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The recent E.Coli outbreaks demonstrate a greater need for ensuring pathogen-free supply chain
There has been an ongoing investigation of an E. coli O157:H7 in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – it was announced recently– that the FDA believes the outbreak is associated with romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona. This outbreak has affected 35 people across 11 states, says this article released by FDA in mid-April. The second outbreak in early May is now raising greater concerns with 28 people from 12 states reporting illness, says the CDC, and creating a greater demand for a supply chain that is pathogen-free from start to finish.
“Headlines like these are why we need to ensure that we are starting our production very carefully for every batch of products, every day”, says Anne Barker-Smith, PathSensors Food Safety Consultant of working with customers in Controlled Environmental Agriculture. “The plants need to be grown initially with clean and high-quality water, pathogen-free seeds, soil/growing medium that is pathogen free, and they must then be transplanted, grown, harvested without the introduction of pathogens at the facility- or anywhere in between. Next, the plants need to be transported in a clean and sanitary manner. Lastly, the plants need to be processed in a facility that doesn’t contaminate the product during the “processing” phases. Cross contamination is a very real possibility.”
With PCR and the ability to genetically map and link pathogens, the FDA can get to the source, and they will. Consider that if the supply chain that your business provides was the weak link in the chain that caused the pathogens to enter the system, there is technology today that makes traceable. “This is never an event we want for any of our customers”, says Barker-Smith. “This is why we help our client get food safety right, the first time”.
The media coverage from this outbreak has sparked fear across the country. “The fact that most people do not know where their produce is grown means that people will now avoid romaine lettuce until this outbreak blows over”, says Anne. One bad event and one misstep can clearly cause the industry to suffer. Controlled Environmental Ag Companies have the unique opportunity to control the environment of your products from start to finish. They have the opportunity to be a solution to these types of issues of uncertain pathogen risk in the supply chain. The key to success will be proper design and implementation of your Food Safety Program, then being extremely diligent every day with every input into your operation (water, seed, seedlings, plant, growing medium, person, container, storage and processing facilities) to ensure food safety.