Issue #41 2022-06-06
Celebrating food safety week, how Salmonella gets into peanut butter, horsemeat fraud and approved supplier programs
Welcome to The Rotten Apple, an inside view of food integrity for professionals, policy-makers and purveyors. Subscribe for weekly insights, latest news and emerging trends in food safety, food authenticity and sustainable supply chains.
Salmonella in peanut butter (how does it get in?)
What is an approved supplier program and why do you need one?
Horsemeat fraud again - you’ve got to be kidding me!
Celebrate food safety day with the FAO
Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates from the past week
On the go? An audio version is available to paying subscribers, at the bottom of this email 🎧
Welcome to The Rotten Apple, and Happy FOOD SAFETY WEEK!
From me: a massive thank you to everyone who signed up for a paid subscription last week. Your subscriptions really make a difference to me and my ability to deliver helpful, interesting content every week.
This week is food safety week (yay!), but I feel like we’re stuck in a global food safety rut (boo!), making the same mistakes over and over. Just days after I wrote about how the Peanut Company of America sickened and killed people with their filthy peanut handling in Issue #40, another Salmonella peanut outbreak hit the news. Again? Really!
And, horsemeat fraud is still being uncovered in Europe – will we ever learn?
With so much fraud happening, and with so much uncertainty in food supply chains at the moment, approved supplier programs have never been more important. Read on to find out what they are and why they are important, even for small companies.
Also this week, you’ll find links to events for food safety week. Tomorrow I’m delivering a presentation for a group of retail professionals in Europe, where I hope to inspire my audience with the importance of food safety – because we all eat and we all deserve safe food.
P.S. What better way to celebrate food safety week than by supporting me with a paid subscription?! You can sign up for just one month, or for a whole year and it’s tax-man friendly if you’re a food professional.
Cover image: Tetiana Bykovets on Unsplash
Salmonella in peanut butter
When we get food poisoning we often blame the most recent meal “oh, I knew I shouldn’t have had the fish last night”. But we rarely blame a meal we ate 5 or 6 days ago for our illness. And we rarely imagine a non-perishable, low-moisture food like peanut butter could make us sick.
Think again. Salmonella can take up to 6 days to cause symptoms, so a meal we ate almost one week ago can be the source of food poisoning.
Also, we learned with the Kinder chocolates recall earlier this year, Salmonella can survive in non-perishable, low-moisture foods and make us sick when we eat them.
Last week the USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a multi-state recall of peanut butter in America, with 16 people sick and 2 in hospital.
How does Salmonella get into peanut butter?
Salmonella is a “ubiquitous” type of bacteria, meaning it is commonly present in natural environments. It can be found in all domestic animals and many wild animals. Humans also carry Salmonella.
Have you heard of “typhoid Mary”? She was a Salmonella host, an asymptomatic carrier of Salmonella typhi. Hosts are so-called because they have the bacteria in their guts and “shed” it in their faeces. Mary worked as a cook in America in the late 1800s and, I assume, wasn’t great at washing her hands after using the toilet. She managed to kill between 3 and 50 people by contaminating their food with Salmonella.
Meat and poultry get contaminated with Salmonella from animal faeces during the slaughtering process, which means that raw meats often have Salmonellae on their surfaces. If a kitchen isn’t properly cleaned, the Salmonellae that may have come into the kitchen on raw meats or veg can be incorporated into biofilms. So a kitchen with grungy, slimy biofilms in its corners will most probably contain Salmonellae bacteria.
Obviously then, hand-washing and kitchen hygiene are very important for preventing Salmonella outbreaks.
In peanut processing, it’s sort of the same situation. The outsides of raw peanuts in the shell will carry Salmonella due to contact with soil.
The peanuts are shelled, roasted and ground up to make peanut butter and then deposited in jars. The roasting process kills Salmonella.
After roasting, there are no other Salmonella “kill” steps in an ordinary peanut butter making process. It’s therefore super important for manufacturers to keep the roasted and ground peanuts well protected from anything that is not incredibly clean and hygienic.
This means no contact with human hands; animals; dust; dirt; raw peanuts; dirty equipment (where biofilms could lurk); nor any exposure to water that could have come into contact with dirty areas, and would therefore potentially contain Salmonella.
If, for example, there was bird faeces on the roof of a facility and water leaked in from the roof and dripped onto a conveyor belt that was used for roasted peanuts, then you’d get Salmonella in the peanut butter.
The Peanut Company of America factories that caused massive peanut product outbreaks in 2009 (see Issue #40) had birds and mice in and around them. Yick.
How much Salmonella would make you sick?
To make you sick, Salmonella needs to get into your small intestine, where it can attach itself and grow and cause damage to your insides.
In most foods, which contain plenty of water - foods like soups, stews and salads - quite a lot of Samonella needs to be present to make people sick, more than 1000 cells per gram of food. We think that’s because the acid in your stomach is effective at killing Salmonella.
To get levels of Salmonella high enough that a few will survive the stomach acid, you have to really abuse food (yes, food safety people really do call it “abuse”!). For example, unwashed hands might add just a few cells of Salmonella bacteria to a salad, which wouldn’t be enough to make someone sick. To reach levels of 1000 cells per gram, the salad would need to be also left out of the fridge for more than four hours, which would allow the Salmonella to multiply to dangerous levels.
In low-moisture, high-fat foods like chocolate and peanut butter, it’s a different story. Researchers think that just 10 cells per gram might be enough to make people sick.
This might be a measurement problem because it’s kind of hard to get bacteria out of fatty foods to measure them. And they might be clustered in little clumps inside the food. But it’s more likely that the fat in the food protects the Salmonella from stomach acid.
If this theory is correct, Salmonellae get a free ride through the acidic stomach inside fat globules. Once past the stomach, and in the small intestine, bile breaks the fat down, releasing the bacteria where they go to work inside your guts, making a great big mess. Ouch.
How long does Salmonella survive in peanut butter?
Salmonella doesn’t grow in peanut butter, there is not enough water for it to reproduce. But it can persist for up to 6 months, especially if the peanut butter is kept in the fridge. So if it got into the peanut butter during manufacture, it will probably be there at the end of the product’s shelf life.
In short: 🍏 Salmonella bacteria are ‘ubiquitous’ in animals and unclean environments 🍏 Salmonellae can get into peanut butter during the manufacturing process if the manufacturing environment is not hygienic 🍏 Once in peanut butter, Salmonella does not grow, but even a small number of bacterial cells can make people sick 🍏 Salmonella can persist in peanut butter for 6 months 🍏
Food Supply Chains
What is an approved supplier program and why do you need one?
An approved supplier program is what all world-class food manufacturers use to ensure that the ingredients, packaging materials and services they buy are safe and suitable. It is a set of policies, procedures and records, usually encompassing risk assessments, that are used to select and monitor suppliers.
Even small food companies should have approved supplier programs to protect the quality and safety of their products. A well-designed program helps you define the attributes that are important when selecting foods and raw materials. Having the right attributes protects you from food safety problems, and quality issues and can assist with protecting your business from food fraud too.
Next week: How to create a top-notch approved supplier program in 3 steps
Horse meat fraud again – you’re kidding, right?
Horse meat disguised as beef, it’s the food fraud that keeps on giving. You would think that after the entire global food supply chain was tarnished by “horsegate” in 2013, we should have seen the last of horsemeat fraud. Nope. ☹
Horsemeat fraud is still happening. And, - can you believe it?! – the same people might still be involved.
Just last month, one of the men prosecuted for his role in the big European horsemeat scandal of 2013 was in court in Spain for doing it again, allegedly, in 2016 and 2017 (See “Background Checks” in Issue 36).
Yes, fraudsters are still trading horses illegally and selling them into the human food supply chain. Horse meat is legitimate, legal human food in some countries, of course. So the frauds are not always about switching horse meat for beef, but are often about switching the identity of horses. That is, horses that are not deemed safe for human food are given new horse passports (yes, horse passports are a thing) so that the horses can be slaughtered in approved abattoirs for use as human food.
Last week, six people were arrested in Belgium for their roles in the trading of horses and other animals for human food. It is alleged they were declaring false provenance and tampering with the microchips and passports of horses. It’s alleged the criminals are part of an international network that operates across some parts of Europe including Spain.
Food Safety Week
Tomorrow is World Food Safety Day!
Celebrate World Food Safety Day by attending a Zoom event with the Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“Join WHO and FAO in a panel discussion Safer food, better health and explore how different players ensure the sustainable production and consumption of safe foods in different settings in order to improve health outcomes. Interpretation will be available in 6 WHO languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, English, Russian and Spanish).”
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also hosting other talks throughout the week, which address trade, governments’ roles in food safety, nutrition and consumer behaviour.
Register for the WHO health talks here: https://foodsafety.whohealthtalks.org/
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud incident reports, horizon scanning updates, plus an awesome audio version (so you can give your eyeballs a rest!) … Check out an example to see how the email looks (and sounds) for paying subscribers here.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial