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Hygiena- Salmonella - An environmental pathogen

Published 24 July 2017 | By Hygiena International

Implementing an environment monitoring program for Salmonella, is a vital preventative measure to ensure food safety.

This genus of >2500 Gram negative bacteria is generally transmitted to humans via consumption of contaminated food such as meat, poultry, eggs and milk but also from plants and seeds. Person-to-person transmission can also occur via the faecal-oral route. Many types of rodents, birds, amphibians and insects are known to be carriers of Salmonella, and are indirect hazards. In most instances, environmental cross contamination is the cause of outbreak. It's believed that salmonellosis is responsible for 1.2 million illnesses in the US each year, including 19,000 hospitalisations and 380 deaths. It is also widely accepted that the incidence of food poisoning is unreported by 60-80%.

hygiena swab

Symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain and vomiting usually occur within 12-72 hours and can be debilitating and prolonged. In healthy people the illness is mild with a mortality rate of <1%, however for the very young and old, and immuno-compromised patients the risk of death is 70 times greater.

Salmonella is a ubiquitous and hardy bacterium that can survive for weeks in a dry environment and months in wet conditions. Recommendations for preventing spread are simple; wash hands, cook food thoroughly and wash/peel fruits and vegetables (particularly if being eaten raw). Cross contamination between cooked and uncooked foods should be avoided and food preparation surfaces must be clean.

Finished product testing alone is insufficient to guarantee the absence of Salmonella from foods. All food processors should have a specific environmental sampling plan to monitor for Salmonella to verify sanitation is effective and minimise the risk of cross contamination. A simple way to achieve this is through the use of a rapid, convenient and affordable screening test kit, such as the Hygiena's InSite Salmonella colorimetric test. The importance of environmental monitoring in controlling Salmonella is illustrated by some high profile outbreaks e.g.

  • In 2008/9, peanut better in USA affected 714 people with 9 deaths being the direct consequence of poor factory hygiene.
  • In 2006, a Salmonella outbreak in Cadbury chocolate cost the company £20m. It was later found the company had switched from a 'zero tolerance' approach to assuming there could be 'safe' levels of salmonella in chocolate. It reverted after the incident.
  • In 1984, a Salmonella outbreak from British Airways meals affected nearly 1,000 passengers and staff, and two people died. The source was most likely an aspic glaze contaminated by a chef who had (unreported) diarrhoea.
  • A recall of Farley's infant milk in 1985 cost the company £8M and Farley's went into liquidation.

The benefit of environmental monitoring is to identify a problem early and to fix it.

Environmental sampling of direct food contact surfaces and also indirect equipment and facilities offers more relevant information about the risk to the product and enables earlier corrective action.

With cost-effective, simple-to-use environmental screening tests available, food processors and handlers of all sizes are now well placed to perform their own onsite environmental monitoring programme.

Prevention is better than cure!

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