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Updated: 1 hour 11 min ago

Jimmy Johns pulls sprouts from menu at all 2,727 franchise locations

1 hour 17 min ago

Jimmy Johns Friday did something it has done in the past after one or more of its sandwich franchises was linked to an outbreak of foodborne illnesses: it ordered sprouts temporarily off the menu at all of its locations.

In a statement, Jimmy Johns said the temporary sprout ban is a “precautionary measure” while it investigates seven food safety complaints from consumers in Illinois and Wisconsin during the last week of December.

Jimmy John’s decided for its 2,727 locations after an investigation in the last 24-hours indicated that sprouts purchased from two growers in Minnesota, originating from two common seed sub-lots, could be linked to the seven food illnesses complaints received over a one-week period in December in Illinois and Wisconsin.

“Food safety and the welfare of our customers are our top priorities and not negotiable in our business,” said James North, President, and CEO. “We have been working closely with the Departments of Health in Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as their federal counterparts, as they investigate the claims. While the results of the investigation are not conclusive and we are still gathering more information, we have voluntarily directed all franchisees to remove sprouts as a precautionary measure from all supply and distribution.”

North added, “Customers can have complete confidence that all of our ingredients are of the quality they have come to know and expect from our brand.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier Friday announced they were investigating a recent cluster of Salmonella ser. Montevideo infections.

Two cases involve Illinois residents.  People in Illinois reported becoming ill on December 20 and 26, 2017.  Based on a review of products, suppliers, and items consumed, investigators believe the most likely source of the infection are sprouts from multiple Jimmy John’s locations.

To reduce the risk to additional customers, IDPH has requested that all Jimmy John’s restaurants in Illinois remove sprouts from their menus until the investigation is complete.

IDPH is also reminding restaurants not to let food handlers with diarrhea work.  Anyone with symptoms of Salmonella infection after eating food at a Jimmy John’s restaurant should contact a health care provider or the local health department.

Symptoms of Salmonella may include a headache, muscle aches, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, chills, fever, nausea, and dehydration.  Symptoms usually appear 6 to 72 hours after ingesting the bacteria, but can be longer.  Most illnesses resolve on their own and do not require treatment other than drinking fluids to stay hydrated.  Anyone who experiences persistent or severe symptoms should contact a healthcare provider.

Salmonella bacteria live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals.  Salmonella can contaminate almost any food.
Person-to-person transmission of Salmonella occurs when an infected person’s feces, from his or her unwashed hands, contaminates food during preparation or comes into direct contact with another person.

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Suspected norovirus illnesses temporarily close restaurant

19 hours 36 min ago

A Seattle restaurant is temporarily closed because of illnesses reported by customers. The Pho Aroma restaurant will not reopen until public health officials give their OK.

The local health department, Public Health Seattle & King County, reported Thursday that is is investigating at least five cases of suspected norovirus linked to the restaurant; three customers and two employees. The department first learned of the possible outbreak Tuesday.

“Environmental Health investigators visited and closed the restaurant on Jan. 17,” according to a news release issued by the health department Thursday night. “During the field inspection, investigators identified two employees who experienced similar symptoms after the ill customers’ meal date of Jan. 13.”

Health officials reported they do not yet have results of laboratory tests, but the sick people’s symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are consistent with norovirus. The highly contagious virus, often referred to as stomach flu, can easily contaminate foods or beverages if proper handwashing and other simple food safety procedures are not followed.

The exact food or drink item that caused the illnesses has not been identified, though this is not uncommon for norovirus outbreaks where multiple food items may be contaminated, according to the Seattle health department.

Sick employees cannot return to work at the restaurant until they have been symptom free for at least 48 hours. People infected with the virus are contagious before symptoms begin and for at least two days after symptoms subside.

“The restaurant is working cooperatively with public health; they closed on Jan. 17 to allow time to complete a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of the restaurant,” according to the health department news release.

“Environmental health investigators plan to revisit the restaurant before re-opening to ensure employees are maintaining a high level of hand hygiene and that proper cleaning and sanitizing of the restaurant was completed.”

Norovirus illness often has a sudden onset of nausea and vomiting and/or watery diarrhea with cramps. A low-grade fever, chills, and body aches sometimes occur. Norovirus rarely causes severe complications.

However, severe dehydration is the most common complication, particularly among young children and the elderly, who sometimes need intravenous fluids. No vaccine is available for norovirus.

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Briefly: Pufferfish poison — Sail or fail — CRISPR mushrooms

20 hours 2 min ago

Every hour of every day people around the world are living with and working to resolve food safety issues. Here is a sampling of current headlines for your consumption, brought to you today with the support of Alchemy Systems.

Emergency alert about ‘fugu’ aka pufferfish
Gamagori City in Japan issued an emergency alert Monday after two people ate  portions of “fugu” blowfish with their potentially poisonous livers intact.

It’s unknown whether they ate large enough portions to be harmful.

“The fish, also referred to as puffer fish, contains a toxin hundreds of times more poisonous than cyanide; its liver alone can contain enough poison to kill five men.”

Japan enforces laws to ensure that the fish are prepared and detoxified properly before they are sold, but according to the recent report, five packs of Yorito fugu (blunt head blowfish) were sold at a supermarket by a licensed employee who had not removed the livers.

According to the report, these blowfish typically contain very weak or no poison, but Japan’s food hygiene laws prohibit the sale of any liver because of its poisonous potential.

All five packages were accounted for after several returns of the fish, which still had the livers intact. No illnesses were reported.

Carnival cruise ships fail sanitation tests
Two more Carnival Cruise Line ships recently failed the CDC’s USPH Vessel Sanitation Program. The Carnival Vista received a failing grade of 79 out of 100 and the Carnival Breeze was issued a score of 77 during inspections in December.

The Vessel Sanitation Program helps prevent and control the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses, such as norovirus, in the cruise ship industry. Any score below 86 out of 100 is considered a failing grade.

Carnival Vista’s inspection issues include the failure to isolate two crew members who were suffering gastrointestinal symptoms until they were symptom-free for a minimum of 48 hours. Carnival Breeze had inaccurate and incomplete information in the ship’s medical surveillance log, along with espresso machine maintenance issues.

In November, the Triumph received a score of 78, but earned a score of 98 during reinspection. “We have taken the same immediate approach with Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista,” Carnival Cruise Line said.

Modified mushroom resists browning
Yinong Yang, a professor of plant pathology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, has developed a genetically modified mushroom that resists browning.

An acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,  CRISPR technology is a method for modifying the genome of an organism by “precisely delivering a DNA-cutting enzyme — Cas9 — to a targeted region of DNA,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This deletes or replaces specific DNA pieces, and ultimately promotes or disables certain traits.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported that Yang’s anti-browning mushroom would not be subject to USDA approval, making it the first CRISPR-Cas9 gene-edited crop requiring no regulatory review by the agency.

Yang said that’s because his genome-edited mushroom contains no foreign DNA integration in its genome, but rather small deletions in a specific gene.

According to Yang, the technology is promising for precision breeding of crops with desirable traits including low levels of food allergens or toxins, disease resistance, drought tolerance and efficient nitrogen and phosphorous utilization. Additionally, he believes it will favor food safety, quality and reduction of pesticide, fertilizer and water usage.

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Sick restaurant worker prompts hepatitis A warning in Hawaii

20 hours 3 min ago

A foodservice worker in Hawaii may have exposed customers of a Honolulu restaurant to the hepatitis A virus during a five-week period ending Jan. 6. Health officials say the case is likely not related to a multi-state outbreak that has sickened 1,500 and killed almost 50.

Most of the customers of the Wah Kung Restaurant are past the window of opportunity for post-exposure treatment, which must be given within two weeks to effectively prevent infection. However, diners who ate or drank at the restaurant on Jan. 5 and 6 have a couple of days left to seek the post-exposure vaccine.

“Given the clinical and laboratory findings, we suspect this individual may be infected with hepatitis A,” State Epidemiologist Sarah Park said Thursday in a news release.

“Because of the limited two-week window to prevent infection among those potentially exposed, we are alerting the public as a precaution. We encourage people to take appropriate action to protect their health and prevent possible new cases in our community.”

State officials had not confirmed any hepatitis A infections among customers of the Wah Kung Restaurant as of the posting of the news release.

Anyone who ate or drank at the restaurant from Dec. 1, 2017, through Jan. 6 should monitor themselves for symptoms of hepatitis A infection in the coming weeks, according to the Hawaii Department of Health’s consumer advice.

It can take as many as 50 days after exposure to the virus for symptoms of infection to develop, and people can spread the virus before symptoms begin. Some people who are infected never develop any symptoms, complicating the impact of the highly contagious pathogen.

Symptoms can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, diarrhea and yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Most adults in the United States have not been vaccinated for hepatitis A. It can cause relatively mild infections in healthy young adults. Older people, anyone with a compromised immune system and pregnant women are at a high risk of developing serious and sometimes fatal infections from the virus.

The virus is found in the feces of people infected with hepatitis A and is usually spread in microscopic amounts through close personal, sexual contact, or consuming contaminated food or beverages. Public health officials say one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus is frequent and thorough hand washing.

Hawaii officials announced on Jan. 5 that two residents of the islands had been confirmed with the outbreak strain of hepatitis A that began in San Diego in 2016 and is ongoing. The strain has spread to numerous states, hitting homeless people and substance abusers particularly hard.

However, a quarter to a third of the more than 1,500 confirmed cases have been people who were neither homeless nor substance abusers.

An increasing number of restaurant workers in the outbreak states are testing positive for the virus, resulting in tens of thousands of people seeking post-exposure vaccination.

In Hawaii, public health officials have created an online tool to help the public locate vaccinating pharmacies and clinics at http://health.hawaii.gov/docd/vaccines-immunizations/vaccine-locators/.

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USDA proposes changes to ‘National List’ for organic producers

20 hours 3 min ago

The National Organic Program that stands behind those USDA Organic seals on processed and fresh foods in the grocery store comes with a lot of fine print. Most consumers don’t know much about it, but for the $50 billion organic marketplace, it’s all about the details.

And the latest changes in those details, known as the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances or just the National List, were proposed Thursday by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The federal government is accepting public comments on the National List changes until March 19. For instructions on how to file comments, please click here.

The proposed changes would amend the National List to implement recommendations for the organic regulations that the NOSB submitted to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Perdue has already pulled back the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices regulations — last-minute animal welfare rules from his predecessor Tom Vilsack. Organic livestock producers supported the standards.

This time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing to change restrictions on 17 substances allowed in organic production or handling: micronutrients, chlorhexidine, parasiticides, fenbendazole, moxidectin, xylazine, lidocaine, procaine, methionine, excipients, alginic acid, flavors, carnauba wax, chlorine, cellulose, colors and glycerin.

The changes up for public comment also add 16 substances to the National List, meaning organic producers can use them in production and handling: hypochlorous acid, magnesium oxide, squid byproducts, activated charcoal, calcium borogluconate, calcium propionate, injectable vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, kaolin-pectin, mineral oil, propylene glycol, acidified sodium chlorite, zinc sulfate, potassium lactate and sodium lactate.

The proposed rule change would prohibit the use of the botanical pesticide Rotenone in organic crop production. It would also remove ivermectin from the list of allowable parasiticides for organic livestock production.

The National List identifies permitted synthetic substances and the unusable nonsynthetic, or so-called natural elements, not usable in organic production. The National List also identifies synthetic, nonsynthetic nonagricultural and nonorganic agricultural materials that may be used in organic handling.

Recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board are the basis for the National List amendments. The rule includes 29 proposals with 35 National List amendments. First of the changes was proposed in the year 2000.

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Criminal investigation broadens in French baby milk recall

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 00:01

French authorities are searching five factories in a criminal investigation in relation to a salmonella outbreak traced to contaminated baby milk from Lactalis. Photo illustration

French authorities are searching five sites run by dairy giant Lactalis in an investigation into the botched mass recall of baby milk products amidst a salmonella outbreak.

The Paris prosecutor’s office told The Associated Press on Wednesday the sites being searched include the company’s  headquarters in western France and the factory in Craon, where salmonella bacteria was found last year. The factory has been closed.

French fraud and health authorities launched a criminal investigation into the handling of the massive recall. At midweek, recalled baby milk products remained available in French hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets — weeks after they were ordered pulled from shelves.

The head of Lactalis said the recall affected more than 12 million products in 83 countries.

Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, particularly for young children. So far, three dozen infants in France have been confirmed sick and a number of children in Spain and Greece may be sick from contaminated Lactalis products.

The privately owned company exports its products to dozens of countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Lactalis sells products in the United States, but none of the recalled baby milk has been traced to U.S. distributors at this time.

This past week, the Reuters reported that the company was widening the recall to cover all baby milk manufactured by the factory at the center of the contamination, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

The move came as the government sought to contain damage to the reputation of France’s agri-business industry in overseas markets.

After talks with Lactalis management, Le Maire said the company would recall all infant formula milk products made at its Craon factory that were still in warehouses and on store shelves, regardless of the date of manufacture.

“The aim of this radical step is simple: to avoid delays, problems in sorting batches and the risk of human error,” Le Maire said.

The tough measure reflects high-level frustration at the botched handling of the crisis after France’s biggest supermarkets — including Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc — said some Lactalis products subject to recalls in December still found their way onto shelves in recent days.

The incident has been particularly embarrassing for the government after President Emmanuel Macron pushed food exports during a recent state visit to China.

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South Africa hit by deadliest listeriosis outbreak in history

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 00:00

The deadly and record-setting listeriosis outbreak in South Africa isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Food is the suspected cause, but health officials have not yet identified a specific source.

Since the new year began, the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has confirmed six more listeriosis deaths in the outbreak, bringing the death toll to 67. The South African listeriosis outbreak is already the deadliest in recorded history.

Previously, the world’s largest listeriosis outbreaks were in the United States in 2011, and in Italy in 1997.

The Italian outbreak was traced to cold corn and tuna salad and sickened more than 1,500 people, mostly children at two elementary schools. Public health officials traced the 2011 U.S. outbreak to cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado. In that outbreak, 147 people across 28 states were sickened and at least 33 people died.

Other Listeria outbreaks have resulted in fatality rates as high as 20 to 40 percent. The best known of those was the high-profile Listeria outbreak linked to deli meats from Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods, which caused the deaths of 22 mostly elderly Canadians.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the South African listeriosis outbreak is now the largest ever reported. The organization officially declared the outbreak status on Dec. 5, 2017.

With 748 cases reported, the fatality rate for the overall outbreak is just less than 9 percent. However, the death toll among so-called traced patients is much higher, topping 40 percent.

Neither South Africa nor WHO have yet identified the source of the deadly pathogen, but the investigation is continuing. The South African government suspects a food source is responsible for the outbreak that has touched all nine of the country’s provinces.

As in the United States, listeriosis is a reportable disease in South Africa, meaning every patient with the diagnosis must be reported to federal health authorities. However, its possible some cases have not yet been diagnosed and reported.

Two-thirds of the confirmed cases so far involve the Gauteng province in northeastern South Africa, which includes the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg,

South Africa’s 23 private food testing labs and labs operated by the South African Meat Processors Association, South African Milk Processors Association, Milk South Africa, Consumer Goods Council and the National Laboratory Association have all agreed to help in the investigation.

Both public and private hospitals have reported cases, and WHO says those infected represent diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

In this image from the Pasteur Institute, Listeria monocytogenes (shown in red) is in the process of infecting tissue cells.

The incubation period for Listeria, the time from exposure to experiencing symptoms, can be as long as 70 days after exposure. That is complicating the investigation because it is harder for people to recall possible food sources. Officials are making home visits to help people remember to practice basic food safety measures and report illnesses. Investigators are specifically looking at unpasteurized dairy products and ready-to-eat foods.

Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are especially at risk from listeriosis. WHO says pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get listeriosis than regular the healthy adults. Pregnant women can experience stillbirths from listeriosis and they can pass the infection to their babies before birth.

Symptoms of Listeria infection include mild flu-like complaints, headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea and vomiting. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, it can cause stiff neck, disorientation or convulsions.

Statistics South Africa tracks and reports the country’s leading causes of death. Foodborne illnesses such as listeriosis are not at the top of the list:

  • tuberculosis  causes 8.8 percent of total deaths;
  • influenza and pneumonia cause 5.2 percent;
  • HIV/AIDS causes 5.1 percent;
  • cerebrovascular diseases cause 4.9 percent;
  • diabetes mellitus causes 4.8 percent;
  • other forms of heart disease cause 4.6 percent; and
  • hypertensive disorders cause 3.7 percent.

Some of the waterborne diseases that pose a high risk to South Africans include gastroenteritis, cholera, viral hepatitis, typhoid fever, bilharziasis and dysentery. Malaria is endemic in small areas within the provinces of Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga.

Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which is found in the environment in water, soil, vegetation and in certain animal feces. It can contaminate animal products, including meat and dairy, seafood and fresh produce. Once Listeria becomes established in a food production facility it can be very difficult to remove.

Until the listeriosis outbreak ends, South Africans are being urged to practice hand washing before and during food preparation; separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods; and cook meats, poultry, eggs and seafood thoroughly. Consumption of unpasteurized, raw milk and products made from it is also discouraged.

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Consumer complaint spurs tests; dog food recalled for Listeria

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 00:00

JustFoodForDogs LLC has recalled three frozen dog food flavors after laboratory tests confirmed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in a sample of one of its products. Test results suggest “human-grade” green beans are the contaminated ingredient.

The company, headquartered in Los Alamitos, CA, posted the recall notice on its Facebook page, reporting it had notified customers directly “via email, direct mail and in-store signage.”

As with all pet food recalls for pathogen contamination, there is a risk to pet owners and others who handle the food. Hands, utensils, food bowls, countertops and other surfaces can become cross-contaminated from contact with the pet food.

Listeria monocytogenes generally does not cause serious infections in canines, but it is particularly dangerous to children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with suppressed immune systems, including cancer patients, transplant recipients and those with HIV/AIDS. It can take up to 70 days after exposure for symptoms to develop in people.

JustFoodForDogs initiated product testing after a regular customer reported her dogs became ill. She said the “Turducken” flavor of the food made her dogs sick with vomiting and diarrhea, according to a statement from the company. The dogs have since recovered.

Company officials said in the letter to customers that green beans are the likely source of the Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

“… we have just received preliminary test results that suggest our human-grade green bean supply was sent to us contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes,” according to the company’s statement.

“As we work with our restaurant supplier, we will be implementing greater controls to prevent this from happening in the future.”

The JustFoodForDogs product description says the pet food is “lightly cooked, frozen fresh.” Listeria monocytogenes can survive freezing temperatures for long periods of time. Thorough cooking kills the bacteria.

In response to the test results, the company recalled all three of its products that contain green beans:

  • Turducken
  • Beef & Russet Potato
  • Fish & Sweet Potato

JustFoodForDogs executives reported they notified the Food and Drug Administration of the test results, the recall and the possibility that human-grade green beans were the source of the contamination.

A spokesperson for FDA said the agency is aware of the recall, but has no information to share at this time.

The company has urged its customers to dispose of the recalled foods and to refrain from feeding it to their dogs. JustFoodForDogs is offering its customers “an immediate and unconditional credit” for all purchases of the three affected recipes made between Nov. 1, 2017, and Jan. 14, 2018.

Customers are advised to make their request for credit by email to support@justfoodfordogs.com, including the first and last name on the account.

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CDC says contaminated coconut could still be in homes, stores

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 01:34

There is an ongoing public health threat from frozen, shredded coconut linked to a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened people in the United States and Canada.

In the U.S., 25 people from nine states have been confirmed with infections from two outbreak strains of Salmonella. In Canada, one person has salmonellosis from a strain matching one of the outbreak strains identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Six of the U.S. victims had symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization.

The FDA posted this product photo with the recall notice Jan. 3.

Evershing International Trading Co. recalled all Coconut Tree brand frozen shredded coconut packaged in 16-ounce plastic bags on Jan. 3, but the product’s long shelf life prompted a warning from the CDC on Tuesday.

“The frozen shredded coconut linked to this outbreak was used as an ingredient in Asian-style dessert drinks served at restaurants. The product was also sold in grocery stores and markets in several states,” according to the CDC in its initial outbreak notice.

“Frozen shredded coconut can last for several months if kept frozen and may still be in retail stores or in people’s homes. CDC recommends that retailers not sell, restaurants not serve, and consumers not eat recalled Coconut Tree brand frozen shredded coconut.”

The outbreak, which began in May 2017, could be ongoing. As of Jan. 12, the CDC had confirmed outbreak cases in nine states. The most recent U.S. victim’s symptoms began on Nov. 4. The confirmed outbreak serotypes are Salmonella I 4,[5],12:b:- and Salmonella Newport.

However, additional product testing since the first of the year by Massachusetts public health officials has identified “several” other strains of Salmonella in packages of Coconut Tree brand frozen shredded coconut.

“Laboratory testing of other several types of Salmonella bacteria, including Salmonella Javiana, Salmonella Rissen, and Salmonella Thompson. These samples were from unopened packages of Coconut Tree Brand Frozen Shredded Coconut sold before Jan. 3,” the CDC reported.

“CDC is reviewing the PulseNet database to determine if the other Salmonella isolates from the frozen shredded coconut are linked to any illnesses.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health identified the outbreak in December 2017 while investigating a single case of Salmonella infection. Investigators collected food items from a restaurant where that ill person had consumed Asian-style dessert drinks. Tests showed Salmonella in the coconut used in the drink.

State and federal disease investigators have interviewed 16 of the outbreak patients. Of those, 10 reported eating or maybe eating coconut. Of those 10 people, 8 reported having an Asian-style dessert drink that contained frozen shredded coconut before becoming ill.

In addition to linking coconut used in the dessert drink to the salmonellosis patient, the department’s epidemiologists also identified a strain of Salmonella that is new to the CDC’s PulseNet database.

“The fact that we have detected this strain of Salmonella that caught the attention of the U.S. government is a testament to the work of our dedicated staff, whom I applaud,” said Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel in a news release.

Advice to consumers
The CDC recommends that retailers not sell, restaurants not serve, and consumers not eat the Coconut Tree brand recalled frozen shredded coconut.

“If you have recalled frozen shredded coconut in your home, you can return it to the place of purchase for a refund,” according to the CDC’s outbreak consumer advice page.

“If you aren’t sure if the frozen coconut you bought is Coconut Tree brand frozen shredded coconut, you can ask the place of purchase. Restaurants and retailers can ask their supplier. When in doubt, don’t eat, sell, or serve it. Throw it out.”

Consumers who have had the recalled coconut in their homes should wash and sanitize countertops as well as drawers or shelves in refrigerators or freezers where frozen shredded coconut was stored.

Anyone who has eaten the recall coconut, or foods or beverages made with it, and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should immediately seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure to the pathogen.

Most people infected with Salmonella develop symptoms within 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria. Symptoms can include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

In severe cases, the infection can be fatal. Infants, young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system are at greatest risk.

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Briefly: Raw truth for pets — Fair food — Yelp all about it

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 00:01

Every hour of every day people around the world are living with and working to resolve food safety issues. Here is a sampling of current headlines for your consumption, brought to you today with the support of Alchemy Systems.

Raw pet foods dangers for animals, owners
Pet owners who opt for raw meat based diets, or RMBDs as some enthusiasts refer to them, are putting themselves and their animals at risk for infection from several foodborne pathogens, according to recently published research.

After analyzing eight different brands, and a total of 35 commercial products, scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found E. coli O157:H7 in 23 percent of the samples, Listeria monocytogenes in 54 percent, and Salmonella in 20 percent of the frozen raw meat pet foods.

They also found other dangerous, antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Four products contained the parasite Sarcocytis Cruz, and another four products contained Sarcocytis tenella. In two of the products, they found Toxoplasma gondii.

The pathogens can cause serious illness and death in dogs, cats and other pets. Pet owners are at danger of direct exposure to the pathogens through contact with their pets, and by cross-contamination of food utensils, preparation surfaces and storage areas.

By handling the raw pet food, touching animals fed contaminated food, or letting their pets lick them, a the Utrecht University researchers found that people can contract infections from E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella.

Hundreds of food safety violations at state fair
After multiple consumer complaints, a state health inspection found more than 100 critical violations and 371 non-critical violations among 61 vendors at the New York State Fair.

Critical violations involve factors that enable foodborne illnesses to occur. Those can include food’s condition or source; improper cooking and storage temperatures; improper hand-washing; waste disposal; unclean equipment; pests; and use of toxic materials.

According to Syracuse.com several of the vendors were cited for violations of food from unapproved sources. “Generally, that means, for example, beef came from a source that was not approved by the USDA,” Syracuse.com reported.

Many foodborne illnesses have similar symptoms involving nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and sometimes fever. For health adults, many foodborne illnesses do not develop into serious situations. However, infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems including cancer patients and transplant recipients are at much higher risk of life-threatening infections and complications.

Some foodborne illness have relatively quick incubation times, with symptoms developing within 40 hours of exposure. However, other pathogens can take much longer to become apparent.

Symptoms of Listeria monocytogenes infection can take up to 70 days after exposure to develop. It generally takes two to seven weeks for symptoms to develop after exposure to the hepatitis A virus. Brucella bacteria, which can be found in unpasteurized, raw milk, can take up to six months to sicken people.

Social media users help detect outbreaks
Social media is becoming a major factor in detecting foodborne illness outbreaks, boosting injecting instant information into traditional public health efforts.

A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association discusses how the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene piloted a project with Columbia University to identify restaurant reviews on Yelp.com that pointed to foodborne illnesses.

In recent years, while investigating an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness associated with a restaurant, the health department epidemiologists noticed that people were reporting illnesses on Yelp.com that had not been reported to the city’s information service. The New York project revealed information similar to that found by Patrick Quade, founder of iwaspoisoned.com.

Quade’s crowd sourced website uses real-time information to provide a wide range of data to help local, state and federal agencies identify and manage foodborne illness outbreaks. Many states and municipalities have subscribed to iwaspoisoned.com reporting as part of their food safety programs.

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Canada earns ‘Bovine TB Free’ status again through diligence

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 00:00

For the first time since 2016 Canada has achieved “TB Free” country status, which it lost after a single animal infected with bovine TB was found on a ranch in southern Alberta.

Bovine tuberculosis is a chronic animal disease. The World Organization for Animal Health requires reporting of bovine TB under the Terrestrial Animal Code.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has completed on-farm testing of about 15,000 animals in trace-in herds. Tests of livestock are being carried out on 71 farms and ranches in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The premises are subject to quarantine until cleared by laboratory tests and post-mortem exams.

The CFIA has released 61 of 71 facilities from quarantine. That includes one infected premise where six additional animals were found infected with the same strain of bovine TB. Once cleaning and disinfection were complete, the facility was released from the quarantine.

“To date, approximately 11,500 animals associated with the infected, co-mingled, trace-out and trace-in herds have been destroyed with compensation paid to the owners and around 30,000 animals have been released from quarantine,” CFIA reports.

The agency’s priority in the investigation is domestic livestock, but wildlife is conditionally included.

“The agency is working with the provincial governments to ensure that any risks associated with TB Tuberculosis in wildlife are included in the investigation,” according to CFIA.

Elk in southeast Alberta are under active surveillance. However, genetic analysis found the bovine TB organism that infected the cows is not the same strain detected in Canadian domestic animals or wildlife or humans to date. The six cows had the same strain of TB found in cattle in central Mexico in 1997.

Canadian farms and ranches have been free to move animals unless premises are under quarantine. The federal Health of Animals Act has allowed the payment of $39 million in compensation to owners of 23 farms and ranches where 11,500 animals were destroyed.

Another $16.7 million went to assist Alberta producers under the Canada-Alberta TB Assistance Initiative, which paid for investigators across 150 properties and for testing of 150,000 head.

The CFIA acknowledges the source of the 2016 bovine TB strain remains a bit of a mystery, but agency officials are confident the costly steps to eradicate it are worth it. Canadian beef’s reputation for safety remains intact.

A bacterium called Mycobacterium causes Bovine TB. Pasteurization kills the Mycobacterium bacteria. Raw milk and raw milk products, however, can transmit Bovine TB to people.

The public was not in danger during Canada’s recent Bovine TB event, according to officials there. In theory, the bacteria can travel through the air and could pose a threat if a person inhaled it repeatedly for months, but that did not occur.

While Canada appears to be out of woods from the 2016 event, the United States is not.  A recent case of Bovine TB was confirmed in north-central Nebraska, but it could be limited to a single herd. That herd is now under quarantine.

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New DNA technique suggests Salmonella took out the Aztecs

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 00:02

Research, published Monday in the journal Nature, reports DNA analysis has unmasked Salmonella enterica bacteria as the cause of a 16th century epidemic that affected large parts of Mexico and wiped out an estimated 800,000 people in the Aztec Empire.

The study, by Germany’s Max Plankc Institute for the Science of Human History, discovered the introduction of Salmonella in the Americas; which is believed to have been brought to the continent by Europeans. The identification of S. enterica bacteria, which causes typhoid, supports the theory that typhoid fever was the killer.

Before the researchers identified the pathogenic possibility, a 2000 study in the American Journal of Tropical Diseases concluded that the cause of the epidemic was some type of viral haemorrhagic fever. Prior to 2000, studies blamed measles and pneumonic plague. Salmonella was never considered a culprit.

Working with 24 corpses from a cemetery in the town of Teposcolula-Yucundaa, the Max Plankc researchers were able to extract biological material found between teeth. Based on historical and archaeological evidence, the cemetery was linked to the 1545–1550 epidemic, that was locally known as “cocoliztli,” the pathogenic cause of which has been debated for more than a century.”

Salmonella was a preveleant pathogen in Europe during the Middle Ages. Without prior exposure to Salmonella bacteria, indigenous populations of the Americas were highly vulnerable to infection, which could explain the high mortality rates of cocoliztli.

“This pattern is mirrored in the exchange of multiple diseases such as smallpox, flu and measles between Americans and Europeans in the centuries following first contact,” the researchers concluded.

Pathogens that cause infectious diseases are a notorious challenge when it comes to identification in archaeological human remains for one big reason; they don’t leave skeletal traces. However, a new screening technique known as ‘MALT’ (Megan Alignment Tool) is proving promising for identifying the DNA of viruses and bacterial pathogens that caused ancient outbreaks.

The major advancement was an algorithm, offering a method of “analyzing many, many, many small DNA fragments that we get, and actually identifying, by species name, the bacteria that are represented,” according to the report.

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OMB approves HIMP swine slaughter rule; industry pleased

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 00:01

Changes to how pork slaughter plants could be regulated are going forward after a mere 21 years in the making. President Donald Trump’s Administration has approved a final rule that had its origin during President Bill Clinton’s Administration.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) isn’t known for rapid change, but few initiatives have taken longer than the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project, otherwise known as HIMP.

Approval of the Modernization of  the Swine Slaughter Inspection Rule, based on HIMP, by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is the last step in the rulemaking process.

HIMP, first announced in 1997, was a project to test new models for inspecting specific meat and poultry products. Five major pork plants participated in efficacy testing. Production workers in HIMP plants were responsible for organoleptic checks, allowing FSIS inspection personnel to focus on food safety verification checks.

The pork rule follows the previous adoption of a voluntary HIMP rule for the poultry industry. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) supports the new HIMP-based control because it is expected to improve the federal inspection process and bring about the adoption of new food safety technologies.

HIMP was controversial from the start with the meat inspectors union and its allies. Over the years, they’ve argued the change puts too much power in the hands of the regulated slaughter businesses.

In 2001-02, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) took its challenge of the HIMP all the way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

In its lengthy history, FSIS continued to pursue HIMP “because the agency believes that the project has been shown to improve food safety and other consumer protections…”

“The new models capitalize on the food safety and other consumer protection gains garnered by the HIMP project thus fair, while still meeting the demands of inspection laws,” according to the HIMP history published by FSIS.

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French dairy expands baby milk recall to include 83 countries

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 00:00

Fallout from a Salmonella outbreak traced to baby milk products from Lactalis is raining down on the French dairy company and retailers that continued selling the contaminated recalled products.

Friday Lactalis officials expanded the recall to include 83 countries and more than 12 million boxes of infant milk products. It is the second expansion since the company’s initial recall in December 2017 when 30 countries were involved.

Three dozen infants in France have been confirmed sick and other children in Spain and Greece are possible cases. Lactalis does sell products in the United States, but as yet none of the recalled baby milk has been traced to U.S. distributors.

In recent days French officials announced a criminal investigation into what Reuters reported some said was a “bungled recall” by Lactalis.

The government is also investigating Salmonella contamination at a Lactalis production plant. Investigators are also reviewing retailers’ records in an attempt to discover why recalled products remained on store shelves and were sold to consumers.

Also, angry parents of sick children have vowed that Lactalis cannot buy their silence. They are filing civil actions against the company. The parents expressed their rage as the company released a statement that it would “compensate” victims.

“We will compensate every family which has suffered a prejudice,” Chief Executive Emmanuel Besnier of Lactalis told the weekly Journal du Dimanche. He did not indicate how much the company would pay.

As of the most recent expansion, all lots produced at the Lactalis factory in Craon in northwest France are now under recall. Salmonella was found in the factory in December. The factory is closed for cleaning, resulting in lay offs of 250 of the 327 staff there, according to a Lactalis statement.

“It’s not easy to evaluate the number of items that need to be returned because we don’t know what’s been consumed already,” Bernier said Monday, according to Journal du Dimanche.

At least four of the largest supermarket chains in France are also on record about the complicated nature of the recall via statements to European and British media.

The online publication foodbev.com out of the United Kingdom reported the four chains all admitted to having stocked the recalled baby products.

“Carrefour, E.Leclerc, Auchan and Systéme U all continued to offer Lactalis baby milk after a recall had been issued last December. The issue threatens to deepen food safety concerns that have already led to the launch of a government inquiry,” according to the foodbev.com report.

A spokesperson for Systéme U told foodbev.com all the retailers had “made mistakes” and said the recall was complex. The spokesman, however, rejected the suggestion that Systéme U had taken too long to respond.

The family-owned Lactalis is the largest dairy group in the world with 230 industrial plants in 43 countries employing 75,000. In Europe, it is the largest in dairy and cheese, milk collection and cheese production. In addition to Europe, its products are sold in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It owns numerous French and international brands. It has done business under the name of Lactalis since 1999.

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Australia seeks comments on maximum residue limit changes

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 00:00

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has called for comment submissions on a proposal to change maximum residue limits (MRLs) for some agricultural and veterinary chemicals for Australia only.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Mark Booth said some of the proposed changes would align limits in the Food Standards Code with overseas limits, while others have been proposed by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.

“MRLs are determined based on how much of a chemical is needed to control pests and/or diseases and are set well below the level that could pose health and safety risks to consumers,” Booth said.   “FSANZ has assessed the proposal and concluded there are no public health and safety concerns relating to the changes.”

All FSANZ decisions on standards are notified to government ministers responsible for food regulation. Ministers can decide to adopt, amend, or reject standards or they can ask for a review.

The closing date to submit comments is Feb. 26.

Submissions must be in writing and should be sent electronically where at all possible. All submissions must be received by the due date.

If you have any trouble lodging your submission online or your submission contains confidential material email it to submissions@foodstandards.gov.au.

Submissions should:

  • include the number or name of the application or proposal include your name and contact details including position, address, telephone number, fax and email address;
  • for organizations, the level of which the submission was authorized;
  • comment on the issues and options;
  • provide as much supporting evidence as possible e.g. groups or individuals who may be affected, data on the effect of the proposed decision, relevant technical information;
  • be simple, clear and concise;
  • be supported by relevant, reputable and current data where possible;
  • use appropriate case examples; and
  • include a brief summary, especially if the submission is lengthy.

If possible, submissions should contain scientific evidence rather than conjecture to back up assertions. If no scientific or other validated evidence is provided, officials may not be able to give them the same weight as information supported by scientific evidence.

Some submitters raise concerns about matters that FSANZ doesn’t have responsibility for, such as enforcement, compliance or food policy. These issues should be raised with the relevant agencies. If in doubt, email standards.management@foodstandards.gov.au for clarification.

Submissions will be acknowledged within three business days.

Under the Information Publication Scheme, all submissions will be published on the FSANZ website unless appropriate reasons are provided to treat it as confidential. Submissions will be published as soon as possible after the end of the public comment period. Details such as direct phone numbers, personal email addresses or addresses of private individuals are redacted from documents before publication.

Law requires FSANZ to treat information as confidential if it identifies trade secrets relating to food and any other information relating to food, the commercial value of which would be or could reasonably be expected to be destroyed or diminished by disclosure. Confidential commercial information should be clearly identified and separated from your submission. If FSANZ does not agree that the information meets the criteria for confidential information, submitters will be given an opportunity to withdraw the submission before it is made public.

All relevant issues raised in submissions will be considered by FSANZ. Subsequent reports will address these issues.

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Briefly: Prison brew — Disease detecting — Deadly delicacy

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 00:30

Every hour of every day people around the world are living with and working to resolve food safety issues. Here is a sampling of current headlines for your consumption, brought to you today with the support of Alchemy Systems.

Poison prison brew has high price
A botulism outbreak in a Utah prison cost local taxpayers at least $500,000 after inmates used potatoes to brew illicit alcohol. It was the fifth such prison botulism outbreak in the past decade.

recent study published by the Oxford University Press and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), reported eight prisoners developed botulism after drinking “pruno” made with a potato in 2011. Laboratory tests of a fluid from a sock that the inmates used to filter the brew was positive for C. botulinum type A.

“Challenges of the investigation included identifying affected inmates, overcoming inaccuracies in histories, and determining how the illicit beverage was shared. Costs to taxpayers were nearly $500,000 in hospital costs alone,” according to the research report.

“Pruno made with potato has emerged as an important cause of botulism in the United States. This public health response illustrates the difficulties of investigating botulism in correctional facilities and lessons learned for future investigations.”

Disease detectives crack outbreak, prompt recall
Disease investigators at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health are being credited with identifying a Salmonella outbreak caused by an unusual strain of the pathogen.

Patricia Kludt, director of the state Department of Public Health epidemiology program, told the Boston Herald newspaper that the Salmonella found in frozen, shredded coconut from Vietnam was not in the pathogen database maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The work by the Massachusetts public health employees prompted Evershing International Trading Co. to recall all lots of its frozen shredded coconut sold between Jan. 3, 2017, and Jan. 3, 2018.

“Staff from DPH’s Food Protection Program in the Bureau of Environmental Health, the State Public Health Laboratory and the Epidemiology Program housed in the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, and the Boston Public Health Commission discovered the unusual Salmonella strain while investigating a single case of Salmonella,” according to a news release from the state health department.

As part of the investigation, staff from DPH and Boston Inspectional Services collected samples of various food products used as ingredients from a Boston restaurant and interviewed people who fell ill. An unopened package of raw frozen coconut meat, was positive for Salmonella.

Flesh-eating bacteria contracted from raw oysters
Family and friends of a Texas woman who died after eating raw oysters contaminated with flesh-eating bacteria have mounted a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of eating raw fish.

Jeanette LeBlanc died Oct. 15, 2017, after 21 days in the hospital. Before she became ill she and a friend bought some fresh oysters from a market in Westwego, LA. They shucked them themselves and together ate about two dozen of them raw.

Within 36 hours LeBlanc was in extreme respiratory distress and had developed a severe rash on her legs. She was diagnosed with vibriosis, caused by various Vibrio bacteria found in seawater and sea creatures.

Contrary to popular belief, the federal agency says lemon juice or hot sauce does not kill Vibrio bacteria in raw oysters. Neither does drinking alcohol while eating.

People can contract vibriosis by consuming raw or undercooked seafood or by exposing a wound to seawater, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

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State legislative season underway with food bills on the table

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 00:00

At least 30 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, are already open for new legislative business. Most others will join the legislative season by next month.

They are essential to food safety if for no other reason than state legislatures provide all or partial funding for many of the nation’s nearly 3,000 local health departments. Those departments are responsible for surveillance of foodborne illnesses and other vital public health responsibilities.

In addition to budgets, state lawmakers are sure to introduce policy bills including some involving food safety. Last season, Maine, Wyoming and North Dakota all advanced measures promising a less regulated world with “Food Freedom” legislation.

Since 2010, state legislatures have been tilted relatively dramatically toward the GOP. According to the Denver-based NCSL, Republicans control 32 of 50 state legislative chambers and share control of three others. Republicans currently hold 1,019 more state legislative offices than do Democrats.

Democrats picked up about 25 state legislative seats in 2017, mostly in Virginia. Some states — Montana, North Dakota and Texas — are among those opting not to meet during election years.

The 2018 legislative season in Colorado got underway with a little double-entendre. State Rep. Kimmi Lewis and Sen. Vicki Marble introduced a General Assembly bill entitled “Beef Country of Origin Recognition System,” which they call the Beef COORS bill. It’s their answer to the country of origin labeling (COOL) question.

The Beef COORS bill has nothing to do with the world’s largest single brewery in Golden, CO, now owned by Molson Coors Brewing Co.

Whatever confusion there might be between Beef COORS and Coors beer probably won’t be around long. If passed, the bill would require Colorado retailers to post a placard in the area where beef products, including ground beef, are being sold. The purpose is to inform consumers on whether the products are from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States, as opposed to meat that is imported or derived from foreign animals.

Where’s the beef from?
The Billings, MT-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, otherwise known as R-CALF USA, is behind the Lewis-Marble bill. R-CALF, a producer-only cattle trade association, has a significant presence in Colorado.

The Beef COORS bill targets the nation’s major beef suppliers, especially Greeley, CO-based JBS USA, part of Brazil’s JBS that is known as the world’s largest protein producer. Current federal regulations permit the sale of beef products in Colorado with the “Product of the U.S.A.” label when, for example, a multinational meatpacker like JBS imports beef from Australia and subsequently unwraps and rewraps the meat before selling it to a retailers.

The “Product of the U.S.A.” label can also be used in Colorado on beef derived exclusively from cattle born and raised in Mexico and Canada and then imported into the U.S. for immediate slaughter.

“The Beef COORS bill corrects the federal government’s deceptive labeling scheme by reserving the “USA Beef” placard only for beef exclusively derived from animals that were born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States,” said Lewis who also owns and operates the Muddy Valley Ranch in Kim, CO.

“The public will finally be able to distinguish between beef produced exclusively under the United States’ production and food safety standards versus beef produced in countries with different production standards and food safety systems that are not identical to ours.”

Lewis and Marble introduced a similar bill during the 2017 General Assembly session. They believe support dried up after JBS made a $12.5 million gift to Colorado State University. Lewis says the JBS gift had a “chilling effect” on the Legislature.

“We think our chances for a fair hearing this year will be far better than we had last year and because our bill is a no-nonsense bill that gives consumers important information about where their beef was actually produced, we think most Colorado legislators will enthusiastically support it for their constituents,” she said.

Meanwhile next door in Utah, a bill has been introduced to make it illegal to use drones, all-terrain vehicles, and dogs to harass farm animals. An attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund said the drown bill is a first of its kind.

Some animal activists have threatened to use drones to spy on animal agriculture, making the Utah bill worth watching.

 

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Slaughter practices more significant than poultry line speeds

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 00:00

Editor’s note: This opinion column offers a differing view from that presented by guest columnist Brian Ronholm in “Eschewing obfuscation on poultry slaughter line speed.” 

Poultry slaughter would flunk HACCP 101. The primary hazards from raw poultry are the pathogens Salmonella and Campylobacter spp. FSIS visible poultry inspection does not yet detect those hazards. The visible conditions that FSIS inspectors can detect are based on 19th and 20th century paradigms that visible disease conditions are the public health hazards. Four decades of CDC data refute that.

Regarding fecal contamination, in consumers’ kitchens, it’s not undercooking poultry, it’s cross contamination Here is one review: Luber, Petra. 2009. Cross-contamination versus undercooking of poultry meat or eggs — which risks need to be managed first? Intl. J. Food Microbio. 134: 21–28. That review is supported by other papers demonstrating the incompetence of ordinary consumers.

Additionally, much of the fecal contamination is invisible. When the defeathering machine removes feathers, the fingers compress the carcasses pumping out feces from the cloaca. The fingers then press some of that fecal material into the emptied feather follicles — where it remains invisible to inspectors.

A USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) paper supporting washing visible feces from chicken carcasses indicates invisible feces contaminate carcasses (Blankenship, L. C. et al. 1993. Broiler Carcass Reprocessing, a Further Evaluation. J. Food Prot. 56: 983-985.).

In the early 90’s, I proposed a research project for ARS using a chemical indicator such as coprostanol to detect invisible fecal contamination on beef carcasses. Coprostanol is used as a biomarker for human fecal matter in the environment. One ARS microbiologist commented that assay could destroy the poultry industry.

I replied yes, that is why I’ve emphasized beef. Jim Kemp later developed an assay for bovine feces based on a grass metabolite.

Chicken manure is removed from a chicken house at a poultry production facility.

Those invisible feces and bacteria are the reason that ARS and others have indicated for over three decades that pathogens entering a slaughter establishment will emerge on the product. Here is a recent paper: Berghaus, Roy D.et al. 2013 Enumeration of Salmonella and Campylobacter spp. in Environmental Farm Samples and Processing Plant Carcass Rinses from Commercial Broiler Chicken Flocks. Appl. Env. Microl.79:4106-4114.

So, those are some of the problems. What are some solutions?

The pathogen problem starts on the farm, grow out, and the hatcheries. Solve that and I suggest that line speeds and visible issues are secondary.  Here is an “ancient” paper on preharvest control: Pomeroy BS, et al. 1989, Studies on feasibility of producing Salmonella-free turkeys. Avian Dis. 33:1-7. There are many other papers.

The problem of implementing preharvest controls is cost. How do you create financial incentives for implementing controls?

I suggest let slaughter establishments bump up line speeds but only for sources that are free of the primary hazards, Salmonella and Campylobacter spp., or, at least free of the clinical strains (Salmonella Kentucky, if free of the virulence genes may be a probiotic). That would provide the financial incentive for implementing controls — and reduce the environmental public health burden of poultry production (many papers on this additional problem.

Happy new year and thanks for bringing this up.

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Dozens of brands of ice cream bars now on recall for Listeria

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 00:00

A Listeria-related ice cream bar recall that started Jan. 5 with less than 400 cases of frozen treats now includes additional flavors and brands, totaling close to 29,000 cases sent to more than 35 retail chains across the country.

No illnesses have been confirmed in connection with the ice cream products. However finished samples tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes before the initial recall and more samples have tested positive since then, spurring Fieldbrook Foods Corp. to broaden its recall.

Listeria monocytogenes can survive extended periods of freezing temperatures and can cause serious, sometimes fatal infections. The entire 2017 production year of certain Fieldbrook products — some that have best-by dates 18 months away — is now under recall.

Officials are concerned that consumers and entities along the food supply chain may still have the recalled ice cream treats in their freezers. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Do not eat the recalled products.

“There is no evidence of any contamination prior to Oct. 31, 2017, but the company has issued the recall back to Jan. 1, 2017, through an abundance of caution and in full cooperation with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” according to the recall notice posted on the FDA website.

“The company has suspended production and distribution of all products produced on this production line while it cooperates with the FDA to fully investigate the source of the problem.”

The “Hoyer 1 Line” in Dunkirk, NY, is the only production line and the only one of Fieldbrook Foods three plants. The recalled orange cream bars, raspberry cream bars, and chocolate coated vanilla ice cream bars were sold at the following merchants under the indicated brands in the chart below.

The recalled products have production dates of Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2017, and a “best by” date of Jan. 1, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2018. The Hood and Kemps products may show “best by” dates of July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.

Advice to consumers
Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled products in the past 70 days and developed symptoms of Listeria infection should immediately seek medical attention.

Similarly, because it can take up to 70 days after exposure for symptoms to develop, anyone who has recently eaten any of the recalled products should monitor themselves in the coming days and weeks for symptoms.

Listeria monocytogenes is a microscopic organism that cannot be seen or smelled when it contaminates food. It can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems, according to the recall notice.

Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

To view photographs of products provided to the FDA, please click on the recall notice links below this chart.

RECALLED PRODUCTS

Merchant Brand Merchant Brand Acme Lucerne Safeway (DC/DE/FL/MD/VA) Lucerne ALDI Sundae Shoppe Save-A-Lot World’s Fair Amigo (Puerto Rico Only) Great Value Shaws Lucerne Bi Lo Southern Home Shoprite Polar Express BJ’s Wellsley Farms Shoprite Shoprite Demoulas Market Basket Smart & Final First Street Dillon Kroger Smiths Kroger Dollar Tree Party Treat Star Lucerne Econo (Puerto Rico Only) Econo Stater Stater Food 4 Less Kroger Stop N Shop Ahold symbol Fred Meyer Kroger Tops Tops Frys Kroger Various Food Club Giant Ahold symbol Various Stoneridge Giant Eagle Giant Eagle Various Hagan Harveys Southern Home Various Greens Jewel Lucerne Various Hood King Soopers Kroger Various Kemps Kroger Kroger Various Stoneridge Meijer Purple Cow Walmart (Puerto Rico Only) Great Value Price Chopper PIC Weis Weis Price Rite Price Rite Winn Dixie Winn Dixie Ralphs Kroger

Initial Recall

1st Expanded Recall

2nd Expanded Recall

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Eschewing obfuscation on poultry slaughter line speed

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 00:00

The key to understanding the complexities in the debate over the line speed issue for poultry production is to recognize that there is a distinct difference between the line speed for slaughter and the line speed for processing in a facility. While slaughter line speed is currently limited to 140 birds per minute (bpm), except for certain facilities, there are no regulations that limit the line speed for processing itself where birds are cut up and turned into various products.

More intuitively, another key point is that the work performed by poultry processing line personnel is incredibly difficult and ensuring the safety of these workers is of paramount importance.  It is the intersection of these elements that is vexing the debate over line speed.

Slaughter
When chickens arrive at a typical high volume slaughter facility, numerous workers are present to suspend each bird by their feet on a moving line and, within seconds, the chickens are calmed by rub bars that are intended to provide a comforting sensation on the chest. This procedure usually is accompanied by the use of dim lighting which helps keep birds calm. They are then electrically stunned to render them unconscious before a machine administers a quick, single cut to the throat.

After slaughter, the birds enter the cleaning and evisceration segment, which is a highly automated process where machines remove feathers and internal organs to prepare the birds for processing. The birds are placed in a bath of hot water to loosen feathers and then a machine removes the feathers. The carcasses then go through a quality control part of the slaughter line to ensure that any visual defects – bruises or fecal material – are removed before being washed and then sent to the chiller. After being chilled, microbiological tests are conducted by the company and by the USDA for microorganisms such as Salmonella.

The slaughter practices described above is the subject of the current debate over slaughter line speed, which is limited by regulation to 140 birds per minute (bpm), except in so-called HIMP facilities, which are allowed to operate their slaughter lines up to 175 bpm. The petition submitted to FSIS by the National Chicken Council (NCC) last year requests that the slaughter line speed limit to be set at 175 bpm.

If the petition is approved by FSIS, not every poultry plant would immediately increase the slaughter line speed. Because this part of the process is highly automated, the plants would have to ensure that they have the appropriate technology to allow for the accurate operation of the machines at the higher speed while still being able to maintain process control, or address potential food safety threats. The average slaughter line speed at the so-called HIMP facilities is actually lower than the allowable 175 bpm, and that likely would be the case if the NCC petition is approved.

New poultry inspection system
The quality control segment of the line is the focus of FSIS’ effort to modernize the poultry inspection system. Science informs us that the visual defects on poultry carcasses have very little impact, if any, on food safety and that removing them is essentially a quality control task.

A USDA poultry inspector checks carcasses as the production line moves. Photo courtesy of USDA

The primary food safety threat in this part of the process is removing visible fecal material.  While feces can be removed through proper cooking, not every poultry product is cooked properly, which increases the risk of cross contamination on surfaces and other foods being prepared if fecal material with live pathogens is present. Because the presence of feces on carcasses is gross, a facility has every incentive to ensure it is removed as no one would purchase the product.  Similarly, since feces can presents a food safety threat, continued visual inspection by FSIS is necessary.

With this in mind, the question becomes whether it makes sense for a government agency (FSIS) to provide a company with subsidized labor by performing its quality control tasks for them, or could agency resources be allocated toward activities directly related to food safety, such as microbiological testing for Salmonella.

More generally, another critical question becomes whether the existing law that has been in effect since the mid-1950s that mandates visual carcass-by-carcass inspection has become antiquated and incapable of addressing current food safety threats that continue to evolve. The fact is poultry slaughter line speeds could be reduced to one bird per minute and it would have no impact on food safety because you cannot see Salmonella.

Under NPIS, the quality control tasks are performed by plant employees, while FSIS inspectors still are present to conduct visual carcass-by-carcass inspections to ensure carcasses are free of visual defects before entering the chiller. Additional FSIS inspection personnel are available to perform tasks that are more directly related to food safety, including sample collection for microbiological testing, ensuring the plant is sanitary, and following its HACCP procedures.

Processing
There are no regulations that limit the line speed for processing where carcasses are typically cut and deboned, and turned into products sold in stores or used in restaurants. While plants can theoretically set the processing line speed as fast as they would like, they still are subject to HACCP principles to ensure that their product is not adulterated and food safety risks are being addressed, regardless of the processing line speed.  Failure to adequately address food safety risks can result in the facility being shut down.

Also, because the process of cutting and deboning is strenuous work, poultry plants must find the right balance between worker safety and delivering a quality product.

Current Debate
A significant concern of increasing line speed is the potential for further endangering the poultry industry’s labor force. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common injury for poultry workers who perform these grueling and dangerous tasks.  First-time visitors to any slaughter facility often are struck by two images – the slaughter process itself, and the demanding work required over a sustained period of time to transform poultry carcasses into products presentable for sale.

Having to perform these tasks at a higher line speed would exacerbate an already tough work environment. That notwithstanding, it should be noted that the petition to increase line speed for slaughter would not impact the line speed for processing; it is an important component of the debate that should be clarified and that the line speed for both should not be conflated.

However, this does not invalidate the concern about worker safety. If the line speed for slaughter is increased, it is a fair assumption that companies will need to increase the processing line speed or to accommodate the extra inventory in the chiller. While the industry has countered that it instead would add workers to the line or install additional processing lines, it is not clear whether there is enough space in most plants to accommodate additional employees or equipment.

The intersection of food safety and worker safety will continue to vex the debate over line speed issues in poultry slaughter plants. The resolution of this issue will require a level of trust among all stakeholder groups.

Labor groups have to trust that poultry industry companies will not increase processing line speed if the plants are permitted to operate at a higher slaughter line speed.  Consumers have to trust that the poultry industry will be as effective as FSIS in ensuring visual defects are removed from carcasses, and that industry would not advocate for policies that intentionally harm workers or facilitate the production of unsafe foods. Poultry companies have to trust that workers care to make quality products efficiently, and trust that consumers recognize that industry would not intentionally produce unsafe foods that harm their brands.

However, there has been long-standing and extensive levels of distrust between and among all of these groups that has been exacerbated by the current political climate.  Given this, consensus on this issue, regardless of FSIS’ decision, seems highly unlikely.

About the author: Brian Ronholm is currently senior director of regulatory programs at Arent Fox LLP. He previously served as USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety in the Obama Administration and, prior to that, on the staff of Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

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