Communicating at Retail
Clarity in on-package communication
is also important. First, Earthbound
changed its expiration date language to
the imperative “Use By” from the less
emphatic “Best if Used By” to clearly articulate the product is expected to be
good only through that date. The issue
at hand is that pathogens do not cause
spoilage, so it’s important to mind the
expiration date. Further, all products are
also clearly marked with a manufacturing code and a time stamp. The manufacturing code communicates the day
the product was made, the facility in
which it was made, the line, the shift and, with the time stamp, the minute in
which it was manufactured. All of this information is available on our website,
which walks the consumer through each part of the alphanumeric code. Earthbound also spends a lot of time with retailers to make sure there is a partnership
in protection that leads to the safest product available on the store shelf.
Samples are also taken from packaged
goods and tested to ensure that contamination has not happened during processing.
raw product testing, any lots that test
positive are destroyed.
The Next-Generation Sanitizer…and More!
Another opportunity to enhance food safety is in the wash system sanitizers.
Today, the industry relies heavily on chlorine because of its efficacy and low cost.
When the fresh-cut systems were developed 30 years (or so) ago, the sanitizer was
intended to control the water and prevent it from becoming an inoculant. But
chlorine is not very friendly to the environment and Earthbound has been looking for alternatives since early 2000. After 2006, the environmental considerations
were still important, but secondary to pursuing a sanitizer that had the potential
to achieve increased log reduction on the leaf surface. The ideal would be something that achieves close to a 5-log reduction of bacteria on the leaf surface,
which is the definition of the kill step in other systems. If 5 logs could be
achieved, the risk of consumer illness is significantly reduced.
With this in mind, we partnered with the Institute for Food Safety and Health
(IFSH). This is an institute jointly operated by the Illinois Institute of Technology
and the FDA. One of the primary goals of IFSH is to partner technology with industry in an effort to improve food safety. Earthbound commissioned IFSH to
perform a sanitizer study looking at a new generation of sanitizers mainly derived
from citrus and other natural compounds. These were known to be more environmentally friendly and claims were circulating that they might work better than
other sanitizers on the market at the time.
The real excitement came at the opportunity to take the results of the sanitizer
study and apply a technology called high-power ultrasound (HPU) to it for even
greater results. This technology creates tiny bubbles on the surface of the leaves
(cavitation) and as these bubbles pop, they release a burst of energy at the micro
level that detaches bacteria from the surface of the leaf. Once detached, bacteria
are more susceptible to sanitizer exposure and are destroyed, leading to the additional log reduction.
Testing in a Real-Life Setting. Another benefit that IFSH brings to the table is
its Bio-Safety Level 3 (BL3) pilot plant.
Being a BL3 facility, the IFSH pilot
plant can use actual pathogens in a
real industrial setting. This is not
benchtop work with surrogate organ-
isms. Earthbound donated a wash
flume and IFSH can inoculate real
pathogens onto the surface of leafy
greens and then prove or disprove the-
On-Farm Risk Assessments
Earthbound has also recently had
the oppotunity help create a food
safety tool that is accessible to all. A
few years back, FamilyFarmed.org
asked me to review the food safety section of its manual designed to help
small to midsize farmers market their
products. The section was well written,
but it needed something that could
walk a grower through a series of questions to help create a risk assessment
of their farm, along with a site-specific
food safety plan that could help the
farmer pass an inspection or audit.
This discussion turned into a project. Jim Slama, executive director with
FamilyFarmed.org, agreed to fund
such a project if I agreed to chair the
technical committee. The result was a
free web tool available to anyone who
needed to create a site-specific food
safety plan: www.onfarmfoodsafety.org.
In December 2011, USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merri-