Quality improvement in food processing

Air, Surface, Water

Brent Lloyd, RN

The need to protect processes from contamination is a challenge for every industry—from food processing to the production of electronics—and as processes become more complex so do the technologies to prevent contamination. Airborne and water contaminants, microorganisms, moisture, and temperature can all affect environments. With the addition of human intervention and error, it is easy to see that every challenge is different, and every solution is unique.

In 2022, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared 220 food and beverage recalls* across the United States. That number has increased slightly over the past few years, but the actual number of items recalled has varied greatly year-to-year depending on the size of the manufacturer and number of units sold, etc.

The most notable recall last year was undoubtedly the powdered infant formula recall that began in February of 2022.  It was initially reported to be responsible for two infant deaths and several illnesses. It was later determined however, that the two infants who died had contracted a different strain of Cronobacter than what was found at Abbott’s Sturgis, Michigan plant. Yet, the FDA DID find Cronobacter in 20 places in the plant. The plant was shuttered for months for cleaning and upgrades, fueling a national shortage and a major disruption to the market. This incident is a vivid reminder of the impact contamination can have and that even the foods we think may be the safest still have risk.

Abbott announced in March 2022 that it had begun implementing corrective actions and enhancements at its facility, leveraging new technology and strengthening processes. It boosted testing, implemented auto-sampling, and increased environmental monitoring. The improved processes have resulted in increased safety and now set the bar higher for other food processing plants.

For us, this demonstrates the need for continuous quality improvement and the importance of being aware of industry trends and technology updates.

* www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts

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