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Listeria - Why is it Not Going Away? - Part II

Craig Kahlke, Team Leader, Fruit Quality Management
Lake Ontario Fruit Program

June 19, 2017

Listeria - Why is it Not Going Away ? - Part I
Craig Kahlke

For Part I - please see FN volume 16, Issue 14 (June 22, 2016) or click here:|food_safety

To summarize part I, two deadly Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) outbreaks were covered, that hospitalized a combined 182 people, with 40 deaths. For the first time, a foodborne illness was associated with fresh apples in the Bidart Brothers outbreak. Better technology has allowed increased detection of Listeria spp., Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp., and other pathogens that cause foodborne illness in fresh produce. The number of recalls (positive results of the previous pathogens) has increased, but the number of outbreaks and individual illnesses has not increased. Sanitation to reduce risk of these pathogens in the field is difficult. There are some practices at the farm level to reduce the likelihood of Lm; however, the focus needs to be in the packinghouse. There is a great need for equipment that can be easily cleaned, sanitized, and allowed to dry at the end of each day. What is available in the marketplace today is still lacking, but newer packing lines and packing equipment available today are beginning to utilize principles of sanitary design, in which the equipment is constructed with materials that are more resistant to microbial growth and designed in a manner that facilitates easy cleaning and sanitizing.
Center for Produce Safety (CPS) Annual Symposium

There is a lot of research happening in the US to address the big questions regarding Lm and other pathogens that are causing foodborne illness in fresh produce. Since my article in mid-June, the Center for Produce Safety (CPS) had its annual symposium, summarizing funded applied research projects in all aspects of foodborne contamination on fresh produce. The two-day conference was kicked off with a large panel session: A Case Study - Part I: Lm Outbreak and Caramel Apples; Part II: Lm, Caramel Apples and What We Learned. The panelists dissected the outbreak from a scientific and public health perspective. Panelists included representatives of the CA Dept. of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, several university scientists, USDA, and the Northwest Hort Council. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) was introduced as a tool in the epidemiological traceback, and found that Listeria was still present, even months later when the environment in the packinghouse was dry and completely free of water. This upended some of the conventional thinking about Listeria and its ability to survive in dry environments.

Research was presented that demonstrated the potential for Lm growth in caramelized apples. Observations from the production facility investigation were shared. There were very large failures in communication between industry and regulatory agencies and between the U.S. and export partners and the role that social media played were examined. While Bidart Brothers were a small packinghouse that did not export apples - word got out from the outbreak and exports from WA to Asia were halted, needlessly costing the industry millions.

Most importantly, the actions of the apple industry in the Pacific Northwest subsequent to the outbreak were highlighted. The industry moved quickly to provide education and training to apple producers about Lm and focused on equipment and facility sanitation. It is important to evaluate equipment and sanitation practices to insure that cleaning and sanitation is effective, and Lm is not permitted to become resident. It is also important to understand how produce is being used in the manufacturing of other products (such as caramel apples, apples slices etc.) and what impact that might have on its safety. Lastly, being prepared for a food safety event is imperative. Having proper lines of communication within your company, with other groups in your commodity, with the regulatory agencies and even at a country-to-country level are keys to insuring negative consequences of a potential outbreak are minimized. This has a critical and direct impact concerning the number of people sickened and the ability to keep false information from damaging a large proportion of the industry.

While GAPs training has been widely accepted among fresh apple producers, the focus has now shifted to Lm control, training, cleaning and sanitation in packinghouses as well as the use of guidance documents for tree fruit operations and the set up of effective environmental monitoring programs. In addition, industry has been working with academia to determine preventive measures and potential food safety risks. The University of Wisconsin, UC Davis, Cornell University and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission (WTFRC) shared the results of research conducted in apple operations to understand how the outbreak occurred, how a facility can be vulnerable to contamination, and the need to implement practices that address the minimization of situations where Listeria can be widely distributed in an operation.

Ines Hanrahan in NY
The NY commercial apple industry was very fortunate to have Dr. Ines Hanrahan of the WTFRC speak to us at the Empire Producers Expo in Syracuse this past January. Ines gave two similar food safety presentations to two groups at the Expo- a farm food safety plan writing group, and at a tree fruit session. A pdf of her slide sets (combined from her 2 talks) are found on the Expo proceedings website here: To quickly summarize highlights of the restricting foodborne pathogens portion, Ines explained how the Washington tree fruit industry responded quickly with out-of-cycle funding to work with a diverse committee to investigate the causes of Listeria contamination on commercial storage and packing facilities of apples and how to best implement a prevention plan. Her talk covered three main topics: the approach to food safety before an outbreak, an approach after an outbreak, and key learnings.

Food Safety Before an Outbreak
The Northwest Hort Council (NHC) formed a food safety committee in 2007. In addition, the Center for Produce Safety (CPS) allocated research dollars because a partnership was formed with WTFRC. The Washington State Tree Fruit Association provided GAPs trainings, and the WTFRC worked with all of the groups to coordinate efforts. A thorough review was performed to make sure all 3rd-party private food safety audits were being met at the orchard and packinghouse level. Research was conducted to look at the potential for bacterial contamination on fruit with agricultural water put on close to harvest as irrigation or in crop protectant sprays. In addition, research was performed looking at reducing potential bacterial growth and cross-contamination in the postharvest environment. The goal was to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for packinghouses, including the lines, dumptanks, spray bars, and drying areas, and bin sanitation. The key message here continues to be the need to be proactive.

Food Safety After an Outbreak
The NHC Food Safety Committee designated a sub-committee for Listeria. They identified priorities and had focuses on Lm at their previous two annual meetings. Industry organizations worked together towards a common goal - everyone loses if there is an outbreak. Additional funding was provided by the WTFRC to address these issues. The Listeria sub-committee prioritized the identification of training needs, research needs, and the production of guidance documents.
Combining the needs for guidance documents, training, and the incorporation of current research produced cleaning and sanitation workshops for the WA tree fruit industry. The workshops are called "Putting Principles into Practice, A Hands-On Workshop for Sanitation Supervisors and Packing Line Managers". For the first time ever, doors were opened to packinghouses and competitors were invited. The workshops begin with an overview of Listeria risk and the importance of cleaning and sanitation, and then continued with hands-on demonstrations of effective cleaning and sanitation practices. The hands-on includes identifying areas of risk within your facility, how to handle challenging areas, including drains and the proper use of cleaning equipment and products. The workshop concludes with strategies for successful implementation. An advanced version of these workshops was later organized to train tree fruit industry food safety specialists on environmental monitoring techniques to verify the efficacy of cleaning and sanitation practices in the packinghouse. This workshop also incorporated classroom and hands-on education. Topics covered during the classroom presentations included the importance of environmental monitoring (EM), current EM techniques used, facility mapping and hygienic zoning.

Key impacts of all workshops to date include, but are not limited to: increased communication between competing organizations (facilities opened doors to direct competitors to share their processes and expertise), active collaboration between industry members (coffee/discussion groups were formed to exchange ideas), expanded research programs, strengthened industry cooperation with food safety research, involvement of the tree fruit industry in food safety meetings and forums (including other industries), and creation of Listeria-specific food safety committees.

In Western NY packinghouses, we will have one or more similar cleaning and sanitation workshops this spring. If you are willing to open up your facility to other competitors for the safety of the industry, please contact Craig. We can discuss prior any questions, problems, or concerns you may have. In addition, I would like to visit each packinghouse individually for a consultation and would be willing to work on a facility-by-facility basis with you to perform similar workshops if time allows. Stay tuned to LOFP for updates.

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Upcoming Events

2024 Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Twilight Meetings

Event Offers DEC Credits

April 25, 2024 : Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Twilight Meetings 1 of 4
Newark, NY

Join specialists Janet Van Zoeren, Anya Osatuke, and Anna Wallis for a conversation about fruit and berry phenology and pest management, at a new location each month.

Event Offers DEC Credits

May 30, 2024 : Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Twilight Meetings 2 of 4
Lockport, NY

Join specialists Janet Van Zoeren, Anya Osatuke, Robert Hadad, and Anna Wallis for a conversation about fruit and berry phenology, pest management, food safety and water quality, at a new location each month.

Event Offers DEC Credits

June 27, 2024 : Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Twilight Meetings 3 of 4
Penn Yan, NY

Join specialists Janet Van Zoeren, Anya Osatuke, Robert Hadad, and Anna Wallis for a conversation about fruit and berry phenology, pest management, food safety and water quality, at a new location each month.

Event Offers DEC Credits

July 25, 2024 : Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Twilight Meetings 4 of 4
Mexico, NY

Join specialists Janet Van Zoeren, Anya Osatuke, Robert Hadad, and Anna Wallis for a conversation about fruit and berry phenology, pest management, food safety and water quality, at a new location each month.

View 2024 Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Twilight Meetings Details

Apple Social

July 16, 2024 : Orleans County - Apple Social
Medina, NY

Please join us at this casual networking event for all apple industry folks from Western NY, proudly sponsored by Valent. There will just a brief introduction of the Lake Ontario Fruit Program, and from each of the four specialists.

July 31, 2024 : Wayne County - Apple Social
Williamson, NY

Please join us at this casual networking event for all apple industry folks from Western NY, proudly sponsored by Valent. There will just a brief introduction of the Lake Ontario Fruit Program, and from each of the four specialists.

View Apple Social Details

2nd Annual WNY Fruit Grower Tour

Event Offers DEC Credits

August 13, 2024
Medina, NY

We are excited to announce the second annual Western New York Fruit Grower Tour, the premier fruit tour of the northeast brought to you by Cornell Cooperative Extension's Lake Ontario Fruit Program and Lake Ontario Ag Consulting, LLC!  Located in Orleans County, this orchard field day will highlight new and existing products, chemistries, practices, technologies & equipment that shape the orchard industry today. The Western NY Fruit Grower Tour will again combine two past orchard tour events, the LOF Summer Fruit Tour and the Wayne County Fruit Grower Tour, giving industry members the opportunity to conveniently showcase their product offerings to ONE unified group at ONE time and place!

View 2nd Annual WNY Fruit Grower Tour Details


Scaffolds podcast

Many of you probably read Art Agnello's statewide tree fruit updates and recommendations newsletter, "Scaffolds". Dr. Monique Rivera is bringing it back, but in a new audio version. Episode one was recorded this week, and is now available for free online at

NYS Tree Decline Survey

Your answers could help find the solution to tree decline in the orchard.
NYS Tree Decline Survey

Save the Date! - Scroll down for Upcoming Events

Have you missed a meeting recently? Scroll down for available recordings or pdf links or visits our YouTube Channel

2024 Events:

18 Jun - Postponed WNY Bilingual Soil Health & Beneficial Fungi Meeting - Check back for future reschedule date!

20 Jun - 2024 Virtual Orchard Meetup Series 'Water Wisdom" Smart Watering: Practices for Irrigation Management - 7PM, Zoom

25 Jun - Virtual IPM Orchard Scout Training 2 - 1:30 - 3pm, Zoom

27 Jun - Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Twilight Meeting 3_4 - 6:30pm-8:30PM, Penn Yan

27 Jun - 2024 Virtual Orchard Meetup Series 'Water Wisdom" Water Wisdom Unplugged: Panelist Q&A - 7PM, Zoom

29 Jun - NYS Honeyberry Conference - 8:30am - 4:30pm, Mexico, Space is limited, register now!

16 July - Apple Social - 6-9 PM, LynOaken Farm Market & Winery, Medina.

25 Jul - Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Twilight Meeting 4_4 - 6:30pm-8:30PM, Mexico

31 July - Apple Social - 6-9 PM, VanAcker Farms, Williamson.

13 Aug - 2nd Annual WNY Fruit Grower Tour - Orleans County

17 Aug - Annual Hispanic Summer Tour - Orleans County, Details to follow!

Feb 4-5, 2025 - Western NY Fruit Conference - DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Rochester

Food Safety Virtual Office Hours

Cornell Institute of Food Safety "Virtual Office Hours", Tuesdays Noon to 1pm

Past recorded virtual office hours can be found on YouTube:

Webinar Recordings & Additional Meeting Materials

Check out the recordings of some recent webinars and/or conference materials from in person events: Recordings and Playlists are available at

2024 Virtual Orchard Meetup Series - Water Wisdom: 
1/4 - Trends In Water Availability
2/4 - The Role of Water In Tree Fruit Physiology & Quality
3/4 - Smart Watering: Practices for Irrigation Management

2024 8-12 mm Thinning Meeting

2024 Capital Region & Western NY Petal Fall Thinning Meeting

2024 Statewide Pink Meeting

2024 Cornell Statewide Frost Protection Webinar

2024 Winter Fruit Webinars playlist on the NYS IPM Program YouTube Channel

2nd Annual Lake Ontario Fruit Program's Winter Fruit Conference - 2024 pdfs

PACMAN Details and Resources, Meeting Recording Links below:
Developers Conference for Precision Crop Load Management of Apples Playlist - 2024
PACMAN Briefing - 2023

Pollinator Resouces

Now available Pollinator Resource Links

Meeting Recordings Now Available

Did you miss the recent meeting?  Check and see if we recorded it and added it to our website or Lake Ontario Fruit Program YouTube Channel.

Honeycrisp Meetup recordings available here.

Why are my trees growing so poorly? recording available here.

Additional Recorded Webinars listing with recording and resource link are available at|crops|apples|crop*38

New Publication on Growing Pawpaws

Are you a fan of pawpaws? These custardy fruits can be hard to come across, so this guide provides information on how to grow your own pawpaw from seed, and how to care for grafted seedlings. Pdf on growing now available.​|crops|unusual_fruit|crop*50

New Weed Management Technology Survey

Want to move away from herbicide reliance? Are you using novel technologies to manage weeds? We want to know about it to inform our weed science research. A team of weed scientists from University of California Davis, Oregon State University, and Cornell University are asking berry, tree fruit, tree nut, and vine crop growers to take 5 to 10 minutes and answer this short and anonymous survey. Weed Technology Survey link:

For more information on this survey please visit

Pollinator Webinar Series - Summer 2020

The Pollinator Webinar Series presented by Penn State cover bee health and pollination services.

Bloom Pesticides for Pollinator Health

A reference table created by Janet van Zoeren and Anna Wallis, is now available at|pests.