Environment control systems increasingly vital for preventing foodborne illnesses
Wednesday, Apr 3rd 2013

Because the number of foodborne illnesses remains stubbornly high, restaurants and other food service providers need to further leverage environment control systems and other new technologies that can help prevent the spread of pathogens, according to Dr. Martin Nash.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17 percent of all Americans succumb to a foodborne illness in a given year. Of these 48 million people, about 128,000 go to the hospital for treatment and an estimated 3,000 of them will die as a result of the infection.

Even these sobering statistics may be misleading, however, as many infections go unreported. For example, the CDC estimated that approximately 97 percent of all Campylobactor infections, 96 percent of all E. coli cases and 96 percent of all Salmonella incidents are not accounted for in official tallies. Considering that these three pathogens are responsible for about 54 percent of all foodborne illness-related hospitalizations, likely far more Americans than the 48 million cited by the CDC are becoming sick every year because of contaminated food items.

While meat from land-based animals such as beef and pork is one of the most common ways humans get a foodborne illness, any food item - including fruits and vegetables - can house a disease-causing pathogen, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"Foodborne illnesses and deaths are preventable, and as such, are unacceptable," said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. "We must, and can, do better by intensifying our efforts to implement measures that are prevention-oriented and science-based."

To prevent illnesses, turn to environmental monitoring
Totally eradicating foodborne illnesses in the United States is a tall order considering the increasing complexity of the global food supply chain and the number of people who may come in contact with a piece of food. For example, even if a steak has been properly shipped and stored, a line cook who did not adequately wash his or her hands may still cause a restaurant patron to later fall ill. While these diseases cannot be totally prevented, a food service provider can better protect their food supplies with advanced environment control systems that utilize humidity monitoring and temperature sensor technology, Nash wrote in Food Product Design.

Most pathogens thrive under specific conditions, and restaurant operators can make sure their refrigerators and freezers are always cold enough and sufficiently dry so that even the hardiest bacteria cannot grow. To make sure that the environment control systems are always functioning, Nash recommended that food service providers leverage technology that provides alerts to facility managers so that direct and swift action can be taken to remedy any potential issues.

"In addition to automating the process of food-safety monitoring, wireless technology can be used to send alarms to your PC, tablet or smartphone, providing immediate notification if there is a problem with cold storage and food temperatures to ensure food safety and to prevent costly food spoilage in the event of a hardware failure," he wrote. "To see the value of this service, you need only look at the recent case of the restaurateur whose chef left the door of a walk-in refrigerator open overnight. By  morning, all the specialty foods, meats and proteins had gone bad, costing about $30,000 in food alone."