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A string of recent food recalls due to possible Salmonella contamination underscores the importance of better tracking within the food supply chain in order to quickly trace and contain such outbreaks before they become a serious public health threat.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on March 7 released a list of 56 products including soups, sauces, chilis, stews, hot dogs, gravies, seasoned snack foods, dips and dressings that may contain a food flavoring contaminated with Salmonella – expanding a recall that began on February 26.
The food flavoring in question, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), is made by a small number of companies. HVP is widely used in a large number of products, according to the FDA. This latest recall comes in the wake of a report this week by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Georgetown University that estimates food-borne illnesses cost the U.S. $152 billion annually.
"A recall of this size can pose a serious threat to public health and underscores the need for more efficient tracking within the supply chain. Consumers must be assured that their food supply is safe. Better tracking using the latest technology such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), enables quicker determination of the source of contamination before these products hit store shelves," said Bob Moore, chairman and CEO, Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS Company LLC).
Unlike the more than 1 billion wood pallets in circulation, iGPS plastic pallets are embedded with RFID tags that allow products to be traced at numerous points along the supply chain, providing a way to pinpoint and contain contaminated food.
"Food and drug companies that take advantage of pallets with this RFID technology can quickly locate, and if necessary, divert products in these increasingly common and potentially deadly outbreaks. Congress and the FDA need to act to more aggressively to contain the risks of food-borne illnesses. Technology exists that can save precious time and prevent more tainted products from reaching the American public," Moore added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million food-borne illness cases occur every year in the United States. Salmonella bacteria cause at least 40,000 illnesses a year in the U.S., and an estimated 400 deaths, the CDC reports. E. coli is a potentially lethal group of bacteria that every year sickens more than 70,000 Americans. And Listeriosis is responsible for 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths in the United States annually - the leading cause of death among food-borne bacterial pathogens.
iGPS recently commissioned a series of tests in cities from Portland, Maine to New Orleans that found Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and extremely high bacteria counts on scores of wood pallets pulled at random from public markets and retail food outlets. In New Orleans, for example, 43 percent of wood pallets tested at an independent scientific laboratory came back positive for E. coli, Listeria and/or Salmonella. One wood pallet tested positive for all three food-poisoning bacteria. The results are consistent with similar findings by USDA and FDA.
iGPS has been calling on the federal government to establish a set of national sanitary standards for the pallet industry to curb the threat of contamination to the U.S. food supply.
The FDA's own guidelines recommend using pallets that can easily be cleaned and that wood pallets not be used in areas where Refrigerated or Frozen Ready-To-Eat Foods are processed or exposed.
iGPS operates the world's first pallet rental service providing shippers and receivers with all-plastic pallets with embedded RFID tags. iGPS' state-of-the-art pallets are 30 percent lighter than wood, which saves on transport costs and helps reduce green house gases. Its pallets are also more hygienic, easier to handle and, because they eliminate protruding nails and splinters, reduce workplace injuries and damaged equipment. Embedded RFID tags enable shippers and receivers to track and trace shipments.