Environmental Microbiological Testing

While the U.S. is fortunate to have one of the safest and best food supplies of any country in the world, pathogens and the foodborne illnesses they cause still affect millions of consumers each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 48 million people in the U.S. fall sick every year, more than 125,000 are hospitalized and roughly 3,000 die due to foodborne illnesses. And it’s important to note that, according to the CDC, unsafe production environments and poor hygiene of food production employees are two leading factors that contribute to foodborne illnesses.

Essential in the prevention of food-related health issues, costly food recalls and the erosion of consumer confidence and brand reputation, robust environmental microbiological monitoring programs, which include analytical testing services — like those offered by Log10 — are a proven way to collect data on where sources and concentrations of pathogens could enter a food product via a production facility. While an environmental monitoring program on its own doesn’t make food safer, it forms an integral part in monitoring the successful sanitary environment of a food production facility.

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ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING FOR THE FOOD INDUSTRY

Pathogens that can cause foodborne illness occur naturally in the environment and can be introduced into a food facility in a variety of ways, such as raw ingredients, employees, and pests. It is critical to set up and maintain an Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP), as described by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Various harmful microorganisms and pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., and E. coli are known to stubbornly establish themselves in food production environments, and can easily create biofilms that are difficult to remove. A continuous and vigilant EMP helps to reduce the risk of microbial contaminations. Environmental hand swab results can serve as an early warning sign of and concern for a potential issue to arise. Of course, in the case that a positive indicator test result is received, an EMP can also help quickly and effectively target the areas where corrective action is most needed.

ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING PROGRAMS & THEIR IMPORTANCE

The EMP should focus on obtaining a representative microbiological sampling of high-risk areas for indicator organisms and/or pathogens. A robust Environmental Monitoring Program, with appropriately designated sampling areas, can be a very powerful tool in determining the overall effectiveness of cleaning and sanitation procedures. It should be designed to help the facility minimize regulatory, quality and food safety risks. If the EMP reveals positive swab test results showing indicator organisms are present, it can also be an effective aid in narrowing the focus to the most likely potential sources of contamination for immediate corrective actions to be implemented.

A thorough EMP designates appropriate environmental samples that are classified according to zones, for a comprehensive view of the cleaning and sanitation procedures’ effectiveness. There are four zones in total, and each is representative of how close that area is to the food product(s) being produced.

Environmental monitoring services sampling zones are categorized as follows:

Zone 1

Includes all surfaces that come in direct contact with the food product including work tables, utensils, conveyors and mixers.

Zone 2

Includes nonfood areas of contact that are adjacent or close to Zone 1. These are areas where contamination from the environment are highly likely to have an adverse impact on the safety of the food product. Examples of Zone 2 are maintenance tools, framework of Zone 1 equipment and drip shields.

Zone 3

Includes nonfood areas of contact that are not close or adjacent to Zone 1. When contamination of Zone 3 occurs, it can be spread to Zones 2 and 1 via movements by employees and machinery. Examples of Zone 3 are drains, floors and walls.

Zone 4

Includes areas that are located remotely from food production and processing. When Zone 4 is not sanitized properly, it can lead to cross-contamination of other zones. Examples of Zone 4 are maintenance rooms, locker rooms and offices.

Benefits of Log10 and Environmental Monitoring Services

A customized EMP provides monitoring of a food production facility to ensure the products are produced in a clean and sanitary environment. Environmental samples are important to collect as the results obtained implicate the effectiveness of sanitation procedures, employee hygiene and overall standard operational procedures. The cost of an EMP is an investment in the protection of a company’s brand reputation and the health of consumers.

Log10 is an ISO 17025 accredited testing facility that provides reliable and timely EMP data to facilities making the establishment of an early warning system for microbial hazards, the taking of remedial action and the resulting reduction of foodborne contamination highly attainable for every food production facility. To learn more, contact us today.

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