Professionals needing to create and implement an environmental monitoring program (EMP) can learn to do so with ease through a new online course offered by North Carolina State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences has launched a new online certification course designed to help dairy processors develop EMPs — however, the concepts taught in this course can be applied to any field and to anyone in the food manufacturing and processing industry. The course was funded by the North Carolina Dairy Foundation to better assist the state’s dairy industry to get ahead and resolve issues prior to federal investigations.
In 2017, FDA linked a Listeria outbreak to a creamery in New York. The company recalled all of its soft, wash-rind raw milk cheeses and FDA conducted an investigation of the creamery after the multi-state outbreak caused eight people to get sick, two of whom later died as a result of the illness. In sampling, FDA found more than 50 positive results of Listeria monocytogenes, 10 of which were on food contact surfaces. Essentially, the agency determined that the company was not using effective cleaning and sanitizing practices — having an EMP could have prevented the outbreak and recall.
For many facilities producing products that are exposed to the environment between processing and packaging steps, FDA is requiring that an EMP be in place to make sure that their cleaning and sanitation practices are being performed correctly and effectively. Having an EMP in place helps ensure that products are safe, and it could potentially help prevent costly recalls for businesses. Experts call it a “seek and destroy” program for food safety. In other words, it is a systematic approach to finding niches in food processing where environmental pathogens exist so that you can then reduce the effects of their presence.
The online course, which takes about eight hours, is self-paced with each lesson taking between 25 to 40 minutes. It is available to anyone in the food manufacturing industry and can be taken as many times as needed to receive the certification. The final lesson is a case study for which students have to figure out the case of the hidden Listeria.
The process of creating and implementing an EMP takes time, but it is achievable. The course, taught by Graduate Teaching Assistant Stephanie Maggio and Associate Professor Clint Stevenson, uses adaptive learning and includes different interactive learning activities to make it relatable for dairy processors. Maggio designed and implemented Howling Cow’s EMP. When she joined the team, they had a basic food safety plan in place and needed to add an EMP program to comply with new FDA requirements.
“I went around and looked for the most appropriate sites to sample based on where Listeria monocytogenes would likely hide in the facility,” Maggio said. “I’m looking at difficult-to-clean places that get wet and might stay wet for a long time.” After developing the plan and identifying sample sites, Maggio wrote the sampling schedule of frequency, number, and surface location of samples to collect. Then she implemented her work, collecting 15 samples every two weeks and sending them to a lab for analysis. Because Howling Cow doesn’t run every day, Maggio said larger processors who run every day, all day, should collect more samples, more frequently.
North Carolina residents can take the course for free by emailing Maggio at firstname.lastname@example.org to attain the code. Those outside the state can save 75% off the course fee with the discount code EMP75.
Source: Kristin Sargent, NC State