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ISU Food Safety Campaign Focuses on Leafy Greens

Because leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach are often a source of contamination, Iowa State University researchers are targeting their safe handling in an effort to protect older adults, who are particularly susceptible to severe illness or death in foodborne illness outbreaks.

Dr. Susan W. Arendt, associate professor of hospitality management at Iowa State, said that, with a growing aging population in the U.S., it’s critical to focus on food safety in operations that serve older adults. Proper handling and preparation of leafy greens will help reduce the number of food poisoning cases, she added.

Arendt is leading a team of researchers observing how food service workers in restaurants, hospitals, and assisted living and long-term care facilities handle, prepare and serve leafy greens. Employees were also interviewed about the steps they follow in the kitchen. The research team took swabs of utensils and food contact surfaces at different times throughout the process to measure bacteria levels and contamination.

“We want to make sure leafy greens are served safely. Employees in these facilities are really the last line of defense in protecting against foodborne illnesses. Proper handling of leafy greens is especially important because they are mostly served raw,” Arendt said, adding, “We identified several potential problems that could lead to contamination.”

The purpose of the two-year study, funded by the USDA, is to educate food service employees on how to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Based on their observations, researchers developed a series of posters to use at each facility. The team plans to return to each location for follow-up testing and observations to see if the educational campaign had an impact.

Researchers wanted a simple and effective way to deliver the information to employees who are working in a fast-paced environment. Instead of requiring classroom training or providing material for the employees to read, the posters hit on key messages and use several visuals to make a point. Arendt said the material will also be translated into Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

“We know that food service directors do not have a lot of time to search for materials that are beneficial for their employees. With a minimal amount of text, we hope the posters will reach a broad audience, regardless of language or reading skills,” she said.

One poster features images of the germs found on your hands after touching a phone or your face, or if your hands are not properly washed. Arendt said those germs can easily be transferred to lettuce or spinach if the food is not handled properly, thereby increasing the chances for contamination.

Another poster illustrates how to handle and store pre-packaged or bagged vegetables — it does not recommend washing the produce after opening the package. It’s a precaution many people may take following the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach. However, Arendt said bagged produce is triple-washed and extra handling before serving is an added risk. The Food and Drug Administration also states that it’s not necessary to wash pre-washed produce.

Arendt told Food Safety News that all nine of the posters produced from the research team’s work will be available for free (including those translated into Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) at this website early in the fall.

Iowa State researchers Catherine Strohbehn, adjunct professor of hospitality management; Lakshman Rajagopal, associate professor of hospitality management, and Angela Shaw, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, are working with Arendt on the project. Kevin Sauer, associate professor at Kansas State University, is also part of the team.

Food Safety News

ISU Food Safety Campaign Focuses on Leafy Greens

Because leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach are often a source of contamination, Iowa State University researchers are targeting their safe handling in an effort to protect older adults, who are particularly susceptible to severe illness or death in foodborne illness outbreaks.

Dr. Susan W. Arendt, associate professor of hospitality management at Iowa State, said that, with a growing aging population in the U.S., it’s critical to focus on food safety in operations that serve older adults. Proper handling and preparation of leafy greens will help reduce the number of food poisoning cases, she added.

Arendt is leading a team of researchers observing how food service workers in restaurants, hospitals, and assisted living and long-term care facilities handle, prepare and serve leafy greens. Employees were also interviewed about the steps they follow in the kitchen. The research team took swabs of utensils and food contact surfaces at different times throughout the process to measure bacteria levels and contamination.

“We want to make sure leafy greens are served safely. Employees in these facilities are really the last line of defense in protecting against foodborne illnesses. Proper handling of leafy greens is especially important because they are mostly served raw,” Arendt said, adding, “We identified several potential problems that could lead to contamination.”

The purpose of the two-year study, funded by the USDA, is to educate food service employees on how to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Based on their observations, researchers developed a series of posters to use at each facility. The team plans to return to each location for follow-up testing and observations to see if the educational campaign had an impact.

Researchers wanted a simple and effective way to deliver the information to employees who are working in a fast-paced environment. Instead of requiring classroom training or providing material for the employees to read, the posters hit on key messages and use several visuals to make a point. Arendt said the material will also be translated into Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

“We know that food service directors do not have a lot of time to search for materials that are beneficial for their employees. With a minimal amount of text, we hope the posters will reach a broad audience, regardless of language or reading skills,” she said.

One poster features images of the germs found on your hands after touching a phone or your face, or if your hands are not properly washed. Arendt said those germs can easily be transferred to lettuce or spinach if the food is not handled properly, thereby increasing the chances for contamination.

Another poster illustrates how to handle and store pre-packaged or bagged vegetables — it does not recommend washing the produce after opening the package. It’s a precaution many people may take following the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach. However, Arendt said bagged produce is triple-washed and extra handling before serving is an added risk. The Food and Drug Administration also states that it’s not necessary to wash pre-washed produce.

Arendt told Food Safety News that all nine of the posters produced from the research team’s work will be available for free (including those translated into Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) at this website early in the fall.

Iowa State researchers Catherine Strohbehn, adjunct professor of hospitality management; Lakshman Rajagopal, associate professor of hospitality management, and Angela Shaw, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, are working with Arendt on the project. Kevin Sauer, associate professor at Kansas State University, is also part of the team.

Food Safety News

CFIA tests show no pathogens on 99.9 percent of leafy greens

With new federal produce safety standards coming soon, the leafy greens industry could use some good news and, last month, Canadian authorities reassured consumers that leafy greens are safe to eat after reporting over 99.9 percent of fresh leafy greens it tested had no detectable pathogens.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested 4,250 samples of domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetables available at retail in Canada as part of a five-year project. Starting in 2008-09, CFIA has collected more than 10,000 samples, many of which are still being analyzed.

But so far, CFIA found that 99.9 percent of leafy greens had no detectable level of the following pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli, in addition to Listeria monocytogenes for fresh-cut samples.

Twelve samples were considered “unsatisfactory” during the 2009-10 study due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli, CFIA reported. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM, however. Two products ended up being recalled and no illnesses were linked to the products.

“The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of leafy green vegetables in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” CFIA said. “However, vegetable contamination with E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella could sporadically occur.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

CFIA tests show no pathogens on 99.9 percent of leafy greens

With new federal produce safety standards coming soon, the leafy greens industry could use some good news and, last month, Canadian authorities reassured consumers that leafy greens are safe to eat after reporting over 99.9 percent of fresh leafy greens it tested had no detectable pathogens.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested 4,250 samples of domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetables available at retail in Canada as part of a five-year project. Starting in 2008-09, CFIA has collected more than 10,000 samples, many of which are still being analyzed.

But so far, CFIA found that 99.9 percent of leafy greens had no detectable level of the following pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli, in addition to Listeria monocytogenes for fresh-cut samples.

Twelve samples were considered “unsatisfactory” during the 2009-10 study due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli, CFIA reported. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM, however. Two products ended up being recalled and no illnesses were linked to the products.

“The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of leafy green vegetables in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” CFIA said. “However, vegetable contamination with E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella could sporadically occur.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

CFIA tests show no pathogens on 99.9 percent of leafy greens

With new federal produce safety standards coming soon, the leafy greens industry could use some good news and, last month, Canadian authorities reassured consumers that leafy greens are safe to eat after reporting over 99.9 percent of fresh leafy greens it tested had no detectable pathogens.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested 4,250 samples of domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetables available at retail in Canada as part of a five-year project. Starting in 2008-09, CFIA has collected more than 10,000 samples, many of which are still being analyzed.

But so far, CFIA found that 99.9 percent of leafy greens had no detectable level of the following pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli, in addition to Listeria monocytogenes for fresh-cut samples.

Twelve samples were considered “unsatisfactory” during the 2009-10 study due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli, CFIA reported. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM, however. Two products ended up being recalled and no illnesses were linked to the products.

“The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of leafy green vegetables in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” CFIA said. “However, vegetable contamination with E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella could sporadically occur.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

CFIA tests show no pathogens on 99.9 percent of leafy greens

With new federal produce safety standards coming soon, the leafy greens industry could use some good news and, last month, Canadian authorities reassured consumers that leafy greens are safe to eat after reporting over 99.9 percent of fresh leafy greens it tested had no detectable pathogens.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested 4,250 samples of domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetables available at retail in Canada as part of a five-year project. Starting in 2008-09, CFIA has collected more than 10,000 samples, many of which are still being analyzed.

But so far, CFIA found that 99.9 percent of leafy greens had no detectable level of the following pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli, in addition to Listeria monocytogenes for fresh-cut samples.

Twelve samples were considered “unsatisfactory” during the 2009-10 study due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli, CFIA reported. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM, however. Two products ended up being recalled and no illnesses were linked to the products.

“The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of leafy green vegetables in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” CFIA said. “However, vegetable contamination with E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella could sporadically occur.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

European Food Safety Authority Addresses Pathogen Risks of Leafy Greens

The European Food Safety Authority’s Panel on Biological Hazards has issued the first of five scientific opinions requested by the European Commission. The first one, published Thursday, addresses the public health risk posed by Salmonella and norovirus on leafy greens eaten raw as salads.

The panel considered risk factors along the whole food chain, including agricultural production and processing. Members concluded that, while each farm environment is different, the primary objectives for producers should include good agricultural practices (GAP), good hygiene practices (GHP) and good manufacturing practices.

However, the panel also noted that “the current legal framework does not include microbiological criteria applicable at primary production which will validate and verify GAP and GHP. It is proposed to define a criterion at primary production of leafy greens which is designated as Hygiene Criterion, and E. coli was identified as suitable for this purpose.”

Panel members further stated that studies “on the prevalence and infectivity of norovirus are limited, and quantitative data on viral load are scarce, making establishment of microbiological criteria for norovirus on leafy greens difficult.”

Main risk factors cited were: environmental factors such as proximity to animal-rearing operations, heavy rainfall causing floods, contact with domestic or wild animal reservoirs, use of untreated or insufficiently treated manure or compost, use of contaminated agricultural water for irrigation or pesticide treatments, and harvest and post-harvest on-farm cross-contamination by food handlers and equipment.

“For both Salmonella and norovirus, processes at primary production which wet the edible portions of the crop represent the highest risk and these include spraying prior to harvest, direct application of fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals and overhead irrigation. Subsurface or drip irrigation which results in no wetting of the edible portions of the plants are of lower risk,” the panel’s opinion stated.

Within the scope of the panel’s opinion were leafy greens eaten raw and minimally processed.

“Technologies currently available for use by the leafy greens industry fall short of being able to guarantee an absence of Salmonella or norovirus on leafy greens at primary production,” the panel stated.

Food Safety News

Fluctuating Temperatures Increase E. Coli, Listeria Risk in Leafy Greens

A new study has found that fluctuating in temperature during transportation and retail sale of leafy greens negatively impacts both the product’s quality and microbial safety.

In a study published in the February issue of Journal of Food Protection, researchers looked at the growth of E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes in commercially-bagged salad greens.

Over a 16-month period, a series of time-temperature profiles from thousands of bagged salads were obtained from five transportation routes covering four geographic regions, as well as during retail storage and display.

“Based on the simulation, both pathogens generally increased <2 log CFU/g during transport, storage, and display,” the authors wrote. “However, retail storage duration can significantly impact pathogen growth.”

They added that this was the first large-scale study in the U.S. to use commercial time-temperature profiles to assess the microbial risk of leafy greens and that it “should be useful in filling some of the data gaps in current risk assessments for leafy greens.”

Food Safety News

California’s Leafy Greens Producers Want Strong Food-Safety Laws

The job of implementing new food-safety legislation under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) isn’t getting any easier for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Pressure is mounting from some small farmers, foreign producers and consumer activist groups, who each have their own take on how the law should – or should not be – finalized.

Meanwhile, the issue of funding the cost of this sweeping legislation has still not been settled. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the challenge of making FSMA a reality is growing more and more complex.

Over the past several years, staff members from FDA have visited California to see and learn more about the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) and how this program is protecting public health for at least one segment of the U.S. produce industry.

The LGMA’s message to FDA is clear – we want strong food-safety laws. In fact, through the LGMA, a system of government oversight to ensure the safety of the majority of the nation’s leafy greens has been in place for more than six years. The program created by the California leafy greens industry in 2007 is based on science, includes mandatory government audits to verify that rigorous food-safety practices are being followed on leafy greens farms, and that there are real consequences for those who do not comply.

While others in the produce industry may be reluctant to embrace proposed food-safety rules, leafy greens farmers fully understand that they grow a product that is consumed in large quantities by people at home and in restaurants and it is frequently eaten raw. Leafy greens absolutely must be safe. The programs now in place in both California and Arizona not only meet the proposed requirements of FSMA, but they exceed the requirements of this new law.

The LGMA is proposing that FDA recognize our food-safety model and that, once FSMA is finalized, LGMA-certified leafy greens handlers be considered compliant with the new law.

These LGMA programs truly are a partnership between government and farming communities, with funding provided by industry and government serving to ensure compliance. By recognizing that the LGMA provides verification that handlers and growers are compliant with FSMA – and then some – FDA can be assured that more than 90 percent of the leafy greens produced in the U.S. are aligned with federal food-safety laws. With leafy greens taken care of, FDA can focus its attention on the other complexities of enacting this new law.

Food Safety News

FDA steps up scrutiny of Mexican leafy greens after Taylor facility linked to outbreak

WASHINGTON — After the Food & Drug Administration identified Taylor Farms de Mexico, a processor of foodservice salads, as the common supplier of salads linked to an outbreak of cyclosporiasis, the agency said it plans to increase its surveillance of imported green leafy products from Mexico.

As of Aug. 1, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported 400 cases of Cyclospora infection from the following health departments: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, New York City, Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin.

On Aug. 3, FDA confirmed results reported by Iowa and Nebraska officials that the disease outbreak appears linked to a salad mix, and that the common product supplied to Darden Restaurants in those states was salad supplied by Taylor Farms de Mexico.

“Taylor Farms de Mexico, S. de R.L. de C.V. has been cooperating with all FDA requests during the investigation,” FDA said. “The FDA and the firm will be conducting an environmental assessment of the firm’s processing facility in Mexico to try to learn the probable cause of the outbreak and identify preventive controls to put in place to try and prevent a recurrence.”

The FDA found no notable issues with the Mexican facility during its most recent inspection in 2011, and the agency has not implicated consumer salad packages sold in grocery stores in the latest probe.

Iowa and Nebraska health officials said the tainted salad mix is no longer in the food supply in those states, as the last illness onset data was on July 1 in Iowa and July 2 in Nebraska and the typical shelf life for a salad mix is up to 14 days.

However, the agency does plan to increase surveillance of Mexican-originated leafy greens as a result of the recent discovery, FDA announced Aug. 3.

Taylor Farms issued an Aug. 3 statement to state the company is cooperating fully with FDA’s investigation, and that it is enhancing its testing program to assure further food safety at its state-of-the-art facility.

“We care deeply about the health and welfare of our customers and are absolutely committed to ensuring every salad we produce is great tasting, healthy, wholesome and, most importantly, safe,” the company said. “That is why Taylor Farms de Mexico assesses and tests all water sources, raw product fields; every lot, every day for any risk to our valued customers’ products.”

The company said it invited the FDA to visit the Mexico facility to conduct an environmental assessment and review its food-safety systems. During June, the Mexico facility produced and distributed about 48 million servings of salads to thousands of restaurants in the Midwest and eastern United States.

In the meantime, the FDA said it has a 21-person team housed at its suburban Maryland headquarters working to solve the outbreak, along with FDA specialists in the agency’s 10 field offices.

The FDA has asked its field offices to review and send information forward from consumer complaints that could be Cyclospora related. It will evaluate these consumer complaints to see if they supplement the epidemiology provided by the CDC and the states.

This information will be evaluated to determine if there might be opportunities to collect product samples, the FDA said.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Leafy Greens Council appoints new executive director following death of Ray Clark

The Leafy Greens Council appointed Beth Brown to the role of executive director July 1 following the death of former executive director Ray Clark on June 6.

“It is with great sadness that I must announce the loss of Ray Clark, executive director of the Leafy Greens Council,” Jeff Greene, president of the council, wrote in a letter to members. “As one of the founding members of the council, Ray had true enthusiasm for the leafy green commodities, the industry and for educating our nation on the benefit of leafy greens. BethaBeth BrownThis was a lifelong passion for him. Ray’s dedication and efforts were a crucial part of the continued success [of the Leafy Greens Council], and we all will truly miss him.”

Clark, along with Robert Strube Sr. of Strube Celery & Vegetable Co. in Chicago, established the council in 1974. The council was based in St. Paul, MN, during Clark’s tenure, but it is now headquartered in Waterport, NY, where Brown lives with her husband.

Originally focused on promoting marketing strategies for fresh spinach, the council has since expanded over the years to encompass all leafy greens products.

“Ray was dedicated to promoting these products, along with educating consumers on the major nutritional benefits they provide,” Brown told the Produce News July 17. “Being Ray’s successor, I am focused on continuing his legacy and his hopes for the Leafy Greens Council. As executive director, I look forward to being an advocate for the leafy greens commodities and the membership’s interests, promote and expand membership in the council, and continue the council’s marketing and educational opportunities in the produce industry.”

Having grown up on a wholesale fresh market vegetable farm in the Eden Valley area of New York, the produce industry has always played a significant role in Brown’s life. She attended SUNY-Oswego, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Since then, she has been working in the human resources field for the last six years.

Brown currently resides in Waterport, NY, on her husband’s family fruit farm where they grow apples and a variety of berries, as well as operate a farm market.

“The agricultural industry as a whole has always been and continues to be important to me,” she said. “Therefore, being executive director of the Leafy Greens Council provides me the opportunity to promote a very important sector of the produce industry.”

Clark, who was 89 years old, is survived by his wife, Elly Clark, three children, and several grandchildren. A memorial service was scheduled for July 24 in St. Paul, MN.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines