What is Environmental Monitoring For Food?

What is Environmental Monitoring For Food?

A substantial number of foodborne illness outbreaks result from poor hygiene practices.

Where does the illness come from?

Microorganisms can survive in food processing and handling environments. They are generally introduced into the food environment through raw materials, pests, air, water, and employees. Usually, the routine applications of good sanitation practices are able to control these microorganisms inside the food processing and handling environments. However, if contamination levels are high or sanitation procedures are inadequate, microorganisms may establish and can contaminate food products leading to foodborne illness outbreak. Various pathogenic microorganisms such as E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella spp. have well-established histories of being potential contaminants in food-handling environments.

How can we prevent illness from food?

Monitor Food Environments

It is critical to monitor the hygienic environment in the food manufacturing facility for the production of high quality and safe food products. An environmental monitoring program (EMP) will assess the effectiveness of the overall hygienic practices in a facility and provide necessary information to prevent possible microbial contamination of food products. Keep in mind that EMP does not make food safe. Rather, it provides valuable data (source and concentration) on indicator organisms, spoilage organisms, and pathogens of concern in a timely manner.

Implement Hazard Control Programs

In recent years, it has become increasingly critical for food industries to implement effective hazard control programs, as both USDA and FDA have become far more aggressive in implementing risk-based preventive control procedures, even before FSMA is fully implemented. A properly established environmental monitoring program will act as an early warning system for potential microbial hazards in a food manufacturing plant and confirm that sanitary designs, personnel practices, and operational methods already in place are, in fact, effective. Apart from the food contact surfaces and nonfood contact surfaces, the air, water, and even plant employees also can act as potential sources of contamination. Periodic air, water, and plant employee hand swab samples should be monitored for indicators as well as pathogens.

Appropriate Corrective Actions

If you find a high level of microorganisms, then appropriate corrective actions (including employee hygienic training) should be implemented to avoid product contamination. Although FSMA’s proposed preventive controls rule did not include requirements for environmental monitoring or finished product testing, it is understood that the food manufacturer needs to develop and implement an effective EMP that is capable of detecting signs of microbial contaminants as early as possible and initiate appropriate corrective actions, thus eliminating or reducing the potential microbial hazard and assuring safety of the product.

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