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Salmonella in Papaya Sickened 47 People in 12 States


Findings of the Papaya Outbreak

 An investigation of a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Kiambu has being conducted by the CDC, FDA and public health officials in several states. As of last Friday (7/21/17), 47 individuals from 12 states have been infected with Salmonella Kiambu, the outbreak strain.
Whole genomic sequencing (WGS) shows that the Salmonella Kiambu isolated from the infected people is genetically closely related, and therefore, are more likely to share the same source of infection.
More than third of the affected people were hospitalized, and one death was reported in New York City. The epidemic chart below shows the number of people who became ill each day. Illnesses that happened after June 23, 2017might not been reported yet because it takes 2-4 weeks for the data to be reported.
In Maryland, a cluster of illness was identified. Several ill people reported eating papayas purchased from the same grocery store. Epidemiologic and laboratory data indicated that yellow Maradol papayas were a likely source of this outbreak.
Among 58% of the people with available information, were of Hispanic ethnicity. 44% of sickened people interviewed reported eating papaya within days before the illness, significantly higher than Hispanics eating papaya in the general population (16%).
From the samples collected from ill people, Salmonella Kiambu and Salmonella Thompson was isolated. Clusters, like the one discovered in Maryland, provided a critical clue to the source of the outbreak, and as a result, the papaya was identified as the main source of the infection.
The Maryland Department of Health collected papayas at a Baltimore retail location and found 3 of the 5 yellow papayas that they tested confirmed to be contaminated with Salmonella. As a result, they warned the public not to buy Caribeña’s yellow Maradol papayas.
The majority of the cases occurred in New York (13) and New Jersey (12), followed by Virginia (6), Maryland (5), Pennsylvania (4)  and a single case in Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, and Utah. 
The FDA s advising consumers not to eat Caribeña brand Maradol papayas because of their link to the Salmonella outbreak. Maradol papayas are green before they ripen and turn yellow, so consumers should not eat Caribeña brand regardless of the color.
According to the FDA, the distribution pattern of Caribeña brand Maradol papayas does not fully explain all of the illnesses. Therefore other firms might have distributed contaminated Maradol papayas as well. All the farms producing this type of papayas are only in Mexico.

Papaya as the Source of Past Salmonella Outbreak

Between May 12 and August 18, 2011, an investigation by CDC and the FDA, in collaboration with public health officials in Texas, Illinois, Georgia, and other states examining a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Agona infections linked to whole fresh papayas imported from Mexico.
A total of 106 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Agona were identified between January 1 and August 25, 2011, in 25 states. The states involved were:  Arkansas (1), Arizona (4), California (8), Colorado (1), Georgia (8), Illinois (18), Indiana (1), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (2), Massachusetts (1), Minnesota (3), Missouri (3), Nebraska (2), Nevada (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (3), New York (9), Ohio (1), Oklahoma (1), Pennsylvania (2), Tennessee (1), Texas (25), Virginia (2), Washington (5), and Wisconsin (2). Ten patients were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported.
Epidemiological data, traceback investigations, and laboratory data linked this outbreak to eating fresh whole papayas imported from Mexico by Agromod Produce, Inc. of McAllen, Texas.  
Of the ill people, 57% reported consuming papayas in the week before illness onset. This was significantly different compared with results from a survey of healthy people in which 11% of the Hispanic/Latino ethnicity and 3% of non-Hispanic/Latino ethnicity reported consuming papaya in the 7 days before they were interviewed. 
The FDA investigation found two papaya samples contaminated with Salmonella Agona. The FDA’s evidence showed a widespread problem that prompted the FDA to issue a countrywide import alert for papayas from Mexico.  

What Can Be Done?

Some Salmonella outbreaks in the recent past are due to fruits and vegetables. The outbreaks can be due to the ability of Salmonella to attach or internalize into fruits.  Survival and multiplication of Salmonella on fresh fruits is considerably increased once the protective epidermal barrier has been broken either by physical damage due to punctures or bruising or by degradation by plant pathogens. 
Environmental factors such as contaminated water used to irrigate and wash produce crops have been implicated in a large number of outbreaks.  FSMA is designed to help minimize the risk of illness from foodborne pathogens in fresh fruits, and include requirements for water quality, employee hygiene, and equipment and tool sanitation. Hopefully, these new FSMA rules will be able to reduce Salmonella incidents in fresh fruits.

FSMA and Pathogen Environmental Monitoring (PEM) Programs: Where are we?

Environmental monitoring is required under CFR 21 section 117.165 and under the FDA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food. Its purpose is to verify the implementation and effectiveness of the preventive controls put in place. Most food companies need to comply with these rules now or in the very near future.

Purpose of the PEM Program

The reason for having a PEM program is to identify problematic areas in the manufacturing facility where pathogens can harbor and become a source of contamination (“niches”), and assess the effectiveness of the sanitation programs.
Environmental monitoring may include pathogens or indicator organisms, depending on the products being manufactured. The program should encourage finding locations that will yield positive pathogen results, with the idea that “If it’s there and you don’t find it, FDA will.”
Another goal of the program is to prevent cross contamination or recontamination of the product from the environment. Positive results need to be followed with root-cause analysis, and the results need to be used immediately for corrective actions as well as long term improvements.  

The Zone Concept

Zones are defined based on the probability of product contamination.
If a pathogen is present in environmental samples from zone 1, it is likely to contaminate the product. Food contact surfaces are usually not sampled for Salmonellae. In contrast, it is essential to test food contact areas for Listeria monocytogenes.
Zone 2 is the main focus for PEM investigations of Salmonellae since it is where environmental contamination is most likely to influence the safety of the product.
Zone 3, if contaminated with a pathogen, could lead to contamination of Zone 2 via actions of humans or movement of machinery.
Zone 4, if contaminated with a pathogen, could lead to contamination of Zone 3 via the actions of humans or machinery.
Any pathogen detection in zones 1-3 needs to be addressed by a documented corrective action.

When and Where to Test

When: Pre-op areas are less likely to yield positive samples. However, if found it is more easy to interpret and will identify sanitation weaknesses. 
Three to four hours after the initiation of processing, it is more likely to find swabs that are positive for pathogens. It might provide information on the spread of the pathogen during processing.  Site in which pathogens are detected requires pre-op follow-up sampling to identify pathogen source/niche.
Where to test: In niches such as hollow rollers, table legs, floor wall junctures, floor cracks, areas that are difficult to clean, seals on doors, transfer points such as door handles, and operator’s hands. 

What are Reported FDA Actions?

For facilities that produce Ready-to-Eat products, it is common for the FDA to perform intensive swabbing of the manufacturing site, termed by some “swab-a-thon.” The team of FDA investigators will take samples in hard to reach areas, which are difficult to sanitize.
The FDA investigators are instructed to take hundreds of samples, focusing on Salmonella swabbing in Zones 2 and also collect a few samples in zones 3 and 4; The Listeria swabbing focus is on zones 1 and 2. In some recent swab-a-thons numerous samples were collected in Zones 3 and 4, and positive pathogen findings in these areas led to some recalls.
One goal of the program is to sequence the environmental pathogens found and compare them to stains that have caused illnesses. Another goal is to find “persistent” strains that are persisting in the manufacturing environment. Finding such strains could suggest that the corrective action is inadequate, and could result in a recall.  Alternatively, it could mean that the same strains are re-introduced to the facility due to raw ingredients.
Many recalls have resulted from detection of pathogens in the environment. With whole genome sequencing Listeria outbreaks can be detected when only two people have gotten ill from a certain product. Finding that the same strain of Listeria is making people sick is an indication that these illnesses may have originated from the same source. Additionally, positive samples resulting from these swab-a-thons may cause costly product recalls, and a cease in operations until the pathogen has been eliminated. Also, the positive sample’s DNA will be cross-referenced with the PulseNet Database to see if it matches a strain linked to an illness.

Seek and Destroy

The complete elimination of L. monocytogenes from post processing contamination is difficult because: (i) this pathogen is common in various environments outside processing plants; (ii) it can endure in food processing environments for years.
Essentially, the “seek and destroy” process is to disassemble the equipment, and during disassembly, to evaluate the equipment for growth niches. If growth niches are discovered during the process, a microbiological assessment of those areas is conducted.
Because of the impact of a pathogen being found in Zone 1, it is preferred to comprehensively and systematically monitor Zones 2 and 3. These areas should be tested with the end goal to seek and destroy any pathogen present. This approach requires digging into hard-to-reach places and look for problems. Seek to find and destroy any issues in Zones 2 and 3 before they can hit Zone 1.
If a pathogen or indicator organism is found in Zone 2 or 3, the faster it is detected and corrected, the less likely it is to have implicated product. This call for a systematic approach to finding niches in the food processing plant where growth can occur, and either eradicate or mitigate effects of these niches.

Need for Rapid Testing Methods

The faster results can be obtained after sample collection, the quicker you can destroy the potential of food contact surface contamination, and prevent the potential of product contamination.
Using newer and faster molecular based technology for detection, rather than traditional 48-hour or longer methodologies, enables faster response to positives, and quicker remediation through sanitation. It also helps to prevent the transfer from zone to zone including transfer onto food contact surfaces of Zone 1.
Several such new methods are just coming to the market and will be discussed in future blogs.

What to do With the Test Results

A trend needs to be established, and after that, it should frequently be reviewed to identify trends (e.g., site that has positives with negatives due to intervention). Documented corrective action is required for any positive sample.
If there is a trend of increased frequency of pathogen detection by the swabs, it needs to be investigated to determine the reason and the action to be taken to reduce this frequency. Samples showing positive pathogen results should be followed up with additional investigations and root-cause analyses. Additionally, the cleaning and sanitation need to be intensified (“deep cleaning”).
If an area shows repeated positives, it is a potential harborage or problem area and will require attention until cleared.  Corrective action must be implemented and documented. There must be a prearranged plan that will be implemented if a positive pathogen is detected. The plan should be zone specific.   If a positive pathogen result is found in any zone, the area needs to be thoroughly examined both visually and through vector swabbing (see below) to determine the extent of the contamination and to ascertain potential causes of the problem.

Vector Swabbing

If a location results in a positive sample, vector swabbing is required. This means taking multiple environmental samples around the initial positive site. Vector sampling is usually done in a typical “star-burst” pattern around the initial positive site as shown in the figure below. Additional 10-15 swabs samples are taken around the initial positive sample.

Adopted from “Pathogen Environmental Monitoring program (PEM)” 

Corrective Action

The specific corrective actions should be based on an evaluation of the likelihood of finished-product contamination based on the location of the initial positive site. A positive finding in Zones 2, 3 or 4 does not necessarily implicate finished product contamination. That decision should be made by the team and appropriate management personnel.
Corrective action should target the root-cause of the contamination. The food safety team should consider what changes (e.g., in personnel, training, equipment, process) will result in a permanent fix for the problem.
After the corrective action, additional testing may be necessary to verify the satisfactoriness of the corrective actions and to validate that the pathogen was eliminated from the area. All activities involving the corrective action should be documented.

Recalls due to Labeling Mistakes – The #1 Reason for Food Recalls

Although there was an extremely high number of recalls due to Listeria monocytogenes in the past three months, the majority of the FDA recalls were due to allergens many caused by mislabeling.  Undeclared allergens accounted for about 90% of labeling related recalls.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires that packaged food labels include declarations of the eight major food allergens: eggs, milk, wheat, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts, fish and crustacean shellfish.
Allergens are unique in food safety as they are not contaminants like Salmonella or Listeria, but can be still dangerous to susceptible individuals.  The sole protection for allergic individuals is the product label.  For that reason, the product label can cause an allergic reaction if allergen goes undeclared.
According to the FDA, most allergen-related recalls are for bakery products, followed by snacks, candies, dairy, and dressing.  Most of the recalls due to allergens are for milk, wheat, and soy.

Potential Reasons for Allergen-related Mislabeling

Mislabeling of food products are resulting in recalls. These recalls are caused by the use of the wrong package or an incorrect label. A product might be contaminated by an unintended ingredient, causing it to be recalled. Recalls can happen when processors inadvertently put the wrong label on products. 
When packages look similar it might be possible for an employee to take the erroneous package, label, or roll of film, especially when in a rush. It might also be difficult for employees to distinguish packages or labels when they are handled in bulk.
Another cause of allergen recalls is the use of the wrong terminology in the ingredient list, or the allergen “contains” statement or not to include it in both (ingredient list and “contains”). For example, a product might declare the presence of flour but not wheat, or the presence of tree nuts but not include a particular type of nut. 
Another reason for a recall is an undeclared allergen that does not show on the label.  In the creation of the label, it is sometimes easy to fail to see the presence of “hidden allergens” that can be a part of an ingredient. For instance, gluten might be “hidden“ in soy-sauce originating from a minor amount of wheat.
Vigilance and accurate supplier ingredient specifications are crucial, particularly when formatting label information for products that contain composite ingredients.
Sometimes an ingredient supplier reformulates its product and fails to notify the customers down the chain about the addition or substitution of allergens or such a notification gets lost.    

Recent Examples of Recalls

Recent recalls show that even if a product itself is manufactured correctly, a failure to get the packaging and labeling right can cause a full-scale recall.
Clif Bar & Company recalled a variety of bars because they may have contained undeclared peanuts. The company received a small number of consumer complaints alleging peanut or tree nut allergic reactions. There are no confirmed illnesses associated with it.
Raja Foods LLC of Skokie, Il recalled “ANARKALI PESHAWARI NAAN” because it may have contained milk that was undeclared on the package. One illness has been reported to date.
 St Louis-based Dierbergs recalled various Deli Products with multiple uses by dates because of undeclared fish (anchovy) in a Caesar dressing and undeclared milk in 2 Santa Fe wraps.    Global Lamsheng Kee Inc., Brooklyn, NY recalled Frozen Fish Tofu, Frozen Fried Fish Ball, and Frozen White Fish Ball because they may have contained undeclared egg. 
FC International Inc. of Los Angeles, CA recalled a rice seasoning product because it was found to be missing the English Product Label.
Slade Gorton, Boston, MA recalled several Tilapia products because they may have contained undeclared milk since the fish was dusted with flour containing milk. Slade Gorton was notified by its breading vendor, Newly Weds Foods, Inc., that the pre-dust and breading it supplied to Slade Gorton & Co., Inc. may have contained milk. 
Gerber Products Company of Florham Park, New Jersey, recalled Cheese Ravioli Gerber® Pasta Pick-Ups® because the egg allergen is missing from the “Contains” statement. While “egg” is listed as an ingredient in the full ingredient list but is missing from the section “Contains” that is designed to alert parents to allergens in the recipe (see figure).

What Have we Learned?

Undeclared allergens is a major recall reason, accounting for more recalls than all food pathogens together in the last three months.  Simple problems that could have been avoided caused a lot of these recalls.
A way to keep computer labels up-to-date- is the use of an emerging technology that can assign a bar code to each ingredient, which can be utilized to scan the ingredients as they are being added to a mixer.
To avoid recalls due to allergens, it is important to control packaging picking and to have a robust label control system. Most packaging mistakes are caused by human errors, predominantly during the manual setup of packaging line equipment. Many of these errors such as entering an incorrect date code, use of the wrong label, a packaging print error or placing the product in the wrong package can be easily avoided.

Recalls and Outbreaks due to Food Pathogens: Is there a connection?


Most food recalls in the U.S. are due to Listeria

Food Safety Tech has reported that in 2016 about 550 food products were recalled in the US.  Of the recalled products, 275 were due to microbial contamination. Of the recalls, due to microbial contamination, 65% were due to Listeria monocytogenes. Salmonella accounted for 21% of the recalls, while E. coli accounted for only 3% of the recalls.
As we reported, earlier this trend in continuing this year (More Recalls Caused by Fear of Listeria monocytogenes Contamination and In the last few days, (6/14-6/16) there have been several more recalls due to Listeria) with much more recalls due to Listeria.

CDC Outbreak reports

Listeria monocytogenes

2017: Listeriosis Linked to Soft Raw Milk Cheese Made by Vulto Creamery 

Summary: Cases: 8, States: 4, Death: 2, Hospitalization: 8, Recall: yes
Cheese made by Vulto Creamery, from raw milk, was for sale at stores where at least seven of the ill people bought cheese before getting sick. Based on interviews with the sick people, all eight people ate a soft cheese. The ill resident of Florida reported traveling to New York State and eating soft cheese there before becoming ill.


Listeriosis Linked to Frozen Vegetables 

Summary: Cases: 9, States: 4, Deaths: 3, Hospitalizations: 9, Recall:  Yes
CRF Frozen Foods recalled 11 frozen vegetable products On April 23, 2016, due to potential contamination with Listeria. The recall was expanded On April 23, 2016, to include all organic and traditional frozen vegetable and fruit products processed in its Pasco, Washington. More than 350 consumer products (using 42 separate brands) were recalled, as well as at least 100 other products from other companies that contained recalled ingredients from CRF Frozen Foods. 

Listeriosis Linked to Raw Milk Produced by Miller’s Organic Farm in Pennsylvania 

Summary: Cases: 2, States: 2, Deaths: 1, Hospitalizations: 2, Recall:  No

Listeriosis Linked to Packaged Salads Produced at Springfield, Ohio Dole Processing Facility 

Summary: Cases: 19, States: 9, Deaths: 1, Hospitalizations: 19, Recall:  Yes
The Ohio Department of Agriculture collected a Dole packaged salad from a retail location and isolated Listeria. Of the 14 ill people, 13 (93%) reported eating a packaged salad. Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicated that packaged salads produced at the Dole processing facility in Springfield, Ohio and sold under various brand names were the likely source of this outbreak.

Listeria Summary



2017: Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Live Poultry in Backyard Flocks

Summary: Outbreaks: 8 Cases: 372, States: 47, Hospitalizations: 71, Recall:  No
The dates covered are from January 4, 2017, to May 13, 2017. 36% of ill people are children younger than 5 years. 83% of the ill people had contact with live poultry in the week before illness started. In 2016 a record number of illnesses linked to backyard poultry were reported.



Salmonella Anatum Infections Linked to Imported Hot Peppers — United States, May–July 2016 

Thirty-two patients in nine states were identified with illness onsets from May 6–July 9, 2016. In this outbreak, the only food sample yielding Salmonella matching the outbreak strain was an Anaheim pepper. It was difficult to identify the pepper variety, especially when it was used as an ingredient. This outbreak also highlights new challenges in outbreak investigations when trying to reconcile epidemiologic data with WGS results

Multidrug-Resistant Salmonella Heidelberg Infections Linked to Contact with Dairy Bull Calves 

Summary: Cases: 36, States: 10, Deaths: 0, Hospitalizations: 13
The illness report started from January 27, 2015, to January 16, 2017. 69% of the sick people interviewed reported contact with dairy bull calves or other cattle. WGS showed that isolates from ill people were closely related genetically to one another.

Salmonella Oranienburg Infections Linked to Good Earth Egg Company Shell Eggs 

Summary: Case Count: 8, States: 3, Deaths: 0, Hospitalizations: 2, Recall:  Yes
Good Earth Egg Company of Bonne Terre, Missouri recalled its shell eggs, on October 3, 2016, because of potential contamination with Salmonella. The eggs were distributed throughout the Midwest, including Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas. Illnesses commenced on April 23, 2016, and continued to August 24, 2016. Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations identified shell eggs distributed by Good Earth Egg Company of Bonne Terre, Missouri as the likely source of this outbreak.

Salmonella Reading and Salmonella Abony Infections Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts

Summary: Cases: 36, States: 9, Deaths: 0, Hospitalizations: 7, Recall:  Yes
Sprouts Extraordinaire recalled its alfalfa sprout products from the market on August 5, 2016, because of potential contamination with Salmonella. Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations identified Sprouts Extraordinaire of Denver, CO as the likely source. 58% of the sick people reported eating alfalfa sprouts in the week before illness started.

Eight Multistate Outbreaks of Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Live Poultry in Backyard Flocks 

Summary: Cases: 895, States: 48, Hospitalizations: 209, Death:  3
Similar to the outbreak reported for this year. Ill people reported purchasing live baby poultry from several suppliers, including feed supply stores, Internet sites, hatcheries, and friends in multiple states. Epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory findings linked the eight outbreaks to contact with live poultry, such as chicks and ducklings, from multiple hatcheries.

Salmonella Montevideo and Salmonella Senftenberg Infections Linked to Wonderful Pistachios 

Summary: Cases: 11, States: 9, Hospitalizations: 2, Death:  0 Recall: Yes
Wonderful Pistachios recalled a limited number of flavors and sizes of in-shell and shelled pistachios on March 9, 2016, because they may have been contaminated with Salmonella. WGS results showed that isolates of Salmonella Senftenberg from ill people were closely related genetically and that all 11 infections from both outbreak strains (S. Montevideo (9) and S.  Senftenberg (2) ) were closely related genetically to the isolates found in samples of raw pistachios from Paramount Farms.

Salmonella Infections Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts from One Contaminated Seed Lot 

Summary: Cases: 26, States: 12, Hospitalizations: 8, Death:  0 Recall: No
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued a warning on February 19, 2016, to consumers to not eat alfalfa sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms. Sweetwater Farms withdrew all of its sprout products from the market on February 26, 2016. Even after the withdraw people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Muenchen continued to be reported. The seed supplier contacted sprouters who received contaminated lot of seeds and asked that they return them. 

Salmonella Virchow Infections Linked to Garden of Life RAW Meal Organic Shake & Meal Products 

Summary: Cases: 33, States: 23, Hospitalizations: 6, Death:  0 Recall: Yes
Garden of Life, LLC recalled a limited quantity of its RAW Meal Organic Shake & Meal products available in chocolate, original, vanilla, and vanilla chai on January 29, 2016, because they had the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella Virchow. 
Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicated that products made by Garden of Life were the likely source of this outbreak. The Utah Public Health Laboratory and Oklahoma Public Health Laboratory isolated the outbreak strain of Salmonella Virchow from open containers of Garden of Life RAW Meal. FDA sampling confirmed the presence of the outbreak strain of Salmonella Virchow in Organic Moringa Leaf powder used in RAW Meal Organic Shake & Meal Replacement.

Salmonella Summary

Recalls and Outbreaks

Comparing the recalls to the outbreaks there is a disproportionate number of recalls due to Listeria monocytogenes as compared with all other food pathogens. In the past year, there were more outbreaks related to Salmonella than Listeria.  However, it is striking to see the difference in fatalities between the outbreaks of the two organisms. Listeria causes significantly more fatalities, and perhaps this is the justification for the frequent recalls.

Use of Crowdsourcing in the Food Industry and Food Safety

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.


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.