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Food safety session outlines grim realities – more outbreaks, recalls, and seemingly indestructible pathogens

viva fresh food safety
Martin Wiedmann, left, and Dave Corsi present at the Viva Fresh Expo in San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO —If you want to avoid a food safety disaster, forget the idea of “business as usual.”

Martin Wiedmann of Cornell University and Dave Corsi of Wegmans Markets represented the Center for Produce Safety in a gut check session for the industry at Viva Fresh on April 26.

Wiedmann said we’re only going to see more outbreaks because the science has gotten better at tracking them, but the pathogens have always been there. And in some cases, the pathogens being detected have been in a facility for years.

Wiedmann showed real-world examples of the same genetic strain of pathogens like listeria, salmonella and E. coli found in facilities months and even years after first detected to give the audience an idea of the human error in sampling, and limitations of cleaning an sanitation procedures.

Things like floor joints, mats, and conveyor rollers are difficult to clean, and people taking the samples often don’t focus on areas where pathogens can hide, whether intentional or unintentional.

“If you sample on that nice, flat diamond board after it’s cleaned and sanitized, you’re guaranteed negative results,” he said.

Wiedmann said he’s encountered cases where sample sponges had been sent in clean – with the bag never opened – because companies don’t want to know they have a problem.

“People need to do the right thing, and it’s hard,” he said.

Having a “clean” food safety record with no recalls or positive tests does not mean you’re safe from a recall or outbreak.

He gave four key takeaways for food safety:

  • It must be a comprehensive farm to table approach, with everyone from small producers to retailers and distributors on board;
  • Recalls will continue to happen, and we need the tools and data to keep them small and focused;
  • There are no magic bullets, and no gimmicky products that guarantee food safety;
  • You can’t cut corners.

“Business as usual is not an option if we really want to avoid more romaine-like disasters,” he said. “You can’t cut corners because of business necessities and you need to have true food safety experts on staff.”

Corsi used the opportunity to promote the upcoming Center for Produce Safety Research Symposium in Austin June 18-19, and encouraged Viva Fresh attendees to get involved and attend.

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Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.