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Use of Crowdsourcing in the Food Industry and Food Safety

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An interesting article was just published entitled “Crowdsourcing: A new conceptual view for food safety and quality” (Jan Mei Soon,  and I. Sam Saguy). Our website can be a source of answers by the registered users, and as such can be a venue for crowdsourcing.

Definition of Crowd Sourcing

According to Merriam-Webster ” Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”
There is a trend of manufacturers of consumer goods for sourcing creative ideas from users particularly in designs, creative writing, illustrations, and videos. The crowdsourcing goal is to harness the public ability to generate ideas, feedback, and solutions.
While the name “crowdsourcing” implies that it is open to all, one can specify technical requirements for expertise and know-how to participate in crowdsourcing.
Ten Years after the birth of crowdsourcing there seems to be still untapped potential for innovation in food safety and quality.
One of the issues relating to crowdsourcing is how to motivate the crowd to participate.  One compensation method is a monetary incentive as shown below in the example of Lay’s potato chip flavors, where the winner was rewarded with cash incentive as well as 1% of the product’s sales for a year.
In the food safety arena, the contributors might not be motivated by monetary incentives. Many are driven by the need to create the awareness about foodborne illnesses and to identify contaminated food problems and cracking the challenge. A strong motivation might be professional reputation and being the first to solve a scientific challenge.

Who is Using Crowdsourcing?

There is an increase in the use of crowdsourcing for ideation.  According to eYeka “The state of crowdsourcing”. The major manufacturers of fast moving consumer goods (such as Coca-cola, Danone, Nestle, Pepsi, and many other non-food companies) grew their usage of creative crowdsourcing by 27% when comparing 2015 with 2016. These companies’ ideation efforts, using crowdsourcing almost doubled.
A few examples of crowdsourcing use include:
Unilever used crowdsourcing to generate ideas on how to get Millennials to enjoy more its ice cream products, with over 130 ideas submitted in 10 days.
 
Cadbury and Oreo asked consumers to suggest new displays for its snacks and got 50 creative ideas from 24 countries.
 
Trident Chewing gum asked Millennial and Gen Z consumers to find ideas to engage these customers in chewing gum.
The eYeka report announces that Unilever plans to leverage Crowdsourced ideas ten-times more by 2020.

Crowdsourcing in New Product Development

Soon, and Saguy article shows that not a lot is done in the food industry to use crowdsourcing to generate new product ideas. However, in other industries crowdsourcing is increasingly being used by companies to generate new product ideas. Some projects that involve the food industry include:
 
Anheuser-Busch is developing new crowdsourced ideas for newly crafted beer (Black Crown).
 
Danone asked its consumers to vote for new flavors of cream desserts and got over 900,000 votes in 2011.
 
Lay’s used crowdsourcing to create a new potato chip flavor. They received 245,825 suggestions for flavors of which 108,729 were unique. Two winning flavors were selected and sold in stores in 2011.

Crowdsourcing and Food Quality and Safety

Currently, there is limited use of crowdsourcing in food safety and quality. This field is still in its infancy. It might be possible to extract knowledge and expertise from online communities to conduct studies that can provide information on risk assessments and safety.
A useful method of crowdsourcing might be to recruit a smaller group of food safety experts to answer relevant questions, especially when larger crowds do not have the answers.
 
Soon & Saguy suggests that crowdsourcing initiatives among consumers had been applied in the area of food safety particularly in foodborne illness and outbreak surveillance. Other potential areas that are worth investigating include crowdvoting of cleanliness and hygiene of restaurants and effectiveness of allergen management.
A challenge remains in validating the reliability of the expert crowd. Also, experts and consumers might have different opinions about risk. The authors suggest that experts are driven by scientific objectivity, quantitative assessment of product properties like quality, and microbial level and nutritional value and probability, while consumers’ perceptions relate to human subjectivity and pay more attention to consequences.

Conclusions

Crowdsourcing can provide the means and opportunity to engage and empower food scientists and experts in the industry, government, and academia to voice scientific consensus and provide recommendations on food safety laws and regulations. However, there may be food safety projects or tasks that fail to attract a sufficient number of participants.
Crowdsourcing has the potential to help innovations and solve food safety and quality problems, by leveraging the crowd’s intelligence and capabilities to aggregate talent while reducing time and costs. Finding and motivating the crowd can help the food industry to think differently about problems.
Crowdsourcing initiatives may facilitate finding food safety solutions, predict foodborne disease outbreaks, identify contaminated food products and improve hygiene, food safety and allergen management of food businesses.
It should be noted however that maintaining the crowd engaged for a long period of time, is a major concern and this issue needs to be addressed. We are also looking for means to get our users more engaged on our site and would welcome your suggestions.
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In the last few days, (6/14-6/16) there have been several more recalls due to Listeria

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In the last 3 days, six more recalls due to Listeria monocytogenes occurred. All are due to finding Listeria in the environment of suppliers.
June 16, Chic-a-Peas LLC voluntarily recalled Chic-a-Peas Baked Crunchy Chickpeas 2 oz. packages because the product has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. This recall has been initiated because one of their manufacturing companies notified them that Listeria monocytogenes was found in the production environment 
June 16, NOW Health Group, Inc. (NOW), of Bloomingdale, Illinois, expanded the voluntary recall of a number of products. Evidence of facility contamination was noted after a follow-up FDA inspection of the Nutty Infusions supplier. The production of the product has been suspended.
June 15, Bulletproof 360, Inc. (“Bulletproof”) of Bellevue, Washington recalled five Collagen Protein Bar and Bite products because of the potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.  The affected products were distributed between April 7, 2017, and June 12, 2017, in retail stores nationwide and on bulletproof.com to customers nationally and internationally. HVF, Inc. supplied the cashew butter used as an ingredient in the recalled products. testing at HVF’s facility found Listeria contamination in another part of the facility.
June 15, NEW ENGLAND NATURAL BAKERS of Greenfield MA, is issuing a voluntary recall, after an ingredient supplier revealed the possible presence of Listeria monocytogenes.
June 14, GoMacro, of Viola, Wis., recalled MacroBars and Thrive Bars after being notified by its supplier of almonds, an ingredient in specific MACROBARS and THRIVE BARS, that the ingredient is contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The supplier notified GoMacro of this recall due to an expansion of a previous recall.
June 14, Wildway LLC is voluntarily recalling certain grain-free granola codes, because the Company has been notified by an ingredient supplier that an ingredient used in these products has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The potential for contamination was noted after an ingredient supplier revealed the possible presence of Listeria monocytogenes. The company subsequently identified the source of the issue and has corrected the matter.
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More Recalls Caused by Fear of Listeria monocytogenes Contamination

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Listeria monocytogenes was a major reason for recalls according to “summary of recall cases in Calendar Year 2016”, by the FSIS/USDA, accounting for over 80% of the total recall cases.
Food Safety Tech reported that in 2016 in the US, close to 550 food products were recalled, and around 275 were recalled due to microbial contamination. Listeria monocytogenes was the cause of 65% of the microbiological recalls.   In the last few weeks, a number of products were recalled caused by fear of Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

Club Chef LLC (Castellini Group subsidiaries)

According to the FDA, Club Chef LLC recalled fresh cut produce and retail Snack Kits, due to potential contamination with Listeria.
Although Listeria was discovered by the company in only a small portion of their facility during internal environmental monitoring, they decided to recall the product as a proactive step. None of the company products was found to be actually contaminated, and no illnesses were reported.
The following States are potentially impacted by this recall: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina and Michigan.
Further recalls, however, were initiated because Chef Club distributed their lettuce to other manufacturers that included the lettuce as an ingredient.

CC Kitchen LLC Recall

According to the FDA CC Kitchens (Cincinnati, OH) recalled ready-to-eat meat and poultry salad products, including salad and slaw kit, because Listeria was found to be present in the processing environment of certain leafy greens. None of these products were found contaminated, nor have any illnesses been reported. Rather, the recall was initiated by the processor in an abundance of caution.
Since the ready-to-eat meat and poultry salad items also contain meat products, there was an announcement also by FSIS/USDA . CC Kitchens was notified by one of their lettuce suppliers (Club Chef, see above) that the lettuce used in their products was recalled as a precautionary action because Listeria was found during environmental testing of parts of their facility.  
2,415 pounds of the recalled ready-to-eat meat and poultry lettuce salads were distributed by Kroger in Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia.
The CC Kitchens recalled products are clamshells of Chef Salad, Chicken & Bacon Cobb Salad, Chef Side Salad, Garden Salad and Chicken & Bacon Cobb Side Salad with sell-by dates between June 5 and June 10.
Additional products affected are Fiesta Slaw, Trail Slaw Kit, and Asian Quinoa Salad Kit products with sell-by dates between June 7 and June 11. Also affected are Beef Ponzu Kit items with sell-by dates June 7 and June 8 and Southwest Turkey Salad Kit items with sell-by dates of June 8 or June 10.
In this case, two government agencies are involved: FDA has jurisdiction over the lettuce and FSIS/USDA over the meat products.

Happy Sprout Inc.

According to the FDA Happy Sprout Inc. of Springfield, VA is voluntarily recalling all packages of Soybean Sprouts because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. These items were distributed to retail stores in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.
The possible contamination was noted after routine surveillance sampling by the Food Safety program of the Virginia Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety. Consequent testing by the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in sampled product. No illnesses have been reported to date.

Global Garlic Inc. Recalls “Queso Freso/Whole Milk Cheese”

The FDA announced  that Global Garlic Inc from Miami, FL, recalled 16oz packages of “Queso Fresco/ Whole Milk” and (“Queso Fresco x LB(Barra)/Whole Milk Cheese” because of potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. This is an expansion of the original recall of De Mi Pais Queso Fresco/Whole Milk cheeses.
Routine testing by the Florida Department of Agriculture Consumer Services found Listeria monocytogenes in 16-ounce packages of “Queso Fresco/ Whole Milk Cheese”.
The cheeses were sold to retail stores in Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. The cheese in the original recall went only to retail stores in Fort Lauderdale and Fairdale, Kentucky.
According to the FDA, the production of the product has been suspended while the FDA and the company continue to investigate the source of the problem

Ava’s Brand Organic Cashews Roasted & Salted 8 oz. Tubs

According to the FDA  Hampton Farms has voluntarily recalled Ava’s brand Organic Cashews Roasted & Salted 8 oz. tubs distributed in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. The company has been notified by their cashew supplier of the potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.
Routine sampling of a different item from another company revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. This resulted in an investigation of their manufacturing environment, revealing contaminated piece of equipment that was also used to produce the ingredient.
Although the cashew nuts were negative for Listeria, and no illness was reported, the company decided to recall the product in abundance of caution. All affected distributors and retail stores have been notified and the affected products are being removed from store shelves. Fewer than 225 units of this product were offered for retail sale.

Why are there so many Recalls?

It appears as if there are more and more recalls due to Listeria while the actual Listeriosis cases are declining. Despite the spike in recalls due to Listeria, a relatively small number of people had actually gotten ill. Actually, the number of Listeriosis cases has dropped dramatically since the 1990s.
A couple of potential reasons for this trend might be:
  • Better technology for the detection of the organisms and thereby earlier removal of the products from the market
  • Many recalls can be traced back to the mandatory environmental monitoring introduced with the FSMA.
  • Companies more easily voluntarily recall a product due to the abundance of caution.
  • Due to the high price tag of recalls companies are more motivated than ever to get quickly into compliance, by doing everything in their power to solve the problems as quickly as possible.
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Hepatitis A is in the News due to Raw Tuna Fish

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In the last couple of months, more and more cases of Hepatitis A were in the news. In the most recent recall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled frozen tuna steaks and cubes, after finding out that some tuna sold in California, Texas, and Oklahoma had been contaminated with hepatitis A.

The Raw Tuna Recall History

On May 1 the Hawaii Department of Health has alerted the FDA, that a sample of frozen tuna cubes originating in Indonesia tested positive for hepatitis A.  Next day, the FDA contacted the Tropic Fish Hawaii LLC, a subsidiary distributor of Hilo Fish Company, to acquire additional information related to the tuna sample contaminated with Hepatitis A. 
The initial FDA recall started on May 18, when Hilo Fish Company began recalling tuna obtained from Sustainable Seafood Company and Santa Cruz Seafood, Inc.   The recall targeted the products tested positive for hepatitis.
On June 6 a revised recall was issued by the FDA, due to a report from the Hawaii Department of Health, notifying that a frozen tuna sample, sourced from PT Deho Canning Co. was positive for the virus. Since then the initially recalled product has been removed from commerce and the newly recalled frozen tuna lots were not shipped to Hawaii but were shipped to the mainland U.S.
Hilo Fish submitted additional samples from products that were held in their cold storage facility which was sourced from Sustainable Seafood Company and Santa Cruz Seafood and sent to a testing lab. The products were positive for Hepatitis A. These products were distributed to retailers in CA, NY, OK, and TX. The New York State Department of Health and the FDA verified that the product shipped to New York was not sold to the public.
The FDA has provided a list of restaurants and other retail establishments in TX, OK, and CA that may currently have contaminated tuna.

Recall Consequences

While only a few retailers are on the distribution list of the recalled products, the list does include an outpost warehouse of SYSCO, a large food service distributor. The warehouse delivers products to a large number of restaurants and retailers.
The FDA instructs affected restaurants and retailers to ensure that the recalled products are not served to customers. The restaurants or retailers must contact their local health department if they served contaminated products. They also are required, if possible, to notify their consumers about possible exposure to the hepatitis A virus.

About Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that is highly contagious. It causes an inflammation of the liver and affects the liver functioning. Its severity can range from mild illnesses lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting for months. When a person ingests the virus from contaminated food or water, the virus can be easily spread person to person.
It may take 15 to 50 days after consuming a contaminated food or drink until symptoms appear. Vaccines are available and are recommended for people mostly at risk. The CDC recommends providing post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for unvaccinated people who consumed any product that is potentially contaminated. However, the vaccination must happen in a 2 weeks window, following the exposure.

Other Outbreaks

Michigan sees large spike in Hepatitis A

A large increase in Hepatitis A cases has been observed in Michigan in recent months. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, this increase is most visible in the city of Detroit, and counties of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne.
Michigan reported 107 cases of lab-confirmed Hepatitis A in those jurisdictions from Aug. 1, 2016, to March 21, 2017. “This represents an eight-fold increase during the same time last year,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services. “Ages of the cases range from 22 to 86 years, with an average age of 45 years. Eighty-five percent of the cases have been hospitalized with two deaths reported.”
 

San Diego Hepatitis A Outbreak, 2017

County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency reported that since early 2017 it is investigating a local Hepatitis A outbreak.  As of June 6, there has been a total of 152 cases, with 177 cases of hospitalization and 4 deaths.   The investigation is challenging because of the long incubation period of the disease (15 to 50 days) and the difficulty in contacting many sick individuals who are homeless and/or illicit drug users. No common source of food, beverage, or other cause has been identified.  

Hepatitis A found in poke served at Times Supermarkets and Hawaii restaurants

Frozen raw ahi fish, imported from Indonesia, and distributed by Tropic Fish Hawaii, LLC, has been found to be contaminated with Hepatitis A. The product was distributed by Tropic Fish Hawaii, LLC, and was used to prepare poke sold at several Times Supermarket locations, GP Hawaiian Food Catering and the Crab Shack Kapolei between April 27 and May 1.  

Hepatitis A from Frozen Berries in EU

Bill Marler reported in April that at least 71 people got sick due to Hepatitis A in Europe, according to the Eurosurveillance . The outbreak was linked to frozen berries served in smoothies.
There are at least 35 people sickened in Denmark, and another 36 sickened between Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Swedish authorities say that the country is experiencing ten times the normal number of Hepatitis A cases so far this year.

Frozen Berries Recalled in Australia after Hepatitis A Outbreak

On June 2, 2017, the Food Poisoning Journal reported that frozen berries sold in Australia in independent supermarkets had been recalled due to Hepatitis A.  Berries from Canada and China were packed in Australia.
This outbreak comes 2 years after Hepatitis A caused 25 instances of Hepatitis A infection were linked to frozen berries from the same vendor.
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Consumption of Unpasteurized Cow’s Milk and Cheese and its Impact on Outbreaks and Diseases

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Introduction

Despite of everything we learned about the danger of raw milk and its products, the sales of raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products are still legal in at least 30 states in the United States.  Raw milk and milk products from cows, goats, and sheep continue to be a source of bacterial infections attributable to a number of virulent pathogens, including Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella species, Brucella species, and Escherichia coli O157.
A report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 23, Number 6—June 2017  by Solenne Costard , et,al. stated that the growing popularity of unpasteurized milk in the United States raised public health concerns. The authors estimated the impact of outbreak-related illnesses and hospitalizations caused by the consumption of cow’s milk and cheese contaminated with Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coliSalmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter spp. by using a model relying on publicly available outbreak data.
The trend towards increased availability of unpasteurized dairy products raises public health concerns, especially since raw milk consumers include children.

Why Raw Milk

Consumers are increasingly demanding more natural and organic foods (i.e., minimally processed foods). Following a similar trend the popularity of unpasteurized milk in the U.S. has been growing as well. Advocates of raw milk claim that it is rich in beneficial bacteria, natural vitamins and food enzymes. Many small-scale and local dairy farmers also strongly support the raw milk movement, as do many natural health advocates. 
Raw milk enthusiasts claim that the products taste better, produce fewer allergic reactions and can cure illnesses — claims that are all anecdotal and unproven. Consumers also point out that raw milk tends originate from family farms rather than “factory farms”.
Efforts to limit the sale of raw milk products have met with opposition from those who are advocates of the alleged health benefits of consuming raw milk products, which contain natural or unprocessed factors not inactivated by pasteurization.
However, the increased consumption of raw milk and its products is raising public health concerns. This is because, in contrast to some perceptions, natural food products are not necessarily safer than conventional ones, as evidenced by higher rates of foodborne illnesses associated with unpasteurized dairy products.
The CDC believes that “There are no health benefits from drinking raw milk that cannot be obtained from drinking pasteurized milk that is free of disease-causing bacteria. The process of pasteurization of milk has never been found to be the cause of chronic diseases, allergies, or developmental or behavioral problems.” and the CDC condemns its consumption.

The Study

In the study a total of 87 outbreaks causing 750 laboratory-confirmed illnesses and 215 hospitalizations were considered. The incidence rates of STEC, Salmonella spp., and Campylobacter spp. illnesses and hospitalizations per 1 billion servings were higher for unpasteurized dairy product consumers than for pasteurized dairy product consumers. Illnesses and hospitalizations caused by L. monocytogenes infections which were more often attributed to the consumption of pasteurized cheese than unpasteurized cheese.
The authors calculated that if the percentage of unpasteurized milk consumers in the United States were to increase to 3.8% and unpasteurized cheese consumers to 1.9% (i.e., an increase of 20%), the number of illnesses per year would increase by an average of 19% and the number of hospitalizations by 21%.
If the percentages of unpasteurized milk and cheese consumers were to double, the number of illnesses would increase by an average of 96%, and the number of hospitalizations would increase by 104%, resulting in additional 733 illnesses/year and 22 hospitalizations/year, which correspond to a total of 1,493 illnesses/year mostly caused by Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter spp.
In this study bulk milk tanks on US raw milk farms has been found to contain STEC in 2.5% of the cases, Salmonella spp. in 4.6%,  L. monocytogenes in 2.5%, and Campylobacter spp. in 4.7% of the cases.
 

The Take-Home Message

In the US outbreaks associated with dairy consumption cause on average 760 illnesses/year and 22 hospitalization/year, caused mostly by Salmonella spp., and Campylobacter spp. While unpasteurized milk is consumed by only 3.2% of the population, and cheeses from unpasteurized milk by only 1.6% of the population, they caused 96% of the illnesses caused by dairy products.  This result means that unpasteurized dairy products cause 840 times more illnesses and 45 times more hospitalizations than pasteurized dairy products.
Despite a decrease in dairy consumption in the United States, recent studies suggest that over the past 15 years the number of outbreaks associated with unpasteurized dairy products has increased.
The authors state that as consumption of unpasteurized dairy products grows, illnesses will increase steadily; a doubling in the consumption of unpasteurized milk or cheese could increase outbreak-related illnesses by 96%.
Consequently, those who consume raw milk are taking chances with their health since consuming raw milk increases the chances of getting an outbreak-related illness by more than 800 times.