Vigilance in the food sector is a requisite in the prevention of foodborne illnesses along broad supply chains. This year, industry has welcomed the entry of innovative solutions that aid manufacturers in curbing the spread of pathogens such as Salmonella, E. Coli and Listeria, while extending the shelf life of products. In this space, clean label additives are offering antibacterial solutions that prevent contamination without affecting the organoleptic properties of food. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to specialists at the forefront of food safety.
Food safety ostensibly remains at the top of the priority list among consumers. In a recent study centered on Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA), Ireland-headquartered Kerry found that food safety holds greater significance than health and environmental claims for consumers within the region.
In the US, the Food and Drug Association (FDA) highlights that a number of multistate foodborne disease outbreak investigations are currently open at the moment, including Salmonella and E. Coli contamination along supply chains. While most foodborne illnesses are not part of a recognized epidemic, outbreaks can provide important information about the agents (germs, toxins and chemicals) that cause illness as well as the foods that are responsible and the settings that lead to transmission.
Earlier this year, the FDA also announced a new era of smarter food safety that will address several areas, including traceability, digital technologies and evolving food business models. This includes the GenomeTrakr Network, a new tool to facilitate foodborne outbreak investigations. While the agency has now launched a new Food Safety Dashboard as part of the FDA-TRACK, which is one tool the FDA uses to monitor certain programs through key performance measures and projects, and regularly updates to ensure food safety transparency to the public.
Handwashing – along with other preventative steps like separating raw meat and chilling perishable foods correctly – will be increasingly important as antibiotic resistance becomes a more pressing concern. Salmonella and Campylobacter alone make over 400,000 Americans sick with antibiotic-resistant infections every year.
“Antibiotic resistance continues to be a global health issue, threatening our progress in healthcare and food production. Aggressive action is needed now to keep new resistance from developing and to prevent existing resistance from spreading,” says Brian Katzowitz, Health Communication Specialist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Antibiotics are valuable tools for treating infections, but any antibiotic use – whether for people, animals, or crops – can lead to resistance. Humans can get sick from antibiotic-resistant bacteria or become colonized, which means that they carry the germs. This could occur when eating food that contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria and is not handled or cooked properly, or by coming into contact with animals carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” he explains.
People with weakened immune systems, in particular, are more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die, should they get a foodborne illness. To avoid this, these groups must be especially careful when choosing, handling, preparing and consuming food, notes Katzowitz. “This includes people with diabetes; liver or kidney disease; HIV/AIDS; autoimmune diseases; organ transplants; people receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy; adults age 65 and older; children younger than 5 years; and pregnant women.”
Another factor affecting the prevalence of foodborne illnesses is germ type. “Children under the age of five have higher rates of Salmonella infection than any other age group. Meanwhile, Listeria infection primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. It’s rare for people in other groups to get sick with Listeria infection. For E. coli, very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) than others, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill,” he adds.
CDC is quickly expanding the use of whole genome sequencing in state laboratories, and scientists will soon begin using whole genome sequencing for outbreak investigations of other foodborne pathogens, such as Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli (STEC) and Salmonella.
“A recent technological advancement is changing the way we detect and respond to foodborne disease outbreaks,” says Katzowitz. “The PulseNet laboratory network has recently transitioned from using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, a DNA fingerprinting technology used for the last 25 years. Now it is using a technology called whole genome sequencing to detect and help solve outbreaks. Because of this, we are likely to detect more outbreaks and solve them faster thanks to the capability to more precisely define outbreaks across the reported illnesses.”
Green solutions promoting food safety and preservation
Within the space of food safety and preservation, Kemin Industries, a US-headquartered global nutritional ingredient company, offers a Buffered Vinegar food safety solution. The clean label solution offers a balanced flavor profile and is marketed as an alternative to chemical preservatives. The product protects processed meat, poultry and fish products, as well as deli salads from the growth of spoilage bacteria, while extending the shelf life of those products. Buffered Vinegar specifically targets foodborne pathogens such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. Coli.
“Kemin’s Buffered Vinegar ingredient for food preservation has no negative effect on meat quality. This includes parameters such as water holding capacity, protein denaturation, color and flavor. This product line is available in both liquid and dry forms, making it easy to add to brines, marinades, spice blends or direct application to meat. Kemin also offers an organic buffered vinegar solution that can be added to organic food products,” says Kelly De Vadder, Marketing Manager of Food Technologies (EMEA) at Kemin.
“Traditionally, manufacturers have used lactate-diacetate blends to reduce the risk for spoilage bacteria and safeguard food safety. However, based on the organic acid mode of action, there are other more effective options,” she further highlights. “Organic acids and their salts are considered inhibitory agents. The undissociated form penetrates the bacteria cell wall and disrupts the normal physiology. The more undissociated acid penetrates, the more disruption. The greater the disruption, the more inhibition.”
The effectiveness of organic acid effectiveness is determined by the pKa (an indicator of the strength of an acid), explains De Vadder. Organic acids with a higher pKa are more effective at entering the cell and thus less Buffered Vinegar is needed to have the same impact on bacteria.
Under the Phageguard brand, Netherlands-based phage- and endolysin technology development company Micreos has developed FDA-approved food safety products against Salmonella and Listeria.
PhageGuard contributes to safer food production by using phages. As the natural enemy of bacteria, phages specifically kill pathogens, while leaving good bacteria intact, explains Dirk de Meester, Director of Business
Development at Micreos. “They are green, smart and easy to apply on food via spraying, misting or dipping. Phages can also be used directly on food contact surfaces or in the processing environment. The PhageGuard advantage further is precision. It is targeted to eliminate pathogens in food products, without affecting taste, odor or texture. The PhageGuard products are effective in killing either target Listeria, Salmonella or E.Coli O-157.”
A key component of food safety is monitoring. UK food waste startup Fresh Check is offering a simple, fast and low-cost method of performing crucial hygiene testing with color-change spray to warn users about bacterial, chemical or organic contamination. The company’s color-change spray is pegged as a new tool for the food industry to ensure hygiene that is more affordable, simpler and faster than existing methods.
“Ensuring hygienic conditions is critical for all aspects of the food industry, with bad hygiene damaging public health and company reputation. However, there is only one viable method for on-the-spot confirmation of hygiene in food facilities,” explains Alex Bond, Co-Founder and CEO of Fresh Check.
Food safety will remain high on the industry priority list for years to come. As consumers are increasingly turning an eye towards clean label products, a sustained trend is expected in natural antibacterial solutions that operate effectively, without compromising the indulgent properties of food-grade products.