Hong Kong food safety watchdog tightens checks on imported products after criticism
Source : https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2181021/hong-kong-food-safety-watchdog-tightens-checks
By Sum Lok-kei (Jan 7, 2019)
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department faces Legco hearing after auditor accused it of failing to ensure product safety
Hong Kong’s food watchdog said on Monday it had tightened checks on food entering the city via air, land and sea after a government auditor’s report accused it of failing to ensure product safety.
New guidelines have been issued to health officials at the airport to ensure they only allow food to be imported with proper documents, said Vivian Lau Lee-kwan, director of food and environmental hygiene.
“Staff at the airport office were instructed to check the original copies of health certificates and relevant documents, and sample the food with a risk-based approach,” Lau told a public hearing at the Legislative Council on Monday.
Last November, the Audit Commission issued a review report on the Centre for Food Safety, which is under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. The report said the centre issued import licences for food products despite 94 per cent of them not coming with the required documents, such as health certificates.
Lau said importers were allowed to get import licences without the documents, as it was difficult to get the documents in time.
“Most of the food imported by air is fresh,” Lau said.
“The time from shipping to arriving in Hong Kong is very short. The relevant documents, such as health certificates, might have to be shipped with the products.”
Health certificates are issued by authorities in the food’s country of origin, to certify it is fit for consumption.
Lau said department workers had been reminded to issue import licences after checking copies of health certificates, when possible.
On controlling imports from marine routes, the auditor noted there were only 1.5 inspections per month between October 2015 and June 2018 at Kwai Chung Customhouse.
Lau explained there were so few inspections because there were not enough refrigerated facilities to store food for examination.
Authorities would study how to better equip the customhouse for more inspections, she said.
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Steven Ho Chun-yin, who represents the agriculture and fisheries sector, questioned if the system of issuing import licences was outdated.
Ho said health certificates were often issued at airports, as food was being shipped to Hong Kong. It was therefore not possible for them to arrive before the food, he said.
Instead of using hard copies, Ho said, authorities should consider using electronic health certificates, which are used in other countries.
“Unless authorities in the country of origin cannot offer the service, it should be possible,” Ho said.
The public hearing was set to continue on Friday.
Report Details Most Common Violations at FDA-regulated Food Facilities
Source : https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/news/report-details-most-common-violations-at-fda-regulated-food-facilities/
By Food Safety News (Jan 4, 2019)
Report Details Most Common Violations at FDA-regulated Food Facilities
Source: Food Safety News
Food standard violations at 874 facilities around the country in FY 2018 fell into one of five categories, according to a company that helps other businesses with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance. Registrar Corp. says the latest round of “Inspection Observation Data” from FDA shows a variety of food safety issues.
But first, Registrar had to separate the wheat from the chaff by sifting out information about food from other FDA-regulated categories that include biologics, drugs, devices, human tissue for transplantation, veterinary medicine, and others.
All this data on aggravating violations documented in FDA inspections from October 2017 through September 2018 was recently released on spreadsheets. They track inspection and enforcement activity by FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA). According to FDA, investigators from the ORA can, during an inspection, observe conditions they deem to be objectionable. These observations, are listed on an “FDA Form 483” when, in an investigator’s judgment, the observed conditions or practices indicate that an FDA-regulated product may be in violation of FDA’s requirements.
Top Five Food Facility Violations
From the spreadsheet data, Register Corp. has found the top five food facility violations during the federal fiscal year 2018:
Sanitation Monitoring – FDA cited 188 of the 874 food facilities, which is 21.5 percent, for not properly monitoring sanitation conditions and practices with sufficient frequency. Facilities are required to monitor aspects such as the safety of the water coming into contact with food or food contact surfaces, prevention of cross-contamination and maintenance of hygiene facilities.
Pest Control – FDA cited 183 food facilities, which is 20.9, for not correctly excluding pests from potentially contaminating food.
Manufacturing, Processing, Packing, and Holding Controls – FDA cited 175 establishments, which is 20 percent, for not implementing proper controls to mitigate the risks of food hazards, such as growth or microorganisms, allergen cross-contact and contamination of food.
Sanitary Operations and Plant-Maintenance – FDA cited 167 facilities, which is 19 percent, for either not maintaining cleanliness of their facility or failing to keep them in good repair.
Personnel – And FDA issued citations to 161 food facilities, which is 18 percent, for failing to take reasonable measures and precautions related to staff. Employees working in direct contact with food who fail to adhere to hygiene cleanliness requirements are included in this category.
Spreadsheets summarizing the areas of regulation mentioned on FDA’s system-generated 483s are available by fiscal year on the menu links on the agency’s website.
FDA says the spreadsheets are not a comprehensive listing of all inspectional observations, but they do represent the area of regulation and the number of times it was cited as an observation on an FDA Form 483 during inspections conducted by FDA and its representatives. Inspectional observations reflect data pulled from FDA’s electronic inspection tools. These tools are used to generate an FDA Form 483 when necessary. Not all FDA Form 483s are made by these tools, as some 483s are manually prepared. Observations have been broken out by Product or Program Area on separate tabs of the spreadsheet.
A Registrar Corp. spokesman said the 2018 inspection results show the FDA is also “actively enforcing” the Food Safety Modernization Act’s rules for the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) and Preventive Controls. “With the compliance deadlines for both rules having passed, it’s prudent for industry to ensure they are fully compliant,” he said. “In most cases, FDA will not give a U.S. facility notice before showing up for a routine inspection, during which the Agency will likely inspect for FSMA compliance.”
Most food importers have been required to develop FSVP’s since March 19, 2018.
“While no individual violation of the FDA Preventive Controls rules made it to the top of the list, violations of Preventive Controls requirements in FY 2018 total 396 when combined,” according to the Registrar spokesman.
Preventive control issues included not having a Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) Plan; not identifying a hazard that requires a preventive control in a HARPC Plan; not utilizing a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) to prepare or oversee a HARPC Plan; not implementing adequate procedures for monitoring sanitation or allergen controls, and more.
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Crucial federal food safety inspections, recalls, investigations continue despite partial shutdown of government
Source : https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/01/crucial-federal-food-safety-inspections-recalls-investigations-continue-despite-partial-shutdown-of-government/
By Dan Flynn (Jan 3, 2019)
Here’s the situation regarding food safety on Day 13 of the partial government shutdown: As yet, there are no worries.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are operating because their budgets went through the regular appropriations process. Also, there are the about 2,700 state and local health departments that do the frontline surveillance for foodborne diseases that are reported to the CDC. Those departments operate on state and local tax dollars.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration are partially shutdown, but their food safety work is deemed essential under the protocols that are followed when budget authority is lost.
Since the partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22, USDA meat and poultry inspectors were on duty as usual at the more than 6,000 private establishments that fall under FSIS regulations. Food regulated by both FDA and FSIS has been recalled during the past 13 days. And imported food is being checked in U.S. borders.
Today, the partial shutdown becomes the fourth longest in U.S. history, besting the 1977 and 1979 closures during President Jimmy Carter’s term. The longest closure came in 1995-96 during President Bill Clinton’s first term, lasting 21 days.
Today will see Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, officially replace Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, as Speaker of the House and the first maneuvers by the new Democratic House majority to impact the shutdown. With their next payday for the Dec. 23 to Jan. 5 pay period coming up on Jan. 11, federal employees are beginning to pressure their lawmakers to end the shutdown. Speaker Pelosi may wish to take some of that pressure off by addressing the partial shutdown with some partial openings, namely by funding the departments of treasury, state, and justice.
As it stands now, about 420,000 federal government employees — including active duty military, TSA, air traffic controllers, Border Patrol, food safety personnel and others — are working without a guarantee on when they will be paid. Another 380,000 are furloughed.
The partial shutdown is the result of President Donald J. Trump’s demand that Congress provide $5 billion for barriers on the U.S.-Mexican border that he says will help control illegal immigration, human trafficking, drugs, and other illegal activity. Border security funding of $1.3 billion is included in the proposed Homeland Security Department budget. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have said they’d go along with the $1.3 billion, but no more.
In comments from the White House carried on C-Span2 on yesterday, Trump said the Democratic leaders are putting politics ahead of national security. “I am thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said.
Also yesterday, after congressional leaders from both parties visited the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said no progress was made on the budget negotiations.
Food Safety and Packaging: How to Keep Up With Consumer Concerns
Source : https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/signature-series/food-safety-and-packaging-how-to-keep-up-with-consumer-concerns/
By Katja Tuomola (Jan 3, 2019)
Food Safety and Packaging: How to Keep Up With Consumer Concerns
The main function of packaging is to protect its contents. This may sound simple, but what does it really mean? Packaging has to look good with an appealing design for the consumer to make a purchasing decision. It also needs to be designed for proper converting and printing. But when it comes to food packaging, safety has to come first—meaning no harmful chemical, smell, or taste should transfer from packaging materials to the food.
Consumers worldwide are increasingly well-informed of the content of food and the amounts of chemicals they are exposed to. As more research data becomes available, there is steadily growing awareness and understanding of issues such as the chemicals contained in recycled fiber and its possible effect on humans.
Recycled fiber—particularly from materials collected from consumers—contains residues of printing ink, adhesives, lacquers, and other chemicals that should not come into direct contact with food and are known to be harmful to human health. One example of a potentially harmful chemical group in recycled pulp is the fluorinated substances used as grease barriers in paper packaging. Several fluorinated compounds are suspected of being carcinogenic, harmful to the immune system, and endocrine disrupters. Another rising cause for concern in recent years has been mineral oils, as harmful components of these have been found in foods that were packaged in materials made from recycled fiber.
When looking at paper and paperboard legislation globally, we see many regional differences. While most countries do not directly prohibit the use of recycled fiber, legislation and various country-specific recommendations do limit its use. Recycled fiber that is to be used as a food contact material must undergo a number of laboratory tests to ensure that the packaging material cannot release harmful substances into the product in amounts that would pose a risk to human health. If impurities or unwanted chemicals are a risk to consumer health, typically a barrier layer must be used to protect the food from contamination.
In the U.S. recycled paper can be used for food contact provided that it will not adulterate food in any way or pose a risk to human health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives a set of guidance on the purity of the recycled pulp, and it must not contain poisonous or deleterious substances. Certain states also have their own legislation for food contact materials. In general, they need to be taken into account when using recycled fiber packaging for food.
There is no harmonized EU legislation on food contact materials for paper and board products. Food contact materials are covered by EU regulation that stipulates in general terms that materials that come into contact with foodstuffs must not enter the food in quantities that could endanger human health, cause unsuitable changes in the food composition, or impair its sensory properties. Being that this is the most specific level of legislation, the national laws and recommendations of the respective countries are applied.
For example, the use of recycled fiber for packaging that comes into direct contact with foodstuffs is forbidden in Switzerland, with some exceptions such as fruit that is peeled before eating. In Italy, the only product groups that can be packaged in such a way that they come into direct contact with recycled fiber packaging are product groups that are not subject to migration testing under the country’s legislation. (“Migration” in this context refers to the transfer of chemicals from packaging material to a product, or vice versa.) Among the products that are exempt from such testing are dry, fat-free foods.
In China, the use of recycled fiber is not directly prohibited by legislation, but legislation requires that paper and board materials that come into direct contact with foodstuffs need to pass certain laboratory tests. Materials that contain recycled fiber do not pass all of these tests.
The Key to Clean Packaging
“Clean packaging” is free from unknown chemicals and can be safely used in direct food contact. All the production chemicals and additives need to be approved for food contact, and the manufacturing needs to be certified and controlled. Materials need to be tested in external accredited laboratories to verify safety and compliance with regulations. Furthermore, they need to be carefully packaged to prevent contamination during transportation, and the same diligence needs to be followed for converting, packaging, and transport of ready goods. The product safety chain needs to be unbroken up to the time it reaches the consumer. When sourcing packaging materials, fresh fiber is the cleanest with traceable, naturally pure qualities.
Brands and packaging manufacturers should make sure their suppliers have a solid food safety process in place.
Are all the raw materials—from wood to chemicals and additives—fully traceable and compliant with regulations?
Does the production facility employ food safety management systems?
Is the product compliant for intended end-use according to the regulations and recommendations in the planned marketing area (e.g. Europe, America or Asia?)
Are the product’s organoleptic properties tested regularly during production?
The most important function of food packaging is to keep the contents and consumers safe. Everything else in the packaging world can be negotiated—price, delivery terms etc. But with safety, no compromises can be made. Product safety is non-negotiable.
‘Customer’ finds Listeria in Oskri Organics’ product; recall initiated
Source : https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/01/customer-finds-listeria-in-oskri-organics-product-recall-initiated/
By News Desk (Jan 3, 2019)
Oskri Organics Corp. is recalling tahini butter and sunflower butter, saying a “customer” randomly tested one of the products and found Listeria monocytogenes. Oskri did not indicate whether the customer was a consumer or a business entity.
The “customer” notified operators of the Lake Mills, WI, food company on Dec. 18 about the positive test results for the potentially deadly Listeria contamination, according to the Oskri recall notice posted Jan. 2 by the Food and Drug Administation.
“An investigation is still ongoing to find the source of the Listeria monocytogenes. We have ceased the production and distribution of the product as FDA and Oskri continue their investigation as to what caused the problem,” according to the company.
Federal officials have not received any confirmed reports of illnesses in connection with the recalled tahini butter or sunflower butters, but it can take up to 70 days after exposure to Listeria monocytogenes for symptoms on infection to develop. Oskri Organics Corp. is urging anyone with the recalled products on hand in their homes to immediately destroy them.
There is concern consumers may have unopened jars of the peanut butter substitutes because of the long shelf life of the products, some of which have expiration dates more than a year away. Oskri distributed the products in a total of 12 states. Some products were sold direct to consumers via the internet.
All of the recalled butters are in plastic 16-ounce jars. The lot numbers are on either the top or bottom of the jars near the expiration date. Consumers can determine whether they have any of the recalled products by looking for the following:
Oskri Organic Sunflower Butter is greenish-khaki color and is marked with an expiration date of “10-2019” Lot # 099, and a UPC number of 666016401295
Oskri Tahini Butter is a light tan color and is marked with an expiration date of “1-2020” LOT # 193 and a UPC number of 666016401301
Thrive Sunflower Butter is greenish khaki color marked with an expiration date of “2-2020” LOT # 233 and a UPC number of 671635704825
Consumers with questions may contact Oskri at 920-648-8300 or via email at email@example.com.
Food safety concerns linger after romaine recall
Source : https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/food-safety-concerns-linger-after-romaine-recall-503782052.html
By Sylvain Charlebois (Jan 2, 2019)
We went from a slew of alerts on romaine lettuce last fall to a series of clear-cut recalls affecting various produce items — including romaine lettuce and cauliflower — when Canadian consumers were at their most vulnerable.
At this time of year, the Canadian economy is particularly vulnerable when safety issues arise in imported produce, since our supply channels are limited.
Chances are, cauliflower will be very expensive as a result. And lettuce could be hard to get.
Unlike other such instances, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was able to execute a recall. This time, they have a company, a name, brands, lot numbers and products they can identify. One farm appears to be responsible for this E .coli outbreak: California-based Adam Bros. Farming Inc., one of several large-scale producers of leafy greens in the state.
Many verticals appear to have been affected by the outbreak, including romaine lettuce, cauliflower, red-leaf lettuce and even sandwiches containing products from the same farm.
Without knowing the actual cause of the contamination, authorities were able to pinpoint a specific culprit by simple deduction.
In 2006, in the aftermath of the deadly E. coli outbreak affecting spinach, Adam Bros., along with more than 115 other producers, signed the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. These signatories represent more than 98 per cent of all leafy green production in California. At least 276 consumer illnesses and three deaths have been attributed to tainted produce from these growers in 2006. Losses for the spinach industry were significant.
In Canada during the 2006 episode, it was next to impossible to buy spinach.
The industry went along with a rigour-charged voluntary system, vowing to never again go through something like the 2006 E. coli outbreak. The industry-led Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement garnered some impressive results — until now.
This time, it’s lettuce.
Implications for the industry could be massive — losses could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. As it was with spinach, the entire industry will be affected, not just Adam Bros.
Lettuce is one of the big sellers and that will affect the entire supply chain, from farm to retailer. At retail, some of these products have profit margins exceeding 50 per cent, so grocers aren’t at all pleased. They’re having to issue many refunds, as well as deal with the fallout from the recall.
Protocols and regulations are already in place. Checkpoints, audits, inspections — everything was designed to increase compliance across the industry.
But in spite of this, some evidence points toward complacency. According to U.S. industry reports, while the number of unannounced audits remained stable at around 80 per year, the number of scheduled audits has been declining steadily since 2010.
They went from a peak of 589 in 2010 to less than 380 in 2017. That’s a 47 per cent drop in self-regulated audits, which the industry needs in order to keep things in check. This is a substantial shift.
Yet the industry report from the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement offers not a single explanation as to why the number of U.S. audits dropped.
The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement came out of the crisis affecting spinach. This latest recall is telling the industry that the will to implement more rigour has a short lifespan and needs to be resuscitated before another consumer dies.
Reports posted on the group’s website read more like self-congratulatory remarks than food safety concerns for the consumer.
After 12 years, perhaps it’s time for the industry to revisit some of the fundamental reasons the agreement was set up. This is about mitigating the risks that come with relying on global food supply chains. The very nature of these systems means one mistake will affect many. Rigour can’t be compromised.
But we also have issues in Canada. Products from Adam Bros. were being sold in at least six provinces. However, the Public Health Agency of Canada sent out alerts related to romaine lettuce covering only three provinces: Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. This went on for weeks.
From the start, most observers knew it was almost impossible that the outbreak could only affect three provinces. Many grocers were ahead of the Public Health Agency on this, pulling romaine from their shelves even if the alert hadn’t included their province.
So during the winter months, we can’t blame consumers for avoiding lettuce and cauliflower in order to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Sylvain Charlebois is scientific director of the Canadian Agrifood Foresight Institute, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University and a senior fellow with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.
USDA’s 2018 Food Safety Accomplishments
Source : https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/news/usdae28099s-2018-food-safety-accomplishments/
By Staff (Jan 2, 2019)
USDA’s 2018 Food Safety Accomplishments
Just before the new year, U.S. Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue released a list of accomplishments made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2018. A couple of those achievements related to food safety agencies are as follows:
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) played a vital role to ensure the free flow of agricultural trade by keeping U.S. agricultural industries free from pests and diseases. An example of this critical work is APHIS’ recent efforts to prevent African Swine Fever from entering the United States through a series of interlocking safeguards that includes working with producers, states and industry to ensure they are following biosecurity recommendations, restricting pork and pork imports from affected countries, and working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to train inspection dogs and increase screening vigilance for passengers and products arriving from affected countries.
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspected more than 160 million head of livestock and 9.47 billion poultry carcasses. FSIS Inspectors also conducted 6.9 million food safety and food defense procedures across 6,500 regulated establishments to ensure meat, poultry, and processed egg products were safe and wholesome.
The accomplishments, according to a USDA press release, were made partly due to enacting President Donald Trump’s regulatory reform goals. You can see all of the agency’s 2018 accomplishments at USDA.gov.
Actually, don’t wash that raw poultry: food safety tips to keep you safe
Source : https://www.oregonlive.com/health/2019/01/actually-dont-wash-that-raw-poultry-food-safety-tips-to-keep-you-safe.html
By Kaiser Health News (Jan 2, 2019)
Rinsing chicken or turkey before cooking it is an ingrained step for many home cooks — passed down through generations and reinforced by cookbooks. Recipes like the “Perfect Roast Chicken” in 1999’s “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook” advise cooks to “Rinse the chicken inside and out.” But that doesn’t reflect the science.
To wash or not to wash? That’s a question home cooks ask experts at the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline a lot around the holidays.
Or they don’t ask — and end up dispersing food pathogens all over their kitchens, increasing the very risk of foodborne illness they are trying to avoid.
Consumers should rinse their fresh fruits and vegetables with cold water, but not raw poultry, meat or eggs, according to the experts.
For decades, the Department of Agriculture has been advising against washing raw poultry and meat.
“People are still shocked when we tell them” not to wash poultry, said Marianne Gravely, one of USDA’s food safety educators. “Back in the early ’90s we were saying that.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne pathogens sicken an estimated 48 million Americans every year, putting 128,000 in the hospital and killing 3,000.
Washing chicken won’t remove many bacteria, said Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor in North Carolina State University’s agricultural and human sciences department. But it can spread germs to hands, work surfaces, clothing and nearby utensils or food — a process called cross-contamination.
“That washing process can really only increase risk,” he said. “All I really can do is control it through cooking.”
Cooking is the only way to kill pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter. Consumers should use a food thermometer to ensure meat and poultry reach a safe minimal temperature: 165 degrees for poultry; 160 degrees for ground meats; 145 degrees for steaks, chops, roasts, fresh or smoked ham, fish and shellfish.
Don’t rely on your cookbook for temperature settings. A 2017 study co-authored by Chapman found that of nearly 1,500 recipes in New York Times Bestseller cookbooks, only 8 percent included an endpoint temperature and a third of those gave an incorrect one based on USDA guidelines.
Two other steps in safe food handling — separation and cleaning — help prevent cross-contamination.
Keeping raw meat and poultry separate from fresh produce in your grocery bag, in your refrigerator and during food preparation also minimizes cross-contamination.
Food safety experts recommend washing anything used in food preparation including counters, cutting boards and utensils in hot, soapy water. And washing your hands properly — with soap for 20 seconds — before and after preparing food “can really prevent the contamination of other things,” Gravely said.
Chapman and his colleagues at NC State are collaborating with the USDA and RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, to investigate how pathogens are transferred around kitchens. Preliminary results from the first of a multiyear study showed that participants spread bacteria from raw meat to spice containers, refrigerator handles and even salads.
Shelley Feist, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, said her organization plans to work with cookbook writers and editors to incorporate more guidance for safe food handling.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables with cold running water. Washing can remove more bacteria from fruits and vegetables than from meat, but there’s still a limit to how much.
“Pathogens are just so small and the surface of produce is so creviced,” Chapman said, “that the pathogens do a really good job attaching and hiding where water can’t even get to.”
Some produce, such as bagged lettuce and spinach, is clearly labeled as already washed and does not need to be washed again, the FDA says. Washing those vegetables or fruits again won’t reduce the number of pathogens any further and could spread bacteria around the kitchen.
The FDA advises consumers to avoid detergents or soaps when washing food because they can leave behind a residue and can affect taste. There are no FDA-approved food cleaners on the market, and the agency hasn’t found anything to be more effective at removing bacteria than cold running water.
“There are a lot of myths out there that if I wash, I can wash the pathogens off,” Chapman said. “You can wash a little bit off, but not enough to significantly reduce your risk.”
Because consumers eat a lot of fruits and vegetables raw, the risk of contracting a foodborne illness from contaminated lettuce or cantaloupe is greater than from properly cooked chicken.
“With meat and poultry, there is a kill step, but it’s cooking — it isn’t rinsing,” said Feist. “With raw fresh produce, there’s always going to be some risk. You can’t wash it away.”
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