Seek and Destroy! Who would have thought that Metallica’s 1982 song could be a food safety professional’s anthem?
We’re scanning the scene in the city tonight
We’re looking for you to start up a fight 
Environmental Monitoring Programs (EMPs) are nothing new to the food industry. Yet, drivers like the FDA’s Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-to-Eat Foods Draft Guidance  or voluntary programs through the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) auditing programs have raised the bar in how to administer an EMP.
Gone are the days of repeatedly testing the same 50-100 sites in your facility and getting negatives. There is now an expectation to look for diligently (seek) and eliminate (destroy) pathogens in the food handling and processing environment.
What does this raised expectation mean for the average food plant? At a minimum, it means a thorough review and revision of their existing EMP, potentially increasing the number of samples at more test sites.
Many plants use Excel to assist them in scheduling and tracking test sites. While an excel sheet is manageable if there aren’t too many sample sites, what if this number increases to over 500? Over 1000? Tracking through these means may not be feasible in the long term.
Companies are rapidly relying on online programs and tools to automate the scheduling, tracking, and remediation steps of their environmental programs. These tools also assist in visualizing the plant floorplan with digital maps and an overlay of the test points and may help reduce the amount of administrative time spent on program management.
However, increased testing and “seeking” will likely cause an increase in positives
There is no escape and that’s for sure
This is the end, we won't take any more
Say goodbye to the world you live in…
The seeking is working, but destroying is an entirely different matter. The corrective actions taken in response to a positive will vary based on the root cause of the positive. Typically, a single positive is treated via additional cleaning and sanitizing and then retesting three times to obtain negatives.
But how did that pathogen get there? What if an adjacent test site tests positive later? Are they the same? Are they different?
Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) is a relatively new technology that is rapidly emerging as a valuable tool in the investigation of EMP positives. The DNA sequence of the pathogen(s) can help identify whether that organism is “walking” from one site to another, continuing to show up in the same spot or spreading to different locations. The corrective actions taken are different for each of these scenarios and can help focus in on destroying a potential “resident” organism. Without knowing whether they are the same or different, the corrective action might not be the correct one.
Online programs or WGS won’t guarantee a pathogen-free environment, but they can have a profound impact on the effectiveness of an EMP. And can help any food company as they are…
Seek and destroy