Mild Winter Could Lead to Elevated Pathogen Risk

Several of our team members recently attended the Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCo) in Houston, TX. Many of the presentations revolved around different intervention strategies for eliminating E. coli throughout the value chain. The first presentation of the conference gave a detailed look at the evolution of microbiological testing and the incredible progress the beef industry has made in lowering E. coli counts. For example, from 2000 to 2014, there was a 93% reduction in E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef! 

During BIFSCo, multiple speakers issued a warning to the attendees: because of the mild winter in the US, there could be an elevated pathogen risk this summer. Just as a prolonged freeze tends to reduce the number of mosquitoes and other bugs that will resurface in the spring, a cold winter can reduce levels of foodborne pathogens by slowing their reproduction or killing them when ice crystals rupture their membranes. Since there weren't as many freeze cycles this winter, it means that pathogens were able to keep reproducing at near-normal rates. This could pose a problem for all food processors including meat and poultry. 

How can you and your plant prepare? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make your team aware of the potential increased risk due to a mild winter
  2. Monitor incoming pathogen level trends, especially in relation to last year's numbers. If they begin trending higher, concentrations may need to be increased.
  3. Continue to emphasize process control: ensure all interventions are running, dip tanks are full, spray bars aren't clogged, cross-contamination is minimized, etc
  4. Use the Safe Foods MARC software to see what your concentrations were set at last summer. Did those concentrations result in minimal positives? If so, move concentrations back to those levels. If not, increase concentrations at key intervention points. (NOTE: Keep in mind that the new nBPW neutralizer wasn't widely used by until late last summer, so concentrations that were effective last summer may need to be raised)

By taking a proactive approach to the potential for higher pathogen prevalence this summer, you and your team can reduce the risk of pathogen positives, recalls, and other food safety issues.