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Food borne illness is a significant and growing burden. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year nearly 48 million people get sick, nearly 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from food borne pathogen illnesses, the biggest cause of illness in the United States annually. Everything from the less-invasive bacteria that can be killed by correct storage and cooking, to the more infectious, antibiotic-resistant strains, grocers must deal with them all. This is true, not only for a grocer’s in-house operations in the meat, deli, bakery and prepared foods areas, but also their entire supply chain.
From the farm to the processing plant, onto trucks, stored in distribution centers, into grocery stores and, ultimately, into the hands of consumers, it's not difficult to see the potential for spreading food borne bacteria. As wrapped, protected and packaged as products can be, there are those that will always be susceptible to bacterial infection and cross-contamination, which can spread easily if proper steps aren’t taken.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) recognizes the burden food borne illness exerts on Americans, and the urgent need to be proactive and take preventive steps.
In implementing FSMA, the FDA recently established new Preventive Controls rules requiring grocery suppliers to put written food safety plans in place that include preventive controls for identified potential hazards in their processes. The rules also extend to grocery distribution centers and warehouses. These measures are necessary to ensure that potential hazards, or points of risk of bacterial contamination in their processes, are proactively identified with preventive controls implemented. They include process, food allergen, and sanitation controls, as well as supply-chain monitoring and a recall plan.
Prevention is not new, but Congress has given the FDA explicit authority to use the tool more broadly, enforcing the accountability of food processors and suppliers for prevention. It's critical for supermarkets to monitor and verify their supply chains’ compliance with these rules. Importantly, they should require establishing, maintaining and sharing records that document: food safety and preventive control plans, monitoring, corrective actions taken and verification activities.
The bottom line is that retailers are responsible to their customers for ensuring that the products they sell are sourced only from FSMA compliant, approved suppliers. The ultimate goal is to reduce and eliminate the occurrence of contaminated food being sold to consumers, thus lowering the risk of food borne illness outbreaks linked to their brand’s operations.
Inside the store, in food preparation and foodservice areas, consumers need to know grocers are doing their best to control and eradicate potential contamination from food borne pathogens. With so many customers and so many potential areas for bacteria and virus contamination, there is a need to be extremely rigorous and disciplined in food preparation surface disinfection. A critical first step is to implement the use of a powerful disinfectant, which quickly and effectively kills the broadest possible range of pathogens. The disinfectant used should also be lowest in toxicity, to protect both employees and the environment. The disinfectant should be powerful enough not just to immediately eradicate the bacteria, but also to work as a protective shield (residual protection) for a prolonged period. This type of practice should be applied to all potential problem areas, including but not limited to: deli, bakery, meat and seafood departments, coffee shop, restaurant and commissary.
For grocers, the ultimate goal is to operate a pathogen-free environment where customers can be assured they are buying products sourced from a supply chain that the retailer has verified for compliance, and to implement the most rigorous food safety practices and controls. Retailers are responsible to their customers for ensuring they are working with trusted suppliers and following best practices for minimizing the risk of food borne illnesses. In so doing, they are also protecting their most valuable asset: their brand.