Interview with Michael Lucas, CEO, Frequentz
A recent cyclospora outbreak has sickened more than 500 people in 18 states, with some cases linked to salad mix imported from Mexico. While cyclospora contamination is uncommon in the U.S., the outbreak highlights the importance of using traceability to identify pathogenic contamination in food products early in order to protect brand reputation and prevent illness. Food Manufacturing spoke with Michael Lucas of Frequentz about the outbreak and the steps food manufacturers can take to help prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.
Q: How common is cyclospora in U.S. food products, and which products are most at risk?
A: Cyclospora is a parasite commonly found in fresh produce or drinking water. Outbreaks cases aren’t as frequent in the U.S. given that the parasite grows in tropical or subtropical climates; however, there is always a risk of cyclospora contamination with imported products.
Q: How does a food product become contaminated with cyclospora?
A: Cyclospora is typically found in food or drinking water that has been contaminated with fecal matter. Contaminated water, for example, might unknowingly be used to water the plants and vegetables before it’s harvested and packaged, which is one way it may end up in our food. Cyclospora thrives in tropical or subtropical environments, making the population in those areas more susceptible to contamination and illness. However, the contamination can occur at various stages of the food process from farming to packaging, shipping and distributing. So it’s critical that traceability technology is implemented from the onset to monitor the food supply chain.
Q: What products or services does Frequentz offer producers looking to improve their food safety practices?
A: Food distributors are still missing track-and-trace technology, which is implemented in either the packaging or distribution process. Frequentz’s technology, Information Repository & Intelligence Server (IRIS), provides food suppliers and distributors visibility across the life cycle of a product. It allows food producers, suppliers and even retailers the ability to track, trace and store all the information around a product. Having the serialized data collected during the entire cycle is an important capability for the food industry. Food suppliers can minimize the impact of a contamination or recall by turning to IRIS’ data repository to locate where the affected food is. In the recent cyclospora case, it took officials several days to pinpoint where the contamination came from while it continued to spread across states. Food safety and food quality is always top of mind for Frequentz.
Q: How can track-and-trace technology help prevent foodborne illnesses and product recalls?
A: Track-and-trace technology like IRIS gives food suppliers better visibility to reduce the risk of exposure to contaminated products. If contamination is caught early on, before it makes it to grocers in the distribution phase, it’s easy to step back and pinpoint which items are affected, where they came from and where they are located. All of this cuts back on the painstaking process and investigation currently used by food suppliers and agencies trying to pinpoint where a contamination occurred or how many stores received the product.
Q: What actions should food producers take to help prevent pathogenic contaminations like cyclospora?
A: Preventing contamination from pathogens comes down to following basic principles of handling food, but there’s more that the food industry can do in terms of prevention or containing an outbreak using technology. Nowhere is it more critical to apply track-and-trace technology than in the food industry.