After several years of decline, foodborne illness outbreak rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Now, an estimated 48 million Americans are infected with foodborne pathogens each year, with an average of 3,000 dying. These illnesses are caused by everything from contaminated agricultural products to protocol breaches by frontline workers at food processing plants. 

Food and beverage ingredients pass through many hands (and organizations) to get from the farm to consumer tables, including growers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Each of these stakeholders has a unique responsibility to prevent contamination of products in their care, and to take action when food safety is at risk. Here’s what stakeholders in each part of the value chain need to know:


  • Biggest Risk Factors:  
    • The improper handling of manure and irrigation water, causing the spread of pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella — especially to green leafy vegetables
    • Misuse of pesticides and antibiotics that can result in residue presence on crops and meat, respectively
    • Inadequate sanitation and worker hygiene practices when handling commodities
  • Key Food Safety Responsibilities: Workers must practice proper hygiene measures when making any kind of contact with crops and products. Therefore, employers and site managers should ensure toilet facilities are located a safe but appropriate distance away from fields to avoid contamination, while still allowing easy employee access. They should also provide sanitary hand-washing stations at toilet facilities to ensure hygiene protocols are followed. Growers must also pay attention to potential risks from neighboring facilities, such as livestock farms that could contaminate irrigation water or crops with feces. 


  • Biggest Risk Factors:
    • Inadequate temperature control during storage that allows pathogens to grow
    • Unsanitary processing conditions (ineffective sanitation) and handling procedures (such as workers failing to wash their hands appropriately) that allow proliferation of harmful pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and E. coli
    • Poor allergen control and labeling, which can lead to cross-contact
  • Key Food Safety Responsibilities: Frontline employees must maintain impeccable hygiene and equipment sanitation standards throughout operations. Quality Assurance must adhere to precise temperature and storage controls to prevent microbial growth, and conduct regular testing for contaminants on equipment, surfaces, and products themselves. Managers must consistently train their workforce in proper handling procedures and diligently enforce them. 


  • Biggest Risk Factors: 
    • Inadequate temperature controls that can allow harmful microorganisms to grow
    • Improper handling by employees that results in cross-contamination during loading, unloading, and transit
  • Key Food Safety Responsibilities: The key responsibility for distributors is to adhere to the FDA’s sanitary transportation rules, which involves enforcing proper temperature management at all times during storage and transit, employing and training in meticulous handling procedures, and verifying that products are properly labeled, traceable, and compliant with regulations. This will also help distributors address and respond to any food safety issues or recalls. 


  • Biggest Risk Factors:
    • Improper or inadequate temperature controls — in both storage areas and product display cases
    • Improper handling by staff (such as touching food with contaminated gloves) that can result in cross-contamination of products and allergen transfer, especially in ready-to-eat items
  • Key Food Safety Responsibilities: Retailers must consistently monitor storage and display temperatures to prevent bacterial growth and spoilage, enforce proper food-handling techniques among all employees, and conduct routine sanitation of surfaces, equipment, and self-service areas. If necessary, retailers may take the lead on notifying consumers of product recalls with signage throughout their stores. 

Preventing Foodborne Illness Outbreaks With Training

Foodborne illness outbreaks can be caused by a wide range of issues, but regulators and food safety experts have already put rules, processes, and protocols in place to mitigate virtually every risk. Preventing outbreaks boils down to this simple advice: Follow good manufacturing practices (GMP) and good agricultural practices (GAP).

Properly developing, training, and enforcing these practices at your facility can require expert support. That’s where AIB International comes in. The company has more than 100 years of history helping customers overcome the toughest food safety challenges and oversee proper training of every member of their team. Learn more about the food safety training AIB International offers here.

Back to Blog