Salmonella outbreak prompts a review of detection and food safety products

Published 2 November 2006

We take a look back on our reporting for the year and offer readers a close look at some innovative approaches; Warnex receives CDC approval for detection system; Department of Agriculture steps up inspection and reporting regimes; Alto-Shaam offers food monitoring technology

As if E. coli in the nation’s spinach supply was not enough, the Centers for Disease Control now suspect lettuce and tomatoes as carriers in an unresolved salmonella outbreak. 171 people in nineteen states have become sick from their salad — these are dark days for vegetarians, this being the twentieth episode of leafy green-borne illness in ten years — and officials still have not located the source. According to the CDC, more than 1.4 million cases of salmonella are diagnosed each year, with approximetly 400 leading to death, and officials have in the past decade traced at least nineteen directly to tomatoes.

This, then, is as good a time as ever to review our own coverage of salmonella poisoning, with special attention paid to new technologies to detect and fight infection. Last month, for instance, we heard — but, alas, failed to tell our readers — that the salmonella detection element of Warnex’s (TSX: WNX) Rapid Pathogen Detection System had been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). The company’s test for environmental samples was independently validated by NPIP-approved laboratories, which concluded that it performed as well as or better than the two NPIP-approved microbiological reference methods. In addition, the test performed just as well with pooled samples, which can increase a plant’s testing efficiency and significantly reduce testing costs.

In inspection-related news, we also reported on the efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to reduce the occurrence of salmonella in the nation’s ram meat products. In February FSIS announced several changes to the agency’s salmonella testing program, including a faster reporting of results to detect problems quicker. The agency in particular will increase the inspections of processing plants which produce the salmonella-infected meats, and will also make changes to the reporting and use of the FSIS’ Salmonella verification test results. The effort is modeled on the successful FSIS program to reduce the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef. The FSIS E. coli O157:H7 program led to a 40 per cent reduction in human illnesses associated with the pathogen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Finally, we offered good news for restaurants worried about their own liability for salmonella outbreaks. Food service equipment provider Alto-Shaam, we reported earlier this year, has partnered with E-Control Systems to provide retailers with “a means for data transfer to track and monitor in real time that food is being prepared and held at the proper temperatures.” Ovens, quick chillers, and cook and hold ovens, no matter the manufacturer, are all monitored with a centralized system housed at the retailer’s corporate office. The stored data allow management to ensure their store managers are following procedures and are useful in responding to food poisoning claims. When asked in court to describe preparation techniques, a company is able to prove exactly how the customer’s food was cooked.

-read more about the recent Salmonella outbreak in Annys Shin’s Washington Post report