Tardy Testing Endangers Consumers

Once upon a time, a routine E. coli O157:H7 presence/absence test required at least two days to complete.

Once upon a time, a routine Salmonella presence/absence test took at least four days to complete.

Once upon a time, a routine Listeria monocytogenes presence/absence test required at least four days.

Today, all of these analyses can be performed in 24 hours or less, using recognized, readily available rapid test kits.

So, why are we still seeing recall notices that state “…the bacterium was discovered during routine sampling?

On August 22, 2012, Spence & Co. Ltd. (Brockton, MA) recalled approximately 635 pounds of Wellsley Farms brand Nova Lox and Smoked Salmon Trim. The recall was initiated after routine sampling detected Listeria monocytogenes in the product. The products already were in circulation for two months at the time of the recall. No illnesses were reported, according to the recall notice.

Did the company learn from this? You can bet your life it did NOT! On November 9, 2012, Spence issued a second recall notice, this time for approximately 390 pounds of New York Style Nova Lox that were distributed – you guessed it – more than one month earlier. This time, Spence’s Lox may be responsible for two cases of listeriosis.

With affordable rapid testing kits readily available, there is no justification for releasing untested products – even highly perishable products – into the retail marketplace.

I am the first to acknowledge that finished product testing isn’t foolproof. A proper microbiological testing program must include ingredient testing and environmental monitoring in addition to finished product tests. Nevertheless, the retail distribution of a product without any testing whatsoever is unconscionable, especially when that same product already has a history of Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

Consumers have every right to expect that the food they purchase has been processed and handled in a safe manner – and that manufacturers have taken every reasonable precaution to ensure that this is so.

It’s time to make “test and hold” a standard food industry practice.


2 thoughts on “Tardy Testing Endangers Consumers

  1. My first experience with this sort of thing was in the summer of 1960. A dairy had difficulty meeting more stringent army micro. standards. We solved the problem in the short term by sampling every can of milk and after 24 hrs incubation the driver phoned the lab and was told which cans could be unloaded – eventually we figured out what the problem was; however, the consultant who was a just retired food science dept. chairman taught me a lesson I never forgot and that is: Any company that puts in a comprehensive microbiological testing program will soon have much more data than any regulatory agency can accumulate over many years. The data will also reflect trends of contamination better than spot testing by regulatory agencies — and that was before the screening tests that you talk of were available. Since we started to give lip service to GMP and HACCP, end product testing has been dismissed; however, done consistently it will provide much information to manufacturers and help ensure micro. quality of foods.


  2. Great post. Even though end product testing isn’t foolproof, I do agree with your conclusion that we need it. I am also struck by how long it takes to uncover problems once bad product has entered distribution. Pathogen screening tests now produce results in less than 24 hours. We must improve our traceback tools to shorten the 1-2 month dwell time for investigations.


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