Tag Archives: foodborne illness

Testing the Water

j0444789What is the difference between water activity and water “moisture” content? Well, it all depends on what you want to achieve. Do you want to monitor the amount of water and dry matter present in a product? Or do you want to increase and monitor the shelf stability of a product?

“Water ‘moisture’ content is the amount of water contained in a product”. Measuring water “moisture” content is better used to determine quality of the process. For example, if the product is a cheese powder that is spray dried, it is common practice to measure the water “moisture” content to determine yield and to ascertain if your drying process is running according to the diagnosed plan.

Water activity is defined as the measurement of the availability of free water for biological reactions—especially the biological reactions that can make humans and animals very sick.  Water activity is more critical in the food industry. Bacteria love water; gram-negative bacteria like E.coli need a minimum of .97 moisture content for growth, and the Staphylococcal toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus only needs a minimum of .93 for growth. To put this into perspective, know that pure water’s moisture content is 1.00. Thus, it is critical for food manufacturers to know and monitor the water activity before, during, and after manufacturing for safety. See the table below for the water activity and content levels of common foods:

Water Activity of Common Foods (aw)

fresh meats and fish:                     0.99

moist cakes:                                       0.90-0.95

soy sauce:                                           0.80

jams, marmalades, jellies:            0.75-0.80

dried spices, milk powder:           0.20-0.60

Water Content of Common Foods (%)

apples:                 84

peppers:              92

salami, beef       60

dried fruit            31

wheat flour        11

Water activity is crucial to food safety. Microbes are everywhere, and will find any way possible to a food source, ultimately causing spoilage. Moisture analysis monitoring processes are set up to eliminate as many microbes as possible, with the key to moisture control and water activity being to find ways to bind the water so that it doesn’t allow microbes to find a food source—thus extending a product’s shelf life. Contact one of Nelson Jameson’s product specialists today to discuss your moisture analysis and water activity needs.

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Summer Food Safety for Moms-To-Be

Source: Downthemeadow.com

Source: Downthemeadow.com

Summer is here, and if you’re like us in the lab, you have sunshine, beaches, backyard cookouts, picnics, and Listeria monocytogenes on your mind. Warm weather and good food are two things we can all appreciate; however, unfortunately these conditions are also ideal for foodborne illness caused by Listeria.

According to the USDA’s Crystal McDade-Ngutter, Ph.D: “Listeria monocytogenes is a dangerous bacterium that you should be on the lookout for all year round—especially in the summer months. Listeria can cause a foodborne illness called listeriosis. It can grow at refrigeration temperatures and is one of the deadliest foodborne illnesses.” Listeriosis can be fatal, and is especially dangerous to numerous populations, including pregnant women.

For those expecting or hosting someone that is expecting at their next summer barbeque or picnic, consider these preventative measures that can help keep pregnant women and their mini-barbeque/picnic goer safe this summer:

  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Avoid getting fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk.
    • It is safe to eat hard cheeses, semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella, pasteurized processed cheese slices and spreads, cream cheese, and cottage cheese.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâté or meat spreads.
    • It is safe to eat canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish such as a casserole. Examples of refrigerated smoked seafood include salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel which are most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” This fish is found in the refrigerated section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens.
    • It is safe to eat canned fish such as salmon and tuna or shelf-stable smoked seafood.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
  • Use all refrigerated perishable items that are precooked or ready-to-eat as soon as possible.
  • Clean your refrigerator regularly.
  • Use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure that the refrigerator always stays at 40 °F or below.

Follow these tips to ensure that you and your little one have a fun and safe summer. For additional summer food safety tips, check out Krisina Beaugh’s “Checklist For the Perfect Summer Picnic.”

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Making Sense of Listeria

Listeria monocytogenes (ABC News)

Listeria monocytogenes (ABC News)

The Centers for Disease Control estimates “approximately 1600 illnesses and 260 deaths due to listeriosis [infection caused by listeria] occur annually in the United States.” Even though responsible for fewer illnesses than other pathogens that are out there, listeria’s relatively high mortality rate (especially for certain segments of the population) naturally resonates with both consumers and food producers as a focus for concern. This has especially been the case with numerous high-profile listeria cases making headlines in the past several months.

Consumers may be surprised to find out that, opposed to being some isolated super-bug, “Listeria monocytogenes is commonly found in soil and water. Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin, such as meats and dairy products.” Beyond that, food processors, understanding the threat that listeria presents, are especially concerned with the fact that: “When Listeria bacteria get into a food processing factory, they can live there for years, sometimes contaminating food products.”

So what is to be done to combat listeria?   Consumers can check out information on prevention from the CDC here and information from the FDA on proper handling of ready-to-eat, refrigerated foods here. The continuing presence of listeria in the headlines will no doubt also give pause for many food processors to review internal practices/standards, and review local, state, and federal resources to address the issue. Fortunately, risks can be minimized by utilizing programs and products that target some of the following areas: cleaning and sampling; ensuring proper temperatures when processing and handling food; and separating foods and parts of the production/preparation process to avoid cross-contamination.

To assist producers find products that can be of use, Nelson-Jameson has compiled a collection of products, including testing/sampling supplies, color-coded products, and numerous other offerings to both test for and prevent listeria concerns. You can check out these products here.

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Avoid “Blech” Friday: Carefully Handle the Leftovers!

Source: Food Network

Source: Food Network

In our house, there are two camps when “Black Friday” hits: the “Dedicated Shoppers” and, those like myself, the “Thanks, I’m Not Giving Up” eaters.

The “Thanks, I’m Not Giving Up,” population, still basking in the glory of the stomach-stuffing of the previous day, shuns leaving the home in favor of recreating the glory of Thanksgiving though various helpings of leftovers throughout the day. Often, this is done in a traditional wardrobe of elastic-waist fleece pants and a hooded sweatshirt. In such regalia, the following exchanges may take place (in one’s head):

Q: “Would I like a mound of reheated green bean casserole?”
A: “Please…I think it only gets better on the second day!”

Q: “Care for some stuffing reanimated with a healthy dose of leftover gravy?”
A: “Well, it is the holiday season…”

Q: “Can I fit the rest of the turkey leftovers into one sandwich?”
A: “Well, I suppose everyone else ate while they were out shopping…”

Much like with Black Friday shoppers, it pays to plan, my fellow “Thanks, I’m Not Giving Up” eaters! As soon as Thanksgiving is over, start thinking strategy! To avoid making it a “Blech Friday,” (the natural enemy of seasonal reheat-aficionados) consider some of these tips from Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service:

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Don’t Get Pinned Down By Norovirus This Winter

graphic_970pxThe June issue of the CDC’s Vital Signs discusses the disturbing fact, that when it comes to norovirus: “…the amount of virus particles that fit on the head of a pin would be enough to infect more than 1000 people.” Not only that, but this tough contender can withstand freezing, as well as temperatures up to 140˚F; it causes 19-21 million illnesses in the United States alone; and it holds the championship belt for being the “most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States”!

However, norovirus does not have to prevail this winter (a time when the illness frequently shows up). One simple, but very effective treatment is out there that can limit the spread of norovirus: hand-washing. Though it may be common knowledge for folks working in the food industry, it’s good for us to take a step back and remind ourselves of the significant responsibility we play in preventing the spread of norovirus. A massive 70% of contaminated (norovirus) food outbreaks are caused by infected food workers. With the virus’s ability to live and thrive in numerous environments, hand-washing is our best way to say “no” to norovirus all year long.

…and Nelson-Jameson is here to do our part!   That’s why we have compiled a wide line of hand hygiene products meant to take on the challenge.  Our selection of soaps, signage, hand dryers, and towels are there to assist in the struggle to contain this formidable opponent.  We even offer Glo-Germ products, meant to help in training/demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques to employees.   Call us for more information or to get a copy of our “Hand Hygiene Products” catalog.

To check out more about the importance of hand-washing, check out this site from the CDC concerning how “Clean Hands Save Lives,” or our Learning Center article on Hand Hygiene.

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