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Updated: 1 hour 22 min ago

Pre-cut melon linked to outbreak in the Pacific Northwest

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 22:36

At least 18 people are sick with Salmonella Newport infections linked to pre-cut watermelon and cantaloupe that was sold up to and including today at various grocery stores. State and federal officials are trying to determine what company supplied the fruit and whether any is still on store shelves.

Anyone who bought pre-cut watermelon or cantaloupe — or mixed fresh fruit products containing watermelon or cantaloupe — in Washington or Oregon is urged to throw it away, according to an alert from the Washington Department of Health.

Other than a rough range of purchase dates, the department did not provide any descriptions or details that can be used to identify the implicated products. The department did not report how officials had connected the infected people with the fruit.

“People who purchased these products on or about Oct. 25 up to Dec. 1 from QFC, Fred Meyer, Rosauers, and Central Market in Washington and Oregon are urged not to eat the fruit and throw it away,” according to the state health department.

The department is working with state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to determine the source of the fruit, including where it was cut and packaged. As of tonight, it was not known if any other retailers or other commercial operations received any of the implicated fruit.

“The FDA is aware of the Salmonella outbreak in Washington and is working with state and local officials, as well as other federal agencies, to lend support as needed,” an FDA spokesman told Food Safety News today.

“The outbreak investigation is being led by the Washington State Department of Health, and the FDA remains committed to helping however we can to identify the food and recall the potentially affected products. At this time, the epidemiological and traceback investigations, led by Washington, are ongoing.”

Two of the 18 lab-confirmed outbreak victims are from Oregon. The Washington counties involved as of tonight, and the number of confirmed cases of salmonellosis in each, are: King 5; Mason 1; Pierce 1; Snohomish 7; Thurston 1; and Yakima 1.

Lab results identified Salmonella Newport as the cause, according to the health department. Anyone who has eaten any pre-cut fruit that included watermelon or cantaloupe and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should immediately seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure to the pathogen.

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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Chicken shish kabobs recalled for allergens and misbranding

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 21:35

Detroit’s Rafedain Shish Kabob Restaurant, Inc., is recalling approximately 813 pounds of chicken patty shish kabob products due to misbranding and undeclared allergens, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The products contain milk, wheat, and soy, all known allergens, which are not declared on the product label.

The chicken patty shish kabob items were produced on various dates between Feb. 7, 2017, and Nov. 27, 2017. The following products are subject to recall:

  • 9-oz. vacuum-packed tray packages containing four pieces of “RAFEDAIN FULLY COOKED CHICKEN PATTY SHISH KABOB.”

The products subject to recall bear establishment number “EST 44196” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to distributors and retail locations in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The mistake was discovered by FSIS inspection program personnel during routine in-plant labeling verification activities.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution list will be posted on the FSIS website.

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23.4 tons of beef meat balls recalled over misbranding and allergens

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 17:03

Caesar’s Pasta, LLC,  in Blackwood, NJ,   is recalling approximately 46,810 pounds of beef meatball products due to misbranding and undeclared allergens, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The products contain egg, a known allergen, which is not declared on the product label.  The frozen beef meatball items were produced between Nov. 1, 2015 and Nov. 30, 2017. The following products are subject to recall:

  • 10-lb. boxes containing 0.5-oz. pieces of “Schiff’s ITALIAN BRAND MEAT BALLS,” labeled with lot code 70033SH.
  • 10-lb. boxes containing 1-oz. pieces of “Schiff’s ITALIAN BRAND MEAT BALLS,” labeled with lot code 70034SH.
  • 10-lb. boxes containing 1.5-oz. pieces of “Schiff’s ITALIAN BRAND MEAT BALLS,” labeled with lot code 70035SH.

The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 5498” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to food service locations in Pennsylvania.  The mistakes were discovered when the establishment’s customer noticed that the label did not include eggs in the ingredient statement.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution lists will be posted on the FSIS website.

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Briefly: Summit No. 20 — Twitter chitchat — World of recalls

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 01:37

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.

Spread joy, not germs
On Dec. 6 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will host a Twitter chat to share tips on how to plan and prepare safe and healthy holiday meals. Guest “foodies” are scheduled to join food safety experts to discuss safe meal preparations “from the grocery store to your cutting board.”

Topics for the hour-long Twitter chat will include effective techniques for cleaning kitchen surfaces and washing hands, how to avoid cross-contamination, proper cooking temperatures to kill pathogens, and safety tips for leftovers.

The CDC Twitter chat also will cover safe ways to serve and transport food for holiday gatherings. Proven methods for keeping cold food cold and hot food hot to minimize risk from foodborne pathogens are on the agenda for the Twitter event.

Discussion of the “Danger Zone” and “two-hour rule” are also on the chat agenda. Problem foods that higher risk of food poisoning will also be discussed. Tune in at 2 p.m. EST Dec. 6 to learn how to be mindful of the entire food experience as a party giver, home cook, or culinary professional.

Agenda set for 20th Food Safety Summit
The 20th annual Food Safety Summit is scheduled for May 7-10 in Rosemont, IL, at the Donald Stephens Convention Center.

“It is vital to understand not only your roles and responsibilities but also those in the rest of the process,” summit organizers said when they announced the agenda for the 2018 event.

An array of real-world solutions to the food industry’s needs and situations will be emphasized through case studies, educational sessions, peer-to-peer discussions, and new technologies.

View the “Schedule-at-a-Glance” for the Food Safety Summit’s agenda. Early registration discounts are currently available. The code “20for20” can be used for 20 percent discount until Dec. 31. Discounted student pricing and group discount pricing are also offered.

Brazil posts most recalls in 3Q
Brazil logged the highest number of food recalls and notifications in the third quarter of this year with 85 notices, followed closely by Italy with 84. Of Brazil’s recalls, 75 of were poultry related, a noticeable decrease from 137 in the second quarter and 223 in the first quarter.

Rounding out the Top 5 recalling countries, as reported recently by Stericycle Expert Solutions, were Spain with 49, India with 48 and the U.S. with 45 recalls.

Earlier this year, the inspection and rejection of poultry shipments with regards to Salmonella detection, were of great concern to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Salmonella contamination was cited in 188 of the 866 food recall notices posted worldwide during the third quarter. Overall, there 226 of the recalls were spurred by bacterial contamination.

Chemical contamination, from sources ranging from pesticides to plastic packaging, was the No. 2 reason for recalls, behind bacterial contamination, with 185 of the food recalls prompted by the presence of chemicals.

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More restaurant patrons exposed to hepatitis A in Detroit

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 00:53

Detroit public health officials posted back to back notices Wednesday and Thursday urging patrons of two restaurants to seek medical attention because they may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus.

Customers of a McDonald’s restaurant and the Greektown Casino are at risk, according to notices posted this week by the Detroit Health Department. Michigan is one of several states involved in a hepatitis A outbreak that has sickened more than 1,300 people, killing 41.

As of Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was reporting  555 confirmed cases of hepatitis A, with 457 hospitalizations and 20 deaths.

There is still time for some people who consumed food or beverages at the two locations to receive post-exposure treatment to prevent infection. For some customers, the two-week window of opportunity the receive the post-exposure injections has already closed. But for others, there are a few days left.

The city health department reported the restaurants, dates of potential exposure, and deadlines for post-exposure treatment as:

  • McDonald’s at 2889 West Grand Blvd., exposure period from Nov. 8 through Nov. 22, post-exposure treatment must be taken before Dec. 6; and
  • Greektown Casino at at 555 East Lafayette, exposure period from Nov. 11 through Nov. 22, post-exposure treatment must be taken before Dec. 6.

City health officials report that operators of both restaurants have cooperated with the health department investigation and have taken necessary steps to clean and sanitize their facilities.

Neither location poses an ongoing threat of hepatitis A exposure at either the McDonald’s location or the Greektown Casino.

“Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease,” according to the public warnings posted by the Detroit health department this week. “It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.”

It usually takes two to seven weeks for symptoms to develop after exposure to the virus. So people who were potentially exposed at the McDonald’s location or the Greektown Casino should monitor themselves in the coming weeks. If they develop symptoms, public health officials say they should immediately seek medical attention.

Symptoms can include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal, and sometimes yellow eyes or skin and dark urine. A person can get Hepatitis A when they eat, drink, or touch their mouth with food, liquid or objects —  including their hands — that have come into contact feces from an infected person. Microscopic amounts of feces that are undetectable by the human eye carry enough of the virus to infect people.

In October, infected employees at two other Detroit restaurants, Firewater Bar and Grill and a Little Caesars Pizza location, spurred public health officials to issue similar public alerts.

Many of the hepatitis A victims in the ongoing multi-state outbreak have been homeless people or substance abusers. But at least one in four of the confirmed cases in Michigan have been neither homeless nor substance abusers.

Free vaccinations available
The Detroit Health Department offers free hepatitis A vaccinations at both of its Immunization Clinics on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 6.p.m. The clinics are at:

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Moratorium targets Atlantic salmon farming on Puget Sound

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 00:02

Citing the potential of a threat to native salmon populations, King County Executive Dow Constantine wants the county’s council to enact a six-month moratorium on new Atlantic salmon fish farming facilities along the county’s unincorporated marine shoreline on Puget Sound.

“The hundreds of thousands of farmed, invasive Atlantic salmon that spilled into the Salish Sea in August threaten our native fish populations and our way of life,” said Constantine. “Atlantic salmon don’t belong here. Beyond a six month moratorium, we need to ensure these operations can never again pose a threat to native salmon already struggling to survive.”

The proposed moratorium is the latest political response to the August collapse off Cyprus Island of Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture’s marine net pen, spilling Atlantic farm-raised salmon into the home waters of wild Pacific salmon.

The state stopped issuing new permits while it investigates the incident.

When the net-pen failure seemed to coincide with the Pacific-to-Atlantic “Great American Eclipse,” early speculation had the two events somehow related. But structural collapse brought on by underwater currents and deteriorating anchors soon replaced the more mystic explanations.

The environmental concern, however, was over how many of the 305,000 Atlantic salmon escaped. State fisheries and tribal officials put out the word that the best thing anyone could do was to “go fishing” and pull as many of the escapees as possible out of Puget Sound and the mouths of the rivers and streams that flow into it.

Cooke Aquaculture enlisted the services of the Coast Salish tribes to the tune of $1.5 million and set up an Atlantic salmon buy-back program.

“We are tremendously grateful for the assistance from the several Coast Salish tribes in the recovery of the escaped fish, especially given the deep concern that many tribal members have about potential impacts to native salmon runs in their ancestral waters,” said Glenn Cooke, CEO of Cooke Aquaculture Pacific.

In an Oct. 4 situation update, Cooke reported 200,927 of the 305,000 salmon were in custody. Cooke recovered 145,851 fish from the damaged structure and acquired another 49,892 through the buy-back program. That left about 105,000 missing.

The fear is that interbreeding between the Atlantic and Pacific salmon species will result in weakening Puget Sound’s more hearty, wild breed. Ironically, in response to reductions in many Pacific salmon runs, fish and wildlife agencies in both the U.S. and Canada tried for years to introduce Atlantic salmon in Pacific waters without ever bringing about any colonization or interbreeding. According to Cooke, those failed experiments released more than 8 million Atlantic salmon into the Pacific.

Any missing salmon that were not hooked by individuals would by now be dead, experts say.

Atlantic salmon are raised on Puget Sound in eight commercial net pens under state and federal permits, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA regulates drugs used on fish species and pathogens and requires a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan (HACCP) if processing is involved.

Three pens are just offshore of Bainbridge Island, three in the North Sound in Cyprus Island Bay in the San Juans, one near the mouth of the Skagit River, and one in Port Angeles Harbor near the mouth of the Elwha River. The new moratorium presumably would impact only new applications off the shores of unincorporated King County, but it’s not known if any exist.

Cooke Aquaculture has no plans to expand into King County waters. The company acquired the three-pen floating fish farm off Cypress Island in 2016 and filed a permit to rebuild in early 2017, which was apparently pending when the structures collapsed.

The King County moratorium coincides with the local government’s update of its Shoreline Master Program, which is mandated by state law. Constantine plans to fold new regulations into the master plan review to “eliminate the risk of harm from non-native salmon farming to native salmon runs and shorelines.”

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Time after time, food safety comes down to information

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 02:19

Billed as a discussion about the past, present and future of food safety, a panel presentation at the annual Food Safety Consortium revealed a timeless common denominator. Information.

Gathering it. Tabulating it. Recognizing that it is imperfect and relative. Reacting to it. And, finally, using it to act preemptively. The consortium’s Wednesday afternoon session at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL, returned to the significance of information time and time again

Panelists included a father who lost his son to the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak and representatives from government, industry, academia and food safety law. The perspectives from their various vantage points on the food safety space-time continuum consistently brought the discussion back to the power of information.

The Jack in the Box outbreak, which will be 25 years in the past with the coming of 2018, provided context for much of the discussion. Highlights from some of the panelists’ comments follow.

Ann Marie McNamara

Ann Marie McNamara is currently Target Corporation’s vice president for food safety. Two of her previous positions were director of the microbiology division in the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s office of public health and science from 1992-1999 and vice president for food safety for Jack in the Box from 2008-2017.

Her professional timeline traverses the spectrum on the Jack in the Box saga. When the outbreak was identified, she was at the top of the USDA’s food safety scientific staff. A few years later, she was responsible for the burger chain’s food safety program.

Gathering information wasn’t nearly as easy when the E. coli outbreak hit as it is now. McNamara said the four- to five-day wait for lab confirmation of E. coli infection was a big frustration during the outbreak when every hour mattered for children in intensive care units.

Darin Detwiler

Darin Detwiler, director of regulatory affairs of food and the food industry at  Northeastern University, lost his son during the Jack in the Box outbreak. In the ensuing years he has gathered information on all aspects of food safety, sharing it with students, members of Congress and pretty much anyone who would listen.

Among the fruits of his efforts was the introduction of warnings on labels to help consumers understand how to safely handle and cook meat.

Wednesday Detwiler said he sees hope for smaller outbreaks and larger preventive efforts by the food industry via the information gathering power of social media. He said sites such as Facebook and that give consumers the ability to report their food poisoning experiences as they occur have already identified outbreaks as they were happening.

“Consumers can perhaps drive some change through these kinds of sites,” Detwiler said.

Barbara Kowalcyk

Barbara Kowalcyk, assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the Ohio State University’s Translational Data Analytics Institute, likes numbers. She’s been working as a statistician since 1994 in the business and academic arenas.

“I’ve been working with ‘big data’ my whole career,” she said Wednesday. “We just didn’t call it that.” Kowalcyk cautioned, however, that big isn’t necessarily better. “Big data is relative” and must be considered in context, she said.

Fast data is another double edged sword that carries the appeal of what appears to be timely information when, in fact, you end up with less information in the long run. Kowalcyk offered the increasing popularity of culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs) as an example.

Such tests can identify the general type of bacteria causing illness within hours, without having to culture, or grow the bacteria in a laboratory. However, the quick tests cannot identify the specific serotype of a foodborne bacterium, which is needed to confirm patients are part of the same outbreak and to help identify the specific food that made them ill.

Bill Marler

Bill Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark LLP in Seattle and best known for representing victims of the Jack in the Box outbreak, agreed that information is priceless, but said it’s not worth a dime if it’s ignored.

With each new outbreak, be it raw bean sprouts or contaminated flour, he hears the same chorus. “Oh, we never knew that could be a problem, when, in fact, there have been outbreaks before,” Marler said.

The food safety future Marler is hoping for involves using today’s information to prevent tomorrow’s outbreak.

“It’s like when a bus goes off a cliff and people say, ‘Oh we need to put up a guardrail.’ We need to develop the ability to figure out where we need the guardrail before the bus goes off the cliff,” Marler said.

Editor’s note: Bill Marler is publisher of Food Safety News.

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FDA, USDA websites work well, rank high among federal sites

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 00:03

The top two federal food safety agencies made the Top 20 for specific benchmarks measured by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), which compared almost 500 of Uncle Sam’s most popular websites.

ITIF is a nonprofit policy think tank populated by former U.S. senators and representatives from both political parties. Its purpose is to focus on public policy to spur technological innovations.

The ITIF report comes six months after the organization first reviewed 297 federal websites. It has now analyzed 469 of the government’s most trafficked sites.

More than 4,500 federal websites exist on more than 400 domains. ITIF’s benchmarking so far found 91 percent of those subjected to analysis failed on at least one of the important metrics. ITIF says federal government sites are “not as fast, mobile friendly, secure or accessible” as they should be.

The rankings measure website performance for page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility. A voter registration portal called is No. 1 in the ITIF rankings with a score of 95.5.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website,, ranks 15th with an 83.7 score. And comes in at No. 18 with a score of 83. 3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture website includes the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Like the White House, Justice Department, FBI, and Bureau of Prisons, the websites for FDA and USDA are in the top rankings and are among the top 1,000 most heavily trafficked sites.

ITIF, founded by Canadian-American economist Robert David Atkinson, says federal government websites “still require significant improvement. The report recommends: the federal government go on a “website modernization sprint” to fix known problems; require federal sites meet specific desktop and mobile page-load speeds; launch a website consolidation initiative; make reporting of website analytics mandatory; and encourage judicial and legislative branches of the government to adopt standards and practices.

Finally, the ITIF says there should be a federal chief information officer to lead the modernization efforts.

In the first benchmarking report, the outside reviewers found federal sites “generally scored high on security.” It again looked at common security features used for encrypted Internet communications and secured domain names.

“Federal agencies should prioritize building and maintaining fast, convenient, secure and accessible websites,” the report says. “Doing so will help ensure that the many Americans who routinely use the internet to access government services and information can continue to do so.”

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UK prepares to comply with Europe’s new acrylamide rules

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 00:02

Food businesses in Europe must take “practical steps” to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems beginning in April. New European Union legislation describes “practical measures” food businesses must take to mitigate acrylamide formation in a range of foods.

Acrylamide is a chemical that may form in some starchy foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, and baking. Acrylamide forms from an amino acid and sugars that are naturally in food.

The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland are working with the British Hospitality Association and other stakeholders to develop straightforward guidance to help catering and food service businesses comply with the new EU rules.

The EU rules will concern food businesses in the United Kingdom from April 2018 until March 29, 2019, when the U.K. is scheduled to break with the EU under last year’s Brexit vote. FSA is scheduled to provide acrylamide guidelines early in 2018.

FSA says it is not possible to eliminate acrylamide from foods, but actions can be taken to try to ensure that acrylamide levels are as low as reasonably achievable. FSA surveillance on acrylamide levels in food products began in 2007.

In 2016, the FSA survey included a total of 274 U.K. retail products that included french fries, bread, cereals, biscuits, coffee, baby food, popcorn, cakes, pastries and chocolate. It analyzed 269 of the products for acrylamide and 120 for the organic compound furan.

The 274 UK retail product samples represented 10 food groups as specified in EU Commission Recommendation No. 2010/307 on the monitoring of acrylamide in food.

Acrylamide analysis was carried out on 269 samples taken from:

  • Group 1 (french fries sold as ready to eat)
  • Group 2 (potato crisps)
  • Group 3 (pre-cooked french fries for home-cooking)
  • Group 4 (soft bread)
  • Group 5 (breakfast cereals)
  • Group 6 (biscuits and crackers)
  • Group 7 (coffee)
  • Group 8 (baby food other than processed cereal-based)
  • Group 9 (processed cereal baby food)
  • Group 10 (others, e.g., popcorn, cakes, pastries and chocolate).

Furan analysis was carried out on 120 samples taken from Groups 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10.

The acrylamide and furan results from the FSA survey were part of long-term surveillance. They were sent to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for collation and analysis with survey data from other European countries.

Reduced acrylamide levels are achieved by making light golden the target color for certain foods, from fries to toast.

Process contaminants are chemical substances that are produced naturally in food during manufacturing or home-cooking. They are absent in the raw foods or raw materials used to make the food and only occur when components of the fresh foods or substances undergo chemical changes during cooking or other processing.

Acrylamide and furan may be formed at high temperatures during cooking. Both substances have the potential to raise the risk of cancer, which will then increase with regular exposure to higher levels, over a lifetime.

EFSA has concluded that current levels of dietary exposure to acrylamide, furan and its methyl analogs such as 2-methyl furan and 3-methyl furan indicate a potential human health concern.

The agency considers that exposure to acrylamide and furans should be reduced to as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA).

The levels of acrylamide and furans obtained over the period of January 2016-November 2016 survey did not increase FSA’s concern about the risk to human health. The agency, therefore, did not change its advice to consumers.

The survey results provided FSA with measurements for consumer exposures to the processing of individual foods but did not take into account all food prepared in home-cooking.

Also in 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued non-binding guidance “to help growers, manufacturers and foodservice operators reduce acrylamide levels in certain foods.”

The problem on both sides of the Atlantic is what do about acrylamide in food. No one knew the chemical existed until it was discovered in 2002. It’s been around close to forever, though. The problem, according to the FDA, is that acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, and is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

EFSA classified acrylamide as a carcinogen in 2015 and found levels had not “consistently decreased” in recent years. Voluntary measures to reduce acrylamide levels varied widely in European Union countries.

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Pathogen surveillance pioneer Patricia Griffin honored for work

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 21:54

One thing that 30 years of public service has reinforced for Dr. Patricia Griffin is the basic scientific truth that states: You won’t find it if you don’t look for it.

Dr. Patricia Griffin accepted the annual achievement award Wednesday from the group STOP Foodborne Illness. This year the award was renamed in honor of food safety icon Dave Theno who died in June.

This afternoon, Griffin was recognized for “looking for it” for more than 30 years. In her acceptance remarks for the annual award from the non-profit group STOP Foodborne Illness, Griffin recalled the shock and outrage she felt in 1992 during the beginning of an E. coli outbreak investigation that would end up launching a sea change in food safety.

The pathogen was E. coli O157:H7 and most of the victims were children. In the course of contacting local public health offices during the investigation, Griffin heard an alarming answer more than once. When she asked whether local officials had seen any cases of infection by the bacterium, the response was as far out of line as an investigator can get.

“We don’t have any of that here,” was frequently the initial answer that lesser investigators might have seen as good news.

But Griffin asked the follow-up question: “Do you screen for it?”


“How do you know you don’t have it if you don’t look for it,” was Griffin’s battle cry then and now.

Soon Griffin and public health officials from coast to coast were looking for it — E. coli O157:H7. The strain of the bug was infecting and killing children. Ultimately undercooked hamburgers from Jack in the Box restaurants were determined to be the cause.

During her work on the Jack in the Box outbreak investigation, Griffin met and worked with Dave Theno, the meat safety expert that Jack in the Box hired to solve the outbreak mystery and revise corporate policies to make sure another outbreak did not occur.

Honoring scientific resolve
Today, the award Griffin accepted from STOP Foodborne Illness was given under a new name. The honor is now known as the “Dave Theno” award in recognition of the groundbreaking work he did and the role he played in spurring government and industry to change regulations and policies.

Griffin saw surveillance as one of the heavy-lifting tools in the fight against foodborne illness outbreaks. If you didn’t look for them, how could you know whether they were happening?

She had joined the epidemiology staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1985, shortly after the agency had become aware of E. coli O157:H7.

In the years between 1985 and the Jack in the Box outbreak, Griffin worked to beef up surveillance of foodborne pathogens in hopes developing techniques to better detect and contain outbreaks.

Mike Taylor, a member of the STOP board and former deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, said Griffin’s diligence in the area of pathogen surveillance has spurred government and industry to make changes in the interest of public health.

But possibly more important, Taylor said, her innovative work has helped raise public awareness and provided invaluable data for other scientists.

In presenting the award, Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness, said the secret to Griffin’s success was simple.

“She has not lost the ‘why’ behind stopping foodborne illness,” Schlunegger said at the afternoon session of the annual Food Safety Consortium conference.

Diagram of a career in public health
Dr. Patricia M. Griffin is chief of the CDC’s Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch.

Griffin went to the CDC as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer and is now chief of the epidemiology branch that conducts surveillance and investigation of illnesses in the United States caused by enteric bacteria.

She is a leading expert on Shiga toxin-producing E. coli such as O157. She has overseen surveillance, analytic studies, and investigations of illnesses caused by Campylobacter, Clostridium botulinum, E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, and other enteric bacteria.

Griffin oversaw most CDC-led investigations of outbreaks caused by bacterial enteric pathogens for 20 years. She oversaw creation of FoodNet (Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance System) and the human epidemiology component of NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System) and has continued to shepherd their work.

She has been closely involved in developing models to estimate the true number of U.S. foodborne illnesses, and the percentage that can be attributed to various food categories.

Griffin attended medical school and trained in internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; she trained in gastroenterology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and in epidemiology through CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service.

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Briefly: Vietnam vets — Diaper Duty — Red meat anaphylaxis

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 00:48

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.

Vietnam vets suffer from rare liver cancer linked raw fish

Local men fish with nets in the Mekong Delta region of Western Vietnam.

A recent study shows some Vietnam veterans are dying from a slow-acting parasite linked to a rare liver cancer called cholangiocarcinoma. Veterans who ate raw or undercooked freshwater fish during their service in Southeast Asia could have been infected.

The parasite can lurk for decades before victims know they have a problem.

“The reporting found that about 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma have been seen by the (Veterans Affairs department) in the past 15 years. Less than half of them submitted claims for service-related benefits, mostly because they were not aware of a possible connection to Vietnam,” according to ”

“The VA rejected 80 percent of the requests, but decisions often appeared to be haphazard or contradictory, depending on what desks they landed on, the AP found.”

An estimated 25 million people around the world are affected by these parasites. The tiny parasitic worms called liver flukes come from the fresh waters of Southeast Asia. When people eat fish that have these parasites, they become infected. The liver flukes grow to their full adulthood inside humans, and the irritation and scarring caused by the infection can lead to bile duct cancer.

Doo-doo and don’ts
Out of the 60 percent of five year olds in the U.S. who are enrolled in childcare facilities, gastrointestinal tract infections are about 2 to 3 more times as likely to occur than children who do not attend, according to a recent article by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Although Salmonella outbreaks rarely occur in childcare centers, “the highest incidence of invasive Salmonella infection in the U.S. occurs among children younger than 5 years of age,” according to the study. Salmonella, E. coli, norovirus and other pathogens can easily become foodborne in such settings when staff fail to follow proper hygiene procedures.

To reduce the chance of cross-contaminating surfaces and food, staff at childcare operations who change diapers should not be assigned to prepare or handle food, according to the research.

Many childcare operations argue that they do not have enough staff to  achieve this, however, the AAP says that if both tasks must be done by the same employees, food should be prepared before changing diapers. Also, staff should handle food only for the infants and toddlers in their own group and only after thoroughly washing their hands.

Hard surfaces, such as countertops, tabletops, and especially those which come in contact with food such as refrigerators and microwaves should be regularly disinfected and sanitized to destroy bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Anaphylaxis linked to red meat
Anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that causes symptoms such as the constriction of airways and a dangerous drop in blood pressure, occurs in some people for whom triggers are never identified. However, researchers at the federal National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have found a link between allergic reactions to red meat and people who have been bitten by Lone Star ticks.

Though the connection is not yet fully understood, a recent report describes how standard allergy testing does not check for alpha-gel antibodies, which are present in red meat.

The study suggests that doctors have mistakenly diagnosed patients with “unexplained anaphylaxis” because unlike allergic reactions to foods such as peanuts or shellfish that usually begin from 5 to 30 minutes after exposure, reactions to alpha-gal can occur from 3 to 6 hours after red meat is consumed.

Dr. Dean Metcalfe, chief of the Mast Cell Biology Section in the Laboratory of Allergic Diseases in NIAID’s Division of Intramural Research, says the time gap between a meal and an allergic reaction is probably a big reason that alpha-gal allergies are often initially misdiagnosed. If someone has trouble breathing in the middle of the night, he says, “you probably are not going to blame the hamburger you had for dinner.”

A co-author of the study points out that the association between previous bites from Lone Star ticks and allergies to red meat is “increasingly clear.” But how these two events are linked and why some people with similar exposure to tick bites seem to be more prone to developing alpha-gal allergy than others, needs to be discovered.


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Food safety training, treatments addressed in federal grants

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 00:03

If you think you’re got problems, try being a farmer. They’re faced with an impressive array of enemies that are waging war on their crops and their livelihoods. These adversaries don’t need sophisticated weapons. They’ve got something more deadly — an arsenal of biological ammunition. And for the most part, they’re small, very small, oftentimes microscopic.

Brown marmorated stink bug

Whether they be the brown marmorated stink bug, a voracious eater that damages fruits and vegetables; the diamondback moth that feeds on cole crops; the Pacific tree frog that likes to munch on leafy greens; silk flies that are fond of sweet corn; the sweet potato white fly, the most destructive insect of sweet potatoes in the world; or all sorts of molds, fungi and powdery mildews that descend on crops, these critters take their toll on farmers’ bottom lines.

And that’s not to mention the microscopic foodborne pathogens such as E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella, which don’t harm the crops, themselves, but can sicken people who eat fruits or vegetables, or even kill them. Such pathogens are frequently what cause foods to be recalled. For farmers, this can lead to lost sales and reputations, and even the loss of their farms.

Taking all of this, and more, into account, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has awarded more than $60 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants to fund 678 projects.

The USDA defines specialty crops as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.”

Sonia Jimenez, deputy administrator of AMS Special Crops Program, said some of these grants will fund projects designed to enhance food safety by helping specialty crop farmers and other businesses in the crop distribution chain comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

“In addition,” she said, “we encourage farmers to become certified in good agricultural practices, known as GAPs. This certification adds value for specialty crop farmers because, with certification, buyers and handlers of these crops can be confident that the farm has met USDA’s GAP requirements, which are now aligned with the Food and Drug Administration’s Produce Safety Rule.”

Jimenez said in 2016, the Specialty Crop Program launched Group GAP so small farmers and cooperatives could work together to share the costs and benefits of GAP certification by completing the process as a group.

The success of that effort can be measured by the 310 farms that have received Group GAP certification.

About specialty crops
While about a million farmers and landowners who grow a handful of major crops, including corn, soybeans, rice, and cotton, receive about $25 billion in subsidies from the federal government. Specialty crops farmers receive no such subsidies. And while the subsidized farmers are typically large producers, specialty crop growers can range from very small to very large.

With that funding inequity in mind, many farmers, consumers and legislators joined together and called on Congress to come up with something that would help the specialty crop farmers.

The farmers made it clear that they weren’t asking for subsidies. Instead, they wanted the opportunity to apply for grants that would help them with things like technical assistance, food-safety training, research and marketing. They said this sort of assistance would help them be more efficient, productive and profitable.

In 2004, with a strong push from constituents, Congress passed the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act.

The act takes aim at “ensuring an abundant and affordable supply of highly nutritious fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops for American consumers and international markets.”

To do this, changes were made to federal agriculture policy, and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program became an important part of this change. The program helps state departments of agriculture in the 50 states, America Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands enhance the competitiveness of U.S. grown specialty crops.

Family farms such as this fruit and vegetable operation in Kentucky are often the largest beneficiaries of the overall work done with USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants.

Food safety grants
Many of the Specialty Crop Block Grants are directed toward teaching farmers about the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), as well as teaching them how to comply. 

The act, which was signed into law in 2011, focuses on how to prevent food from becoming contaminated with foodborne pathogens such as E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella. That differs from past food-safety laws, which were focused more on dealing with contaminated food after people got sick.

While almost all produce growers and processors must abide by the rules, very small-scale growers don’t have to. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be sued should any of their produce make people ill. It’s for that reason that abiding by the rules is important for all specialty crop growers and processors. But more than that, it’s important because the overall goal is to keep food safe, which ultimately benefits consumers.

While food safety grants make up just some of the many grants awarded to fund the 678 projects, they are an important part of the overall effort.

Here are some examples of this type of recently awarded grants:

This project will develop a three-hour workshop for preparing farmers to productively complete the Cornell University Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower Training Course, which is based on the FSMA requirements.

The target audiences are the small, limited resource, underrepresented minority, and military veteran specialty crop farmer communities in Alabama and surrounding states. Those farmers who successfully complete the workshop will be assisted in obtaining the materials for the PSA Grower Training Course.

Also, in support of developing and implementing the course, an online question and answer database will be created with input from the farmers in the preparatory workshops as their needs are addressed.

In addition, a series of fact sheets on various food safety topics will be developed and placed online for print-on-demand. As part of the project, three people will be able to apply to become PSA Lead Trainers and the staff who have completed the PSA Train-the-Trainer Course will be increased from six to 10. The expanded staff of trainers will make it possible to offer more workshops with a goal of of having 100 of the targeted farmers complete the PSA Grower Training Course.

During the past few years, federal and state agencies have sought to minimize the risks of foodborne illnesses associated with produce. In 2002, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Services (AMS) developed the Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices (GAP/GHP) audit program. In 2011 the harmonized audit concept was introduced. 

Many distributors, supermarkets and cooperatives now require third-party food safety certification from produce growers and packers before they agree to purchase their products.

The proposed initiative would provide direct assistance to Massachusetts Specialty Crop Growers by reimbursing the costs associated with the GAP/GHP or harmonized audits. In order to maintain access to their wholesale and market channels, these growers must be audited every year, which is a costly endeavor for the grower. The audits cost about $92 per hour and a typical audit lasts nine hours with travel, audit time and data entry. The proposed initiative would lessen the financial burden of the grower and would allow these farms to continue to access those channels.

Additionally, there are still growers in Massachusetts who are not currently enrolled in a third-party certification program, but will be required to if they want to continue selling to certain supermarkets and distributors. As part of the initiative, the state will work to ensure these growers are aware of the education and resources available to them. The cost-share program will allow them to maintain access to various markets and increase the competitiveness of specialty crops in Massachusetts.

North Carolina
Personnel from the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University will develop educational materials and extension trainings to assist specialty crop growers in better understanding sanitary design and implementing sanitation procedures to reduce microbial and chemical food safety risks on farms and in packinghouses.

Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) and its partners at the Virginia Cooperative Extension and AgCon will enhance the competitiveness of fresh fruits and vegetables by providing training and one-on-one technical assistance to specialty crop farmers across Virginia in support of obtaining the food safety certification they need to access scale appropriate markets. 

Two hundred produce farmers will be prepared to obtain USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Harmonized GAP with Global Addendum certification and will be prepared for Global GAP should the markets make such a change necessary.

Additionally, ASD will work with its partners to enhance and incorporate FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule requirements, including providing FSMA training by qualified lead trainers, establishing clear interpretations for which farmers will need to comply with these rules and when, and developing and delivering appropriate recordkeeping processes and tools. Eighty farmers will receive certifications in USDA GAP, harmonized, harmonized with the global addendum, and other programs and entities.

Water quality questions and answers
Coming up with water-quality standards, for before, during and after harvest, has been a challenge. In fact, the FDA recently proposed extending initial compliance dates for the agricultural water requirements included in the agency’s new produce safety rule by an additional two years.

When he was FDA deputy administrator for foods, Mike Taylor, right, traveled the country, meeting with produce growers and packers to discuss the produce rule and its water testing and quality provisions. Here he checks out the irrigation system used in an onion-growing opreation in the Pacific Northwest.

The produce rule is one of seven mandated by the FSMA and created by FDA. It is the most concerning of the rules for many farmers. If the extension is enacted — the rule is open for public comment — that would give farmers at least four more years until they have to comply with the water testing and quality standards.

“Food safety risks associated with water are especially important for specialty crops, such as produce that is consumed raw,” said Don Stoeckel, an environmental microbiologist who has collaborated with the Cornell National Good Agricultural Practices Program for nearly a decade on water quality issues related to food safety.

“Without processes like cooking that kill pathogenic microorganisms, prevention of contamination by all inputs, including water, is critical.”

When looking at this issue from a farmer’s perspective, Stoeckel said along with its benefits for produce production and quality, water use on the farm is also a cost to the farm business in terms of dollars, time spent, maintaining water sources/availability, and risks to produce safety. Many farms rely on water in their operations, so clarity about rules affecting water use is important.

In the end, a lot of this actually has to do with the consumer.

“The educational awards are one way to get the information into the heads, and hands, of farmers where it can be put into practice to make the produce we eat even more safe — and consistently safe — than it already is,” said Stoeckel.

Several of the Specialty Crop Block Grants target water use and food safety. Here are some examples.

The LSU Agricultural Center has designed and built a chilling system featuring an antimicrobial sprayer for reducing pathogenic loads on the surface of fresh produce and the rapid initiation of the cold chain.

Produce can be contaminated from pathogenic bacteria in irrigation water and from wildlife. These pathogenic bacteria are harvested with the produce and, particularly for produce consumed raw, transferred to the consumer.

The producer is required by FSMA  to address these food safety concerns.

This spray system is intended to be used immediately or shortly after harvesting. The proposed study is to determine and validate the effectiveness of the system in reducing Listeria and E. coli levels on the surface of cantaloupe.

Non-pathogenic bacteria, L. innocua B-33016 and E. coli ATTC 25922, will be used as surrogates to validate the system. The study will involve spraying spray peroxyacetic acid (PA), an antimicrobial agent, in an actual farming environment to test the system’s effectiveness. PA is water soluble, and is commonly used to wash fruits and vegetables to reduce pathogenic bacteria.

The proposed system can spray the chilled antimicrobial agents, wash, and cool the produce in one operation. This should be more efficient from a production standpoint, and is expected to be more effective in reducing pathogen loads compared to washing only. Advantages include no contamination of wash water, rapid and early chilling and a potential for reduced cost. Both quality and safety are expected to be enhanced.

The Center for Produce Safety in California will partner with the University of Florida to evaluate the application of chitosan microparticles to sanitize agricultural water.

Chitosan is derived from chitin, which is abundant in crustacean shells and is a natural by-product of shellfish processing.

Water used for irrigation or processing of produce has been implicated as a source of pathogen contamination that can persist in aquatic systems. Therefore, irrigation water derived from surface water sources or flumes of wash water are often sanitized with disinfectants such as sodium hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide and peroxyacetic acid.

However, these treatments are only marginally effective and have potential toxicity. Thus, development of novel water treatment methods is needed. This research project will examine the application of chitosan microparticles as a possible pre-harvest treatment in irrigation water and/or as a post-harvest treatment in produce wash water.

The potential of chitosan as a sanitizer is that it offers an economical, biodegradable, and non-toxic alternative to toxic chemicals and that it does not promote resistance to antibiotics.

Chitosan is “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, in other food applications, ensuring a high likelihood of acceptance for agricultural water applications.

Studies will focus on reducing Salmonella and norovirus in natural water sources and on produce, and the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of practical applications will be assessed.

The food safety research group at Southern Illinois University will identify safe handling practices for salad greens, cherry tomatoes and melons, and scientifically develop produce washing and handling practices to improve microbial safety and shelf life. The knowledge obtained from project activities will be disseminated to the specialty crop growers through an on-farm workshop, printed media at farmers markets, and online media at SIU and various social media of growers.

The University of Illinois will investigate the impact of alternate water sources including tile water, rainwater, and treated wastewater, on crop quality, soil quality, and potential contamination for specialty tomatoes and herb production in Illinois and disseminate results to stakeholders through grower meetings and field days.

North Carolina
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture will reimburse growers up to $1,000 for analysis of water used in growing, harvesting or packaging for the purposes of becoming certified in Good Agricultural Practices through a third-party audit and in preparation of upcoming FSMA enforcement. The FSMA requires

growers to develop a baseline over a four-year period.

This program will assist the growers in deferring the cost of these new rules and in maintaining on‐farm safety certifications.

Virginia Tech will attempt to reduce foodborne pathogen contamination in specialty crops by evaluating the risk of pathogen infiltration into susceptible commodities during submersion in water. These findings will directly support the Virginia specialty crop industries including apple, peach, cucumber, cantaloupe and tomato operations in compliance with the produce rule and implementation of feasible science-based interventions to prevent contamination events during post-harvest handling activities.

Results will be communicated to stakeholders through Produce Safety Alliance Grower Trainings throughout Virginia, which is currently the only FDA-approved course for training requirements, and extension forums including Virginia’s Annual Tree Fruit School, grower association meetings, and Virginia Cooperative Extension fact sheets.

Pathogens may infiltrate into the fruit core and inner tissues when warm fruit from the field is submerged in colder water. The project aims to evaluate the risk of Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes infiltration into susceptible specialty crops with ambient (21C and refrigeration, 4C ) temperatures submerged into water at various temperature differentials, simulating common post-harvest practices.

Historically, to prevent pathogen infiltration into fruit during submersion in water, it was recommended that operations achieve a 10 C differential between fruit and post-harvest water. However, recent data showed that decreasing submersion time in water was more effective at reducing pathogen infiltration than reducing temperature differential.

Currently, several specialty crops are submerged in water during post-harvest handling to increase quality and visual aesthetics, thus this proposed research has important food safety implications, as well as safe harbors for produce rule compliance.

When the Agricultural Marketing Service is ready to accept applications for Fiscal Year 2018 Specialty Crop Block Grants, the information will be posted on the AMS website.

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Health district launches portal for restaurant inspection reports

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 00:02

The portal is a little cranky, and there are no bells and whistles, but restaurant inspection reports are now available online for Washington State’s third-largest county.

The independent Snohomish Health District has made about 5,000 reports available, going back to June 2016. The special purpose district does health inspections in Snohomish County located on Puget Sound north of Seattle.

The Snohomish Health District’s inspection reports do not come with letter grades, or those Emoji ideograms and smiley faces used to rate Seattle restaurants. Snohomish is taking more of a Joe Friday, “just the facts, Ma’am” approach. It provides the narrative reports, leaving the ratings to the reader.

The health district, formed in 1959, serves one of the fastest growing areas of Washington State. It has completed 3,154 restaurant inspections so far this year, handing out 3,055 of the most hazardous red violations.

Red violations require immediate corrective actions by the restaurant because there is a potential direct threat to public health.

Snohomish Health District inspectors make unannounced visits twice a year to all food and beverage establishments in the county.

Two confirmed outbreaks hit Snohomish County this year. From January through September, 15 countries residents suffered from infections of E. coli O157:H7. In September, 46 people were sickened by Salmonella in an outbreak that appears to have ended.

The health district maintains office and clinic space in the municipalities of Everett and Lynnwood. A 15-member Board of Health oversees policy and budget development for the district. All five Snohomish County Council members sit on the Board of Health, together with 10 city council members and/or mayors representing the county’s 20 cities and towns. Dr. Mark Beatty is the district health officer.

In Washington State’s largest county, Public Health – Seattle & King County began offering a more transparent restaurant inspection site about three years ago after public pressure mounted for an online scoring system. Food protection managers there opted to go with smiling, neutral or frowning faces on the cover as indicators of how the restaurant is doing overall with food safety regulations.

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Georgia restaurant linked to company dinner outbreak reopens

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:01

Two weeks after reports of food poisoning among Toyo Tire employees who ate catered food at the Georgia company’s pre-Thanksgiving dinner, dozens have been confirmed with Salmonella infections, at least five have been hospitalized, and the implicated restaurant has reopened.

Although a specific food has not yet been confirmed as the source of the Salmonella, public health officials are confident the illnesses are linked to a Nov. 14-15 event at the tire plant in White, GA. They hope to finish interviewing the 1,800 Toyo employees today, according to a Monday update from the health department. Investigators are trying to narrow down the specific foods eaten by people who became ill and those who did not.

The department has not yet named the implicated restaurant, referring to it only as “the permitted Bartow County restaurant in Cartersville, GA.” However, multiple media reports named Angelo’s New York Style Pizza and Bistro as the caterer.

Restaurant owner Angelo Nizzari issued a statement a week ago through his attorney John T. Mroczko.

“Angelo and his family are heartbroken about the recent incident at Toyo Tire and offer their deepest sympathies and prayers to those who have been affected,” Mroczko said. “This community is their home and their customers are like family to them. As such, the safety of their customers and the quality of their food has always been their highest priority.”

The restaurant announced its reopening on its Facebook page Monday, netting mostly positive comments from loyal customers. A few comments referenced the outbreak and suggested the restaurant operators should take further action to reassure customers and compensate those who became sick.

Inspectors from the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District signed off on Angelo’s reopening today. Employees of the restaurant have received “rigorous training in safe food handling from Bartow County Health Department environmental health specialists,” the department reported Nov. 22.

“The restaurant was re-inspected last Wednesday (Nov. 22) by Bartow County Health Department environmental health specialists and will receive another full re-inspection today,” according to the health district’s Monday update.

“We plan to conclude interviews with Toyo employees who attended the event by end of day Tuesday, Nov. 28, and hope to identify the food product that caused of the outbreak. We will release that information, if conclusive, which it may not be, when available.”

The state health department confirmed that the outbreak was caused by Salmonella when lab tests on samples from multiple sick people returned positive results for the pathogen.

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Fit & Active bars recalled from Aldi stores for plastic bits

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

Leclerc Foods is recalling a single lot of its Fit & Active brand Chocolatey Chip Protein Meal Bars because a consumer reported finding a small piece of yellow plastic in the product.

Although no injuries or illnesses had been reported as of Monday when the recall notice, was posted by the Food and Drug Administration, the company is urging consumers to discard the product immediately.

The recalled bars were sold in ALDI stores in 21 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, District of Columbia (DC), New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

There is concern consumers may have unused portions of the recalled bars in their homes.

The 9.5-ounce boxes of Leclerc Foods’ Fit & Active brand “Chocolatey Chip Protein Meal Bars” can be identified by UPC number 41498-18695, and a best-by date of May 24, 2018.

Consumers with questions can call Leclerc Foods Customer Service at 800-463-6144.

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Outbreaks in Quebec, Twin Cities traced to Chinese raspberries

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

Frozen raspberries imported from China were the source of 615 confirmed cases of norovirus in Quebec between March and July of this year, and of 15 cases in Minnesota in August of 2016.

The Quebec outbreak included clients and staff at seven seniors’ residences, two daycare centers and one hotel in four separate administrative regions of the province, according to a spokesperson for Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS).

Confirmed cases were documented in Mauricie at 6 seniors’ residences, in Laurentides at a conference at a hotel, in Chaudieres-Appalaches at a daycare center, and in Capitale-Nationale at a daycare center and a seniors’ residence.

Of the 615 outbreak victims, 141 were employees of at least two of the seniors’ residences. Four were employees at one of the affected daycare centers. Citing privacy concerns, MSSS declined to provide any further details on the victims by gender, age or geographic location. However, extrapolation of data provided by the provincial health agency suggests about 250 of the outbreak victims were seniors, and 33 were children.

The Minnesota outbreak was linked to ice cream manufactured by Sebastian Joe’s, a Minneapolis-based company, according to a spokesperson from the Minnesota Department of Health (MNDOH). The company supplied the ice to multiple venues within the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Norovirus illnesses were linked to consumption of raspberry chocolate chip flavor ice cream consumed at two Sebastian Joe’s venues, one private gathering, and one area restaurant. Of the 15 confirmed cases, 10 were female. One person was hospitalized.

The ice cream contained frozen raspberries imported from China. Analyses conducted by the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the presence of norovirus matching the case specimens in samples of the raspberries.

The Twin Cities and Quebec outbreaks occurred more than six months apart and appear to have been independent of each other, though frozen raspberries from China were implicated in both. Taian Runko, the company identified by the FDA during its analytical sampling, was not involved in the Quebec outbreak, according to the CFIA.

Product recalls lacked transparency
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued 14 recall notices, from June 20 through Aug. 21 this year. The agency disseminated 11 of the recalls only to businesses in the food industry, with no public warning released. Recall notices dated Aug. 11, 16 and 21 were released to the public, and alluded to the existence of “…reported illnesses associated with the consumption…” of the recalled products.

From June 23 through Aug. 14, Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) issued a series of six public alerts and product recalls, which included numerous bakery products manufactured with the individually quick frozen (IQF) raspberries. Each of the MAPAQ alerts warned of “many” illnesses associated with the consumption of products containing the IQF raspberries.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration carried out analytical sampling and laboratory analysis when advised of the Minnesota outbreak, according to an agency spokesperson. As a result of the FDA investigation, the agency added IQF raspberries from Taian Runko Industry International Trade Co. Ltd. to the Import Alert 99-35 “Detention Without Physical Examination” list (Red List) on May 2 this year. Sebastian Joe’s initiated a product withdrawal as a result of the 2016 Minnesota outbreak.

Canadian health agency never issued alert
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) never issued a public health alert in conjunction with the IQF-raspberry norovirus outbreak. A spokesperson for PHAC explained the agency’s silence was because of the outbreak having been confined to a single province.

In Quebec, the provincial health department responsible for investigating the 5-month outbreak did not issue any news releases or public health alerts either. According to a MSSS spokesperson, food recalls are the responsibility of MAPAQ and CFIA. The spokesperson added that MSSS worked in collaboration with MAPAQ and other federal authorities on the investigation.

The first public notice of the Quebec outbreak was contained in a public warning and recall notice issued by MAPAQ on June 23. The CFIA did not include a similar warning with its recall notices until Aug. 11.

No public health alerts were posted on the Minnesota Department of Health website regarding the norovirus illnesses or ice cream recall in that state.

What consumers should know about norovirus
Norovirus is the leading cause of outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It accounts for approximately about half of all foodborne illnesses in the country every year.

Symptoms of norovirus infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. The symptoms usually develop within 12 to 24 hours after exposure to the virus and last one to three days days.

Although extremely unpleasant, most cases of Norovirus are self-limiting, and do not present a long-term health risk, according to the CDC. Nevertheless, seniors and young children are at heightened risk of severe dehydration if infected with the virus.

Most cases of norovirus illness in the population at large are shrugged off as so-called stomach flu. Victims are usually not seen by doctors, and the infections go unreported.

A national survey carried out in the United Kingdom in 2011 determined that only one in every 23 people with norovirus consulted a physician. Overall, for every 288 cases of norovirus occurring in the general population, only one was reported to national surveillance authorities.

Timeline for Quebec, Minnesota outbreaks
August 4-14, 2016: Norovirus illnesses associated with consumption of raspberry chocolate chip ice cream at four Minneapolis-St. Paul area venues.

March-May 2017: Three separate outbreak clusters involving six seniors’ residences, all of which were serviced by a single central kitchen.

May 2, 2017: Individually quick frozen (IQF) Red Raspberries from Taian Runko Industry International Trade Co. Ltd. in Taian, Shandong China, is added to the Red List of Import Alert 99-35, citing norovirus GII contamination.

May 31, 2017: CFIA is notified by Quebec authorities that norovirus outbreak clusters appear to be linked to raspberries, and initiates a food safety investigation.

June 2017: Two additional outbreak clusters occur, one at a daycare center and the other at a hotel.

June 20, 2017: CFIA issues first product recall notice for IQF raspberries imported from China.

June 23, 2017: MAPAQ issues first consumer alert and recall notice for IQF raspberries and some products containing the raspberries, reporting for the first time the existence of “many” illnesses associated with consumption of IQF raspberries.

July 2017: Two additional outbreak clusters are reported, one at a daycare center and the other at a seniors’ residence.

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Trader Joe’s employee with hepatitis A prompts public alert

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 21:19

It’s too late for them to receive post-exposure treatment for hepatitis A, but customers of a Trader Joe’s grocery store in Reno, NV, are being asked to monitor themselves in the coming weeks for symptoms of the highly contagious virus.

Neither Trader Joe’s nor the Washoe County Health District had posted information on the situation as of 7 p.m. EST Monday. No one was immediately available to provide comment at the grocery chain headquarters or health district.

It was not known Monday evening if the Trader Joe’s employee was infected with the same strain of hepatitis A responsible for a multi-state outbreak that has sickened more than 1,200 people, hospitalizing more than 800 and killing 41.

A consumer posted a notice that appears to be on Washoe County Health District letterhead. It warns customers about their possible exposure and urges anyone with symptoms to immediately seek medical attention. The exposure period was from Oct. 20-31, making it well past the two-week window of opportunity for customers to receive the post-exposure treatment.

Phil Ulibarri, a spokesman for the health district, told local media the store reported the confirmed case of hepatitis A in early November. The employee works as a stocker and a cashier. Stockers wears gloves, but cashiers do not, local ABC and NBC news affiliates reported Monday afternoon.

Ulibarri told the local television news stations that the chances the employee spread hepatitis A to another person is not likely. However, public health agencies from local to federal levels all describe the hepatitis A virus as “highly contagious” and say infected people can easily contaminate objects and food.

Infected people can transfer the virus to food by touching it, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surfaces and beverages can also become contaminated. Close personal contact, especially with other household members, can spread the virus.

“The hepatitis A virus is able to survive outside the body for months. High temperatures, such as boiling or cooking food or liquids for at least 1 minute at 185 degrees F, kill the virus, although freezing temperatures do not,” according to the CDC.

The Washoe County Health District notice indicates customers of the Reno Trader Joe’s should watch for symptoms through Dec. 20. The CDC reports it can take up to seven weeks for symptoms of hepatitis A to develop. People are contagious for up to two weeks before symptoms appear.

Children younger than 6 years old often do not develop symptoms when infected with the virus. Older children and adults usually have symptoms, which can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice, which usually causes a yellowing of the skin and eyes

Symptoms usually last less than two months, according to the CDC, although 10 to 15 percent of people with hepatitis A can have symptoms for as long as six months.

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Briefly: Fly footprints — Papaya popularity — Kangaroo burgers

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 00:51

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.

Fly me to the moon
Fly barf and poop have long been associated with human illness, but researchers have found that fly footprints are just as, if not more dangerous.

Scientists on three continents collected houseflies and blowflies from urban, rural and natural settings and studied the kinds of bacteria and their concentrations on various parts of the insects’ bodies —  head, thorax, abdomen, and legs + wings.

“Legs and wings displayed the largest microbial diversity and were shown to be an important route for microbial dispersion,” according to the research abstract published Nov. 24.

“Despite a small body mass, the legs + wings fraction yielded the highest diversity of bacterial species.”

The researchers subjected body parts from the flies to “high-coverage, whole-genome shotgun sequencing.”

Most previous studies investigated the gastrointestinal tract, without addressing the role of the outer body of flies. It can be hypothesized, according to the researchers, that the fly feet, wings, mouthparts and other body surfaces constitute the main route of microbial dispersal by mechanical vectors.

Papayas’ popularity persists
Despite several U.S. foodborne illness outbreaks being traced to papayas from Mexico this year, people in America apparently increased their consumption of the fruit as exports of Mexican papayas increased 15 percent in January to August this year compared to 2016.

Fresh Fruit Portal reports that Mexico exported 123,911 metric tons of papayas in the first eight months of this year, with the U.S. remaining its core market, accounting for 99.7 percent of the total.

“The figures are not as you would expect in a year when investigations of four different salmonella strains have been linked to papayas, with 235 cases including two deaths and 78 hospitalizations,” according to the online produce publication.

Canada increased its intake of Mexican papayas by 646% to 175 metric tons, while Germany went from 5 metric tons for the same period in 2016 to 148 metric tons this year.

Kangaroo controversy
White tablecloth restaurants in America are charging $20 or more for kangaroo burgers, and even more for prime cuts, but there is concern that they may be serving up pathogens with the delicacy from Down Under.

In a recent on the controversial topic of kangaroo hunting by National Geographic, raised questions about the commercial kangaroo industry in Australia. Specifically, temperature controls for freshly killed animals and cooking temperatures are two of the biggest concerns.

Guidelines say that after night hunts, kangaroo carcasses must be placed in a refrigerated unit within two hours of sunrise and that the internal body temperature must be lowered to and maintained at a temperature cool enough to prevent bacterial growth within 24 hours,” according to the National Geographic story.

“And kangaroo meat is often served rare, so the risk of foodborne illness is greater still.”

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Rise of technology in food safety

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 00:00

pH meters, infrared thermometers, wearable prompting guides and automatic cleaning systems are just a few of the many technology advancements the food industry has seen in the last 20 years says NSF’s Rade Jankovic, Senior Account Manager of Retail Food Services.

As paper back documentation systems are replaced by digital platforms, education and technology investments need to be made to aide food industry workers on a retail level practice better food safety practices.

“Unlike food manufacturing companies that rely heavily on process automation, food retail establishments’ use of automation is limited to the extent that consumers – as current trends indicate – are looking for fresh offerings that evoke the feelings of home-made cooking,” says Jankovic.

“Technology in retail settings and food safety programs has been primarily used to aid in the management of elaborate food preparation processes and procedures rather than serve as a replacement.”

Data point tracking
“Thermometers, pH meters and other measuring devices are used to monitor critical control points, as well as food quality or content attributes,” says Jankovic. “Infrared thermometers allow operators to obtain quick measurements of case temperatures and in conjunction with more conventional thermocouples and digital probe thermometers augment the in-store temperature monitoring programs.”

“Use of labels/stickers on food packaging to indicate product freshness levels or temperature compliance.”

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ATP sanitation
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) hygiene monitoring to detect for food particular residues is an effective was to verify store cleaning programs by in-store personnel, internal or third-party auditors, says Jankovic.

“ATP technology can identify inadequate cleaning practices and help management conduct root cause analysis and implement strategies to minimize the potential for product contamination.”

Technology in food safety isn’t all about temperature control and measuring devices, says Jankovic. Simple things such as computer-based training and online classes have opened the doors to more assessable education and training opportunities to train employees.

From in-store purchases to shopping online across multiple devices for curb-side deliver, many retailers are utilizing the internet to enhance customers shopping experiences, while using RFID technology and real-time trackers to monitor store inventory and food safety during transport.

Internet of things, or IOT, is the use of sensors to report real-time data back to a cloud based storage system and is often seen in the food industry in the form of temperate tracking from packaging, shipping to in-store displays. According to Jankovic, “automated temperature monitoring systems can spot problems promptly and alert management to take immediate corrective actions to prevent excessive product temperature abuse that can impact its safety and quality.”

From making a sandwich to auditing a produce packaging facility, the development of wearable technology to visually guide employees has made huge headway in removing human error in food safety practices by signalling users on which steps to make and when practices are not completed.

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Cyber Monday? It’ s leftover day — trash em’ if you’ve got em’

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 00:00

According to food safety guidelines from most public health agencies, today is the last day to safely eat refrigerated leftovers from Thursday’s holiday meal, and if you didn’t get them into cold storage within two hours of the feasting, you should have tossed them on Thanksgiving Day.

For the coming holiday season and all through the New Year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends for following for leftovers, whether their from Aunt Fannie’s house or a 5-star restaurant.

“Remember, bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses can’t be smelled or tasted.”


Wrap leftovers well
Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers to keep bacteria out, retain moisture. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.

Store leftovers safely
Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months. Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer.

Thaw frozen leftovers safely
Safe ways to thaw leftovers include the refrigerator, cold water and the microwave oven. Refrigerator thawing takes the longest, but the leftovers stay safe the entire time. After thawing, the food should be used within 3 to 4 days, or can be refrozen.

Cold water thawing is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The frozen leftovers must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, water can get into the food and bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could enter it. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be throughly cooked before refreezing.

Microwave thawing is the fastest method. When thawing leftovers in a microwave, continue to heat it until it reaches 165° F as measured with a food thermometer. Foods thawed in the microwave can be refrozen after heating it to this safe temperature.

Reheating leftovers without thawing
It is safe to reheat frozen leftovers without thawing. Use a saucepan or microwave for soup or stew; use the oven or microwave for casseroles and combination meals). Reheating without thawing will take longer than if the food is thawed, but it is safe to do when time is short.

Reheat leftovers safely
Regardless whether they’re thawed or frozen, be sure leftover reach 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil. Cover leftovers to reheat to retain moisture and ensure that food will heat all the way through.

When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave safe glass or ceramic dish, and add some liquid if needed. Be sure the covering is microwave safe, and vent the lid or wrap to let the steam escape. The moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and will ensure uniform cooking.

Also, because microwaves have cold spots, check the temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer and allow a resting time before checking the internal temperature of the food with a food thermometer. Cooking continues for a longer time in dense foods such as a whole turkey or beef roast than in less dense foods like breads, small vegetables and fruits.

Refreezing previously frozen leftovers
If there are leftover leftovers, it is safe to refreeze any food after reheating previously frozen leftovers to the safe temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.

If a large container of leftovers was frozen and only a portion of it is needed, it is safe to thaw the leftovers in the refrigerator, remove the needed portion and refreeze the remainder of the thawed leftovers without reheating it.

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