As a food safety certification courses Lead Instructor, I get to talk to a number of people attending my classes.
This also gives me a unique chance to observe how individuals perceive food safety and different aspects of food safety management.
In most of the courses I teach, majority of participants fail to recognize environmental pathogens as a potential hazard in high risk or ready to eat operations. This comes up in hazard analysis exercise when participants identify and analyze potential hazards, specific to food models they receive at the class. Keep in mind that only a small fraction of course attendees are food safety professionals. Most people are experts in their field related to food production but not necessarily food safety.
When you look at the recall data and reportable food registry, you will see that a great number of food safety issues is caused by pathogens mainly Listeria Monocytogenes and Salmonella. Still the same data shows that allergens remain the main reasons for product recalls but here the understanding of the allergen control measures seems to be sufficient.
During one of the classes I decided to share my observations and asked participants to give me their opinion as to why environmental pathogens are so hard for people to recognize and understand.
Some of the feedback I got is as follows. For many small and very small manufacturers, Environmental Pathogens are new. These were introduced with FSMA just a few years ago.
In general, people realize the danger associated with pathogens but still unsure on how to properly control them within their operations. Small businesses often do not have resources and qualifying personnel to design an effective Environmental Monitoring Program.
Allergens are easier to understand and for the most part companies have appropriate controls in place. The problem with many undeclared allergens recalls lays in implementation and enforcing these controls. Very often a lack of training is the root cause for failures.
Going back to my consulting experience I tend to agree with the above. Small and very small operators are lacking internal resource and external resources are often out of their financial range. Many times, the owners with no food safety background take over the role of HACCP coordinators or PCQIs.
In response to the need, we will be expanding pre-loaded content available through our Learning Management System to include Environmental Pathogens Control 101. This is to assist small business in their efforts of enhancing their food safety systems.