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At less than a month away from 2024, we wanted to share some key highlights of 2023 from the food hygiene and sanitation industry sectors within North America:
According to the CDC, foodborne illness causes 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) to get sick, 128,000 people to be hospitalized, and 3,000 people to die each year. Apart from the human cost, foodborne illness also causes the US economy to lose a whopping $15.6 billion or more yearly.
Here are notable sanitation-related outbreaks (1) from 2023:
In terms of North American trends in food recalls, according to a credible industry statistics report (2), food allergens, bacteria, and foreign material remained the top three agents responsible for most of the recalls, although a bulk of undeclared allergens were likely due to mislabeling rather than allergen cross-contact issues. Foreign material contamination continued to be an issue, with fragments of wood, metal, plastics, glass, rocks, and even rodent droppings ending up in food products. Surprisingly, the same report says that 2023 as whole may witness more annual food recalls than what we have seen over the last 5 years!
Below are some sanitation-related recalls (3) from 2023:
BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 9 was launched in August 2022, and transition audits began in February 2023. After almost a year of certification audits under this new Issue (4), the given top 5 non-conformities revealed significant gaps in sites’ hygiene and sanitation programs were:
The violations observed during FDA inspections reveal a similar story regarding non-conformances in FDA-registered plants. In fiscal year 2023 (5), the following top 10 equipment and environmental sanitation-related non-conformities were observed during inspections:
For information on the last six years of trending FDA inspection sanitation observations (6), please take a look at the informational poster we presented at IAFP 2023. This data, collected from the fiscal years 2006-2022, can help you assess the common weak points in food safety and sanitation plans.
A revised Canadian policy on Listeria monocytogenes for ready-to-eat (RTE) foods (7) came into effect on Oct. 1, 2023. This replaced the 2011 version. The updated policy now considers the following sanitation-related factors that could introduce Listeria into foods during the post-processing areas before food is packaged:
More importantly, Listeria monocytogenes is notorious for surviving difficult environment as microbial biofilms. Therefore, mechanical or manual cleaning is necessary to remove stubborn soils and destroy early maturing biofilms. Our white paper on biofilm control (8) is available at: The Role of Manual Cleaning in Biofilm Removal (ipaper.io).
The key food-safety-related developments to look out for in 2024 are as follows:
After the 2022 US outbreak linked to powdered infant formula, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists has voted to include Cronobacter sakazakii on the CDC’s notifiable diseases surveillance system by 2024. (9) Some other foodborne pathogens on the current list of nationally notifiable diseases include Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Listeria monocytogenes.
Cronobacter sakazakii is an environmental pathogen found in nature primarily in soils and on common surfaces. It is found almost everywhere and thrives in low moisture or low water activity foods of less or equal to 0.85 (aw). The pathogen affects mainly the spinal cord of neonates, or babies less than 6 months old, typically resulting in a fatality. The best control for preventing the spread of this pathogen in dry facilities is to avoid moisture in dry areas.
More importantly, manufacturers of low-moisture products such as infant milk powders (where Cronobacter is a pathogen of concern) will need to have environmental monitoring and sanitation controls such as appropriate dry sanitation programs. Further information about Cronobacter control in dry environments (10) is available at: Controlling Cronobacter: A Pathogen of Concern in Dry Environments and Low-Moisture Foods - Remco (remcoproducts.com).
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a diverse group of synthetic chemicals that resist grease, oil, water, and heat. For these reasons, PFAS have historically been used in following food contact applications – including items like:
However, these so-called “forever chemicals” do not decompose naturally, are persistent in the environment, bio-accumulate in the body, and are toxic to human health.
Moreover, these chemicals also contaminate drinking water supplies and have therefore become a US regulatory focus when it comes to using them for food-contact surface applications (11).
In 2024, the following global food safety standard updated versions will come into effect:
New Version Effective for Audit
Previous Standard Version
Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000 Version 6 (12)
April 1, 2024
International Featured Standard (IFS) Food Version 8 (13)
Jan. 1, 2024
These standard versions have been aligned to the latest GFSI Benchmarking Document 2020 (14), which, among other important reasons, also brings the elements of hygienic design and food safety culture to the center-stage, allowing for private global standards like BRCGS, SQF, FSSC 22000, and others to accommodate programs that conform to the new requirements for globally recognized food safety standards.
On a related note, stakeholders adopting the above CODEX-based standards now have access to guidance documents that are useful when developing and implementing Good Hygienic Practices and HACCP Plans (15). More information is available at: Background (fao.org).
The 2022 Cronobacter outbreak revealed that the FDA as an agency was not able to make rapid and timely regulatory decisions because there was no unified oversight and responsibility allocated to one group or person when such situations of food safety and public health concerns arose.
So, now under the Human Foods Program (16), newly appointed FDA Deputy Commissioner Jim Jones will have full authority over and set the strategic direction of all food-related resources. Such a unified effort should primarily help in bending the curve of foodborne illness trends in the US. More information about this is available at: FDA Names First Deputy Commissioner for Proposed, Unified Human Foods Program | FDA.
As we continue to celebrate Vikan’s 125th year in providing innovative cleaning and hygiene products, Remco wishes you all happy holidays and a prosperous 2024, and for many more years to come. For more information, please feel free to contact us.
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