The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that foodborne illnesses in the U.S. make 48 million people sick, put 128,000 in the hospital and cause 3,000 deaths annually.
With the advent of whole genome sequencing of pathogens from samples taken from people who are ill, from food processing plants, farms and product samples and the cataloging of this data, investigators are making more connections between foodborne illnesses and possible sources. From a human health standpoint, this is good news. For a food producer, this means a greater likelihood that liability for a foodborne illness will be tied to its products and additional incentive for improving the food safety of its products.
On two egg farm visits I made this summer, I got to see firsthand how these egg producers are rethinking all aspects of farm and packing plant designs and operation to heighten biosecurity and food safety. Things that egg producers have accepted as normal, such as increased fly numbers when a flock is first moved into a pit house or condensation in the packing plant on really humid summer days, aren’t being accepted anymore.
Major enhancements are being made for egg farms and packing facilities. Vehicle washers, shower-in shower-out facilities, dehumidification systems and more are being installed. Fortunately, these enhancements improve biosecurity and food safety.
Continuous improvement in any endeavor, whether the objective is biosecurity, food safety, worker safety, plant efficiency or animal welfare, requires a willingness to rethink processes and make changes. It requires a commitment from top management to aggressively explore new solutions and ideas and demonstrate to all employees that how we have always done it won’t be good enough going forward.
These egg producers are embracing the new challenges and finding solutions.