WHEELING, Ill. -- Orval Kent Food Co. has resumed shipping potato salad from its facility here after correcting a mechanical problem that had resulted in contamination of the product.
Triple safeguards also have been instituted to prevent that type of situation happening in the future, said James Nazarowski, vice president of sales and marketing.
The company halted production and recalled five million pounds of potato salad early this month, after random testing of the product at this facility showed the presence of the Listeria monocytogenes organism.
After days of investigation, a team of Orval Kent quality assurance and technical experts found that a leak in a flume carrying raw potatoes from a dicer to a cooker was the source of the trouble.
"We have corrected the problem and have installed a triple-redundant safety system to make sure this will never happen again. We began production [Aug. 9 and 10] and we were on a three-day, hold-and-test program," Nazarowski said.
After the problem was corrected and additional safety measures were installed, the new batch of product was held in inventory until hundreds of tests on it could be run, he explained.
"It takes three days to get the test results. They all came back negative," he said. The first shipments of the new batches of product left the plant on Aug. 13.
As of Aug. 13, the Wheeling facility's potato salad production line was operating around the clock to get product out to its customers who had a deficit in supply, Nazarowski said.
He said it was impossible at this time to determine the cost to Orval Kent in lost sales. During the recall, the company did see a rise in sales of its other salads because some customers bought more macaroni salad, pasta salads and coleslaw to substitute for the potato salad, Nazarowski said.
Regarding the contamination, he explained that the presence of the Listeria organism in raw potatoes is not unusual. "A large percentage of raw potatoes in the world naturally have Listeria on them. So, anytime you put a raw potato in water, the water is potentially contaminated. It's the challenge of the manufacturer to take a product that naturally has Listeria on it and turn it into a product that is Listeria-free," he said.
He added there are two ways to do that -- heat-cooking and use of antimicrobial agents. "We're employing both of those, and, in addition, we have shielded the cooled potato area. That's a third backup. We're treating the flume water with a new generation of antimicrobial agents to make sure that even if some of the water got through the new connection and the shield failed and water dripped onto the product, the water would not contain Listeria anyway," Nazarowski said.
He added that it is unusual for a food manufacturer to have a triple-redundant safety system such as the one just installed at the plant.
As reported by SN, the voluntary recall -- Orval Kent's first such incident in more than 45 years in business -- involved only potato salad produced at the Wheeling facility. The products involved had an expiration date prior to Sept. 15 and bore the code "W7."
Thousands of individual supermarket units were affected by the recall, Nazarowski said.
The products had been distributed to retail stores and food-service establishments within the Central and Eastern time zones -- excluding Texas -- and in Canada and Puerto Rico.