Food contamination can take a toll on the food industry internationally. Food borne illnesses, such as listeria outbreaks, can pose serious health risks for consumers and can frequently lead to a recall crisis for food manufacturers. The latest listeria hysteria to hit the headlines is Greenyard Frozen UK recalling its frozen vegetables from all the major grocery retailers. Production is on hold at the Hungarian plant of the company with it being linked to a deadly outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes from frozen vegetables in five European countries. The listeria issues have been steadily increasing since mid-January of this year, as reported by HorizonScan, Fera's online food safety system with over 45 alerts of listeria reported in just the last 10 days. The outbreak has infected at least 47 and killed nine people in Finland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Austria. The suspected food source was initially believed to be just frozen corn but has now been expanded to include other frozen vegetables. As a result, it’s critical that food manufacturers have plans in place to mitigate these issues if, and when they occur.
The latest numbers
Eighteen of the cases have been reported this year, with the most recent person becoming sick in May. The outbreak is believed to have begun in 2015.
It is anticipated that new cases could still emerge due to the long incubation period of listeriosis (up to 70 days) and with the long shelf life of these frozen products. Food recalls in recent months have made consumers wary about certain food products and regulators are constantly looking to respond with newer, stricter laws to improve safety. With such serious health risks involved in foodborne illnesses, manufacturers cannot tread lightly when it comes to recall-related risks. Companies with proactive recall strategies can navigate their supply chains with ease if contamination issues arise and respond quickly and effectively to ensure consumer safety. Food safety is a key driver of consumer behaviour.
Fera’s service OriGen takes samples from across the product supply and processing chain to establish the exact source of contamination using Whole Genome Sequencing and can be accurate enough to pinpoint a single machine as the root cause.
Fera’s Dr Ed Haynes comments “Our OriGen service uses Whole Genome Sequencing to link bacteria from around the supply chain, pinpointing connections and giving food manufacturers the best possible chance of stopping future contamination from the same source. This can help reduce the risks of expensive recalls and reputational damage and protect public health.”