USDA study finds several factors fueling rise in food recalls
The average yearly number of food recalls increased from 2004 to 2013, probably because of several factors, including an increase in food volume sold and improvements in pathogen detection technology, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service reported yesterday.
Food recalls averaged 304 per year from 2004 to 2008 but rose to an average of 676 from 2009 to 2013, according to the report. Other factors that might partially explain the significant increase in food recalls include an increase in regulatory oversight and enforcement in the wake of two major food policy laws passed by Congress: the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act and the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act.
The analysis of six food categories found that, except for nut products, the most common reason that triggered recalls was failure to declare major food allergens. The most common reason for nut product recalls was possible Salmonella contamination. Though recall numbers rose for all food categories, the increase was statistically significant for just three: grain products, animal products, and prepared foods and meals.
Looking at recall by type of risk, the author of the study, Elina Tselepidakis Page, PhD, MS, an agricultural economist for the USDA, found that 41% were due to pathogen contamination, such as Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli and Salmonella, and 27.4% were due to undeclared allergens. Overall, over the decade studied, the number of recalls related to pathogen contamination didn't rise significantly, but recalls for allergens nearly doubled, which Page said is likely due to the passage of the federal food allergy safety law.
Apr 16 USDA Economic Research Service report summary
Apr 16 USDA Economic Research Service report
Chlorine may help foodborne pathogens evade detection
The use of chlorine for deterring foodborne pathogen growth might not only be ineffective, its use could help the pathogens avoid detection, a study today in mBio found.
Many bacteria enter a viable-but-nonculturable (VBNC) state in response to environmental stresses during which they can't be detected by standard laboratory culture testing often used to detect pathogens on produce. UK researchers assessed the effects of chlorine, a sanitizer commonly used for fresh produce, on Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica serovar Thompson, two key foodborne bacteria.
They found that L monocytogenes became VBNC at 50 parts per million (ppm) chloride, while Salmonella Thompson did so at 100 ppm. When these VBNC bacteria were ingested by roundworms called nematodes, the nematodes had statistically significant higher death rates, demonstrating the pathogenicity of the bacteria. In the case of L monocytogenes, its VBNC version was as infectious as its non-VBNC counterpart.
The authors concluded, "It was also found that chlorine is ineffective at killing total populations of the pathogens. . . . These data show that VBNC food-borne pathogens can both be generated and avoid detection by industrial practices while potentially retaining the ability to cause disease."
Apr 17 mBio study