Industry can use outbreak reports to decide on food safety programs



Editor’s Note: This column was originally published by Cultivate products. To subscribe, visit

“What do you think was different this season? While not the first question to ask in the event of a product recall or involvement in a foodborne illness outbreak, this question generally ranks in the top five. In my experience, invariably something, or more, was different over the course of a season when an incident occurs.

It is not always possible to identify the specific root cause and contributing or aggravating factors. However, the effort of recalling information and practices, reviewing documents, interviewing staff, and uncovering investigations always yields benefits. More often than not, the benefits of an internal review of food safety incidents translate into real monetary gains in terms of efficiency, product quality and improvements in the food safety system.


An important part of this discovery process, for the individual business but also for the product or category, is a deep dive into official and public investigation reports provided by federal and state regulatory agencies. These investigation reports always contain important information, whether the industry still agrees or can unequivocally contradict specific details with the data and records.

A good example is the 2020 FDA Investigation Report: Factors potentially contributing to the contamination of peaches involved in the outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis in the summer of 2020. This brief column is not the place to review the main findings, in relation to the broader issues and concerns of stone fruit growers and shippers, but these findings raise a broad and important context for actions that need to be taken. be taken and those that should be taken.

At the top of the list is the discovery of different Salmonella associated with peach and environmental samples. The fact that the epidemic defining (cause of diseases) Salmonella Enteritidis was not recovered is not that unusual. In fact, it is also not several Salmonella were recovered during the environmental investigation effort. As with any culture, strains of Salmonella will be present and found in an open environment if you look closely enough.

Fruit trees are no exception. Various known factors influence the prevalence and probability of transfer to fruit and survival. Clearly, the FDA and partner states in California have identified hazards and risk factors of concern in some of the orchards involved.

The California stone fruit industry evaluated this information and held several forums to discuss the implications, prioritize research needs, and assess immediate actions and options for orchards and packaging operations.

That brings us straight back to “What did you think was different this season?” For now, let’s set aside understandable concerns and widely communicated precautionary statements by the FDA regarding adjacent land uses and animal feed operations associated with several recent outbreaks. The situation described in the report is not recent or widespread in California fruit districts, but it is also not unique or isolated for a specific business. If proximity to animal feed operations was, in fact, the root cause, the question plaguing the brain is “What tipped the balance of risk exposure in 2020?” The follow-up question was how to prevent or significantly reduce the vulnerability of a perennial crop to these land use interfaces.


Given the high degree of risk uncertainty from year to year, the main opportunity has focused on optimizing the post-harvest management phase. If I had to choose a top priority for risk reduction in peaches and other stone fruits, I would choose this aspect for the concentration of industry efforts and resources. Having addressed this animal proximity issue: stone fruit decades ago, the most immediate positive actions will be to dramatically improve the physical elimination and lethality of brush bed spray operations.

So what is the point of this column? For many years, the fruit and vegetable industry in general has been encouraged to focus on performance criteria for washing lines on preventing cross-contamination rather than on maximizing reductions on product surfaces. This is sensitive for many products but seems less applicable to several fruit trees, notably peaches, nectarines and plums / pluots.

This renewed work is in its early stages, but a cardinal rule of the experimental design of validation and verification studies to achieve this goal is that performance should not be based on the average degree of elimination and lethality of the fruit. contaminated.

The range of reduction across a population of individual fruits is the essential performance comparator. Recent preliminary studies reinforce past experiences that the range of reductions from experimentally tested and also inoculated fruits can be very wide. Together with George Nikolich, a longtime stone fruit and industry colleague, and with the support of the California industry, we hope to be able to share some promising optimization results soon.

About the Author: Trevor Suslow is a Distinguished Extension Research Faculty member at the University of California-Davis and continues to interact with trade associations and consult with the product supply chain on safety and quality issues. His career has focused on the quality and safety of whole and fresh cut produce, from planting to post-harvest management.


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