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CDC reports cruise ship outbreaks mostly norovirus

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 00:13

The holiday cruise season is steaming toward the New Year having logged less than one foodborne illness outbreak a month thus far in 2017 that met the CDC’s criteria for public posting.

As of Dec. 8, there had been 10 such outbreaks involving nine ships from five cruise lines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of passengers sickened on the cruises ranges from 3.3 percent on a Holland America ship to 22.8 percent on a Lindbald Expeditions ship.

Holland America has had the most outbreaks worthy of posting, according to the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) website. The cruise lines with outbreaks so far this year that meet the criteria for CDC posting, along with the number of passengers sickened, total number of passengers on board and the percentage of passengers sickened are:

  • Celebrity 1 cruise 173 of 3,034 (5.7%)
  • Holland America 5 cruises
  1. 82 of 2,143 (3.832%)
  2. 73 of 2,210 (3.30%)
  3. 167 of 2,086 (8.02%)
  4. 46 of 1,473 (3.12%)
  5. 68 of 1,480 (4.59%)
  • Lindblad Expeditions 1 cruise 13 of 57 (22.81%)
  • Oceana 1 cruise 23 of 639 (3.60%)
  • Princess 2 cruises 157 of 2,016 (7.79%) and 184 of 2,957 (6.22%)

As has been the case since at least 1994, the vast majority of outbreaks on cruise ships for which a cause is determined involve norovirus. For 2017 so far, seven outbreaks were norovirus and one was C. perfringens enterotoxin. The cause was undetermined in two outbreaks.

In 2016 the CDC posted information on 13 foodborne illness outbreaks on cruise ships. The cause was undetermined in one outbreak in 2016. One outbreak was from E. coli, 10 were from norovirus and one involved both norovirus and E. coli.

The CDC only posts cruise ship outbreaks when they meet the following criteria:

  • Fall within the purview of the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP);
  • Are sailing on voyages from 3-21 days;
  • Are carrying 100 or more passengers,;and
  • Are cruise ships in which 3 percent or more of passengers or crew reported symptoms of diarrheal disease to the ships medical staff during the voyage.

“When sailing from a foreign port to a U.S. port, cruise ships participating in the VSP are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal illness cases –including zero (cases) – evaluated by the (ship’s) medical staff at least 24 hours before the ship arrives at the U.S. port,” according to the CDC.

“VSP also requires cruise ships to send a separate notification when the GI illness count exceeds 2 percent of the total number of passengers or crew onboard.”

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Baking this weekend? Check your flour and don’t lick the bowl

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 01:19

For many people, the holiday season is the perfect time to spend time together in the kitchen and share delicious baked foods and desserts. Follow these safety tips to help you and your loved ones stay healthy when handling raw dough.

When you prepare homemade cookie dough, cake mixes, or even bread, you may be tempted to taste a bite before it is fully cooked. But steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick. Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too.

Raw dough can contain bacteria that cause disease
Flour is typically a raw agricultural product. This means it hasn’t been treated to kill germs like E coli. Harmful germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or at other steps as flour is produced. The bacteria are killed when food made with flour is cooked. This is why you should never taste or eat raw dough or batter — whether made from recalled flour or any other flour.

In 2016, an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to raw flour made 63 people sick. Flour products have long shelf lives and could be in people’s homes for a long time. If you have any recalled flour products in your home, throw them away.

In addition, raw eggs that are used to make dough or batter can contain a germ called Salmonella that can make you sick if the eggs are eaten raw or lightly cooked. Eggs are safe to eat when cooked and handled properly.

Don’t taste or eat raw dough
Follow safe food handling practices when you are baking and cooking with flour and other raw ingredients:
  • Do not taste or eat any raw dough or batter, whether for cookies, tortillas, pizza, biscuits, pancakes, or crafts made with raw flour, such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments.
  • Do not let children play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
  • Bake or cook raw dough and batter, such as cookie dough and cake mix, before eating.
  • Follow the recipe or package directions for cooking or baking at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
  • Do not make milkshakes with products that contain raw flour, such as cake mix.
  • Do not use raw, homemade cookie dough in ice cream.
    • Cookie dough ice cream sold in stores contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to eat-foods. Because flour is a powder, it can spread easily.
  • Follow label directions to refrigerate products containing raw dough or eggs until they are cooked.
  • Clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs, or raw dough:
    • Wash your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs, or any surfaces that they have touched.
    • Wash bowls, utensils, countertops, and other surfaces with warm, soapy water.

Is recalled flour in your kitchen?
In 2016, a large outbreak of E. coli ­ infections made people sick in 24 states. Disease detectives linked the illnesses to flour sold under several brand names, including Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, and Signature Kitchens.

This flour, and baking mixes and other foods containing this flour, were recalled.
Check your pantry and throw away any recalled products.

If you stored flour in a container and no longer have the package, throw out the flour to be safe. Make sure that you clean your container with warm, soapy water before using it again.

Pay Close Attention to Any Symptoms
Food poisoning symptoms may range from mild to severe and may differ depending on the germ you swallowed. The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.

People usually get sick 3 to 4 days after swallowing the germ. Most people recover within a week. However, some people develop a serious type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The symptoms of Salmonella infections typically appear 6 to 48 hours after eating a contaminated food, though this period is sometimes longer. Symptoms typically include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. In most cases, illness lasts 4 to 7 days and people recover without antibiotics. Illness from Salmonella bacteria can be serious and is more dangerous for older adults, infants, and people with weakened immune systems.

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Briefly: Dating game — Info shortage — Down the drain

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 01:04

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.

Ignoring the dates across the pond
Billing it as a move to reduce food waste, 125 East of England Co-op locations are selling foods up to a month past their best-by dates at heavily reduced prices. Promotional materials for the program say a majority of grocery store foods can be safely eaten after their best-by and best-before dates.

The move follows a successful three month trial in 14 of the Co-op’s stores and carries the slogan “Don’t be a binner, have it for dinner.” The out-of-date food is sold for 10 pence, or about 13 cents U.S. An ad campaign for the program reminds consumers that “it’s not nice to get dumped” and offers “the co-op guide to dating.”

“This is not a money making exercise, but a sensible move to reduce food waste and keep edible food in the food chain. By selling perfectly edible food we can save 50,000 items every year which would otherwise have gone to waste,” according to the co-op website.

The majority of products that use best-before dates are included in the program, such as canned goods, shelf-stable packaged food and dried food. The program will not include “Use By” dated products, according to the co-op website, which should not be consumed after the date has passed.

British researchers say more data needed on AMR
A paper presented Thursday during the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency board meeting in London says improving the scientific evidence base relating to antimicrobial resistant Campylobacter and E.coli in the food chain should be a top priority.

The new retail survey, which began in September, is the latest piece of work it has commissioned in this area along with part-funding of a 5-year research fellowship at the Quadram Institute in Norwich on AMR bacteria in the food chain. It involved testing of 340 samples of chicken and 340 samples of ground pork.

The findings from the study are expected to be published early next year.

Guy Poppy, FSA chief scientific adviser, said there had been significant advances in the FSA’s work on antimicrobial resistance since the board last looked at the issue in September 2016.

“We are encouraged by the recent progress in reducing sales of antibiotics for food production animals and the recently published work of the Targets Task Force which has considered the different sectors in detail,” Poppy said at the board meeting this week.

Down the drain
A Salmonella outbreak in England has recently taken pathogen transmission to new depths, regarding restaurants’ drainage systems.

More than 80 people were sickened in the outbreak, which lasted from February 2015 to March 2016.

The search for the source of the “long, perplexing outbreak” involved hundreds of environmental samples and lab tests on the victims, according to a report published Thursday in EuroSurveillance.

Ultimately the disease detectives found the outbreak strain of Salmonella deep in the drains of the restaurant. The pathogen used biofilms to survive. Leaks likely carried new generations of Salmonella to various areas of the kitchen and building.

“Our findings suggest greater consideration should be given to undertaking drain swabbing at an early stage of restaurant and food related outbreak investigations,” the investigators reported.

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Arsenic in infant rice cereals compared with lead exposure

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 00:00

To view a larger version of the graphic, please click on the image.

Infant rice cereals are popular with parents because they are affordable, easy to digest, and unlikely to cause allergic reactions. Infants typically begin eating cereals when they are between 4 and 6 months old.

But, rice absorbs more arsenic from soil and water than other grains used for infant cereals; about 10 times more. Consequently, the level of arsenic in infant rice cereals is an ongoing concern among researchers and some public health advocates. Some are comparing the danger from arsenic with the dangers of children’s exposure to lead.

A new report by activist health researchers credits cereal makers for limiting arsenic levels in infant rice cereals since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s most recent study, which was for 2013-14.

Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), an alliance of scientists, nonprofits and donors, published the report. It found 85 ppb (parts per billion) of arsenic, on average in rice cereals tested in 2016-17. That’s about a 21 percent improvement over FDA’s 2013-14 average of 103 ppb.

But HBBF says arsenic in nine favorite brands of infant rice cereal is still too high in light of “growing science on arsenic’ toxicity at low levels…” Arsenic toxicity, according to the new report, causes lung, bladder and skin cancer. It also retards neurodevelopment of children exposed in utero or during the first few years of life.

The findings include an analysis by Abt Associates, an economic and toxicology research group, that shows rice-based foods are resulting in a loss of 9.2 million IQ points among 0- to 6-year-old children. Lower IQs will decrease lifetime wages for those children when they are adults, costing the United States an estimated $12 billion to $18 billion annually, according to the report.

The FDA should have already taken high-arsenic cereals off store shelves, according to HBBF.

“It hasn’t happened,” the report says. “FDA is, in a word, stalled. More than a year after issuing its 2016 draft guidance to cereal makers — the culmination of four years of assessment — FDA is falling short of protecting infants.”

HBBF says FDA has neither set a final limit for arsenic in rice cereal nor finalized the cap proposed in the draft guidance.

Arsenic levels in drinking water are strictly regulated, but there are no limits for infant rice cereal.

The new report is described as “parent-friendly” because it reviews 105 kinds of infant cereal showing non-rice and multi-grain cereals that contain as much as 84 percent less arsenic than leading brands of infant rice cereals. It says these alternatives are “reliable and affordable.”

Source: Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF)

While calling upon FDA to “act immediately to set an enforceable, health-based limit for arsenic in infant rice cereal and other rice-based foods, the report also called upon cereal makers to implement changes.

“We found no evidence to suggest that any brand has reduced arsenic levels in rice cereal to amounts comparable to those found in other types of cereal, despite at least five years of significant public attention to the issue that has included widespread consumer alerts and proposed federal action level,” according to the report.

The study — funded by the Forsythia and Passport Foundations and The John Merck Fund — warns parents to avoid rice-only infant cereals entirely. “Non-rice and multi-grain alternatives have lower arsenic contamination, and are a healthier choice,” the nonprofit organization recommends.

Additional information about arsenic is available at FDA’s main arsenic page and at Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products.

“Rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than other foods, in part because as rice plants grow, the plant and grain tend to absorb arsenic more readily than other food crops,” according to the FDA website.

“In April 2016, the FDA proposed an action level, or limit, of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. This level, which is based on the FDA’s assessment of a large body of scientific information, seeks to reduce infant exposure to inorganic arsenic. The agency also has developed advice on rice consumption for pregnant women and the caregivers of infants,” according to the FDA website.

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Gigantic cruise ship hit with foodborne illness outbreak

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 00:02

Almost 200 people on one of the world’s largest cruise ships are sick with what public health officials say appears to be a foodborne illness from the boat’s bottomless buffet.

Part of the Royal Caribbean International fleet, the American-owned Ovation of the Seas has more than 5,800 people on board for its current cruise. Australian and Tasmanian officials are involved in the outbreak investigation. The ship’s home port is Sydney, Australia.

The cruise line acknowledged the outbreak with a written statement.

“Those affected  by the short-lived illness were treated by our ship’s doctors with over-the-counter medication, and we hope all our guests feel better quickly,” the statement from Royal Caribbean said. “Meanwhile, we’re taking steps like intensive sanitary procedures to minimize the risk of any further issues.

“Upon arrival into port in Sydney, the ship and terminal will be comprehensively sanitized and cleansed to help prevent the spread of illness, resulting in a delay to boarding for new guests.”

Five passengers had to go to the Royal Hobart Hospital for treatment while the ship was docked at the Tasmanian capital’s port. Health officials there told Australian media that three ambulances met the Ovation of the Seas when it docked at Hobart. Two passengers will likely need to be transferred from the ship to hospitals when the ship docks in Sydney.

Passengers took to social media to share experiences during the outbreak. Some praised the efforts of the ship’s crew, some of whom are seen in a passenger video spraying down hallways on the ship.

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Tests point to turkey in Salmonella outbreak in Georgia

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 00:01

The investigation continues, but initial test results show turkey was the source of Salmonella that sickened employees at a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at a Georgia tire factory.

At least five people had to be hospitalized and lab tests confirmed dozens were suffering from Salmonella infections after the Nov. 14-15 catered meals at the Toyo Tire production plant in White, GA. Angelo’s New York Style Pizza and Bistro of Cartersville, GA, catered the two-day event, which included turkey.

“Preliminary findings implicate catered turkeys as the cause of a recent Salmonella outbreak among employees attending an event at Toyo Tire,” according to Logan Boss, risk communicator for the Georgia Department of Health.

The Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District continues the investigation to confirm the test results. Representatives of the department interviewed about 1,800 Toyo Tire employees after the department started getting reports of illnesses.

Angelo Nizzari, owner of the implicated restaurant, issued a statement in late November through his attorney John T. Mroczko. Nizzari said he was heartbroken about the incident and offered his sympathy to those sickened in the outbreak.

The restaurant closed temporarily for cleaning. Health department officials inspected it and Angelo’s reopened Nov. 22. Employees of the restaurant received “rigorous training in safe food handling from Bartow County Health Department environmental health specialists,” the department reported.

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Report shows only half of European food recalls made public

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 00:00

All too often there is a lag between the time European governments know about unsafe food and when public warnings go out about recalls, a new report says.

After the public notice of last summer’s European egg recall because of insecticide contamination, Berlin-based Foodwatch decided to look into just how often such delays occur. The European consumer rights organization, which specializes in food quality issues, found recall information is only getting out about half the time.

Dutch egg producers last summer were found using fipronil, a banned insecticide, as a cleansing agent. Supermarkets in 18 European countries removed millions of eggs for destruction.

The European Union runs a food safety alert system, which is activated when a member state makes an official report. Belgium filed the first notice on July 20, and the Netherlands and Germany followed.

However, according to Foodwatch, the EU let 10 days pass before going public with the news on Aug. 1.

In its new report, Foodwatch says news about recalls of unsafe food often gets to European consumers late or not at all. The organization formed by Thilo Bode, former Greenpeace executive director, is calling for improved recall procedures in Europe.

“The flawed communication about fipronil-contaminated eggs is not an isolated case,” according to the Foodwatch report. “Consumers routinely don’t know about important food warnings. Often the companies and authorities decide on recalls too late, or sometimes not at all.”

The summer’s massive egg recall showed the flaws in the EU’s food alter the system, according to the report.

Germany has been the center of much of the public criticism over the incident. Foodwatch says over the year, only 53 percent of the 92 recalls were posted for consumers on the government’s food safety website.

One example cited was a mushroom recall for Listeria that did not get posted for three days, apparently because officials were off for the New Year’s holiday.

Foodwatch found the EU’s food safety recall regulations are “too vague” and leave too much to interpretation as to when a recall is required. It also said too much is left up to food producers who it says have a “clear conflict of interest” when it comes to getting unsafe products off the market.

Finally, the report says Europe needs to use additional means to get the word out about recalls, including social media, press releases, and supermarket signage. “Food producers almost never use all the communication tools available to warn about unsafe products,” it said.

The millions of eggs caught up in the fipronil-related recall were all destroyed. Dutch egg producers suffered a loss totaling 33 million euros.

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Michigan steps up response, California stays the course

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 02:23

Confirmed cases of hepatitis A continue to increase this week in a multi-state outbreak, prompting California officials to extend an emergency declaration while Michigan officials are urging restaurant workers and customers to seek vaccinations.

Employees at two more restaurants in Michigan have been found to have worked while infected with the highly contagious virus. Post-exposure treatment — which must be given within two weeks of exposure to the virus — can still be administered to people who consumed food or beverages at the two pizza restaurants in November.

The Detroit Health Department is investigating a case at Paul’s Pizza on West Vernor and urges vaccinations by Friday for anyone who dined at the restaurant between Nov. 20 and Nov. 25.

The Oakland County (MI) Health Division has confirmed a case at Papa Romano’s pizzeria on Nine Mile at Telegraph Road and is urging vaccinations by Sunday for anyone who dined there between Nov. 22 and Nov. 26.

As of the most recent update on Nov. 29, public health officials in Michigan had confirmed 555 cases of hepatitis A in the ongoing outbreak, with 140 cases in Detroit. Oakland County has 82 reported cases. Statewide, 20 outbreak victims have died. More than 80 percent of the Michigan victims have required hospitalization.

Michigan officials have mounted a campaign to encourage all foodservice workers in the state to get the hepatitis A vaccine. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development sent a letter to all licensed foodservice facilities reminding operators of the effects of hepatitis A, how it is transmitted and how it can be prevented.

People with health insurance coverage are urged to seek vaccinations through their doctors or pharmacies. For others, state health department will be providing immunization to all foodservice workers who have not previously been vaccinated for hepatitis A.

The free clinics are scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to – 4:30 p.m. On Wednesday the clinics are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The clinics will be on a walk-in basis through December 15.

California county opts for caution
San Diego County officials this week extended the emergency status they imposed Sept. 1 related to the outbreak there, citing the situation in Michigan as part of their rationale.

“We don’t want a resurgence like they’re having in Detroit, so we need to continue this emergency,” County Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said during the board’s Tuesday meeting. The vote to extend the emergency status was unanimous.

As of Tuesday, San Diego County reported 567 confirmed cases, with 20 deaths. About 100 cases have been confirmed elsewhere in the state, with one death in Santa Cruz, according to the California Department of Public Health.

In California and Michigan the majority of confirmed hepatitis A cases have been among homeless people and substance abusers. However, from 25 percent to 34 percent of victims in those states are neither homeless nor substance abusers.

Public health nurses and others have administered more than 109,000 vaccinations in California.

Other state updates
Utah is third behind California and Michigan in terms of confirmed cases, with the most recent update from the Utah Department of Health reporting 87  people confirmed infected by the outbreak strain of hepatitis A. State officials said Utah usually has three or four confirmed cases per year.

In Colorado, the confirmed case count stood at 62 people as of Dec. 1. Neither Utah nor Colorado have any confirmed deaths in the outbreak.

Nevada, Arizona and Kentucky have also reported people infected with the outbreak strain.

In Kentucky, public school students of all ages will be required to have hepatitis A vaccinations before the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The Kentucky legislature approved the immunization requirement in June, well before the state’s health officials declared outbreak status in recent days.

Vaccine shortage
The outbreak and subsequent vaccination efforts have resulted in what federal officials describe as “supply constraints for hepatitis A vaccine” nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the supply problems in mid-October and has not substantially updated the information since then.

“Currently, the supply constraints for adult Hepatitis A vaccine in the United States are nationwide, meaning that all providers are likely affected,” a CDC spokesman told Food Safety News Tuesday.

“While CDC and state/local public health officials are targeting vaccine to manage outbreaks and carry on routine vaccination, current supply is not sufficient to support the full level of demand for vaccine.”

According to the CDC’s vaccine supply website, the shortage is being addressed with the following actions:

  • CDC staff are working directly with public health officials to provide guidance about how best to target vaccine distribution.
  • CDC is working with the manufacturers of adult Hepatitis A vaccines to monitor and manage public and private vaccine orders to make the best use supplies of adult Hepatitis A vaccine during this period of unexpected increased demand.
  • In addition, manufacturers are exploring options to increase domestic adult Hepatitis A vaccine supply. One manufacturer has made additional doses of adult Hepatitis A vaccine available on the CDC vaccine purchase contracts to help in the management of ongoing outbreaks in several U.S. cities and states. This additional vaccine also provides for a public sector reserve for future outbreaks during this time of constrained supply.

Advice to the public
Other than vaccination, the best way to keep from contracting hepatitis A infection is to wash your hands using warm water and soap, to handle uncooked food appropriately and to fully cook food, according to public health officials at all levels.

People should always wash their hands before touching or eating food, after using the toilet and after changing diapers. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers should be used.

The virus is found in the stool of people infected with hepatitis A and is usually spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth, even though it might look clean, that has been contaminated with the stool of a person infected with hepatitis A.

Anyone with symptoms of hepatitis A should seek medical attention. Anyone who has had close contact with someone infected with the virus should also seek medical attention to determine if they should receive the post-exposure vaccine.

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis A include yellowing of the skin or eyes, dark-colored urine, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea and fever. It can take up to 50 days after exposure for symptoms to develop.

Not everyone with the acute hepatitis A virus infection will develop symptoms, however, if symptoms do develop, they may include fever, jaundice or yellowing of the skin, vomiting, fatigue, and grey-colored stools. People with symptoms should seek medical care for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

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Briefly: Listeria’s resurrection — Wash ’em — Deadly outbreak

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 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.

Dozens dead in South Africa Listeria outbreak
More than 550 people are confirmed sick, with at least 36 dead, in an ongoing Listeria outbreak in South Africa. South Africa’s government reports the source of the outbreak is likely to be a food product consumed by people across all socio-economic groups.

From Jan. 1 through Nov. 29, reports of 557 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases had been recorded across all provinces in South Africa. Of 70 victims for whom complete information has been reported, 36 have died.

Public health officials are visiting the homes of victims and sampling suspect food when possible.

Officials have also asked the country’s 23 private food testing labs — as well as 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 — to share information about Listeria for the year to date and to provide isolate samples for testing.

As of Tuesday, two of the private labs had voluntarily provided isolates to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Happy Handwashing Awareness Week
The holidays, colds and germs are comin’ to town. With Handwashing Awareness Week comes a reminder for how to have healthy holidays through handwashing.

Some adults ban young children from food preparation and table setting at holiday gatherings, but proper handwashing can help keep little helpers safely in the mix. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s the single most important step in putting a halt to the spread of germs, including foodborne pathogens.

Share this handwashing demonstration video with friends and relatives to decrease the chances of sharing more than the spirit of the season.

For the New Year, the CDC encourages people to “Create a Handwashing Campaign” at a school. The deadline to enter classrooms in the national contest for recognition is Jan. 31, 2018.

Listeria can resurrect itself in your body
A recent study of Listeria monocytogenes at AgroParis Techn and Université Paris-Saclay documented how the pathogen can remain dormant and undetectable in people, making infections difficult for doctors to diagnosis.

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

Symptoms of listeriosis, the infection caused by Listeria, can take up to 70 days after exposure to appear. The researchers found the pathogen can go undetected by diagnostic tests, because of its ability to enter “host cells” during cell division. The bacteria are viable, but in a state that prohibits cultivation during lab tests.

The scientists also determined Listeria can function differently in liver and placenta tissues. The pathogen’s protein production can come to a temporary halt, making it able to resist antibiotics. Pregnant women infected by Listeria are at risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and spreading the infection to their newborns.

These dormant forms of Listeria monocytogenes can last for weeks and months. Frequently spread by contaminated food, Listeria’s ability to hide in cells and certain tissues for such long periods of time makes the investigation of sources of contamination particularly difficult.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Gate Gourmet works to get airline customers back at LAX

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 00:00

Gate Gourmet is reporting its kitchen at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is again operating without restrictions, but it’s not clear if it has won back all of its airline customers at America’s second busiest airport.

Last month, after Gate Gourmet found Listeria in its kitchen at LAX, several airlines including American, Delta and Virgin Australia suspended their use of the air catering service until the problem could be resolved.

Gate Gourmet insisted at the time that it found Listeria only in floor drains and that the contamination had not reached any food contact services. Until just before it told its airline customers about its Listeria problem, Gate Gourmet had maintained an “A” grade during routine inspections by the Los Angeles County Department of Health.

Los Angeles health inspected Gate Gourmet six times from mid-2015 to mid-2017, posting grades in the 90 to 100 percent range for the caterer’s LAX operation. But in its most recent inspection on Sept. 21, Gate Gourmet’s grade fell off to 82 percent, dropping its rating to a low “B.”

In that most recent inspection, Gate Gourmet LAX had two significant violations.One was for improper use of gloves and hand washing, the other for not using proper hot and cold holding temperatures for food. The facility lost additional points because multiple major critical violations increase the risk to public health.

Among its other violations included not correctly identifying and storing toxic substances; not property storing food; not keeping nonfood contact surfaces clean and in good repair; improper storage and use of equipment, utensils, and linens; inadequate lighting and ventilation; and not maintaining plumbing and backflow devices in good repair.

Local health department inspections typically do not include the collection of  environmental samples from surfaces to determine if pathogens are present in a facility unless there is an outbreak. Gate Gourmet likely found the Listeria problem later in the year through its own environmental testing.

Even as airlines were announcing they were suspending Gate Gourmet in early November, the catering kitchen claimed it was operating without restrictions and that it remained in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations.

It’s not known if Gate Gourmet LAX reported its Listeria problem to the Food and Drug Administration, either through the Los Angeles district office or the agency’s reportable incidents portal. The fact that FDA has not issued a warning letter to Gate Gourmet may mean the agency is satisfied with Gate Gourmet’s remediation.

The first public notice of the problem came at 3 a.m. on Nov. 1 when the Association of Professional Flight Attendants announced American Airlines suspended Gate Gourmet over Listeria concerns. Other airlines followed, some picking up airport cafe food to feed their international passengers.

Routine food and beverage services appear to have returned to the many international flights out of LAX, although airlines aren’t saying if they’ve resumed doing business with Gate Gourmet.

Virgin, which flies long routes across the Pacific, told Australian media it’d made “new arrangements with our onboard catering company at LAX…” Virgin says it is “satisfied with the standards of our onboard catering company.”

It remains unknown if that company is Gate Gourmet.

Among foodborne diseases, Listeria is the one that might be most problematic for airline passengers. It can take up to 70 days after exposure before the appearance of any symptoms, leaving most people with few specific memories about what might be making them sick.

Pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system are especially susceptible. Symptoms that do appear include fever, stiff neck, muscle aches, and mental confusion.

Pregnant women may experience flu-like reactions. Listeria is also well known for causing miscarriages and stillbirths.

Gate Gourmet LAX is on the edge of the airport’s runways at 6701 W. Imperial Highway. Deep-cleaning was used to eradicate Listeria on the facility’s interior.

Headquartered at Switzerland’s Zürich Airport, Gate Gourmet services airlines around the world with about 28,000 employees.

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Few details discovered in Burger King outbreak investigation

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 00:03

The two Burger King locations in Bemidji, MN, remain closed Monday because of a three-month Salmonella outbreak public health officials linked to the restaurants.

Most of the more than 30 sick people became ill in September, and health officials thought the outbreak was over. However two more people, apparently infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella, became ill this past week, according to Minnesota Department of Health officials.

Anyone who ate or drank anything at either of the Burger King locations in Bemidji and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella. Specific tests are required to diagnose Salmonella infection.

Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever, chills and abdominal cramping. People are usually sick for several days and can spread the infection to others even after symptoms resolve. In young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems the infection can become serious, causing long-term problems or death.

Neither of the Burger King restaurants will be allowed to reopen until deep-cleaning and disinfection procedures have been completed. Also, all employees will be required to test negative for Salmonella infection at least twice — and not sooner than 24 hours apart, according to public health officials.

Outbreak investigators have not yet determined if the Salmonella was spread by an infected employee, contaminated food delivered to the restaurant, or food that became contaminated after being delivered.

“We don’t know which came first. There was no clear source identified,” health department spokesman Doug Schultz told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune newspaper. “If (employees are) working while they’re ill — as hard as you try to wash your hands — it can spread.”

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USDA’s organic enforcement efforts find fraudulent certificates

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 00:01

The USDA’s National Organic Program completed more complaint reviews and investigations that it received in 2017.  It finished work on 462 reviews and investigations while receiving 379 incoming complaints during the fiscal year 2017 ending last Sept. 30.

Under the jurisdiction of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the organic program recently updated reports on enforcement activities and fraudulent organic certificates for 2017. It’s been a year of business growth for organic growers and producers.

Organic sales topped $68.8 billion on the steady growth of about 5 percent a year. More than eight out of ten households made organic purchases. And 4.1 million acres out of 915 million acres of U.S. farmland was reportedly dedicated organic production on about 15,000 farms.

However, the National Organic Program’s (NOP) weak controls over organic imports, again came under scrutiny from USDA’s Office of Inspector General, putting the integrity of the USDA organic label at risk. The OIG found produce shipments of all kinds are fumigated at the border with pesticides to prevent pests from entering the U.S. And, a weak import certificate system imposed by NOP in 2012 has not prevented organics for getting the same treatment.

NOP’s most substantial enforcement action in 2017 came against a Texas corn chip manufacturer. Irving-based Xochiti, a formerly certified organic company, initially accepted a two-year suspension and was ordered to pay a $1.8 million civil penalty under a Consent Decision and Order by a USDA administrative law judge.

Xochiti is allowed to seek reinstatement to the organic program. The NOP reduced the civil penalty to about a fourth of the $!.8 million, leaving Xochiti to pay $475,000. Xochiti cannot sell organic products while on suspension.

Other civil penalties imposed by the NOP during 2017 totaled only $187,500.

USDA’s organic program also reports businesses using fraudulent organic certificates. It is currently highlighting seven organic companies it claims are using fraudulent organic documents including:

  • Aurora & Sear Cooperative
  • J and Sharp Holdings Pty Ltd.
  • Kingsport Foods
  • Xuzhou Hnest Pharna Trading Co., Ltd.
  • T. Shihom Development Trading Company
  • TeaVivre.com
  • Vellela Group of Companies Pty Ltd.

Spellings of the company names are as found on the certificates. The certificates falsely represent agricultural products as certified under the USDA organic regulations, which NOP says violates the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990

In addition to those highlighted, NOP keeps an Excell spreadsheet listing nearly 100 fraudulent certificates it is tracking.

“Fraudulent certificates may have been created and used without the knowledge of the operator or the certifying agent named in the certificates,” according to NOP.

“The posting of the fraudulent certificates does not necessarily mean that the named business or certifying agent was involved in illegal activity. If a business named on the fraudulent certificate is certified, its certifying agent, identified in the list of certified operations, can provide additional information and verification to the organic trade.”

The NOP, which can impose civil penalties of no more than $11,000 per violation, says “the organic trade is the vital force in ensuring organic integrity.” It urges organic handlers to review certificates.

During the fiscal year 2017, the NOP suspended 294 certificates and revoking another 17. It negotiated settlement agreements with 33 organic businesses and obtained consent decisions involving two others.

NOP referred 162 cases for further investigation and issued warnings to 100 others.

According to the NOP, common consumer complaints about organic food sales include:

  • Using the USDA organic seal without being certified organic
  • Using the word “organic” on the front of the package when the ingredients are organic, but the entire product is not certified organic
  • Using the USDA organic seal on a multi-ingredient product that only has only a portion of organic ingredients, less than 95 percent, of the total product

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European agency reports on chronic wasting disease, TSE cases

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 00:00

A European Union summary report on the monitoring of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) has been published by the European Food Safety Authority.

TSEs are a group of diseases that affect the brain and nervous system of humans and animals. These include scrapie, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and chronic wasting disease (CWD). With the exception of classical BSE, there is no scientific evidence that TSEs can be transmitted to humans.

“Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was confirmed for the first time in Europe in 2016, in Norway, where out of a total of 10,139 tested cervids five cases were reported: three in wild reindeer and two in moose,” according to the report.

“During the same period, 2,712 cervids were tested in seven different (member states) and all were found negative. Most of the tested cervids, 90 percent, were reported by Romania.”

The report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) provides results on data collected by all EU member states, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland for 2016.

Main findings include:

  • 5 cases of BSE in cattle out of 1.35 million animals tested in the EU – none of which entered the food chain. Only one of these was classified as classical BSE. The animal was born after enforcement of the EU ban on the use of animal proteins began in 2001.
  • 685 cases of scrapie in sheep out of 286,351 animals tested; and
  • 634 in goats out of 110,832 tested in the EU.

No cases of CWD were found in any of the 2,712 cervids tested, including reindeer, elk and moose, in the EU. However, five cases of CWD were reported in Norway: three in wild reindeer and two in moose.

Titled “EUSR on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies in 2016,” the report abstract says it presents the results of surveillance activities on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in bovine animals, sheep, goats, cervids and other species, as well as genotyping data in sheep, carried out in 2016 in the European Union according to Regulation (EC) 999/2001, and in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. In 2016, 1,352,585 bovine animals were tested in the European Union, which is 5 percent less than in 2015.

Sheep scrapie was reported by 20 member states in a total of 685 animals. Nine member states reported 634 cases of goat scrapie. A total of 25 ovine scrapie cases were reported by Iceland and Norway. At the EU level, the occurrence of scrapie in small ruminants remains stable, with 1,175 cases of classical scrapie reported and 135 atypical scrapie cases.

A total of 97.2 percent of the classical scrapie cases in sheep occurred in animals with genotypes belonging to the susceptible group, and a random sampling showed that 26.6 percent of the genotyped sheep held genotypes of the susceptible group, excluding Cyprus.

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Kroger recalls ‘Comforts For Baby’ water because of mold

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 21:36

The Kroger Co. is recalling almost six months worth of its Comforts For Baby brand purified water with fluoride because samples have tested positive for mold contamination. Various grocery chains in 14 states are recalling the implicated infant water.

“The FDA is issuing this consumer alert to reach parents and caregivers who may have bought the product, which is intended for infants,” according to the alert posted on the Food and Drug Administration’s website today.

Kroger testing identified Talaromyces penicillium mold in the water after consumers complained about mold in the product. Although the water is sold in clear containers, consumers may not be able to see mold that is present. Anyone with the recalled water is urged to throw away any unused portions or return to the place of purchase for a refund.

The 1-gallon plastic jugs of the “Comforts For Baby Purified Water with Fluoride” are labeled with “DISTRIBUTED BY THE KROGER CO, CINCINNATI, OHIO 45202.” The affected products also bear the plant code 51-4140 and the UPC number 0 41260 37597 2. Consumers can also identify the recalled water by looking for “sell by” dates between April 26, 2018, and Oct. 10, 2018.

According to the consumer alert, Kroger distributed the recalled water to retailers including Food 4 Less, Jay C, Jay C Food Plus, Kroger, Kroger Marketplace, Owen’s, Payless Super Market, and Ruler stores. Those retailers with locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia have been ordered to recall the infant water.

Symptoms of exposure to mold, including Talaromyces penicillium, can cause immediate or delayed allergic reactions from inhaling or touching the mold or microscopic mold spores. Allergic reactions can include including sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, skin rash and anaphylactic shock.

Mold can also cause asthma attacks. Molds can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, even in people who aren’t allergic to them, according to FDA.

“Drinking water or other products contaminated with Talaromyces penicillium may affect infants who have HIV or other conditions that cause immune compromise,” according to the alert.

“These individuals may become infected and this may lead to serious health consequences.”

Consumers should consult a health care professional if they believe their infant has consumed any of the recalled water.

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Briefly: Outbreak sources — Food safety and AIDS — Toy story

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 02:18

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.

They chew on everything like it’s food
With holiday shopping season in full swing, anyone with children, especially infants, on their lists should be aware of the risk of lead in some toys. You cannot see or smell lead and gifts from unknown origins pose a threat.

Lead exposure happens when toddlers and young children put toys in their mouth, or even their hands after handling or playing with the hazardous item. At-home detection kits do not provide the known amount of lead if present, and are likely to miss low levels. Ultimately, a blood test is the only way to identify lead exposure in a child.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issues recalls of toys that put children at risk for expose to lead. It is important to note that some toy jewelry poses a lead hazard for children lead risk, through handling, playing, or biting.

Register now for foodborne illness webinar
The FDA recently announced that on Friday, Dec. 15, the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) will host a webinar from noon to 1 p.m. EST about a recent report that includes updated foodborne illness source attribution estimates using outbreak data for 2013 for Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter.

Experts are scheduled to discuss results from the report, and the approach the IFSAC’s approach in analyzing outbreak data in order to estimate which foods are the source of foodborne illnesses related to specific pathogens.

Attendees who previously registered for the original Oct. 20 webinar must re-register if they wish to attend the Dec. 15 web presentation.

As space is limited, participants are encouraged to register for the webinar by Wednesday, Dec.13.

Food safety for people with AIDS
Food safety was in the mix Friday on World AIDS Day as public health officials stressed the heighten dangers that foodborne pathogens present for those with suppressed immune systems.

The risk for longer, and more severe, illness emphasizes knowing which foods harbor more harmful bacteria and viruses. Vegetables and fruits are just as dangerous as meats, fish, shellfish and animal products can be.

Cleaning, separating, cooking and chilling food are each (and all) essential steps for fighting against the chance for foodborne illness.

Understanding the range and timeline of symptoms, and the importance of taking action, are necessary components of identifying the sources, symptoms and potential impact of a foodborne pathogen.

For more information on how to reduce the danger of foodborne illnesses for people with who are HIV positive, please click here.

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USDA grants through NIFA include food safety research

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 01:15

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced support for research, education, and extension projects that promote a safe, nutritious food supply. The funding is made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Each year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick consuming contaminated foods or beverages,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “NIFA support enables scientists to investigate and develop innovative approaches to detect and control microbial and other contaminants in our food, contributing to the production of safe, high-quality, nourishing food.”

AFRI is America’s flagship competitive grants program for foundational and translational research, education, and extension projects in the food and agricultural sciences. These awards are made through two grant programs: AFRI Foundational: Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health, and the AFRI Food Safety Challenge Area. These investments seek to increase our understanding of the microbial, chemical, and physical safety and quality of foods, as well as protect consumers from contaminants at every stage of the food chain, from production to consumption.

Among the FY16 foundational projects, NIFA and the National Peanut Board, under the commodity board provision in the 2014 Farm Bill, are co-funding USDA Agricultural Research Service work to develop reliable diagnostic tests for peanut and tree nut allergies. As part of NIFA’s partnership with the U.S.-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund, the University of California, Davis, will study how harmful Salmonella bacteria colonize lettuce crops. The results may inform pre-harvest food safety methods in the fresh produce industry.

This set of awards also includes a project where University of Minnesota researchers will investigate the use of cold plasma technology to decontaminate food and food-processing surfaces. Ohio State University researchers will develop BPA (bisphenol A) free coatings to improve the safety and maintain the shelf life of canned foods. BPA is an industrial chemical thought to have significant negative effects on human health.

Fiscal Year 2016 grants, which include 59 grants, totaling $24 million were awarded. They include:

AFRI Foundational Program: Improving Food Safety

  • University of California, Davis, California, $495,482
  • University of California, Davis, California, $499,893
  • California State University, Northridge, California, $150,000
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, $150,000
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, $150,000
  • University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, $230,690
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, $500,000
  • Florida International University, Miami, Florida, $258,253
  • Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois, $258,253
  • University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, $13,500
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, $498,599
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, $499,118
  • University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota, $498,234
  • University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, $500,000
  • USDA Agricultural Research Service, Stoneville, Mississippi, $489,804
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $50,000
  • Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, $258,253
  • University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, $499,862
  • Texas A&M AgriLife Research, College Station, Texas, $230,691
  • Partnership for Food Safety Education, Arlington, Virginia, $49,984

AFRI Foundational Program: Function and Efficacy of Nutrients

  • University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, $25,802
  • University of California, Davis, California, $469,257
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, $150,000
  • Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, $470,000
  • University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois,$504,616
  • University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, $470,000
  • Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, $471,657
  • Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, $469,884
  • Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, $469,994
  • Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, $150,000
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, $469,949
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, $470,667
  • Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, $469,648
  • University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island, $470,000
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, $505,587

AFRI Foundational Program: Improving Food Quality

  • California State University, Los Angeles, California, $149,998
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, $149,801
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, $404,435
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, $452,675
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, $363,822
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, $361,237
  • University of Maine, Orono, Maine, $8,781
  • Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi, $454,986
  • Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey, $454,735
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $455,000
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $454,964
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $441,291
  • Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, $149,980
  • Utah State University, Logan, Utah, $454,404
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, $454,741
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, $454,361

AFRI Foundational Program: Understanding Antimicrobial Resistance

  • Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, California, $387,518
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $499,982

AFRI Food Safety Challenge Area: Effective Mitigation Strategies for Antimicrobial Resistance

  • Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa, $1,199,994
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, $50,000
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, $1,200,000
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, $1,200,000
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, $1,200,000

AFRI Food Safety Challenge Area: Assessment of the AFRI Food Safety Challenge Area

  • Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, $300,000

More information on these projects is available on the NIFA website.

Among previously funded projects, University of Rochester and Cornell University scientists investigated compounds in wine grapes and pomace, a fermented grape mash and waste product, discovering that they inhibit tooth decay. A product that prevents tooth decay can be made from this readily available waste and would have significant societal benefits. Purdue University researchers investigated developing carbohydrates that digest slowly, trigger feelings of satiety, and control nutrient delivery rate to the body. The study shows that dietary carbohydrates, if delivered properly, can support weight management.

Among past AFRI Food Safety Challenge Area projects, scientists at Kansas State and Texas A&M Universities successfully launched a website, KSUantibiotics.org. The website offers resources on how to manage use of these drugs in animals while conserving their effectiveness for humans.

A project at Washington State University is investigating how a combination of biology, psychology, and ecology can be used to mitigate antibiotic resistance in livestock production. The scientists found that specific factors, such as positive rewards from supervisors, motivated how animal care providers used antibiotics.

NIFA’s mission is to invest in and advance agricultural research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges. NIFA’s investments in transformative science directly support the long-term prosperity and global preeminence of U.S. agriculture.

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Traceability, it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 00:03

Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series on technology and food safety sponsored by PAR Technologies.

GMO Free. Organic. Free Range. Grass-Fed. Gluten Free. Locally Grown. Cruelty Free. Product of this state. Product of that state – as grocery shoppers continually become more consciences of the products they drop into their carts, who is responsible for backing source claims made by food companies and retailers?

“At the retail level, we go throughout the store looking at products to verify and certify certain attributes,” said Leann Saunders, COO and president of Where Food Comes From, a Denver based third-party agricultural and food verification company.

“These attributes may be ingredients within a product, non-GMO compliance or verifying claims made on an egg carton for an animal welfare standard being practiced.”

According to Saunders, verifying and creating a traceability path to products and ingredients means things to different people, defined by, “how wide and deep are you going?”

“Traceability may be within their own operation and company, or it may trace back through the supply chain,” she said.

“When I think of traceability, I think of it being more farm to fork, with identify preservation of where a product is born or grown, traced through the supply chain.”

This detailed level of traceability, which can also track ingredient products within a single commodity is complex, with technology becoming an essential tool in collecting data throughout the supply chain.

“Electronic traceability not only removes human error, but is able to keep up with commerce,” said Saunders.

“But it is not cheap, and once you commit – you are committed for long-term as it can take years and a large amount of money to make changes.”

Technology must be able to keep up with commerce, with RFID, with Internet of Things sensors, with QR codes and with encoder receiver transmitters common products in the market place.

The benefits of food retailers creating a traceability program is two-fold, explains Saunders. One on hand, it provides consumers with verified information about their food – something she sees becoming more valuable to customers. On the other, it allows retailers to make data driven decisions for quality improvement, reducing risk and product loss common to food retailers.

“In the world we live in with certification and marketing claims for food having attributes to capture consumer trust, it is crucial these claims are verified,” says Saunders.

“Traceability not only helps retailers with inventory control and management, but response time and accuracy when it comes to making management decisions.”

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Ruth’s salad maker warned for Listeria in production facility

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 00:00

B & H Foods in North Carolina is on notice from the FDA because the same strain of Listeria monocytogenes has been confirmed repeatedly during the past five years at its facilities.

“Based on FDA’s analytical results for the environmental sample and inspectional findings documented during the inspection, we have determined that your RTE (ready-to-eat) food products are adulterated within the meaning of section 402(a)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act),” according to a warning letter the Food and Drug Administration sent to the company on Nov. 14.

The violations render the firm’s food products adulterated in that they have been prepared, packed, or held under conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to heath. The FDA previously sent the company a warning letter in October 2012, citing many of the same problems.

In February this year the company recalled Ruth’s brand pimento and cream cheese spreads because of potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes causes serious, sometimes fatal, infections when people ingest it. Young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk.

Staff from the FDA inspected the Charlotte, NC, location of B & H Foods on May 9 through 31. Environmental samples collected from facility returned positive results during laboratory testing for Listeria monocytogenes.

To see photos of the Ruth’s products that B & H Foods recalled in February, please click on the photo.

“The presence of L. monocytogenes in your facility is significant in that they demonstrate your cleaning and sanitation practices are inadequate to effectively control pathogens in your facility to prevent contamination of food,” according to the letter sent to Stanley C. Bracey, president, and Bill R. Rudisill, general manager.

“Once established in a production area, personnel or equipment can facilitate the pathogen’s movement and contamination of food-contact surfaces and finished product.”

Although the firm responded to the FDA in June and July with several letters including a narrative description of the corrective actions taken, the FDA noted unresolved, significant violations.

A second strain of Listeria found in the firm’s facility was identical to WGS database isolates from FDA’s February 2017 sample of the Chester, SC, facility’s pimento spread, the state of North Carolina’s 2017 sample of your pimento cheese and old fashioned spread, and FDA environmental swabs collected from your Chester, SC, facility in May 2012, August 2013 and April 2015.

“This evidence demonstrates that L. monocytogenes has maintained a presence in your Chester, SC, facility from 2012-2015 and an identical strain of L. monocytogenes has been isolated in your Charlotte, NC, processing environment,” the warning letter stated.

The FDA noted that it cannot assess the adequacy of the firm’s corrective actions because the firm did not provide documentation of the steps taken to eliminate Listeria from the processing environment or to effectively prevent it from contaminating finished products manufactured there in the future.

According to the warning letter, the firm also failed to manufacture, package, and store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.

Problems the FDA cited in its warning letter included failure to ensure controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination. “Investigators observed the soiled garments of employees, including hair nets, arm guards, and aprons, coming into direct contact with raw ingredients and in-process finished product.”

Inspectors also noted that the firm failed to ensure all equipment, containers and utensils are constructed, handled and maintained during manufacturing or storage in a manner protecting against contamination.

“Further, two pallets of canned pimentos and one pallet of canned jalapenos were observed to be stored in the maintenance shop. The pallet of jalapenos had opened motor oil containers and lubricants stored on top. The front pallet of pimento had a viscous black liquid spilled onto the middle cans on the pallet. Chemical drums stored adjacent to the rear kitchen were observed to be leaking onto open boxes of finished product containers.”

The firm’s facility is not constructed in such a manner that floors, walls, and ceilings may be adequately cleaned and kept clean and in good repair and that drip or condensate from fixtures, ducts and pipes does not contaminate food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging materials, according to the warning letter.

“During the inspection condensate was observed dripping onto packaged product, exposed raw materials such as relish and cabbage, and food contact surfaces. Condensate was also observed pooling where sanitized production equipment was being stored.”

The firm also lacked proper glove, hand washing, sanitizing, and drying operations, therefore failing to ensure that all personnel working in direct contact with food, food contact surfaces, and food packaging materials conform to hygienic practices while on duty to the extent necessary to protect against contamination of food.

Additionally, the firm’s plumbing constitutes a source of contamination to food, equipment, and utensils as “the equipment washing sink in the front kitchen was observed to be directly plumbed into the sewer system without an air break or a backflow prevention device.”

Food companies are given 15 working days to respond to FDA warning letters. Failure to take prompt action to correct the violations in warning letters can result in regulatory action by FDA without further notice, including, without limitation, seizure and injunction, according to the warning letter.

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Letter From The Editor: A voice for Food Freedom

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 00:04

On only a half dozen occasions, has Food Safety News published articles resembling “book reviews.” For various reasons, we are not really in that business.  Sometimes, however, books merit mentions in the news. That’s what happened recently when author Baylen J. Linnekin’s comments made news stories about the Maine Food Freedom law.

Before those stories,  Linnekin’s name had not registered in my memory banks. But I wanted to find out more about him because Food Freedom advocates haven’t exactly come across as practical and reasonable, but he did.  Also, Food Freedom will likely be back in the news when the 50 state legislatures gather after Jan. 1.

Linnekin is a food lawyer and an adjunct professor at the George Mason University Law School, where he developed and teaches the Food Law & Policy Seminar, and an adjunct faculty member at American University, where he teaches courses on food policy.

He is also the author of “Biting the Hands That Feed Us,” published last year by Island Press.

In the book, Linnekin walks the reader through the world of food laws and regulations, including those enacted in the name of food safety, with an eye toward their actual  impacts on sustainable food practices

And, Linnekin in the past has contributed op-ed articles to Food Safety News.

In the book, Linnekin can be blunt. He says FDA rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act “threaten to treat small farmers like manure and to treat manure–the lifeblood of organic fertilization and sustainable farming–as a toxin.”

Linnekin looks at how FDA threatened the livelihoods of “artisanal cheesemakers and beer brewers of all sizes” and barred people “from using sustainable methods to grow, raise, produce, prepare, sell and buy a variety of foods.”

As you may have guessed, “sustainability” is the prime directive for Linnekin. It’s on my list words in danger of becoming meaningless for its overuse by the lazy, but Professor Linnekin is precise in his choice of words. For Linnekin, whether a rule or regulation is helping or hurting sustainability is a crucial metric for measuring its effectiveness.

Linnekin does not blow off food safety. He says some rules are “necessary and desirable,” but he does question “blind faith” in rule makers.

North Dakota, Maine, and Wyoming elevated “Food Freedom” recently with various state concessions. “The idea that decreasing the number of rules can help foster a more just food system is at the heart of “food freedom”–a belief that individuals have a right to make their own food choices,” writes Linnekin.

He says food freedom is “the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat and drink the foods of one’s choosing.” Linnekin says that means “lowering the regulatory burden on farmers and other food producers.”

To his credit, he accepts food safety remains the responsibility of those of produce and manufacture food. He believes an “outcomes-based” approach would be preferable to the “command and control” regulatory structure most governments so much prefer.

In the three states with Food Freedom laws, there is no single approach. Generally speaking, these jurisdictions exempt food producers for the local market from licensing and inspection. Maine had to go back and amend its statute to make sure USDA did not shut down its state meat inspection program.

State legislatures are big copycats. Once a topic becomes trendy, it’s normal for lawmakers to try their hand at the subject matter, state by state. We’ve seen that we cottage food laws already, and they may serve as the gateways to Food Freedom laws.

If the state legislative action occurs as I suspect it will, it’s going to be good to have Professor Linnekin out speaking on the movement. His book covers warts on the food regulation business, from the European Union keeping “ugly” fruits and vegetables off the market to states forcing farmers markets to use refrigerator trucks when a little ice would do.

I’d say it a fascinating read, but that would sound like a book review.

Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable.   

By Baylen J. Linnekin (Author); Emily Broad Leib (Forward)

 

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Transparency, temperature, tenacity can tame FSMA terrors

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 00:00

The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011. The act granted the FDA a number of new powers and enforcement abilities, including mandatory recall authority and the ability to levy fines against offenders. The law was prompted after many reported incidents of foodborne illnesses during the first decade of this century that cost the food industry billions of dollars in recalls, lost sales, legal expenses and trust.

Food safety has become synonymous with a food retailer’s reputation. Those that avoid the pitfalls of food-related illnesses have built an even stronger bond with their customers, and it’s not by chance. They follow stringent rules to maintain their brands’ reputations and the faith they have built with their clientele.

One way for businesses in the food industry to avoid these potentially brand-wrecking incidences is to embrace the FSMA by adhering to the following three tips:

1. Start by being transparent about food safety
The increasing intricacy of the global food chain has amplified the complexity of the traceability of ingredients. It’s also been recognized by many that that there is a need for even more transparent information on the quality of the entire food chain outside of listing ingredients and calories.

Modern tracking and tracing methods have made it easier to meet these needs. Moreover, FSMA has made this task a critical part of the farm-to-fork process. More vigilance and awareness of the supply chain is an essential part of protecting consumers and the company brand, and plays an important role in the event of a recall.

Transparency is a given on the customer side. Consumers expect openness from food companies in all ways. They want to know where the products are coming from and what’s in them. But they also want to know everything about how safe items are to consume.

Being transparent about food safety even before it’s on your shelves is vital. In turn, the business community in the food supply chain regards the call for safety from their customers, government and other stakeholders as important driving forces for continuous innovation. These innovations focus on implementing systems to improve the product quality and to guarantee food safety, while at the same time making transparent the supply chain, including the food processors.

2. Monitor food safety beyond the processor
Maintaining food quality doesn’t end at your processor’s dock. They should be held accountable to do their part to ensure food safety during the transportation phase of the cold chain.

A good starting point for food processors is to fully understand the requirements of FSMA and key dynamics of the U.S. fresh foods landscape. Recognize and address the risks and vulnerabilities through an assessment of a processor’s internal systems and gain greater visibility into the supply chain.

The following temperature monitoring best practices as outlined by the FDA, can be leveraged throughout the transport of fresh foods to help create an effective program:

A. Develop and communicate proper transport temperatures. Prior to the product being shipped to distribution centers, it must remain within acceptable temperature ranges for the particular commodity.

B. Establish pre-cooling processes. Before food is transported, it should be pre-cooled by the processor to the correct transit temperatures, as this can have a direct impact on product quality, safety and shelf life. Pre-cooling should occur when the container is connected to the cold storage unit.

C. Ensure proper loading practices. Perishable products should be loaded in a way that permits airflow through the transport container, making sure that it does not go above the “load” line. Also, the product packaging itself should promote airflow.

D. To track temperatures; integrate temperature monitoring device and placement procedures. Place a digital temperature-monitoring device on the product to provide the most accurate product temperature data. Establish consistent placement locations in all trailers.

E. Check temperature data upon receipt at the distribution center. To ensure the food is safe when the shipment reaches the distribution center, quality assurance staff should check the temperature monitoring device’s data for any breaches. These devices provide historical information about what happened during transit, and can help identify any issues that may not be visible but could affect the future food quality and shelf life.

At this point, it would be the distribution center’s responsibility to continue product monitoring from their site to the store. While this segment of the cold chain is subject to similar food quality risks, independent monitoring devices are not always used to validate that product temperatures have been maintained. It’s recommended to use these devices along the process for a complete, continuous monitoring program.

3. Prevent food safety issues with remote monitoring
Ninety-four percent of shoppers trust their grocery store to ensure that the food they purchase is safe, according to the 2016 FMI U.S. Shopper Trends survey. In fact, food retailers are perceived as an important ally in helping customers to achieve wellness goals. But, consumers are aware of the many possible hazards in the food system, so retailers have the potential to lose that trust if an issue arises in their stores.

Maintaining refrigeration systems can avoid costly equipment failure that could compromise food quality and affect the shopping experience. Comprehensive equipment monitoring methods can help address these concerns. Remote monitoring services provide real-time performance data on critical store equipment, including insights around energy expenditure, equipment operating condition, facility maintenance needs, refrigerant leaks and shrink causes.

Some services offer simple systems for food monitoring, but have limited insight into other facility systems, lacking the big picture for retailers to fully know the impact of a potential issue. With robust equipment diagnostics, retailers will understand a specific equipment problem, be able to make a quick decision on necessary actions, ensure that the issue is actually fixed – not just masked – and gain valuable insights into how to prevent it and not put food products in jeopardy in the future.

To ensure fresh, top quality food that meets consumer expectations, retailers need to accurately and efficiently report product and case temperatures. Food quality reporting through remote monitoring services can automate this process to help reduce human error and increase efficiency, while improving customer satisfaction and food safety.

FSMA and food retail facilities
As the regulations address the entire supply chain, not all provisions of this legislation apply to food retailers. But retailers should review the law and its provisions because it places specific responsibilities and accountabilities on supply chain participants for actions and validation of processes.

This means grocers will need to work collaboratively with their food suppliers and transportation carriers to ensure that all suppliers are aware of what’s needed for food safety compliance. Some information from the FDA that may be of highest interest to retailers includes:

  • Procedures to assure that facilities and vehicles used in processing and transport did not allow food to become unsafe or altered.
  • Documented food processing and transport safety programs.
  • Verification that supply chain employees were adequately trained on proper, safe temperature management during processing and transport.
  • Temperature monitoring and reporting that demonstrate food was processed and transported under safe temperature conditions.

FSMA places an increased importance on collecting and utilizing data, especially product temperatures, to ensure that food remains fresh and safe from the farm, to the manufacturer, to the store, and ultimately into the hands of the consumer. Record keeping is another key component for compliance, so retailers and their supply chain partners will need to ensure accurate, efficient documentation to verify the integrity of their foods.

Communication, collaboration and training among retailers and their supply chain partners will be essential as developments continue.

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