Salmonella is back again. What is happening? Didn’t we have this problem last winter? Why haven’t improvements made through compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) had an impact? Even with this increased emphasis on control of microorganisms, Salmonella foodborne illnesses have not decreased in the past decade and may, in fact, be increasing. Salmonella-related recalls are too frequent. What are some practical solutions?
Once Salmonella is established in a food plant environment, control becomes difficult. Salmonella can survive a wide range of temperature and pH values. This microorganism will lurk in a dormant state within microenvironments and raise its ugly head with some moisture and/or disturbance.
As outside temperatures drop and inside temperatures stay about the same, a cold front meets a warm front at the building perimeter. If the building perimeter is poorly insulated, condensation can result and rouse the dormant Salmonella. Then when an environmental sample is found positive, cleaning becomes more intense – which may create additional Salmonella positives with this disturbance of hidden microenvironments. The problem can get worse before it gets better. Here is a short list to examine what might be happening.
- Check the Process Temperature Cooling. Assure cooling of product is sufficient to prevent condensation inside equipment; the product and room temperature should vary by no more than 20°F. If cooked products are not cooled sufficiently, a cooler plant environment might create a conducive condition for condensation inside conveyors or bins.
- Establish Process Separation. Eliminate any co-mingling of ingredients with flavor enhancements, packing supplies, and finished products. If a plant is to produce Salmonella-free product, there needs to be “dirty” and “clean” separation along with four plant zones for cleaning and inspection. Human feet and mechanical wheels also can track Salmonella-contaminated soil from a “dirty” damp condensate area into a designated “clean” zone.
- Improve the Cleaning Inspection Process. A cleaning program may be well established for zones 1 and 2. However zones 3 and 4 are areas where condensation from the winter cold fronts are more likely to be seen. Look for condensation or evidence (such as water stains) inside equipment, around the building perimeter, and especially at poorly insulated ceilings.
- Check Plant Air Flow. Check the air flow to assure clean air source(s), and keep dirty air entering “clean” zones. Poor air flow at the building perimeter can allow condensation leading to microbial problems. By utilizing portable and ceiling fans in conjunction with exhausts, air flow can be modified temporarily along ceilings or walls. Ceiling condensate dripping onto process equipment below is a serious food safety concern.
- Check for Building for Unusual Leaks and Dust Collection. Leaks create many hours to clean, are seemingly never ending, and are preventable. As snow melts and temperatures rise and fall, roof leaks might happen at unusual times. Small leaks onto small dust can create big microbial issues. Examine the effectiveness of the dust collection system and clean overheads.
- Educate – and Re-educate Employees. Now is a good time to educate/re-educate employees about HACCP and pertinent essential pre-requisites to prevent Salmonella from raising its ugly head this winter – and about condensation and its consequences. Educated employees can be some of your best inspectors.
This short list can be used for Salmonella control preparation for the oncoming cold weather, as Salmonella seems to be more of an issue in the winter, probably due to condensation-related problems. Controlling Salmonella requires a well thought out microbial control program, so to implement a successful program, each of these items should be individually addressed. A review of the overall strategic plan, possibly already incorporated into short-term action and long-term budgeting, would be in order with any number of environmental positives. Even a small amount of Salmonella in a food product can cause harm. Thus, a single positive environmental sample should be seen as a warning to investigate the source and initiate specific corrective action. GMA has excellent Salmonella Control document. View or download it.