Explore this issueOctober/November 2011
Food processing has existed for centuries, but in the 19th and 20th centuries, largely due to military supply demands, more modern food processing technologies were developed. As food processing needs have grown, so have problems with food contamination and foodborne illness.
Concerns about food contamination are increasing because of the large costs involved with the foodborne illnesses it causes. Health-related expenses brought about by foodborne illnesses cost an estimated $152 billion each year.1 The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly one out of six Americans (48 million people) is affected, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.2 One factor contributing to the large number of cases of foodborne illness each year is the increased consumption of minimally processed foods and fresh foods.
As food travels from the environment to the consumer, it can become contaminated by many factors along the way, including irrigation water, wash water, food preparation environment, infected seed, production, harvesting, post-harvest handling, transport, distribution, storage, preparation, humans, and animals. A major issue is the number and diversity of pathogens involved in foodborne illnesses and food recalls. Of the 76 million cases that occur annually, only 14 million of these cases can be attributed to known pathogens.3
CD and VHP are oxidizers, but CD is not as aggressive an oxidizer as chlorine, ozone, peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, or bleach. Additionally, it is noncorrosive to common construction materials; VHP is 1.9 times more corrosive.
Some of the major pathogens that are known to be involved in the contaminations, foodborne illness outbreaks, and food recalls are Escherichia coli 0157:H7, Salmonella spp., Shigella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium botulinum, Crytosporidium spp., Cyclospora spp., hepatitis A virus, and Norwalk-like viruses.
In recent years, detection methods and product tracking methods have improved, resulting in the recall of products that are or have the potential of being contaminated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun an aggressive sampling program due to the development of the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007.4
This act requires food manufacturers to report any instance when it occurs and to prove that their product is safe in the event that a recall is necessary. These recalls can be extremely costly for food industries. Recent years have seen some highly publicized and costly food contamination recalls. For example, during the summer of 2010, a massive egg contamination in a factory in Iowa resulted in 550 million eggs recalled, affecting 13 retail brands packaged by the egg factory.
The egg shells were contaminated with Salmonella, and more than 1,000 people were sickened. Not only did this cost the factory a lot of money, it also caused egg prices to increase dramatically.
Another devastating recall, involving ground beef in California, occurred last year when one million pounds of ground beef were pulled back due to an E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. It was the 12th recall of the year, totaling 1,786,859 pounds of meat recalled by the end of summer 2010. A recall near Thanksgiving 2010 involved New Braunfels Smokehouse in Texas; the firm recalled nearly 3,000 pounds of turkey that was likely contaminated with Listeria. In 2009, one recall involved at least 70 companies and more than 3,900 products.
The economic impact of this outbreak, caused by Salmonella-contaminated peanuts at a Georgia manufacturing plant, is estimated to be more than $1 billion. In 2008, a very large outbreak of what was thought to be Salmonella-contaminated tomatoes turned out to have originated in Mexican jalapeño and serrano peppers. By that point, the tomato industry had lost an estimated $100 million.5