the CDC has the ultimate scientific knowledge and experience and is the authority regarding foodborne disease outbreaks, nationally and internationally. They provide a series of highly effective programs to prevent disease in various parts of the system including the grower, supplier, distributor, and food service outlet.
• Develop a produce safety initiative including: field inspections of the suppliers; testing for pathogens in water and on produce; enhanced pathogen elimination in the processing facility; and verifying and tracing where the product comes from in order to immediately discontinue its use if necessary.
• Conduct field audits to look for animal intrusion, flooding, use of manure, and other environmental hazards before planting fields and 2-7 days prior to harvest with primary focus on E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella.
• Establish supplier programs including mandatory HACCP programs including taking immediate corrective actions, and annual, or more frequently if necessary, food safety assessments for all suppliers.
• Establish distributor programs including: semi-annual audits, mock recalls after hours on a regular basis, product traceability within 2 hours, and monitoring the temperature of sensitive products at the distribution center and during transportation to restaurants.
• Establish restaurant food protection programs including daily restaurant checklist evaluation in writing performed two to three times daily, an effective pest management program, use of a food safety pocket guide, a semi-annual food safety audit conducted by a third party, and semi-annual corporate-level audits.
• Provide a crisis management team which can go immediately into operation on a 24/7 basis when there are concerns about product quality, communicable disease, foodborne illness, product contamination or foreign material in food, and when an employee shows symptoms of foodborne illness. The team needs the authority and capability to advise all stores within the corporation about the problems and how to immediately prevent them or correct them.
• Develop a quality assurance outline with an 800 or 866 prefix available 24 hours a day, Provide a hotline with an 800 or 866 prefix so that employees and stores can immediately reach the crisis management team.
• Provide a nutrition and allergens program including information to the public on a variety of allergens (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans) and sensitivities to gluten and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
• Mandate that all managers have food service management certification, which is recertified at least every 3 years, with at least one certified manager present in each restaurant at all times.
• Provide all employees with intense basic food safety training during orientation, including hands-on work.