Feed aggregator

New DNA technique suggests Salmonella took out the Aztecs

Food Safety News - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 00:02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OMB approves HIMP swine slaughter rule; industry pleased

Food Safety News - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 00:01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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French dairy expands baby milk recall to include 83 countries

Food Safety News - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 00:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Australia seeks comments on maximum residue limit changes

Food Safety News - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 00:00

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

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

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

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

The closing date to submit comments is Feb. 26.

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

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

Submissions should:

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

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

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

Submissions will be acknowledged within three business days.

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

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

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

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Briefly: Prison brew — Disease detecting — Deadly delicacy

Food Safety News - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 00:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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State legislative season underway with food bills on the table

Food Safety News - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 00:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Slaughter practices more significant than poultry line speeds

Food Safety News - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 00:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy new year and thanks for bringing this up.

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

Food Safety News - Sun, 01/14/2018 - 00:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECALLED PRODUCTS

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

Initial Recall

1st Expanded Recall

2nd Expanded Recall

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Eschewing obfuscation on poultry slaughter line speed

Food Safety News - Sat, 01/13/2018 - 00:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Briefly: Royal restrictions — Sick leave — Camel urine cocktails

Food Safety News - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 00:01

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

Photo illustration

Sick leave shown to control foodborne illnesses
There’s growing evidence that paid sick leave can help control the spread of diseases carried by food workers. The news comes as restaurant workers are increasingly involved in a multi-state hepatitis A outbreak that has sickened more than 1,200 people, killing dozens.

Research published in late 2017 showed that foodborne illness rates decreased by 22 percent after implementation of paid sick leave law in jurisdictions with laws more supportive of employees taking leave. Foodborne illness rates increased in jurisdictions with laws that are less supportive of workers.

This is particularly important information because more than 50 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks originate from food and beverage establishments, according to public health officials. “Forty-six percent of restaurant-associated outbreaks implicate an infected food worker, which tend to infect a median of twice as many people than other outbreaks, according to the research”

Previous studies suggest an association between paid sick leave and better population health, including fewer infectious disease outbreaks. View the study “Association of Paid Sick Leave Laws With Foodborne Illness Rates” here.

This week, Prince Harry, second from left, and his bride to be Meghan Markle, far left, visited an area of London to see work being done to combat knife crime in the city.

Royal food safety rules for princess to be
With her marriage to Prince Harry, Meghan Markle will have new food safety rules on the list of changes she will make when she becomes a member of the British royal family.

Because of fears that untimely gastro upset could disrupt the public duties of the royal clan, shellfish and other specific foods are off the menu.

Along with rare meat, under-cooked eggs, foreign water, and overly spicy or exotic food, the risk of contracting foodborne illness outweighs the consumption of shellfish as “the royal entourage likes progress to run smoothly, free from the disruptions of gastronomic indisposition,” the BBC reports.

Whether upstairs or downstairs, Brits and Yanks alike could benefit from a review of the royal rules. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poisoning from shellfish occurs worldwide but is most common in temperate waters, especially off the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts of North America. Cases have also been reported from countries such as the Philippines, China, Chile, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia.

Camel urine/milk brew spurs health warnings
An Islamist leader recently posted a video of himself drinking a “bitter and rich” mix of camel urine and raw camel milk that has sparked controversy because of his claims of health benefits.

Both Muslim and non-Muslim scientists disagree with such medicinal claims, arguing that consumption of camel urine can spread diseases like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS). In 2012, the disease was discovered in Saudi Arabia. It killed at least 36 people during a 2015 outbreak in South Korea.

Additionally, the World Health Organization said the virus can be avoided by eliminating contact with camels, drinking raw camel milk or camel urine, or eating meat that has not been properly cooked.

In recent months U.S. officials seized more than $70,000 in raw camel milk products stored in a warehouse in Kansas City, KS, including some bearing labels from a Missouri dairy. It is against federal law to ship any unpasteurized milk across state lines.

As with raw milk from any mammal, raw camel milk can carry pathogens, parasites and viruses that can be eliminated with simple pasteurization.

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Don’t get ejected from the playoff party for food safety fouls

Food Safety News - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 00:00

The NFL playoffs are often a time for gatherings of family and friends for fun and food.

Just as a team cannot be successful unless all the players are on the same page, game-day feasting must follow a food safety playbook to avoid painful penalties. Hosts and guests must buy in to the basic rules of food safety to avoid a yellow flag on seven-layer dip.

With only eight teams left in the post-season battle for the Super Bowl, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reminding people about how to keep foodborne illness on the bench and out of the game when preparing for and participating in playoff parties.

Tackle food poisoning fears in the kitchen by following these four simple rules:

Clean — According to the Food and Drug Administration, 25 percent of people don’t wash their hands before preparing food. By washing hands frequently with warm soapy water for 20 seconds, especially after handling raw foods including meat, poultry and fresh produce, the spread of germs and foodborne illness can be reduced and prevented. While enjoying foods, encourage party guests to wash their hands before and after eating. The USDA even suggests providing disposable towelettes nearby for a quick touch up during timeouts.

Cloth kitchen towels are a major source of cross-contamination and frequently spread bacteria and viruses. Used towels should be removed from the kitchen as soon as they are soiled. Paper towels should never be reused, but can be safer than cloth towels is properly used.

Separate — It’s the offense and defense when it comes to food safety habits. Avoiding cross-contamination starts at the grocery store. Separate raw meat and poultry from produce and other food items in your shopping cart. Place raw foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices, which may contain harmful bacteria, from contaminating other foods. When preparing your Super Bowl treats, cut fruits and veggies on a designated cutting board and keep it separate from where you prepare other raw meat and poultry products.

Cook — Whatever you choose to serve, use your food thermometer. It is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood and egg dishes. If your Super Bowl menu includes chicken wings, they should reach a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F. No matter what your Uncle Buck believes, USDA research proves that color and texture are unreliable indicators of safety and doneness for meat, poultry and seafood.

Chill — To keep food out of the “Danger Zone”  of 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F, keep hot foods like pizza and wings hot, and cold foods like guacamole and cream cheese dip cold. When setting food out, be sure to serve cold foods in small portions, keeping refills cool in the fridge until they are needed. Remember that you can use an ice bath to keep cold foods cold, and keep hot foods in a pre-heated oven. Since most games last longer than two hours — the cutoff for leaving food at room temperature — remember to refrigerate leftovers during the fourth-quarter commercials if they’ve been on the table since the pre-game show.

 

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How sweet it is? EFSA seeks suggestions on sugar research

Food Safety News - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 00:00

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an agency of the European Union that provides independent scientific advice and communicates on existing and emerging risks associated with the food chain, is seeking feedback on the approach it plans to take for its upcoming assessment of dietary sugars. The aim of the assessment is to establish a cut-off value for intake of “free” sugars that are not associated with adverse health effects.

EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA) has drafted a protocol to define the methods for:

  • collecting data (i.e. which data to use for the assessment and how to identify and select them);
  • appraising the relevant evidence; and
  • analyzing and integrating the evidence to draw conclusions that will form the basis of the scientific opinion.

Dominique Turck, Chair of EFSA’s NDA Panel, said: “This is an important and complex piece of work, which is why we want to give our stakeholders and members of the public the opportunity to comment on our approach before we start the assessment.

“We are looking forward to receiving comments and suggestions from across the scientific community that will help us to optimise both the transparency and the methodological rigor of this assessment.”

Interested parties can submit comments on the protocol until March 4.

The EFSA has scheduled a technical meeting in Brussels on Feb. 13 to discuss the methodology that will be used in the assessment. Registration for the event is now open.

Sugar by another name is still sugar
Free sugars comprise monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, galactose) and disaccharides (sucrose, lactose, maltose, trehalose) added to foods by manufacturers or consumers plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates.

The health effects under consideration will include micronutrient intake and status, body weight and obesity, glucose homeostasis and type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors and diseases, liver function and dental caries.

The advice – requested by the national food authorities of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden – will help the Member States to establish recommendations on the consumption of free sugars and to plan food-based dietary guidelines.

In 2010, EFSA provided advice on dietary reference values (DRVs) for carbohydrates and dietary fiber, which included sugar. At the time, the available evidence was insufficient to set an upper limit for the daily intake of total or added sugars.

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Two more Utah restaurants’ customers exposed to hepatitis A

Food Safety News - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 00:39

Two restaurants in Utah are linked to a hepatitis A outbreak in the state that has been ongoing since August. The report from state health authorities comes almost too late for the restaurant’s customers to seek post-exposure treatment to avoid infection.

Earlier this month Utah officials reported that a 7-Eleven employee could have exposed thousands to the virus by working while infected. That announcement came very late during the window of opportunity for post-treatment, leaving people only a couple of days to seek preventive treatment. The post-exposure treatment must be given within two weeks of exposure to the virus.

For the most recent restaurant exposure situations, health officials are advising  anyone who ate, drank or used the restrooms at Sonic Drive-In or Olive Garden in Spanish Fork on certain days in December to monitor themselves for signs of hepatitis A infection. It can take up to 50 days for symptoms to develop.

Each of the restaurants had an infected employee who was working while contagious, the department said.

The at-risk period for customers of the Sonic on North Main Street in Spanish Fork was Dec. 23 and 24. For the Olive Garden on North Canyon Creek Parkway in Spanish Fork, customers who were there anytime from Dec. 21-30 may have been exposed to the virus, according to a statement from the Utah County Health Department.

The department is making vaccinations available to those who may have been exposed to the disease. As of Jan. 8, Utah had confirmed 133 outbreak associated cases of hepatitis A.

Health officials encourage vaccine for foodservice employees
Since Jan. 1, 2017, Utah’s public health staff has identified 152 confirmed cases of hepatitis A virus infection. Many of the people are homeless and/or substance abusers. Several cases have been linked by investigation and/or viral sequencing to a national outbreak of hepatitis A involving cases in California, Arizona, Michigan, Kentucky and other states.

An increasing number of people who are neither homeless nor substance abusers are being exposed and becoming infected with the virus via foodservice workers at restaurants and other retail locations that sell food. Generally, people are contagious before symptoms begin, and some infected people never develop symptoms.

Hospitalization rates of less than 40 percent have been the norm in previous hepatitis A outbreaks. However, jurisdictions associated with the current outbreak are reporting  hospitalization rates approaching 70 percent. The high rate of hospitalization may be a result of cases having underlying illnesses such as alcoholism and other substance abuse.

Hepatitis A is usually spread through having oral contact with items contaminated with hepatitis A, for example, through ingesting food or drinks contaminated by microscopic amounts of infected feces that cannot be seen by the human eye. If symptoms occur, they usually appear anywhere from 2-6 weeks after exposure.

Symptoms usually develop over a period of several days, and may include the yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, abdominal pain, nausea or diarrhea. Hepatitis A vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis A infection.

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UPDATE: Roe recalled nationwide in Canada for botulism risk

Food Safety News - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 00:03

Canadian officials posted an expanded recall, including additional distribution information, indicating recalled roe may have been distributed nationwide.

Imperial Caviar & Seafood has expanded its Jan. 3 warning to include retail locations in New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec and possibly the entire nation because of concern with regard to the distribution of recalled roe that carries a risk of botulism poisoning.

Initially, Imperial Caviar & Seafood recalled VIP Caviar Club brand recalled a limited amount of trout roe that had been distributed in Quebec in November 2017. Soon after, the company expanded the recall in December 2017 to include additional trout roe in Ontario.

The Jan. 3 recall included certain lots of Whitefish Roe and Salmon Roe listed below, that had been distributed across Canada in 50-gram containers:

Brand Name Common Name Size  Product codes UPC VIP Caviar Club Salmon Roe 50 g 27017-02 BB: 27-SEP-18 1 86866 90024 8 VIP Caviar Club Salmon Roe 50 g 19417-01 BB: 13-07-2018 1 86866 90024 8 Imperial Caviar & Seafood Whitefish Roe 50 g 17917-02 BB: 28-JUN-2018 1 86866 90027 9

 

The above items remain under recall with only the update of additional distribution information, according to yesterday’s recall by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

To date, no illnesses have been confirmed in relation to the recalled roe.

“Check to see if you have recalled products in your home. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased,” according to the recall notice on the CFIA website.

“Food contaminated with Clostridium botulinum toxin may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, blurred or double vision, dry mouth, respiratory failure and paralysis. In severe cases of illness, people may die,” according to the notice

In foodborne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating a contaminated food, but they can occur as soon as six hours or as long as 10 days after exposure.

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled fish eggs and developed symptoms of botulism poisoning should immediately seek medical attention and inform their doctors about the possible exposure.

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CDC names top five foodborne illnesses in United States

Food Safety News - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 00:00

The top five germs that cause illnesses from food eaten in the United States are norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus, aka staph.

Some other germs don’t cause as many illnesses, but when they do, the diseases are more likely to lead to hospitalization. Those germs include E coli, Clostridium botulinum (which causes botulism), Listeria, Vibrio and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) often called E. coli O157.

What causes food poisoning?

Many different disease-causing germs can contaminate foods and there are many foodborne infections.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 48 million people in the United States get sick from a foodborne illness. Of those, 128,000 require hospitalization and 3,000 die.

Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases. Most of them result in infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. Harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness.

Do I have food poisoning?
Common symptoms of foodborne diseases are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. However, symptoms vary among the different types of foodborne illnesses and among different individuals.

Symptoms can sometimes be severe, and some foodborne illnesses can even be life-threatening. Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, some people are more likely to develop one with serious implications. Those groups include:

  • Young children;
  • Older adults;
  • Pregnant women; and
  • People with immune systems weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, organ transplants, HIV/AIDS, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Most people with a foodborne illness get better without medical treatment, but people with severe symptoms should see their doctor.

Anyone can get sick from eating contaminated food. Practice the four simple food safety steps – clean, separate, cook, and chill – to lower your chance of food poisoning and to protect yourself and your loved ones.

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Salmonella outbreak in Chile linked to homemade mayo

Food Safety News - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 00:00

A large Salmonella outbreak affecting 174 people in the Bío Bío Region of Chile has been linked to homemade mayonnaise from a local restaurant in the city of Lota.

“The Seremi de Salud Bío Bío confirmed 174 cases of salmonella making it the largest outbreak of the last four years nationwide and the largest recorded in the Bío Bío Region,” according to reports from South American media.

The restaurant, Dulce y Salado, was closed last week in hopes of halting further illness. However, of the 174 reported cases, there have been 25 hospitalizations. The outbreak victims range from 1 to 91 years old.

Health officials are investigating whether raw egg was the source of the salmonella and the strain is being identified.

In recent years there have been a number of foodborne illnesses and outbreaks in the United States traced to homemade or restaurant-made mayonnaise.

Symptoms of Salmonella 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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Canada declares outbreak over; CDC, FDA still investigating

Food Safety News - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 23:24

Canadian officials said today an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce is over, but U.S. officials are continuing to investigate the deadly foodborne illness outbreak that they believe is linked to leafy greens.

Both countries’ public health officials posted updates on the outbreak today stressing that there is little remaining danger to the public because the most recent victim became sick Dec. 12, 2017.

“Leafy greens typically have a short shelf life, and since the last illness started a month ago, it is likely that contaminated leafy greens linked to this outbreak are no longer available for sale,” according to today’s media statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between the two countries, 66 people have been infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7, with each country reporting one death. In the United States, there are 24 confirmed victims across 15 states. In Canada there are 42 victims across five provinces.

“Illnesses started on dates from Nov. 15 through Dec. 12, 2017,” the CDC reported today. “Among the 18 ill people for whom CDC has information, nine were hospitalized, including one person in California who died. Two people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.”

Many of the sick people reported eating romaine lettuce in various forms from grocery stores, restaurants and other locations. The Public Health Agency of Canada began advising people in the five implicated provinces to consider not eating romaine until further notice. The agency ended that advisory today.

To view a larger version of this information graphic, please click on the image. Source: CDC

In the U.S., the CDC did not make any recommendations to the public about avoiding any foods in its initial Dec. 28, 2017, media statement on the outbreak or in today’s update.To date, only half of the U.S. victims have been interviewed by outbreak investigators.

“The likely source of the outbreak in the United States appears to be leafy greens, but officials have not specifically identified a type of leafy greens eaten by people who became ill,” the CDC reported today.

“State and local public health officials continue to interview sick people in the United States to determine what they ate in the week before their illness started. Of 13 people interviewed, all 13 reported eating leafy greens. Five of nine ill people specifically reported eating romaine lettuce.”

Little transparency during outbreak
Neither country released any information about produce growers, suppliers or any other entities in the farm-to-fork continuum in connection to the outbreak.

No recalls have been initiated, but some retailers and restaurants temporarily pulled romaine lettuce from shelves and menus. Consumer Reports recommended that consumers avoid romaine lettuce until the outbreak cause was determined.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency — which is similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — tested samples of romaine lettuce as part of the outbreak investigation. Today the Canadian officials revealed that all food samples tested negative.

In the U.S., the FDA, which had not posted any public information about the outbreak until today, is assisting the CDC, but has virtually nothing to report.

“The FDA’s outbreak investigation team is working with CDC and state and local officials to determine what ill people ate, where they bought it, and the distribution chain — all with the goal of reaching where these foods were produced, to see if there’s any common food or point where the food might have become contaminated.”

Industry, watchdog reactions
The statements today spurred very different reactions from produce industry groups and consumer advocates.

A coalition of produce marketing and lobbying groups — United Fresh Produce Association, Arizona and California LGMAs, Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Produce Marketing Association and Western Growers — welcomed the statements as vindication.

“In collaboration with our association colleagues we’d like to share the following update to last week’s communications regarding the E. coli O157:H7 foodborne illness outbreak that has impacted many (of our) members,” the produce groups’ release said.

“… the undersigned organizations call your attention to the following details:

“Public health agencies in both the United States and Canada are informing consumers that there are no concerns about consuming any particular food, while they continue their investigations into what caused this E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that began in November.

“Based on these statements, both governments have concluded that the food responsible for this foodborne illness outbreak is no longer in the market.

“The industry associations are committed to working with government agencies in both the United States and Canada to assist with the ongoing investigations.”

There is a very different view at Consumers Union, which is the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports. Food safety advocates there “continue to think it prudent to avoid romaine lettuce for now,” according to Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union.

In a media statement, Halloran urged the CDC and Canadian officials to share their raw data on the outbreak and called on the FDA to request and review internal bacterial testing data from producers of romaine lettuce in order to pinpoint the source of the E. coli bacteria that has triggered the illnesses.

“This is a dangerous strain of E. coli that can cause severe illness and even death,” said Halloran’s statement. “Health officials need to take more aggressive steps to protect the public. In order to ensure that this threat to consumers’ health won’t continue or happen again, the government needs to identify the source.”

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Tick tock goes the outbreak clock — nine weeks and counting

Food Safety News - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 00:04

Consumers, lettuce growers, retailers and restaurants in the United States are still stuck between the romaine and the risk as federal agencies continue to withhold information about a deadly E. coli outbreak.

That may change today as some people in the food chain have an inkling the Food and Drug Administration and/or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may break the silence. Members of Congress, produce industry groups and consumer advocates have been cranking up the pressure on the two U.S. agencies to reveal what they know, even if it isn’t definitive.

Some grocery retailers and foodservice operators, including Wendy’s fast food chain, have stopped selling and serving romaine lettuce until there is more information about the cause of the outbreak. Consumer Reports is recommending that people stop eating romaine lettuce until more information is made public.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, sent a list of pointed questions to the CDC director Monday. Four days earlier produce industry groups jointly issued a statement, in part to reassure consumers.

“Our leading produce industry associations have and will continue to cooperate fully with public health officials investigating this foodborne illness outbreak,” the produce groups’ statement says.

Turning to the government, the produce industry leaders slammed the ball into the CDC’s court, even though the FDA is the regulatory agency with jurisdiction over food.

“No public agency has contacted any romaine lettuce grower, shipper or processor and requested that they either stop shipping or recall product already in the marketplace,” according to the six product industry groups.

None of the groups responded to requests for further comment on the situation. The organizations that joined to issue the statement are:

Nine weeks and counting
Today marks the beginning of Week 9 since the first outbreak victim in the U.S. was confirmed with an infection from E. coli O157:H7. The two-nation outbreak has sickened 58 people in Canada and the United States, with each country reporting one death in their most recent statements.

Canadian officials announced the outbreak Dec. 11 and on Dec. 14 began recommending that people avoid eating romaine lettuce until further notice because it was the likely source of the E. coli. Laboratory testing has shown that outbreak victims in the U.S. and Canada are infected with the same strain, indicating a common food source.

In the United States, the CDC did not release any information about the outbreak until it posted a news release — not an outbreak notice — on Dec. 28. The agency has not posted any additional information since then. The FDA has not publicly posted any information, but has confirmed for Food Safety News that it is involved in the investigation.

No products have been recalled and neither Canadian nor U.S. officials have released any information about brands of romaine lettuce, growers, distributers, retailers or foodservice operations that may have sold the implicated romaine.

It is not known if all forms of romaine — head, leaves, hearts and chopped — are implicated. However, Canadian officials have reported that confirmed victims have reported eating romaine lettuce in all forms, at home and in restaurants before becoming ill.

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Briefly: Shame game — Flying high — Produce pesticides

Food Safety News - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 00:02

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.

The ABCs of Milwaukee restaurant grades
Milwaukee residents will soon be seeing letter grades that reflect the number of health code violations at local restaurants. The report card approach has been adopted in a number of cities to raise awareness and encourage foodservice operators to step up food safety efforts.

Restaurants in Milwaukee will receive an A, B, or C. If they earn a C it doesn’t mean what some might think. The C grade is not considered “passing” and most likely will result in temporary closure.

According to a recent post on Barf Blog “In 2018, letter grades will be given to restaurants inspected by the city but posting them will be voluntary. Then in 2019, all restaurants will need to put those grades up for the public to see.”

Regarding a lack of foodborne illness as “the goal” of the grades, Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker said that posting the letter grades will let everyone know exactly where a restaurant stands, and allow them to dine in confidence.

Gate Gourmet back in air after Listeria finding
After Listeria monocytogenes was discovered in November 2017 in its catering facility, the Gate Gourmet kitchen at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has returned to full service for Delta, and partial service for American.

Followed by Delta, American halted food deliveries from the Gate Gourmet kitchen on Nov. 1 until the kitchen’s food safety and public health issues could be resolved.

According to American, “During this period, we have been working extensively with outside food safety experts to ensure that any re-entry to their kitchen at LAX maintained our highest food safety standards,” further, “We also enlisted the support of a third-party expert, who inspected and substantiated the safety of their facility.”

Spokeswoman Nancy Jewell of the Gate Group said Sunday, “Food safety is our highest priority.”

“We reaffirm that our LAX facility is operating without restriction and continues to comply with all local and federal regulations as confirmed by independent food safety experts and agencies.”

Produce pesticide report shows high compliance
The most recent test results available show low or no pesticide levels in most fruits and vegetables in California, according to a report from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR)

Specifically, produce collected by  DPR was tested for about 400 types of pesticides, and showed results indicating that the vast majority of fruits and vegetables available for sale in California meet the state’s stringent pesticide safety standards.

Director of DPR Brian Leahy said “Once again this report shows that California consumers can have high confidence in the fresh fruits and vegetables available to them at stores,” and “A strong regulatory program gives guidance to the proficient farmers and pesticide applicators that grow the fruits and vegetables that are part of a healthy diet.”

If illegal residues are found in testing, the DPR immediately removes the illegal produce to prevent it from reaching consumers. The department also attempts to trace it to its source, then verifies that the produce is either destroyed or returned to its source.

Consumers can view the DPR’s 2016 Pesticide Residues in Fresh Produce report here.

 

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USDA drafts rule for eggs, egg substitutes used in many foods

Food Safety News - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 00:01

Eggs and egg substitutes used as ingredients in other foods could be subject to new safety rules from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Safety plans and measures to ensure that eggs are free of pathogens like Salmonella are among the requirements of the proposed regulations.

The 252-page draft rule would require egg plants to use Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) planning. At so-called breaker plants, eggs are removed from their shells before they are divided into whole eggs, egg whites, and egg yolks.The egg products, in frozen, refrigerated, liquid and dried forms, are used in a vast number of food products

The purpose of the proposed rule is to modernize food safety inspection systems at egg products plants. Under HACCP systems, owners and managers of plants will be able to tailor food safety systems to best fit their particular facilities and equipment. Furthermore, FSIS plans to remove prescriptive regulations and give egg products plants the flexibility and incentive to innovate new means to achieve enhanced food safety.

“As we continue to modernize inspection systems and processes, we are committed to strengthening consistency across the services of FSIS inspection personnel carry out for the consuming public,” said Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Carmen Rottenberg.

“This proposed rule will ensure the same level of inspection and oversight of all regulated products as we carry out our public health mission.”

About 93 percent of egg products plants already operate under written HACCP plans for at least one step in their production processes. In addition to HACCP planning, the proposed regulations would require egg plants to adhere to Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures or Sanitation SOPs that are consistent with existing meat and poultry requirements.

The draft rule is designed to replace existing regulations concerning grounds and pest management, plant construction and sanitation including rooms, doors and windows and lighting and ventilation.

“The agency is proposing to replace all of these with general sanitation requirements, as it has previously done with the requirements on the same subjects in the meat and poultry product regulations,” according to FSIS officials.

A 120-day public comment period will begin as soon as the Federal Register publishes the new draft rule.

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