The Food Safety Consortium Newsletter

Vol. 9, No. 2

Spring 1999


  • Salmonella in the Home Is Mostly Outside the Kitchen
  • KSU Finds Consumer Interest in Irradiation
  • Dietitians OK Irradiation if Price Not Too High
  • Report From the Coordinator
  • Cooking Burgers? The Eyes May Deceive You
  • Food Safety Cooking Tips
  • Papers and Presentations
  • Food Safety Digest


    Salmonella in the Home Is Mostly Outside the Kitchen

    Gordon Schutze's research team went into Arkansas homes to track down the origin of the Salmonella that had infected children in those homes. Conventional wisdom would have it that the bacteria would be found mostly among contaminated foods.
     
    Schutze's previous research had indicated that would not be the case and his more recent project confirmed it. The latest question was if food isn't primarily responsible, what is? The Food Safety Consortium research project showed that many more instances of Salmonella contamination were found in other sources in the homes' environments: household members, refrigerators, water, countertops, soil, can openers, vacuum cleaners and pets, among other sources.
     
    "These data illustrate the importance of the child's environment in the development of salmonellosis," said Schutze, a Food Safety Consortium researcher who is a pediatrics faculty member at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "Clinicians should concentrate on educating the parents about the environmental spread of Salmonella."
     
    The results also showed the importance of what Schutze has been warning for years about household contaminations. Regardless of the source, "You need to wash your hands."
     
    Schutze and UAMS researchers James Sikes, Rossina Stefanova and Donald Cave focused on children 4 years old and younger who had been infected with Salmonella. For two years the researchers followed on reports of those children at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock from whom Salmonella was isolated. Their findings were published in the January edition of the journal Pediatrics.
     
    The team visited 50 homes within three to four days, on the average, of confirmation of the child's Salmonella infection.
     
    Data collected previously showed that the Salmonella infection rates for infants and children in Arkansas exceeded those of the rest of the nation. "The majority of these cases are sporadic," Schutze said, "and they occur without an identifiable source of infection, although clinicians continue to emphasize contaminated food as the major source of infection for these young patients."
     
    Prior to this study, Schutze noted, "There were no data supporting the role of contaminated foods as a risk factor. There were data suggesting that the environment or other individuals in the environment might have a significant role in transmitting disease."
     
    In the home visits, the researchers administered questionnaires to the infected children's parents to gather information on topics such as household educational levels, the infected child's medical history, other family members with similar illnesses, preparation and consumption of high-risk foods and the presence of pets. Then the researchers attempted to obtain cultures from leftover foods, the refrigerator, water samples, cutting boards, vacuum cleaners and soiled areas of the home.
     
    With food as an initial suspected source, samples were taken from 120 foods in the homes. "However, only one piece of block cheese was demonstrated to harbor Salmonella," Schutze said.
     
    The cheese happened to be in the same home in which both the sister and brother of the infected child also tested positive for Salmonella. "It is likely that the contamination of the cheese was the result of chronic handling and was not the major source of infection," Schutze said.
     
    If contaminated foods had contributed to the salmonellosis among the patients tested, Schutze said, the researchers would have expected to recover Salmonella samples from food in greater quantities.
     
    Salmonella was found in 38 percent of the homes inspected, and all but five of those homes had a Salmonella isolate identical to that of the home's infected child. Nine homes also had individuals other than the infected child who tested positive for Salmonella. Overall, only 18 percent of family members within the 50 homes surveyed tested positive for Salmonella.
     
    Those numbers may be relatively low because only 31 percent of the families allowed the homes' residents to be tested, Schutze noted, but there may be another reason.
     
    "Families are now more familiar with the intrafamilial spread of such organisms than they were in previous years and have taken precautions to prevent its occurrence. Nevertheless, intrafamilial spread still appears to be a major risk factor in the acquisition of disease for these younger patients."
     
    In the inspection of the households, only two positive samples of Salmonella were found among 52 refrigerators, 46 countertops, 36 can openers and 17 cutting boards. The contamination was largely outside the kitchen.
     
    Vacuum cleaners and dirt near the front door were major sources of Salmonella more often than other environmental sources. "Vacuum cleaner contents are a well-localized collection of debris from all over the home and an easy place to check for environmental contamination," Schutze said. "They also have been found to contain Salmonella more commonly when there are infants in the home who are infected with these organisms."
     
    Schutze acknowledged that the data showed it was still difficult to single out the major factor that creates the risk of salmonellosis for infants and children. The survey did show that the risk factors come in many forms.
     
    "Infected individuals, pets and other environmental sources appear to be much more significant than contaminated foods in the home."
     

    KSU Finds Consumer Interest in Irradiation

    If the meat and poultry processing industries want to invest in new technology to fight bacterial contamination, the probable price increase in their products won't discourage consumers.
     
    Surveys of consumers in Kansas showed that most of the respondents were neither wary of buying products treated with the new technologies --- steam pasteurization, irradiation and hot water rinsing --- nor were they discouraged by modest price increase attached to the treated products.
     
    "I think we'll confirm that people will be willing to pay something for an additional margin of safety," said John A. Fox, an assistant professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University. Fox coordinated a study for the Food Safety Consortium examining consumers' reaction to the technologies and their prices.
     
    Fox's team first compared costs between hot water rinsing and steam pasteurization, two technologies that beef processors can use as part of their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point procedures to eliminate contamination. Operating costs per head of cattle for hot water were slightly higher than steam's costs, but fixed costs were lower for the hot water system.
     
    In examining the consumers' willingness to pay for technologies, the researchers surveyed two groups. One group was provided information about irradiation and steam pasteurization. The other group was told about irradiation and hot water rinsing. The consumers were told that irradiation-treated beef was guaranteed not to contain harmful E. coli bacteria, that steam pasteurized beef was 99 percent free of E. coli, and that hot water-rinsed beef would be 90 percent free of the pathogen.
     
    They were asked whether they would prefer to purchase ground beef treated with either irradiation or the other technology, with the price being equal in either case. Irradiation won each time, getting support of 54 percent over steam pasteurization and 77 percent over hot water rinsing.
     
    Then they were asked if they would be willing to pay more for the additional level of safety. The averages calculated from the responses showed that the consumers were willing to pay an additional 34 cents a pound for steam pasteurization and an extra 29 cents a pound for hot-water pasteurization.
     
    "In either case the indicated willingness-to-pay levels dwarf the costs of the technology," Fox said. "For example, with steam pasteurization costing 26 cents per carcass, a price premium of only 1 cent per pound would more than compensate for the additional costs. Interestingly, the difference in willingness-to-pay for steam and hot water, while not statistically significant, is more than enough to compensate for the additional cost of investing in the more expensive steam pasteurization technology."
     
    In a separate experiment conducted by Fox and Food Safety Consortium researcher Dennis Olson of the Iowa State University animal science faculty, researchers explored Kansas consumers' reaction to irradiated chicken breasts. "Our results suggest that a majority of consumers exposed to unbiased, science-based information about the food irradiation process would purchase irradiated poultry products," Fox said.
     
    In a mail survey, consumers were provided a leaflet about irradiation and asked whether they would buy irradiated or non-irradiated chicken if both were sold at the same price. Eighty-one percent preferred the irradiated poultry. When asked what they would choose if the irradiated chicken's price were 10 percent higher than the non-irradiated product, 31 percent of the consumers selected the irradiated chicken.
     
    When chicken breasts were labeled as irradiated and non-irradiated and sold in a grocery store, the irradiated chicken was preferred by 43 percent of the consumers when the price was the same as the non-irradiated. When the irradiated chicken was priced 10 percent higher, the share of consumers willing to buy the irradiated product ranged from 19 to 30 percent.
     
    In the grocery store survey, a leaflet about irradiation was available for consumers to take, but only a few shoppers read it, Fox said.
     
    The researchers tried another approach by recruiting participants in a market experiment. Each person was provided a copy of the irradiation information leaflet and asked to read it. They were asked to indicate their preference for irradiated and non-irradiated chicken at various prices. With prices being equal, 80 percent of the participants chose the irradiated product. At a 10 percent higher price, almost 40 percent chose the irradiated product.
     
    Even when faced with only about 30 percent of consumers willing to pay the 10 percent premium for irradiated chicken, Fox still found the results encouraging. "At current cost estimates, a 10 percent premium easily covers the additional costs for commercial scale irradiation," he said.
     
    Irradiation of poultry and beef is permitted by federal regulations, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture having approved the process for beef only as recently as February. Poultry irradiation has been legal for several years. But neither meat is being sold in an irradiated offering.
     
    "I think if irradiation catches on, it will enter the market in a small way," Fox said. "Some small company may decide it wants to be innovative and that it wants to differentiate its products. There's an opportunity to do that."

    Dietitians OK Irradiation if Price Not Too High

    Dietitians in health-care facilities are comfortable with broilers and beef patties that have been through the new federally-mandated procedures designed to prevent foodborne disease. They also register a high rate of approval of broilers and beef patties that have been irradiated.
     
    If, however, they are asked to pay more for irradiation of those meats, the dietitians' enthusiasm begins to drop off with each additional nickel per pound.
    A Food Safety Consortium research team at the University of Arkansas analyzed the answers to 250 surveys that were returned by members of the American Dietetic Association who work in health-care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.
     
    "We thought dietitians would be more familiar with the risks associated with foodborne disease, and patients in health-care facilities face greater risks of foodborne disease," said Martin Redfern, a professor of agricultural economics who supervised the survey with William C. Bailey, an associate professor of human environmental sciences, and John Giamalva, a research associate.
     
    The dietitians were asked about their reaction to some recent developments intended to improve food safety. They are:
     
    * The implementation of new science-based standards in meat processing plants. The standards, known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), are mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and require each plant to design a plan to prevent potentially unsafe conditions at critical points of processing. Mandated HACCP plans have been phasing in at plants since 1997.
     
    * The use of irradiation on meats to destroy foodborne bacteria. Irradiation of pork and poultry has been legal for a few years. The USDA authorized its use for beef in February. Use of the procedure is voluntary and has not yet been implemented by any meat processors.
     
    * The use of chemical rinse treatments to eliminate or retard the growth of bacteria on meat carcasses in processing plants.
     
    The researchers wanted to know if the dietitians would demonstrate a "willingness to pay" extra for these three treatment procedures. They were asked if they would be willing to buy broiler portions and beef patties that had been prepared using the three processing methods at the same price they are currently paying and at prices 5, 10 and 25 cents per pound above the current price.
     
    "Our results indicate that processes designed to increase the safety of food in health care facilities are acceptable to dietitians who work in health-care facilities at a cost of less than an additional 5 cents per pound," Redfern said. "They also indicate that dietitians employed in health care facilities are very responsive to price."
     
    Here are some examples. When asked about their acceptance of broiler portions or beef patties that have been through the HACCP process, about 97 percent of the dietitians said they would be willing to buy them at the same price that would be charged if the meats hadn't gone through HACCP systems. But if the meats cost an extra 5 cents per pound as a result of the exposure to HACCP, only about 77 percent were willing to pay the additional price. At another 10 cents per pound, only about 34 percent would pay. Only 5 percent would pay an additional 25 cents per pound.
     
    The use of irradiation met with high acceptance among the dietitians. If irradiation doesn't add to the price of the meats, about 71 percent of them would buy it. If irradiation boost the price another 5 cents, 58 percent would buy it. About 27 percent would buy irradiated meat for an additional 10 cents per pound and about 7 percent would do so if the price went up 25 cents.
     
    Chemical rinse treatments impressed the dietitians the least. Even if chemically rinsed meat cost the same price as untreated meats, only about 40 percent of the dietitians would buy it. Raising the price of the treated meat by 5 cents would result in about 29 percent willing to buy it, while about 12 percent would buy it at a 10-cent price increase. At a 25-cent increase, only about 3 percent would be willing to pay the extra cost.
     
    "The level of support indicated for irradiation and additional chemical rinses was far lower than that for the HACCP process," Redfern said, "but the acceptance rate for irradiation was higher among dietitians than the level of support indicated by previous surveys of households."
     
    The dietitians' greater acceptance of irradiation over chemical rinses "may also be due to the generally favorable stand taken by the American Dietetic Association on irradiation of food," Redfern added.
     
    Redfern said the findings may encourage food processors to adopt irradiation faster than they otherwise would, but cautioned that the selling price could be an important factor to watch.
     
    "Dietitians are very conscious of increased cost. Anything more than a cost increase of 5 cents per pound is a large deterrent to dietitians' acceptance of new procedures to reduce pathogens on food leaving processing plants."
     

    Report From the Coordinator

    By Charles J. Scifres

     
    The continuing quest for improving the nation's food safety system has been marked this decade by the emphasis on science-based practices. As Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point systems have become standard procedures in our nation's processing facilities, the work of research organizations such as the Food Safety Consortium has taken on a new urgency.

    Recognition of this development is apparent through government and
    industry. This spring, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, "Ensuring Safe Food From Production to Consumption." The report earned the endorsement of the President's Council on Food Safety, which took note of the NAS conclusion that an effective and efficient food safety system must be based on science and that statutes governing food safety should be revised to achieve a science based system.
     
    The President's Council cited examples such as the FoodNet and PulseNet systems for surveillance and identification of foodborne pathogens and the implementation of science-based inspections of meat, poultry and seafood. It also acknowledged the need for strengthening endeavors such as the ability to assess health risks from foodborne pathogens. The Council also said it would work with Congress to create scientifically-based food safety statutes and would explore methods to assess risks in the food supply.
     
    The mission is the same in the private sector. Dr. Charles Beard, vice president of research and technology for the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, recently expressed the hope that progress in research will lead to the sharp drops in incidents of Salmonella and Campylobacter on broilers.
     
    Writing in Poultry Times, Beard said, "It is clear that the industry is going to have to take on the Campylobacter challenge with the same determination that it used against Salmonella." The goal of diminishing these pathogens' presence may be within reach, according to Beard, "if the industry stays committed to determining the sources of the problem microbes and implementing appropriate intervention strategies as they become available."
     
    The availability of such strategies for our food supply will come through a sustained push for research activity. Also pointing to Salmonella and Campylobacter infections, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the overall incidence of these causes of foodborne disease had declined since 1996. The CDC's director, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, said stepped-up prevention efforts may be the reason, but more study of the issue is needed.
     
    There are many hurdles that food safety research must clear. Answers to problems often generate new questions needing more answers. Our researchers' work makes a major contribution toward finding more of those answers. Never before has the mission of the Food Safety Consortium been more critically important.

    Cooking Burgers? The Eyes May Deceive You

    It's been considered a fairly simple matter all these years for anybody cooking hamburgers. If it's brown it's done. If it's still red, it's not.
     
    But maybe not so in either case. The brown burger might actually be undercooked and still contain harmful bacteria. And the burger that's still red might actually be overcooked.
     
    "Don't let your eyes try to tell you it's safe or unsafe," warned Melvin Hunt, a principal investigator with the Food Safety Consortium at Kansas State University.
     
    The solution to this situation, advocated by Hunt's KSU colleagues and endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the use of meat thermometers. The only way a consumer can know that a ground beef patty is cooked to the optimum level is to take the temperature of its center point and see that it's 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
     
    Researchers first found that when ground beef's color pigments are oxidized, the ground beef tends to brown prematurely when cooked. Oxidized brown pigments called metmyoglobin would accelerate the browning process.
     
    But the brown pigment turned out not to be the only pigment causing the browning, Hunt said. "We've got at least two research studies showing that the bright red oxygenated pigment &emdash; oxymyoglobin &emdash; is also predisposed to premature browning."
     
    The bottom line turns out to be that the bright red and brown pigments can cause a burger to brown prematurely. If a patty has a purple red pigment, "then that's the only pigment that will basically go from red to pink to brown in a prescribed manner," Hunt said.
     
    Much of the ground beef is sold in stores in bright red color that consumers are accustomed to seeing. The catch is that ground beef with the bright red pigment would tend to turn brown prematurely when cooked.
     
    More often, however, ground beef contains a mixture of pigments. "It's bright red on the surface but it may be brown somewhere inside and it may be purple somewhere else," Hunt said.
     
    Another factor is the time lapse between grinding the meat and cooking it. Hunt explained that when meat is ground at a store or a packing plant, it becomes oxygenated "and the chemistry of the meat starts to change over time," leaving a package of ground beef with oxymyoglobin susceptible to premature browning.
     
    There is a way around this, but Hunt doesn't think consumers or stores would like it. "The only way we can get hamburger patty color to not brown prematurely would be to have it in a total purple state when it is cooked. That means you have to vacuum package everything and it's not going to be bright red."
     
    Vacuum packaging ground beef would cause it to react as steaks and roasts do. "When it's rare, it's redder," Hunt said. "When it's medium, it's less red or pink. And when it's well done, it's brown."
     
    If that's not enough to keep consumers wondering, there is the opposite of premature browning: the process by which ground beef fails to turn brown even after it has been adequately cooked to the 160-degree mark. The red color would lead a consumer to believe the burger is not done even when it is.
     
    "You know that patty is safe because it's cooked at a high enough temperature but the color is not cooperating," Hunt said. "It's not cooperating because for some reason that pigment is more protected from the heat."
     
    This happens because the myoglobin, which ordinarily would cause the burger to turn brown during cooking, is in a less acidic environment. In that situation, the meat can stay pink at higher temperatures.
     
    The KSU researchers once again turn to retailers as a source of more predictable color changes by recommending that they sell ground beef in vacuum packaging. But the color changes would be predictable only if consumers cook the patties immediately after opening them from the vacuum packages.
     
    "If you leave the meat out and it starts getting bright red, then we probably even lose the color predictability on a vacuum package patty," Hunt said.
     

    Food Safety Cooking Tips

    The Food Safety and Inspection Service offers these food safety tips:
     
    * Use an accurate digital instant-read food thermometer to check the temperature throughout the patty. The temperature must reach 160 degrees F.
     
    * Large dial food thermometers designed for testing whole poultry and roasts during cooking are not suitable for testing ground beef patties.
     
    * Digital food thermometers are designed to be used toward the end of the cooking time and register a temperature in about 10 seconds. Most digital food thermometers will read the temperature in a small area of the tip. Digital thermometers must penetrate at least one-half inch into the food. If a ground beef patty is not thick enough to check from the top, or if an instant-read dial thermometer is used, the thermometer should be inserted sideways.
     
    * Be sure to wash the thermometer in hot soapy water immediately after testing an undercooked patty, and when cooking is completed.
     
    * When eating out, ask your server if ground beef patties have been cooked to at least 155 degrees F for 15 seconds, which is a safe option for restaurant or food service operations.
     
    * To check the accuracy of a food thermometer, fill a large glass with finely crushed ice, add clean tap water, and stir well. Immerse the thermometer stem a minimum of 2 inches into the mixture, touching neither the sides or the bottom of the glass. The temperature should read 32 degrees F. Many thermometers have a calibration nut under the dial that can be adjusted. Check the package for instructions.
     

    Papers and Presentations

     
    Marlene Janes, Arkansas, won second place in the Gamma Sigma Delta graduate student combined research poster paper competition. Her project title was "Sodium Chloride and Sodium Bicarbonate Solution for Removal of Enterohemorrhagic E. coli 0157:H7 From the Surfaces of Chopped Lettuce." The co-author was her advisor Michael G. Johnson.
     
    Zeliha Yildirim, Arkansas, won the University of Arkansas Sigma Xi Chapter Aubrey E. Harvey Graduate Research Award for the outstanding dissertation for 1998-99. The award carries a cash prize of $800. Yildirim, a doctoral graduate student in food science, wrote a five chapter dissertation with three of the chapters already being published as refereed journal articles. She has two other papers in preparation. Yildirim has returned to her home country of Turkey where she is on the dairy sciences faculty at Gaziosmanpasa University in Tokat. Michael Johnson was the major advisor for her dissertation.
     
    Zeliha Yildirim, Debra K. Winters and Michael Johnson, Arkansas, have published "Purification, Amino Acid Sequence and Mode of Action of Bifidocin B Produced by Bifidobacterium bifidum NCFB 1454" in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, 86 (1): 45-54.
     
    Michael Johnson, Arkansas, was interviewed about listeria in meat products for an article in the April 1999 edition of Meat and Poultry magazine.
     
    James Denton, Arkansas, participated in the National Advisory Committee for Meat and Poultry Inspection meeting in November. He also participated as a host in the reception sponsored by the National Alliance for Food Safety in November in Alexandria, Va., and in the NAFS board meeting in March in Irving, Texas.
     
    Gordon Schutze, E.L. Flick, Rossina Stefanova, H.J. Spencer, D.A. Berry and M. Donald Cave, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, presented "Molecular Subtype Surveillance for Human Salmonellosis in Arkansas" in February at the Southern Society for Pediatric Research in New Orleans.
     
    Theodore Kramer, Iowa State, presented a paper on "Live Vaccine Against Salmonella enteritidis" in February at the Iowa Poultry Conference in Ames. Kramer also published an article on "Effects of Heterophil Adaptation on Salmonella enteritidis Fecal Shedding and Egg Contamination" in Avian Diseases, 42:6-13. He co-authored with C.R. Reinke and M. James "Reduction of Fecal Shedding and Egg Contamination of Salmonella enteritidis by Increasing the Number of Heterophil Adaptations" in Avian Diseases, 42: 585-588. Kramer also received a USDA-NRICG grant of $146,000 for research of Salmonella enteritidis heterophil resistance and a Fort Dodge Animal Health grant of $40,000 for research on a live Salmonella enteritidis vaccine.
     
    Irene V. Wesley, National Animal Disease Center, co-authored with E.W. Rice, M.R. Rodgers, C.H. Johnson and S.A. Tanner "Isolation of Arcobacter butzleri From Ground Water" in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, 28:31-35. Wesley, Tamara Manke, James Dickson and Karen Harmon, Iowa State, published an article on "Prevalence and Genetic Variability of Arcobacter and Arcobacter butzleri in Mechanically Separated Turkey" in the Journal of Food Protection, 61: 1623-1628. Wesley also wrote a chapter on "Listeriosis Infection in Animals" in the book Listeria, Listeriosis and Food Safety edited by E. Marth and E. Ryser and published by Marcel Dekker, New York, pages 39-74. Wesley presented papers in March on "Campylobacter: Public Health Significance" at Texas A&M University and "Campylobacter: A Research Update" at Prairie View A&M University.
     
    Daniel Fung, Kansas State, delivered several presentations in early 1999. In January he spoke on "Excellence in Food Science and Workshop Development " at the Pacific Northwest Institute of Food Technologists section meeting in Portland, Ore., and on "Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology &emdash; Update" at the Northwest Food Processing Meeting in Portland. He spoke at the University of Florida food science department in February on "Excellence in Food Science and Workshop Development " and "Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology &emdash; Update." Fung spoke on "The Latest in Rapid Methods" in February at the Foodborne Pathogens Briefing in Chicago. At the University of Massachusetts food science department in February he spoke on "Anatomy of a Successful Workshop" and "Review on Rapid Methods." Fung's research into the use of spices as vehicles for killing foodborne pathogens was the subject of an item in the "Health Hotline" section of the April edition of Bottom Line Tomorrow magazine.
     
    Fung was also featured among a list of "Industry Influentials" compiled by Meat Marketing and Technology magazine in its March edition. The editors selected 26 people "who are impacting the industry." The same edition of the magazine also featured an article by Fung entitled "Faster Pathogen Detection," a condensed version of his presentation to the American Meat Institute Foundation.
     
    Basira G. Abdulkarin and J. Scott Smith, Kansas State, published "Heterocyclic Amines in Fresh and Processed Meat Products" in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 46: 4680-4687. An article in the Nov. 28, 1998, edition of Science News entitled "Very Hot Grills May Inflame Cancer Risks" referred to their research article and noted that they found no detectable HCAs in most smoked sausages until they were fried, with Smith pointing out that such meats are manufactured at low temperatures.
     

    Food Safety Digest

    By Dave Edmark

     
    In February, the Centers for Disease Control reported that an outbreak of foodborne illness had been traced to Listeria monocytogenes. Sixteen deaths and 73 illnesses were determined to be caused by the pathogen. The pathogen had been the target of concern a few years ago when the federal government established a zero tolerance for it in ready-to-eat products. From 1989 to 1993, the rate of illness from Listeria monocytogenes declined 44 percent.
     
    The rate of the illness has not been reduced further since then, said Catherine Woteki, undersecretary of agriculture for food safety. Addressing a U.S. Department of Agriculture meeting on the pathogen, Woteki declared that now is "an appropriate time to reconsider government and industry approaches to address Listeria monocytogenes in order to further reduce the risk of human illness."
     
    Thomas Billy, administrator of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, said at the meeting that government and industry must be ready for outbreaks to happen. "Food safety hazards are not static, nor are the risks they pose," Billy said. Pathogens and processing procedures change as the number of immune-compromised people increases. "What worked in the past won't necessarily work now and in the future, and we must be in a constant state of vigilance."
     
    Billy also disputed claims that outbreaks such as the listeriosis situation are a sign that the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points system in processing plants is not working."HACCP is working," Billy said. "It is helping us to prevent food safety problems, because plants must identify hazards, establish controls to prevent or reduce those hazards and maintain records documenting that the controls are working as intended."
     
    HACCP, however, must change as food safety hazards change, Billy added. HACCP systems cannot be set up and left alone buy "must be adapted to address new problems in the food supply.
     
    * * *
     
    HACCP's impact is still a big topic in food safety circles around the country. Catherine Adams, who helped design HACCP when she was employed by FSIS, acknowledged that there has been a decrease in foodborne illnesses during the time HACCP has been implemented. Feedstuffs reported that Adams, who is now director of food safety for Tricon Global Restaurants, said it was "questionable" to credit those results so soon.
     
    Adams said HACCP was designed to evolve and to be flexible so that processing plants could establish plans that "fit into the context, the specific needs" of each situation.
     
    * * *
     
    Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has also had his say on HACCP lately. He told the International Poultry Exposition that industry had stepped forward "in a big way" and had accepted "the lion's share of responsibility for prevention in the production of safe food."
     
    Glickman also told the IPE that President Clinton is seeking a $107 million increase in the fiscal year 2000 budget for the Food Safety Initiative and for enhancement of a science-based food safety system. That includes a one-third increase in funds for USDA food safety research, he said.
     
    Glickman was busy making another announcement on behalf of USDA in february when the department gave the green light to the irradation of raw meat and meat products. "When it comes to food safety, there is no silver bullet," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said. "But, used in conjunction with other science-based prevention efforts, irradiation can provide consumers with an added measure of protection."
     
    Food irradiation uses radiant energy to reduce or eliminate potentially dangerous microorganisms on meat and poultry. The Food and Drug Administration determined in December 1997 that use of irradiation technology on raw meat is safe.
     

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