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Listeria and Traceability: Auburn Speaks to the Importance of Tracking Food

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lab testingOn Friday, April 24, 2015, Inventure Foods, Inc. in Jefferson, Georgia announced a recall of many food items due to listeria, including some found regularly in our freezers such as fresh frozen vegetables and Jamba home smoothie kits. http://www.inventurefoods.com/information/frozenrecall  This announcement adds to the growing list of foods found to contain listeria recently, including Blue Bell Ice Cream and Sabra Classic Hummus.

Listeria is a form of bacteria that causes listeriosis, an infection that can potentially harm newborns, pregnant woman, the elderly, and others whose immune systems are already compromised. Common symptoms include fever, body aches, and gastrointestinal distress. These conditions can be serious for those already in poor health and can lead to life-threatening conditions for the fetuses of pregnant women.

Recent listeria recalls point to the importance of tracking food from its origins to the table. In the 2014 edition of Auburn Speaks, entitled Food Systems, Brian Gibson, Joe Hanna, and Mark Clark overview ways that technology can track foods through supply chain management principles and technological applications. The authors argue that prompt traceability (which they define as the “ability to follow a food product through the processes of production, processing, and distribution”) helps to ensure food safety while allowing farmers, wholesalers, and retailers to track their stocks and improve supply and efficiency.

To limit the impact of contamination like that of listeria, Gibson, Hanna, and Clark recommend implementation of better data gathering techniques that will help authorities quickly identify cases of food similar to those they find to be contaminated. They suggest that two current methods, barcoding and RFID chips, may offer the most immediate solution. Both of these technologies involve placing a marker of some sort on each case of product. This marker can then be scanned to reveal information about the product’s history and handling, including who produced the product, the lot number from which it came, and the packing date.

More consistent and precise data will help authorities trace potentially damaged stock back to its original source. In addition, this information allows authorities to identify all of the produce linked to a source of contamination and eliminate it from supermarket shelves. The authors stress that information is one major method for minimizing the potential dangers of food-borne pathogens like listeria.

To learn more, and to get the stories behind the headlines, check Auburn Speaks: On Food Systems.

To purchase issues from the award-winning Auburn Speaks visit the Auburn Speaks Store.

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