An 'essential' early warning tool: the role of environmental monitoring programs

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

AIB International FSMA environmental monitoring program

Related tags: Hygiene, Food

The importance placed on environmental monitoring has changed over the last decade, according to AIB International, an association which provides food safety inspections, audits and certifications.  

AIB has launched an environmental monitoring service for food manufacturing companies – a service it says meets an industry need.

Lakshmikantha Channaiah, director of microbiology, AIB, told environmental monitoring was once a random sampling activity. It is now an ‘essential component’ of a food safety program, and a requirement of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Poor hygiene practices

A well designed environmental monitoring program (EMP) acts as an early warning tool for potential microbial hazards in a food manufacturing plant​,” he said.

“Further, an EMP will assess the effectiveness of the overall sanitary practices in a facility and provide valuable data (source and concentration) on indicator organisms, spoilage organisms, and pathogens of concern in a timely manner. This means appropriate corrective action can be initiated to prevent potential microbial outbreaks.”

Despite improvements in production, handling, and distribution of food products in recent years, protecting consumers from foodborne illness still remains a challenge, he added.

“A substantial amount of foodborne illness outbreaks results from poor hygiene practices. Hence, it is critical to monitor the hygienic environment in food manufacturing facilities for the production of high quality and safe food products.”

A plant-specific environmental monitoring program

An EMP must include the whole process, from upstream to downstream production. Channaiah uses the example of bakery production.

It is important to develop and implement an EMP that is capable of detecting signs of microbial contaminants from upstream (such as flour mills) to downstream (the bakery manufacturer) production as early as possible.

“In this example, although flour is in both upstream and downstream production, the environmental condition, process, sanitary practices, etc. are different. It is crucial to consider all these factors while designing an effective EMP.”

AIB’s consulting service will advise food facilities on how to develop and improve their own plant-specific microbial EMP. Consultants inspect the plant to help identify hot spots and review sanitation programs; and provide a report on the effectiveness of sanitary designs, personnel practices and operational methods. 

FSMA: how much do you know?

The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) wants to ensure the safety of the US food supply by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

Lance Reeve, director, food safety services innovation, said AIB has been ‘flooded with FSMA-related questions’ in recent months, with hazard analysis and risk-based preventative controls (HARPC) raising some of the most queries.

“Within FSMA, there are seven sections in which FDA has proposed rules, but must further describe requirements,” Reeve said. “Each of these sections has received attention, but HARPC and Section 301(Foreign Supplier Verification Program) have raised the most questions from our clients.”

Section 103 on HARPC states the operator of a facility must evaluate hazards that could affect food production, and put preventative controls in place to prevent their occurrence.

AIB is also launching a series of FSMA awareness webinars to explain the key elements of the act.

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