Food First Blog | Tip of the Week: What is the "seek & destroy" a

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Tip of the Week: What is the "seek & destroy" approach in an environmental monitoring program?
Tip of the Week: What is the

How does a food facility incorporate the finding and fixing of potential sources of contamination (e.g., niches) before food safety is compromised?

Understanding the FDA’s goal is a good starting point:

  • Find pathogen of concern and harborage sites if present in your plant; and
  • Ensure that corrective actions have eliminated the pathogen of concern(s) and harborage sites when found in your plant.

Also, it's important to understand the scientific definition of "seek and destroy": 
Seek and destroy is an investigative technique that includes an aggressive, systematic approach to identifying harborage sites and niche locations where microbes (e.g., L. monocytogenes, Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 etc.) survive or persist despite regular cleaning and sanitation measures.

The FDA incorporated the “seek and destroy” approach used by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) into the draft guidance on controlling L. monocytogenes in RTE products (FDA 2017). One of the objectives was to bring uniformity in the federal approach in RTE facilities that produce foods that are regulated by both USDA/FSIS and FDA. Integrating these approaches along with the food safety requirements under FSMA, should lead to more effective efforts to control L. monocytogenes in RTE products.Although the above FDA’s perspective is for L. monocytogenes, the concept can be applied to other potential foodborne pathogens.

Other definitions to know when referencing an environmental monitoring program:

Niche: A small area (e.g., cracks, holes, etc.) that can provide shelter to microorganisms and is protected from the general sanitation process.

Harborage site: Growth niche that contains the pathogen or its indicator. Sites where the pathogen has established itself and may be multiplying.

Vector swabbing: Vector sampling involves collection and testing of additional swab samples in a “star burst” pattern around the initial positive site.

  • Typically, 4-6 additional swab samples are taken
  • Main objective to identify the source of contamination

Microbial challenges are one of the leading reasons for product recalls. An effective Environmental Monitoring Program can help eliminate unsanitary practices and risks of cross-contamination. Food facilities are especially fraught with risks of pathogens so determining how to effectively and methodically draft a plan can be a challenge. AIB International’s Director of Microbiology Kantha Channaiah teamed up with the International Food Safety & Quality Network to deliver a free webinar to teach you how to set up a sampling zone for an Environmental Monitoring Program.

Watch now

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