Microbial Hazards in Food Distribution Centers

Food service distribution centers have come under increased food safety scrutiny in recent years due in part to the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Preventive Controls for Human Foods Rule. While the majority of products passing through food distribution centers are fully sealed, fresh produce is often not sealed due to quality concerns related to continued respiration postharvest. Distribution centers need an environmental monitoring program as a part of their environmental or sanitation preventive controls. To address a knowledge gap regarding environmental microbial hazards in distribution centers, UGA food scientists are conducting a swab-a-thon for Listeria spp. concurrently with detailed management interviews to identify similarities and differences in facility designs, sanitation protocols, equipment characteristics, etc. that may contribute to Listeria spp. contamination in produce. To date, the survey has identified potential harborage sites predominantly on floors or items that contact floors, including floor cracks, seams or patches as well as cleaning tools like dust mops and squeegees. This research is actively providing food service and grocery distribution centers, including retailers with guidance to assist in hazard analysis and risk mitigation practices within facilities. This includes the identification of high or low risk practices or factors inherent to the distribution center environment.