The recent news out of Colorado is that the Jensen brothers, Eric and Ryan, the owner-operators of Jensen Farms, are to face criminal charges. FDA and CDC investigations determined that Jensen Farms was the source of the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupe that killed 33 and sickened over 100 in 2011. It is sad to think that an effective cleaning and sanitation program could have gone a long way toward preventing this tragedy from occurring.
Listeria is a common organism occurring naturally in the soil and is one of the major pathogens of concern for food processors especially those producing ready-to-eat items such as deli meats and fresh-cut produce. Producers of deli meats and similar products have a major advantage over produce processors in that the manufacturing process for RTE meat products has a lethality step. This is usually a cooking step, which, if carried out correctly, ensures the elimination of Listeria from the product. For RTE processors, the challenge then is protecting the cooked product from recontamination during slicing and packaging operations. Help comes from lactates and similar substances that can be included as ingredients to inhibit the growth of Listeria in the finished product.
Produce processors do not have the assistance of a kill step; therefore they need to be extra diligent about the cleaning and sanitation of their processing facilities and equipment. They also need to ensure that they are using antimicrobial washes at appropriate points in their process to remove pathogens and prevent cross contamination. Birko is ready, willing and able to help with these steps. A common complaint that we hear when discussing these options with processors is “but it costs so much to do all this stuff.” However, the news about Jensen Farms may put a different perspective on that thought.
Elis Owens, Ph.D., Director, Technical Services, Birko, can be reached at EOwens@birkocorp.com, 303-289-1090.