This week the Food and Drug Administration released its findings from inspections and environmental sampling for Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella at 89 ice cream production facilities in 32 states that the agency conducted from Sept. 12, 2016, through Aug. 30, 2017.

The FDA detected Listeria monocytogenes in 19 of the facilities; however, only one of them was found to have the pathogen on a food-contact surface. The agency also detected Salmonella in one facility.

The agency’s report said FDA began the special sampling program following 16 recalls of ice cream products that occurred from 2013 to 2015 due to the presence of pathogens, and an outbreak of listeriosis linked to an ice cream maker in 2015 that involved three deaths.

The FDA sampling was designed to gain insights into the extent to which Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella may be in the manufacturing environment, and to evaluate each establishment’s ability to identify, prevent, reduce, and/or eliminate microbial hazards of public health concern.

“Inspecting food facilities and collecting and testing samples from the environment where foods are produced are two of the many ways the FDA works to better understand microbial hazards and to help prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers,” said FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas.

“These activities help the FDA gather data and information necessary to develop prevention-based systems and, when contamination does occur, to respond swiftly to these hazards. Following a string of safety issues related to a number of U.S. ice cream distributors, the FDA engaged a team to inspect and obtain environmental samples from 89 ice cream production facilities in 32 states to test for Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella.

“Although many of these facilities were adhering to good manufacturing practices, we did find that some were in violation of the law.”

Yiannas said findings from the inspections resulted in three voluntary recalls that were conducted in 2017 and 2018. The FDA collaborated with inspected companies to help them make needed corrections and implement food safety plans designed to keep harmful bacteria out of their products and protect American consumers.

The ice cream results should “serve as an important reminder to all food facilities distributing products in the U.S. of the importance of complying with rules set forth to mitigate safety issues,” Yiannas said.

“Ultimately, we must work together to ensure all necessary protective steps are taken so that Americans can continue having confidence that the foods available for purchase in the U.S. are safe and wholesome.”

The FDA reported there were no “objectionable” conditions or practices observed in nearly half of the ice cream production facilities inspected.

As a result of these findings, three voluntary recalls were conducted in 2017 and 2018. These include two voluntary recalls of Working Cow Homemade ice creams because of potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, and a Nelson’s Creamery LLC recall because of undeclared soy lecithin in one of their products.

The FDA also suspended Working Cow Homemade Inc.’s food facility registration in 2018. The FDA lifted the suspension earlier this year after the firm changed its business model. It stopped making ice cream and now only distributes product made by other manufacturers.

The findings affirm the need for commercial ice cream makers to ensure that they are controlling hazards under the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule established by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, according to the FDA report. Companies that follow the rule and employ robust environmental monitoring programs will likely occasionally detect environmental pathogens, but how an establishment responds to a pathogen finding is the critical factor.

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