Cantaloupes contaminated in packing facility

Cantaloupe contamination attributed to packing facility-not fields

While there was a lot of speculation as to what caused the Listeria contamination of Jensen Farms’ cantaloupe harvest, FDA’s recent testing has mostly ruled out gross contamination in the farm fields as the problem. Environmental testing on cantaloupes remaining in the field tested negative for Listeria monocytogenes. FDA, however, found conclusively that equipment, flooring, standing water and drains in the packing shed were contaminated with the same strains of Listeria that infected consumers who became sickened and/or died.

Some consumer watchdog groups and blogs were quick to point out close-by CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) were responsible for the Listeria contamination either through runoff or other means of transport (e.g., using waste as fertilizer). The animal population, according to Food and Water Watch’s 2007 numbers, in Prowers County, CO was calculated to be 44,017 cattle and 137,766 hogs. The human population in 2010 was 12,551, according to the US Census Bureau.

Listeria monocytogenes are not the first bacteria that come to mind if a contamination is due to animal causes, said Dana Johnson in an FE interview. Johnson is brewery and produce specialist at Birko Corp., a Henderson, CO company specializing in germicidal chemicals for the food and beverage industry. For example, an E. coli O157:H7 contamination would likely originate from cattle. Birko was called in to consult on the use of proper chemical treatments to prevent Listeria contaminations. Unfortunately, part of the problem is that HACCP food safety procedures are not yet mandatory for the produce industry, says Johnson.

While FDA did not rule out that Listeria may have originated from the fields, its mode of entry to the packing plant was not on the cantaloupes, according to Johnson. Johnson recommends foaming entryways to any packing facility or food plant because very low residual levels of Listeria can be found most anywhere in the world on the ground, and they can enter a facility on workers’ shoes. Johnson’s company has many years of experience in the protein industry, and he thinks a multiple hurdle approach to pathogen reduction should be followed in the produce industry just as it is in the meat industry.

Once Listeria monocytogenes bacteria enter a cool, damp environment, they thrive and don’t have a lot of competition from other bacteria that prefer warmer temperatures to multiply, says Johnson. Another potential mode of entry, according to FDA, was a truck used to transport culled cantaloupes to livestock farms where the melons were used for feed.

In an exclusive FE interview, Mary Root, Prowers County land use coordinator, pointed out the nearest location of any feed yards is at least three miles from the fields or the packing facility located in Grenada, and on the other side of the road. The farm fields are located a few miles away from the packing facility, and cantaloupes are transported via truck between the farm and packing facility. In addition, Root reports the locality has been under drought conditions all summer and into the fall, so there was no runoff nor was there flooding from the Arkansas River.

On September 10, 2011, FDA and Colorado state officials conducted environmental tests of the growing environment and the packing facility. Samples were collected in the growing fields because known reservoirs of Listeria include ruminant animals and decaying vegetation. These samples included soil, wild animal excreta, perimeter and furrow drag swabs, agricultural water, pond water and cantaloupes. All environmental samples collected in the growing fields tested negative for Listeria monocytogenes.

Certain aspects of the packing facility, including the location of a refrigeration unit drain line, allowed water to pool on the floor in areas adjacent to packing facility equipment, according to FDA. Wet environments are known to be potential reservoirs for Listeria, and the pooling of water in close proximity to packing equipment, including conveyors, may have extended and spread the pathogen to food contact surfaces.

Of the 39 environmental samples collected from within the facility, 13 tested positive for Listeria with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern combinations that were indistinguishable from three of the four outbreak strains collected from affected patients, according to FDA. Cantaloupes collected from the producer’s cold storage during the inspection were also confirmed positive for Listeria with PFGE pattern combinations indistinguishable from two of the four outbreak strains.

As a result of the isolation of three of the four outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes in the environment of the packing facility and whole cantaloupes collected from cold storage, and the fact this is the first documented Listeriosis outbreak associated with fresh, whole cantaloupes in the US, FDA is making several recommendations for good practices. Producers should:

  • Assess produce facility and equipment design to ensure adequately cleanable surfaces and eliminate opportunities for the introduction, growth and spread of Listeria monocytogenes and other pathogens. 
  • Assess and minimize opportunities for introduction of Listeria monocytogenes and other pathogens in packing facilities. 
  • Implement cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
  • Verify the efficacy of cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
  • Periodically evaluate the processes and equipment used in packing facilities to assure they do not contribute to fresh produce contamination. 
For more information, read FDA’s Environmental Assessment: Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Fresh Whole Cantaloupe Implicated in a Multi-State Outbreak of Listeriosis.

Green sustainable technology at PROCESS EXPO 2011

A seminar on “Green Sustainable Technology” will be presented by POWER Engineers at PROCESS EXPO 2011 (November 1-4, McCormick Place, Chicago, IL). The seminar will review green sustainable technology over the past 10 years and forecast what might occur in the next decade.

Darryl Wernimont of POWER Engineers will lead this seminar. Wernimont has been active in green technology for the past 11 years, having served on the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Council for nine of those 11 years.

“I can remember in 2000 talking with some clients who for the first time began to discuss green sustainable initiatives leading toward LEED certification of buildings,” says Wernimont. “Today every client is discussing it at some level.” Looking forward, Wernimont predicts “the next wave or generation of sustainability will involve a more focused challenge of existing facilities and operations.”

The seminar will include a discussion of energy audits and the identification and understanding of what is actually occurring in plant operations. This knowledge will allow a facility to take actions to achieve measurable sustainability. The actions taken will drive the implementation of PLCs, PCs, software, instrumentation and alternative energy to achieve sustainable objectives.

Attendance at this, and all educational sessions at PROCESS EXPO, is free of charge for all registered attendees. To register, or obtain more information about the program, visit the PROCESS EXPO website.

Trade agreements expand US surplus

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) praised President Obama’s signing of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The agreements will be critically important to increasing the exports of US food and consumer products.

“We applaud President Obama for signing into law free trade agreements [FTAs] with Colombia, Panama and South Korea,” says Pamela G. Bailey, GMA president and CEO. “The food, beverage and consumer packaged goods [CPG] industry exports $50 billion worth of goods to 215 countries around the globe, generating a $10 billion trade surplus.

“The FTAs will be critically important to increasing the exports of US food and consumer products to these growing markets. By creating a level playing field, the FTAs with South Korea, Panama and Colombia will increase our competitiveness in these countries and help the food, beverage and CPG industry innovate, expand and create new jobs,” says Bailey.

“Our competitors have negotiated their own trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The European Union’s trade agreement with South Korea went into effect July 1, and a trade agreement between Colombia and Canada became effective August 15,” adds Bailey.

European singer, Juliette Katz, models a chocolate dress at Salon du Chocolat. Source: Barry Callebaut.

Chocolate dress makes debut

The young European singer, Juliette Katz, modeled a dress made of chocolate by Cacao Barry at the recent opening fashion show for the 17th Salon du Chocolat, held under the patronage of Chantal Thomass.

Artist Willy G. designed a one-of-a-kind, bustier dress for Cacao Barry, the premium chocolate brand from Barry Callebaut. Maîtres chocolatiers Philippe Bertrand, Meilleur Ouvrier de France Chocolatier (1996) and director of the Chocolate Academy Cacao Barry in Meulan (France), and Ramon Morato, Meilleur Maître Chocolatier Spain (1997) and director of the Chocolate Academy in Vic (Spain), required a total of 30 hours to create the unique dress.

Zurich-based Barry Callebaut had annual sales of $4.9 billion for the fiscal year 2009/10 and manufactures high-quality cocoa and chocolate-from the cocoa bean to the finished chocolate product.

Automation News

The Janam XG100 mobile computer withstands rough use and was chosen by Krasdale Foods to replace legacy systems. Source: Janam Technologies LLC.

Grocery wholesaler found rugged computer easy to use

Krasdale Foods is one of the largest privately held grocery wholesalers in the New York Metro area. Founded in 1908, the company distributes supplies and dry groceries to independent retail supermarkets ranging from small convenience stores to large supermarkets. To help its customers operate more efficiently, Krasdale Foods automates ordering and DSD (direct store delivery) processes with custom solutions. As part of its store automation system solution, Krasdale selected Janam’s XG100 rugged, gun-shaped mobile computer to replace legacy systems. The XG100 devices will be offered to Krasdale Foods customers for placing orders and scanning inbound inventory.

The mobile computer met all of Krasdale Foods’ hardware selection criteria, including industrial-grade construction, fast processing speed and strong WLAN performance. The XG100’s battery location was also an important consideration. “We do more than just provide groceries to our customers. We also offer state-of-the-art technology and services to assist our clients in this competitive market. We are excited about selecting Janam as our partner in this endeavor,” says Steve Laskowitz, CIO at Krasdale Foods. “User acceptance was an important qualifier. The battery in the handle makes the XG100 feel extra light and balanced in hand, so we were confident we would be offering our customers a product that is comfortable and easy to use.”

Janam’s XG Series was designed for scan-intensive, extended shift use in demanding environments. Built for the work at hand, the XG Series line of products offers industrial-quality construction and efficiency-enhancing features such as pre-installed Wavelink Avalanche and TE, well-spaced keys and mobile DDR memory.

For more information: Bernadette Olsen, Janam Technologies LLC, 516-677-9500 Ext. 104,; website.

The Digitron 8146 digital thermometer provides nearly instant temperature readings while withstanding damage when inserted into product. Source: Digitron, David Baird.

Pork pie producer picks toughened thermometer

Nottingham-based Pork Farms is a large-scale producer and distributor of pork-based bakery products which are sold across the United Kingdom. The company produces 1.8 million baked goods each week and more than 25 million packs of pork pies annually.

Food safety management for any producer is of the utmost importance, and Pork Farms is making use of state-of-the-art temperature probes, which have been developed specifically for a food production environment.

“Temperature monitoring is critical for our business as it has to be exactly right at all stages of production to avoid any problems with the product,” says Ellen Winters, Pork Farms assistant technical manager. “The system we used before was prone to faults as the thermometers regularly cracked and needed to be replaced. We have been [testing] the new Digitron 8146 temperature probe, and it has proved to be far more effective and hard-wearing.”

Winters has seen the benefits of the system, which has helped her team monitor conditions at the company’s storage facilities in the East Midlands.

“We check our temperature readings every day, and all of our storage units now use the system. The unit’s removable protective covering, the boot, is particularly useful and can be easily cleaned when necessary,” says Winters.

With a practical ergonomic design, the 8146 temperature probe comes complete with SteriTouch antimicrobial casing. It is lightweight and easy to use, making it ideal for use in kitchens, labs and food manufacturing plants. The thermometer has ultrasonically welded seams and is waterproof to an IP67 protection rating with a Lumberg connector, making it easy to clean with flush surfaces to minimize food traps.

For more information: or contact US Sales, 760-799-5668,

The effects of the harsh wind, salt and UV on the distillery on the North Shore of Maui has taken its toll on the exterior of the building, but not the engineered plastic cooling tower. Source: Delta Cooling Towers.

Cooling tower enjoys second life at Hawaiian rum processor

When Kolani Distillers, on the island of Maui, decided to convert an old sugar mill into a distillery and produce a line of rum at the site of the island’s only remaining sugar plantation, it realized it had a big job on its hands.

To begin, the father and son team, Paul and Brian Case, had to make a substantial investment that would meet the federal code governing building facilities. These were stringent, applying to stainless steel tanks, boilers and other distillation equipment. Also, the regulations require an elaborate fire containment system, one that could make 3,500 gallons of water per minute available with a flow that could be sustained for three hours. And, finally, they needed a reliable cooling tower that could remove the heat from the alcohol condenser system regardless of weather conditions.

Paul Case explains that the cooling tower was integral to the operation of the distillery’s alcohol condensation process. “After vaporous alcohol leaves our stills, it runs through a condenser, which condenses the alcohol back to a liquid form so we can process it. The condensers are cooled by water. So, we have to take that water, which becomes heated while cooling the alcohol, and send it to the cooling tower to reduce the water temperature, and then back through the continuous condenser loop.”

Selecting an appropriate cooling tower was a special consideration due to Hawaii’s year-round, high ambient temperatures and environmental concerns. For example, rather than a metal-clad cooling tower, an engineered plastic tower would be effective in handling the stiff gusts of corrosive salt air that blow in off the surf just half a mile from the distillery’s location in Paia. But an engineered plastic tower would have to use the toughest plastic material to resist the Hawaiian sunlight that would bombard the tower with harsh UV radiation.

In the process of exploring alternatives, Case found a used cooling tower constructed of heavy-duty, engineered HDPE that was available from a computer chip manufacturer that had closed a plant in New Hampshire. The cooling tower was a Paragon Series built by Delta Cooling Towers (Rockaway, NJ) and had been in service at the chip manufacturing plant since 1999.

“I did some research and found that the cooling tower manufacturer produced a quality product, and decided that for the price, we could afford to buy the secondhand tower and controls, have it disassembled, shipped to Maui and reassembled at our distillery site,” says Case.

The Paragon model is relatively light in weight, impervious to UV rays and corrosion-proof. Case says he was very impressed with the weather tolerance of the cooling tower, which had operated for about six years in the brutal winters of the northeastern US and now has operated in the tropical sun at the distillery since 2006.

After the cooling tower operated flawlessly for years in Maui, vandals climbed to the top of the unit and smashed the blades of the tower fan. Although not a catastrophic problem, the cooling tower could not operate in Hawaii’s constant warm temperatures without the fan, so Case called the manufacturer’s headquarters in New Jersey for help.

Case’s maintenance people were able to quickly replace the entire fan assembly, which was a proprietary, non-corroding, fiber-reinforced, polypropylene unit. Immediately afterward, the plant was back up and running again.

“When you consider that the cooling tower had changed hands about five years ago and was about 15 years old, Delta Cooling really took fabulous care of us,” says Case.

Case adds the design of the cooling tower fan system provides important energy savings, because the tower controls regulate the speed of the fan according to the ambient air temperature.

“In the cooler morning hours, the fan doesn’t even come on,” says Case. “Then, later in the day as the ambient air warms up, the fan rotates automatically at the appropriate speed to cool the condenser water from up to about 180º back to about 80º.”

Today, Kolani Distillers’ Old Lahaina Premium Rum is sold throughout the Hawaiian Islands, and the father-son team hopes to distribute the line nationally in the near future.

For more information: Delta Cooling Towers, Inc.; 800-289-335;; or visit the website.

Food Safety News

When did you last clean your reusable bag? Photo: W. Labs

Reusable shopping bags: proceed with caution

Most consumers never wash their reusable shopping bags between uses, permitting bacteria to grow, according to a study from the International Association for Food Protection’s Food Protection Trends. The peer-reviewed study, completed by University of Arizona Microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba, found large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria were found in half of those tested. Eight percent of bags contained E. coli.

The study tested 87 reusable bags obtained at random from grocery shoppers in California and Arizona during the early summer of 2010. Each bag was swabbed for bacteria and laboratory tested.

“I was surprised to learn through this study that only 3 percent of shoppers surveyed actually said they washed their reusable bags between uses,” says Gerba. “More surprising were the numbers of people who stated they used the bags not only for food shopping, but also to transport clothing and other products to and from work and the gym.

“There has been a growing movement to use reusable bags when we shop, but without proper washing, these bags can expose our families to bacteria that can cause illness,” adds Gerba.

Reusable bags are particularly susceptible to contamination since remnants of meats and dairy products which may seep out of packaging remain in bags unless washed out, resulting in bacterial growth. Once subjected to the heat of a car trunk, these bacteria quickly multiply.

“Washing bags is the only way to protect your family. It will remove 99.9 percent of germs. Although it may be a nuisance, washing must be done to ensure your food is safe to eat,” adds Gerba. “I’d recommend washing it with hot, soapy water after each use.

“If you choose to use a reusable bag for grocery shopping, it’s important to keep your meats in separate plastic bags, use separate reusable bags for food items, and wash them between uses,” concludes Gerba.

An abstract of the study, Assessment of the Potential for Cross-contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags, can be found on the International Association for Food Production website.

FDA should assure consumers BPA is no longer used in baby bottles

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) asked the US Food and Drug Administration to revise certain regulations on BPA to clarify for consumers that BPA is no longer used to manufacture baby bottles and sippy cups and will not be used in these products in the future.

“Although governments around the world continue to support the safety of BPA in food contact materials, confusion about these products has become an unnecessary distraction to consumers, legislators and state regulators,” says Steven G. Hentges, PhD, of the Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group of ACC. “FDA action on this request will provide certainty that BPA is not used to make the baby bottles and sippy cups on store shelves, either today or in the future.”

Recent state actions (see Tech Flash 5-11 [June 10, 2009]) have contributed to confusion about whether baby bottles and sippy cups sold in the United States contain BPA. In fact, manufacturers of baby bottles and sippy cups announced several years ago that due to consumer preference they had stopped using BPA in these products, according to ACC.

FDA has the scientific expertise and specific responsibility to make regulatory decisions about BPA and food-contact materials. For this reason, ACC has consistently opposed efforts by federal and state officials to impose legislative restrictions that conflict with FDA’s authority and create a patchwork of inconsistent laws or regulations.

The BAX system is an automated PCR-based method for detecting a broad range of pathogens in food and environmental samples. Source: DuPont.

Practical test for E. coli serogroups

DuPont Qualicon has released a trio of real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) assays that enable food processors, reference labs and government labs to rapidly and reliably detect the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) most frequently associated with severe foodborne illness in the US.

The suite of food safety tests, the BAX System STEC Suite, was developed in collaboration with the Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA ARS) and is closely aligned with the testing approach used by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS).

The screening assay detects a combination of virulence genes-called stx and eae-to quickly clear negative samples in the production line. Two multiplex panel assays can determine which of the top six non-O157 STEC serogroups-O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, O145-are present in positive samples. The USDA recently declared these pathogenic serogroups as adulterants in non-intact beef, and FSIS will begin enforcing a zero tolerance policy in March 2012.

The automated system uses PCR assays, tableted reagents and optimized media to detect Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, Campylobacter, Vibrio and more. The system has certifications and regulatory approvals in the Americas, Asia and Europe. For more information, visit