Listeria events, on the other hand, now account for the lion’s share of his cases. Whole genome sequencing will be the bridge between the bacterium’s long incubation period and the human illnesses it causes. That should be cause for concern for makers of snack foods, baked goods, leafy greens and other ready-to-eat products not regulated by USDA.
There was a lag of several years between Jack in the Box and “the recalls of the late '90s to the early 2000s, when the wheels came off,” Marler points out. “But once they started doing the testing, E. coli came under control. Whether or not there will be the same painful learning curve with leafy greens and other foods will depend on companies’ willingness to spend money on testing and HACCP enforcement.”
“Almost everybody knows it’s mandatory to have some kind of preventive controls in place,” says Gary Acuff, a microbiologist and nutrition & food science professor at Texas A&M University (nfs.tamu.edu) in College Station. “FSMA has a lofty goal, but implementation is going to take time.”
It’s also complicated by a shorter bench of science trainers. Land grant colleges like Texas A&M have diminishing staffs for their extension services, and FDA was counting on those personnel to get small and mid-sized food companies up to speed on the continuous improvement approach to food safety that underpins FSMA.
His advice: Start forging relationships with microbial testing labs, scientific consultants and others with expertise in this new form of germ warfare. “Zoning and environmental sampling is new to a lot of people,” Acuff allows. “There will be initial pain and eventual gain. There will be surprises, for sure.”
Food microbiologists are in short supply and high demand. That level of in-house expertise isn’t necessary for the vast majority of food and beverage companies, but cognizance of its importance and access to it when necessary can make the transition to steady state less painful.