Tuesday, February 01, 2005

5,760 pounds of Empire Kosher chicken recalled for listeria contamination


At 2:47 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...


NY firm recalls chicken for possible listeria
01 Feb 2005 04:52:14 GMT
Reuters AlertNet, UK
Source: Reuters

WASHINGTON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - A New York company is recalling about 5,760 pounds (2,612 kg) of chicken because of possible listeria contamination, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Monday.

The voluntary recall by Maspeth, New York-based Schreiber Processing Corp. covers "Empire Kosher" buffalo style wings and chicken wings in packages bearing the date code "1414" and "Empire Kosher" breaded fried chicken in packages with the date code "0274."

The recalled chicken products were produced on Aug. 10 and Dec. 5 and were distributed to stores in 13 states from California to New York.

The listeria was discovered by testing the chicken and there were no reports of anyone falling ill, the USDA said.

The bacteria is relatively harmless to healthy adults but can cause miscarriages and make the elderly, the very young and people with immune disorders seriously ill.

Listeria causes an estimated 2,500 illnesses and kills 500 people annually, according to U.S. government data.


What is Listeria monocytogenes?
Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria) is a pathogenic (disease-causing) bacterium that is food borne and causes an illness called listeriosis1. It is frequently overlooked as a possible cause of illness due to its unique growth capabilities. First, it is somewhat difficult for laboratories to grow, and when they do so, Listeria can be confused with common harmless contaminants and disregarded. Second, most bacteria grow poorly when temperatures fall below 40°F, while Listeria survives in temperatures from below freezing (20°F) to body temperature and it grows best at 0°F to 50°F,1 including the temperature range that we use for refrigeration. As a result, Listeria may be transmitted in ready-to-eat foods that have been kept properly refrigerated. Its ability to grow in such diverse environments is just one of the many challenges presented by this dangerous bacterium.

It is estimated that Listeria causes approximately 1,600 cases of listeriosis annually, resulting in 415 deaths.2

Where does Listeria monocytogenes come from?
There are many opportunities for contamination with Listeria during the process of food production because Listeria monocytogenes is ubiquitous in the environment.1 For example, it can be grown from wild and domestic animals, birds, insects, soil and wastewater, and vegetation. As it is a bacterium found in soil and vegetation, it is easily contracted and transmitted by herd animals. Listeria is found in grazing areas, stale water supplies, and poorly prepared animal feed. It can live in the intestines of humans, animals, and birds for long periods of time without causing infection. The bacterium is often isolated in cattle, sheep, and fowl, and is also found in dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.

1. Cossart P, Bierne H. The use of host cell machinery in the pathogenesis of Listeria monocytogenes. Curr Opin Immunol (England), Feb 2001, 13(1) p96-103.

2. FDA/CFSAN. 2003. Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and natural Toxins Handbook: The “Bad Bug Book.” Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, College park, MD. www.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/intro.html.


What are the symptoms of infection with Listeria monocytogenes?
It is believed that ingestion of as few as 1,000 cells of Listeria bacteria can result in illness. After ingestion of food contaminated with Listeria, incubation periods for infection are in the range of 3 to 70 days, usually 4 to 21 days.3

Five days to three weeks after ingestion, Listeria has access to all body areas and may involve the central nervous system, heart, eyes, or other locations.4 Fetuses of pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the Listeria bacterium. A person with listeriosis usually has fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, loss of balance, confusion, obtundation or convulsions can occur. With brain involvement, listeriosis may mimic a stroke.

Infected pregnant women will ordinarily experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.5 The perinatal and neonatal mortality rate is 80%.4

Human cases of Listeria are, for the most part, sporadic and treatable. Nonetheless, Listeria remains an important threat to public health, especially among those most susceptible to this disease. With the increase of the numbers of immunocompromised people, the risk multiplies. The fact that Listeria is a disease easily transmitted from mother to fetus through the placenta is worrisome to an expectant mother, especially since pregnant women themselves rarely show outward signs of such a devastating infection.

The public isn't the only group that should learn more about Listeria. Many doctors overlook the possibility of Listeria food poisoning, because they do not know that Listeria can survive and grow in refrigerated foods. For example, a recent nationwide outbreak of Listeria poisoning was eventually determined to have been caused by contaminated hot dogs and lunchmeat - foods that had not previously been considered dangerous. More research needs to be done, so that all of the mechanisms and intricacies of this bacterial strain might be understood. Above all, common myths about "proper" food storage need to be updated, so that contamination can be kept at a minimum. A blood test is typically the most reliable way to find out if your symptoms are due to listeriosis, particularly during pregnancy.

Listeriosis is the disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes. It is acquired by the ingestion of contaminated foods. Certain groups of individuals are at great risk for listeriosis. These are pregnant women (and their unborn children) and immunocompromised persons (e.g., transplant recipients). Among infants, listeriosis occurs when the infection is transmitted from the mother, either through the placenta or during the birthing process. These host factors, along with the amount of bacteria ingested and the virulence of the strain, determine the risk of disease.

Listeria can invade the body through a normal and intact gastrointestinal tract. Once in the body Listeria bacteria can travel through the blood stream, but are often found inside cells (they are "intracellular" pathogens). Listeria can co-opt the cell's machinery to its own advantage by manipulating the host cell genes, and then move directly from cell-to-cell, avoiding many of the host's defense mechanisms5. The bacteria also produce toxins that damages cells.

For unknown reasons, in immune-deficient hosts Listeria invades and grows best in the central nervous system, causing meningitis and/or encephalitis (brain infection). In pregnant women, the fetus is most heavily infected, leading to spontaneous abortion, stillbirths, or sepsis in infancy.

Every year in the U.S. approximately 2,500 cases of Listeriosis are known to occur4. (It is likely that more cases go unrecognized). About 500 deaths per year are attributed to listeriosis6. These statistics indicate true misfortunes, as listeriosis is a preventable condition.

3. Bryan, FL et al. Procedures to Investigate Foodborne Illness Fifth Edition. International Association for Food Protection. Des Moines, IA, 1999;119.

4. FDA/CFSAN. 2003. Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and natural Toxins Handbook: The “Bad Bug Book.” Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, College park, MD. www.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/intro.html.

5. Cossart P, Bierne H. The use of host cell machinery in the pathogenesis of Listeria monocytogenes. Curr Opin Immunol (England), Feb 2001, 13(1) p96-103.

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Listeriosis http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/listeriosis_t.htm

7. Silver HM. Listeriosis during pregnancy. Obster Gynecol Surv 1998;53:737-740.


How do you know if you have Listeriosis?
Symptoms of such as fever and stiff neck could be the result of a listeriosis infection. If you have these symptoms, consult your doctor, who can do a blood or spinal fluid test that will show if you have listeriosis. A blood test is typically the most reliable way to find out if your symptoms are due to listeriosis, particularly during pregnancy.

Do antibiotics treat Listeria monocytogenes?
Because it is a bacterium, there are several antibiotics with which Listeria may be treated. The antibiotics that have the most activity are ampicillin, gentamicin, and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxizole (Bactrim®, Septa®).8

When infection occurs during pregnancy, antibiotics given promptly to the pregnant woman can often prevent infection of the fetus. Babies with listeriosis receive the same antibiotics as adults, although a combination of antibiotics is often used until physicians are certain of the diagnosis.

Even with prompt treatment, some infections result in death. This is particularly likely in those with central nervous system involvement, the elderly and in persons with other serious medical problems

8. Gilbert DN, Moellering RC, Sande MA. The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy 2001. Antimicrobial, Inc, Hyde Park, VT, 2001.

Who is most susceptible to Listeria monocytogenes?
Listeriosis is avoided by altering dietary habits. While the general public need not be concerned, persons at risk need to be informed of that risk and take the proper precautions.

The body's defense against Listeria monocytogenes and other intracellular pathogens is called "cell-mediated immunity" because it depends on our cells (as opposed to our antibodies), especially lymphocytes called "T-cells." Therefore, it is not surprising that individuals whose cell-mediated immunity is suppressed are more susceptible to the devastating effects of Listeriosis.

Pregnant women naturally have a depressed cell-mediated immune system; many think that this occurs so that the mother's immune system will not reject the fetus. The immune systems fetuses and newborns are very immature; they are extremely susceptible to intracellular pathogens. Other adults, especially transplant recipients and lymphoma patients, are given necessary therapies with the specific intent of depressing immune T-cells, and these individuals become especially susceptible to Listeria monocytogenes as well.

Pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. About one-third of listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy. The incidence of listeriosis in the newborn is 8.6 per 100,000 live births.9 There is no routine screening test for susceptibility to listeriosis during pregnancy, as there is for rubella and some other congenital infections. Newborns, rather than the pregnant women themselves, suffer the serious effects of infection in pregnancy. Persons with weakened immune systems due to treatment, particularly transplant recipients10 and persons on treatment for lymphoma, but also other cancer victims, are at significantly increased risk for Listeria infection.

· Persons with AIDS suffer listeriosis 65-145 times more frequently than the general population.11

· Persons who take glucocorticosteroid medications (also called cortisone) are also at increased risk.10 The most common medication prescribed in this class is prednisone. The threshold above which prednisone begins to have a significant effect on the immune system is 20 mg per day for 5 days.

· The elderly and certain debilitated patients (such as those on dialysis or alcoholics) are at minor increased risk for listeriosis.

9. Tappero JW, Schuchat A, Deaver KA, Mascola L, Wenger JD. Reduction in the incidence of human listeriosis in the United States. Effectiveness of prevention efforts? The Listeriosis Study Group. JAMA 1995 Apr 12;273(14):1118-22

10. Schuchat A, Deaver KA, Wenger JD, Plikaytis BD, Mascola L, Pinner RW, Reingold AL, Broome CV. ole of foods in sporadic listeriosis. I. Case-control study of dietary risk factors. The Listeria Study Group. JAMA 1992 Apr 15;267(15):2041-5.

11. Jurado RL, Farley MM, Pereira E, Harvey RC, Schuchat A, Wenger JD, Stephens DS. Increased risk of meningitis and bacteremia due to Listeria monocytogenes in patients with human immunodeficiency virus infection. Clin Infect Dis 1993 Aug;17(2):224-7.

How can a Listeria monocytogenes infection be prevented?

Ready-to-eat foods provide a risk of transmitting Listeria, some more than others. Although this information is available to the public11,12 a conscientious health care provider rendering care for an at-risk individual should point this information out.

· Avoid soft cheeses10 such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese. (Hard cheese, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt need not be avoided.)

· Cook leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods,10 such as hot dogs, until steaming hot before eating.

· Undercooked chicken has also been associated with listeriosis.10 To make chicken safe from bacterial pathogens the thickest section (the center of the breast) should reach 165°F.

· Recently, uncooked fish, whether smoked or not, has been identified as source of Listeria monocytogenes.13,14 Smoked trout, "gravad" fish, sushi, sashimi, and cerviche and such uncooked fish should also be avoided by individuals at risk.

12. Pinner RW, Schuchat A, Swaminathan B, Hayes PS, Deaver KA, Weaver RE, Plikaytis BD, Reeves M, Broome CV, Wenger JD. Role of foods in sporadic listeriosis. II. Microbiologic and epidemiologic investigation. The Listeria Study Group. JAMA 1992 Apr 15;267(15):2046-50.

13. Weinberg, WG. No Germs Allowed!: How to Avoid Infectious Diseases At Home and On the Road. Rutgers University Press, July, 1996.

14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Listeriosis http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/listeriosis_g.htm

15. Heinitz ML, Johnson JM. The incidence of Listeria spp., Salmonella spp., and Clostridium botulinum in smoked fish and shellfish. J Food Prot 1998;61:318-23.

16. Loncarevic S, Tham W, Danielsson-Tham ML. Prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes and other Listeria spp. in smoked and 'gravad' fish. Acta Vet Scand 1996;37:13-18.

At 3:00 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

>Empire's quality lab does standard microbiological tests,
>including total plate counts, coliforms, E. coli and Listeria.
>Reed is especially proud of the fact that the company's cooked
>products are never released until they clear Listeria testing.
>"All we have is our name," he says. "If people start thinking
>of kosher as something that could be suspect, we would be out
>of business."

Keeping the faith: Empire Kosher Poultry meets kosher processing's unique set of challenges.
by Pan Demetrakakes
September 1, 1999
Food Processing
ISSN: 0015-6523; Volume 60; Issue 9

All food processors profess high standards. But Empire Kosher Poultry Inc. is positively religious about it.

Empire bills its 330,000-square-foot plant in Mifflintown, Pa., about 40 miles west of Harrisburg, as the world's largest kosher food processing facility. The plant's 1,200 workers, including 80 rabbis, process 120,000 chickens and 15,000 turkeys per day into kosher raw and cooked products, including hot dogs, luncheon meats, turkey pastrami and deli foods. In addition, Empire markets a co-packed line of kosher pizzas, blintzes, egg rolls and other products.

With $125 million in sales last year, the company claims an 80 percent market share for its poultry among Jewish consumers who keep kosher - its core clientele. Empire officials are looking to expand beyond this base by educating general consumers about the benefits of kosher processing.

"We fit perfectly into the superpremium category," says company president Michael Strear. "Our standards are much higher than the average poultry processor's, and that's a fact."

These standards derive from thousands of years of tradition, with their source in the first five books of the Old Testament. In general, kosher, a Hebrew word meaning "fit" or "pure," denotes high standards of cleanliness for both beginning product and the processing environment. Specifically, kosher poultry is treated with salt to draw out the bird's blood, consumption of which is forbidden under kosher law. The process also requires extra rinsing and forbids the use of hot water at any stage of processing. And all stages of slaughter and processing must be overseen by trained rabbis; at the Empire plant, some of the rabbis work almost side by side with USDA inspectors.

Not only do these elements satisfy religious requirements, they improve quality. "It's more than just rabbis blessing chicken," says Janice Lee Price, vice president of marketing. "That's the most common misconception - if it's kosher, [that means only that] it's been blessed. The real benefit is taste."

To get the word out, Empire has embarked on an aggressive promotional program to position kosher poultry as a premium item. Articles in Gourmet, Food & Wine, Saveur and other upscale food magazines have touted Empire's taste. Nonkosher consumers constitute 55 percent of Empire's clientele; in fact, sales of kosher products in general have increased 12 to 15 percent a year since 1992, according to Integrated Marketing Communications Inc., a New York-based consulting firm for the kosher industry.

Empire officials realize they need to give as many consumers as possible a reason to spend more for their products. The requirements of kosher processing make it highly labor intensive, adding to the cost. In addition, the Jewish dietary laws, collectively known as Kashrus, force the rejection of a large amount of product that would be acceptable in a non-kosher plant.

"We understand our product costs more to manufacture," Strear says. "However, because we produce a superior quality product, Empire is positioned in the superpremium chicken category, where we expect to be competitively priced."

Producing kosher product brings another imperative: a demand for flexibility. Because Empire services so many small, specialty butcher shops and stores, it must be able to translate orders into production scheduling very quickly.

Kosher cuts

The process starts with slaughtering, which has to be done according to kosher principles; unlike conventional slaughter, it must be done by hand, and the birds may not be rendered unconscious first. They are unloaded onto belt conveyors and picked up one at a time by a worker who holds them while a shochet, a specially trained slaughterer, slices their necks with a blade of prescribed sharpness. "Orthodox Jews consider this to be the only humane method of slaughter, because the bird is literally dead before it feels pain," says James Reed, chief operating officer. Rabbis reject about 0.7 percent of the birds at slaughter for visible injuries or other violations of Kashrus.

The slaughtered birds are placed upside down into metal funnels on a chain conveyor. The blood drains down the funnel into troughs filled with sawdust. The sawdust is another religious requirement; under Kashrus, the birds' blood must drain "onto earth." (The sawdust is sold to a renderer.)

The birds then are shackled and put through a series of feather pickers. Removal of feathers is especially problematic for kosher plants, because Kashrus forbids the use of heated water in processing. The birds must go through eight defeathering machines that use cold water, each of whose rubber fingers use different motions. Even so, many feathers and pinfeathers remain; Reed says that about 70 workers downstream of evisceration are devoted entirely to removing residual feathers. The feet ("paws" in industry parlance) are autorustically cut off, dropping the birds onto a belt conveyor.

Reed estimates that because of the requirements of kosher processing, Empire's evisceration line is about twice as long as that of a non-kosher plant of comparable size. Workers re-hang the birds on one of four shackle lines (one is for turkeys). They then go through a series of rotary evisceration and cutting machines, much as in any high-volume poultry plant. These include venters, oil gland removers, and eviscerators from Stork RMS-Protecon Inc., Gainesville, Ga., that descend into the birds' cavities, draw out the viscera and drape them down the front for display.

These are checked by two sets of inspectors: USDA personnel and rabbis, who look for imperfections of the internal organs. "Glatt kosher, "the highest designation under Kashrus, demands that lungs and other organs be completely free of lesions. Between 2 and 4 percent of the birds that pass USDA inspection get rejected by the inspecting rabbis on these grounds. Most of these are skinned, marked with a black tag and sold to non-kosher processors.

Workers harvest the heart, liver and gizzards. A Stork cropper takes birds onto another carousel, where descending augers open the head and neck cavities. Workers then hand-clip the tips of the wings so that the bone marrow, which contains blood, may drain - another requirement of kosher processing. A Stork rotary vacuum sucks out the lungs. More workers tend the shackle line, cutting off crops and other areas where pinfeathers remain.

"We take a lot of yield loss in order to have a better product," Reed says. Workers hand-vacuum the birds' interiors to remove the kidneys, another kosher requirement. After an inside-and-outside washing, the birds are ready for soaking and salting.

Empire pays as much attention to its workers' welfare as it does to its birds'. Jobs are divided into red, yellow and green classifications, according to the amount of repetitive-motion stress they involve. Workers are not allowed to do red tasks for more than two hours at a time, with a company nurse roaming the lines to keep track of assignments. Since this program was instituted three-and-a-half years ago, Reed says, lost-day incidents have plunged by 97 percent. This may play a role in Empire's annual lineworker turnover of about 22 percent, which is less than one-quarter the industry average.

Soak, salt, soak

Two large soakers hold about 6,500 birds each for about 30 minutes in water at 50 to 55 F, as prescribed under Kashrus. Workers then hand-shackle the birds onto one of three salting lines. The bodies hang long enough so that their surfaces are tacky but not wet, ensuring that the salt will adhere but not dissolve.

The birds drop off the shackle line and down chutes to the salting tables. Workers place each bird in a trough of coarse salt and generously rub them inside and out. About seven tons of salt a day falls to the floor during this process; Empire donates it to local municipalities for use on roads during winter. Workers place the salted birds into huge inclined bins that carry them forward slowly, letting them sit about an hour before rinsing.

This salting is one of the most distinctive features of kosher processing. The purpose of the salt is to draw out the birds' blood, which Orthodox Jews may not eat. Salting has the added benefits of evening out the birds' moisture, tenderizing their flesh, and creating a hostile environment for microorganisms.

"We put out poultry here that has the lowest microbial load of any in the country," Reed says proudly. Because the salt remains on the birds' surface and is thoroughly rinsed off, it does not affect the flavor.

After the birds drop out of the salting bins, they go through shower baths. Augers then carry them through large troughs of water chilled to 34 F. This is the equivalent of the chiller bath that, in non-kosher plants, is located directly after evisceration.

"In an ordinary plant, this water [in the chillers] would be blood-red," Reed says. "It's so much cleaner here."

Iced, chilled, IQF

Deboning and packaging are the next steps. Empire's output can be divided roughly into three categories: ice-packed parts and whole birds for butchers and specialty stores, chill-packed cuts for groceries and supermarkets, and IQF parts for club stores. For cut-up product, about 70 percent of the total, one of two automatic cutting machines takes the birds over a series of blades, reducing each one to eight pieces.

Reed likes to refer to this part of the plant as "the world's largest butcher shop." Because kosher chicken is such a specialty item, Empire must handle many small orders and demands for specialized cuts from kosher butchers, yeshivas and other niche customers. Handling and filling them requires a great deal of flexibility.

Empire attains this flexibility in part with a sophisticated system for tracking orders, inventory and production. As orders come in, they are logged into a software application from The Foxboro Co., Foxboro, Mass. It translates the orders into production requirements and routes parts from the automatic cutters to different packaging areas, according to how many of each kind of cut are needed. Other software prints bar-code labels for pallets of product. Forklift trucks equipped with radio-frequency equipment feed into the Foxboro system to make it keep track of shipments sent.

Chill-packed product goes through a chiller that reduces its temperature to between 34 and 38 F. In a room kept at 26 F - the lowest temperature at which poultry still can be labeled "fresh" - workers deposit the pieces in trays, put them through a shrinkwrapper from Ossid Corp., Rocky Mount, N.C., then hand-rack them and put the racks in a blast chiller at 0 F to further chill the product to 26 F. The packages then are taken out of the racks, hand-cased and stored at 26 F until shipped.

Parts for club stores are injected with brine by a machine from Wolfking Inc., Blacklick, Ohio. They get quick-frozen by a cryogenic freezer from the Liquid Carbonic division of Praxair, Oak Brook, Ill. Workers pack them into club-store sacks and hand-case them.

Empire's quality lab does standard microbiological tests, including total plate counts, coliforms, E. coli and Listeria. Reed is especially proud of the fact that the company's cooked products are never released until they clear Listeria testing.

"All we have is our name," he says. "If people start thinking of kosher as something that could be suspect, we would be out of business."

Kosher market on the rise

Large-scale kosher processors like Empire realize that their financial well-being depends on expanding the market for kosher food beyond their base of observant Jews. Fortunately for them, the kosher market has been growing fast.

Integrated Marketing Communications, a New York-based consulting firm for the kosher market, recorded sales of $3.25 billion for kosher food in the United States in 1997, with a growth rate of 12 to 15 percent a year. Integrated also does Kosher-Fest, a yearly trade show devoted to kosher products, in which exhibitors have nearly quadrupled since the first show in 1990.

For industrially processed food to be certified as kosher, it must be produced in facilities under the scrutiny of properly trained rabbis. More than 300 agencies can provide inspection and kosher certification. Empire uses the services of the largest one, the Orthodox Union.

There are more than 40,000 kosher-certified products in the market today, up from 18,000 10 years ago. Many of these products are mainstream foods, such as Oreo cookies and Milky Way bars. For these, kosher certification is mainly a way of reassuring observant Jews that the ingredients don't come from forbidden sources.

Empire Kosher Poultry at-a-glance


330,000 square feet. 1,200 employees, including 80 rabbis. 120,000 chickens and 15,000 turkeys processed per day. Three slaughter and two processing shifts, five to six days a week.


Extensive monitoring by rabbis for adherence to kosher processing principles. On-site lab monitors for Listeria, TPC, E. coli, coliforms. Cooked product held until cleared by Listeria testing.


Orders, inventory and production compiled and reconciled by software systems. Birds automatically routed according to bird size and production requirements.


Parts, preventive maintenance and other maintenance tracked by PMC for Windows from DP Solutions, Greensboro, N.C.

At 3:01 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Working at cross-purposes.
by Tom Zind
October 1, 1999
Food Processing
ISSN: 0015-6523; Volume 60; Issue 10

Cross-contamination is a concern in many plants, especially where meat is cooked. Here are some avoidance strategies.

Law enforcement isn't the only area where good detective skills and solid police work are essential. Those abilities also are indispensable when it comes to eliminating cross-contamination within food plants by dangerous food-borne pathogens.

Identifying all potential hiding places for pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes, rooting them out and preventing them from multiplying and migrating to finished product areas is becoming essential in today's climate of heightened food safety concerns.

Accomplishing that, however, is no small feat. It requires a thorough analysis of plant logistics and operations, identification of all possible contamination points and strict adherence to practices that limit the growth and spread of organisms that can turn food into a ticking time bomb.

Pathogen-proofing a plant requires attention to both structural and procedural detail. Plants that are able to physically separate areas where raw product-- usually the source of pathogens--is handled and those where products are further processed are ahead of the game. Even more important, however, is the human element: the ability to control how, when and where products, people and equipment that can be vehicles for organisms move through the plant. That becomes essential when it's cost prohibitive to sufficiently separate raw and processed areas.

Separation anxiety

"There's an increasing emphasis on being more vigilant than ever in this area," says Jim Hodges, president of the American Meat Institute Foundation, whose member meat processing plants face perhaps the biggest microbial-control challenge of any food processing sector. "Most of our ready-to-eat plants do, in fact, already have separation of raw and processed areas, but the issue of cross-contamination is still there because it can move from one area to another very easily. So every plant needs to have a control program that minimizes or eliminates that possibility."

Representative of what many plants are doing today, Empire Kosher Poultry, Mifflintown, Pa., ratcheted up its cross-contamination control effort earlier this year by reconfiguring some of the physical areas of its plant and instituting strict new procedures.

"We were finding microbes on maintenance tools, garments, shoes, hoses and in places you wouldn't even think to look, so we determined that the only way to prevent contamination was to do a total separation of raw and processed areas," says chief operating officer James Reed.

The increased separation involved such things as establishing separate lunch, break room and locker room areas for raw and processed product workers; instituting one-way traffic patterns where possible; installing foot baths, hand cleaning and drying devices at the entrance to the processing area; and requiring the use of gloves and face masks, Reed says.

"Basically, we've totally isolated the further processing and packaging areas from the raw product area," he says. "We now have a full clean-room environment for the finished goods area, and only those who are finished goods people can be in there."

The company has even gone as far as severely restricting materials that might harbor pathogens from the processing area. Wooden pallets, and even spices used in preparing the products, are now banned from the area. In fact, the company now uses only reusable and washable plastic pallets to move products internally, he says. As an added precaution against outside contamination, Empire also has discontinued public tours of the facility, Reed says.

In the eight months since the contamination control work was completed with expenditures of about $40,000 on capital equipment, Reed says the plant has virtually eliminated what had been a mounting problem.

"Our total plate counts now are zero or next to nothing, whereas before they were all over the map," he says. "The product that now comes out of our chillers is very clean."

Essential to Empire's successful effort was an ability to understand in detail all the angles and elements of the cross-contamination threats unique to its own facility. That's something experts say is crucial before any food plant embarks on a remedial control effort, large or small.

Track the trucks

"You don't want to get into any half-baked solutions where you may, for instance, do a lot of fancy work with employees' boots to prevent them from tracking contamination into a clean room, but at the same time you allow forklifts to run back and forth," says Alan Oser, director of technical services for Hatfield Quality Meats, Hatfield, Pa. "It's essential to know where your contamination sites are and then isolate them."

Understanding all the potential ways that pathogens can be transported throughout a plant also is critical, Oser says. Foot traffic and equipment are ready vehicles for transporting contamination directly to product. "You need to be aware of the tendency of this secondary chain contamination to go from equipment to employees and then to product, and of the actions that need to be taken to break that cycle."

Another often overlooked vehicle for pathogen transport is the air in the plant.

"Air quality becomes a large issue if you have a negative air flow that can bring pathogens into a clean area," he says. "If, say, there's a trash dock at the end of a hallway in the plant, that can be a potential problem. You need to determine the impact of the air flow. In the end it may be something as simple as keeping doors closed or using an alternate entrance."

Oser also recommends that plants follow Empire's example of maintaining strict separation of raw and processed areas. "A plant should mandate the use of different uniforms, coats and gloves for workers in these areas, something that can be aided by color-coding clothing to allow for immediate confirmation," he says.

Plants also should stay abreast of new contamination-control technology, Oser says. While many fixes are relatively simple, some plants may benefit from improved sanitizing equipment. Oser is a firm believer in the use of sanitizing foam on the floor of the entrances to finished product areas because of its certainty of application.

"We're experimenting with one of these units, which activate when the door opens," Oser says. "You have to walk across the foam, which then spreads it around the room. It's also good because, unlike foot baths--which can become quickly depleted in their sanitizing ability--every treatment is fresh."

Floor facts

A new set of "Guidelines to Prevent Post-Processing Contamination from Listeria Monocytogenes," published by the International Association of Milk, Food and Environmental Sanitarians, suggests clean and dry floors are preferred to the use of foot baths or foams. If foot baths are used, the guidelines--published in the August 1999 issue of Dairy, Food and Environmental Sanitation--state that they "must be properly maintained to prevent their becoming a source of contamination. Foot bath solutions should contain stronger concentrations of sanitizer than would be used on equipment."

The guidelines, authored by representatives of companies and associations such as Armour Swift-Eckrich, Campbell Soup Co. and the National Food Processors Association, offer a highly detailed contamination control checklist for processing operations. Among the guidelines' suggestions are keeping the flow of raw ingredients to the finished product linear, compartmentalizing operations to enhance separation of raw and processed product, and control of traffic flow between the two areas. The guidelines also emphasize regular and proper cleaning of everything from drains, floors and walls to waste containers, condensate drip pans and HVAC equipment.

Despite the best efforts at control, however, the guidelines suggest that a totally clean environment is unachievable. "Extensive efforts to control Listeria can reduce the amount and level of contamination, but cannot, given currently available technology, eradicate it from the processing environment,"

While that may be true, Oser says most food plant operators can significantly improve contamination control efforts with relatively simple procedures.

"Breaking the cycle of contamination isn't rocket science," he says. "The main need is to identify what the hazards are and then develop workable solutions. In many cases you can't rebuild a facility to have excellent product flow, so you have to work within the design constraints of the plant to minimize it."

At 3:04 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

January 31, 2005
US Fed News

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued the following press release:

Schreiber Processing Corp., a Maspeth, N.Y. firm, is voluntarily recalling approximately 5,760 pounds of chicken products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced today.

The products subject to recall are:

* 48 oz. boxes of "EMPIRE KOSHER, Fully Cooked, BUFFALO STYLE WINGS, CHICKEN WINGS COATED IN SAUCE." The package also bears the date code "1444."

* 28 oz. boxes of "EMPIRE KOSHER, FULLY COOKED, BREADED, FRIED CHICKEN, 6 TO 9 ASSORTED PIECES." The package also bears the date code "0274."

Each product bears the establishment number "P-787" inside the USDA seal of inspection.

The products were produced on August 10, 2004 and December 5, 2004. They were distributed to retail stores in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The problem was discovered through microbiological sampling. FSIS has received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis. Listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, and nausea. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections in those with weak immune systems - infants, the frail or elderly, and persons with chronic disease, with HIV infection, or taking chemotherapy.

Media with questions about the recall may contact Sam Hollander, company CEO, at (718) 894-2000. Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Shlomi Pilo, company vice president of sales and marketing, at (718) 894-2000.

Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) MPHotline. The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

* Listeria Precautions USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline or visit www.fsis.usda.gov

People at risk for listeriosis and their family members or individuals preparing food for them should:

Reheat until steaming hot the following types of ready-to-eat foods: hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented and dry sausage, and other deli-style meat and poultry products. Thoroughly reheating food can help kill any bacteria that might be present. If you cannot reheat these foods, do not eat them.

Wash hands with hot, soapy water after handling these types of ready-to-eat foods. (Wash for at least 20 seconds.) Also wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils. Thorough washing helps eliminate any bacteria that might get on your hands or other surfaces from food before it is reheated.

Do not drink raw, unpasteurized milk or eat foods made from it, such as unpasteurized cheese.

Observe all expiration dates for perishable items that are precooked or ready-to-eat.

HTS spsb 050201-64960 SBAROOAH

Matt Baun, 202/720-9113, 202/690-0460.


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