Cronobacter and babies
What it is
This bacteria used to be known as Enterobacter sakazakii. The natural habitat for Cronobacter is unknown, but it can be found in many dry environments, but has also been recorded in sewer water. In adults, the bacteria can cause wound infections, diarrhea, and urinary tract infections. People who are immunocompromised as well as the elderly can experience bloodstream infection. With that said, the CDC reports very few cases of Cronobacter infection each year.
However, more attention is given to it's effect on babies because it can be severe and sometimes lethal. Babies infected can develop meningitis and sepsis. Cronobacter can only be identified with a blood test. The bacteria are hard to treat because they form something called a biofilm, which is a slime-like layer that helps protect them from antibiotics and stick to surfaces in the host organism. Antibiotic treatment is successful in healthy adults, but babies and immunocompromised persons require more attention.
Where it comes from
Cronobacter is found in large groups. The bacteria can contaminate dry food while it's being processed and made in a factory. This can occur from contaminated ingredients in the baby formula, or from contaminated factory machinery. Using current processing methods, there is no 100% guarantee that germs are not present in baby formula when it is manufactured.
Cronobacter can also contaminate food once it is opened at home. Because of it's ability to live in the open environment, rather than just in a host organism, it can survive on kitchen counters and utensils. It is still unknown whether or not Cronobacter can spread from one person to another, but since other types of bacteria can, it is recommended that you wash your hands frequently when handling baby food. Same goes for lids and scoops of the baby formula.
The most recent outbreak was in 2011, with 4 reported infections in 4 different states. The CDC and FDA decided that a recall of baby formula was not necessary. This was because the bacteria differed genetically, which implied that they were not from the same source and rather, not even related.
How to protect yourself and children
- Practice good hygiene: wash hands before and after handling food, keep kitchen surfaces and utensils clean, do not mix raw and cooked foods
- Mix the baby food with hot water at first, then let it cool before serving
- Store the baby food in safe conditions, keeping the lids, scoops and bottles clean
- Discard any unused formula rather than saving it for later, if not using the prepared formula within 2 hours of preparation, refrigerate it and be sure to use it within 24 hours
Need a food safety plan? Here at Sample6, our current focus is Listeria and Salmonella, but Cronobacter is also an important foodborne pathogen. For producers dealing with dry foods, such as starches, it is important to consider all possible contaminations. Whatever the primary risks are for your plant, make sure that you have the best tools to support your plans and your team.