In a recent sampling of cantaloupe packing houses, FDA testing results found that while Listeria was present, there was little risk in the facilities. Of 17 facilities, 8 had Listeria species present and only one had Listeria monocytogenes, (but probably not food contact). The FDA found some problems:
- food contact surfaces that were not cleanable, often due to construction with damaged, corroded, or porous materials;
- build-up of debris, dirt and damaged plant material on equipment;
- hand washing facilities in inappropriate locations; and
- drain valves left open during work hours allowing water drained from a dump tank to pool outside adjacent to a partially-enclosed packinghouse.
But these would be typical issues seen in packing houses. The concern of course, relates back to the 2011 Listeria outbreak associated with cantaloupes. In that case, unsanitary equipment lead to a buildup of Listeria in the wash water which subsequently contaminated the surface of the cantaloupes.
Facilities have been taking corrective action, but clearly, more work is needed. And with Listeria, continual vigilance is needed in order to control. One never completely rids a facility of the presence, rather it is kept in check.
FDA reports on cantaloupe safety inspections
By Coral Beach August 06, 2015 | 2:04 pm EDT
After inspecting 17 operations, federal officials report that fresh cantaloupe packinghouses are generally following good agriculture practices even though tests at nine of the companies showed listeria contamination.
The inspections by the Food and Drug Administration were part of the agency’s follow-up efforts after a 2011 cantaloupe-related listeria monocytogenes outbreak that sickened more than 150 nationwide and killed more than 30.
“FDA’s 2013 cantaloupe packinghouse (investigation) was intended to further inform FDA of current cantaloupe packinghouse operating practices and conditions and provide data on the expected prevalence of listeria monocytogenes in and on cantaloupes and within packinghouses’ food and non-food contact surfaces during packing, handling and storage,” according to a July 27 report from consumer safety officer Michael Mahovic, who works with the agency’s division of produce safety.
For the review, FDA only inspected “firms that pack fresh cantaloupe in a packinghouse,” according to the report. “Processing facilities, growing fields, cantaloupe that are ‘field-packed’ and firms that do not handle cantaloupe were considered out of scope.”
Initially, FDA identified 50 firms in 18 states for review, but some of those companies were no longer in business and others turned out to be distributors, not packers. The remaining 17 firms that met the review criteria received notice 24 hours before inspectors arrived.
The agency collected environmental and product samples before and after packing and used a standardized questionnaire tailored for cantaloupe packinghouses to collect information and observations about each firm, according to the report.
All 17 firms had food safety plans and all reported they were aware of the 2011 listeria outbreak and that they “took some action to evaluate or bolster their own operations, from re-evaluating their own food safety plans, to completely refitting their buildings,” according to the report.
Eight firms did not have any positive listeria test results. One had pathogenic listeria present and the other eight tested positive for non-pathogenic listeria.
“Such findings do, however, suggest the potential for (pathogenic) listeria monocytogenes to be present,” according to the report.
Specific problems FDA inspectors found at the companies, according to the report, included:
food contact surfaces that were not cleanable, often due to construction with damaged, corroded, or porous materials;
build-up of debris, dirt and damaged plant material on equipment;
hand washing facilities in inappropriate locations; and
drain valves left open during work hours allowing water drained from a dump tank to pool outside adjacent to a partially-enclosed packinghouse.
In cases where these observations were made, all firms submitted corrective action plans, according to the report.