Range of foods adds to risk
Source of Article: http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/619921
Apr 17, 2009 04:30 AM
The food industry's reliance on ingredients imported from numerous locations can complicate epidemiological investigations, as in the case of the 2002 shigella outbreak, a new report on food-borne illnesses in Toronto says.
The outbreak of shigella, a highly contagious bacteria normally spread through poor hygiene, such as failure to wash hands, was suspected to be linked to a Greek-style pasta salad manufactured in Toronto by Tiffany Gate Foods.
The outbreak made more than 600 people in Ontario seriously ill with bloody diarrhea.
The public health report says the movement of food from the farm to the kitchen table has grown "increasingly complex.'' Our everyday diet has evolved from one centred around seasonal and local foods to an "immense range'' of food available as a result of the "globalization'' of the food industry.
"The movement of food and its components increases the risk of food-borne illness because of the greater number of points at which contaminants can enter the food production process,'' the report says.
A series of tests after the shigella outbreak, that studied the DNA of bacteria found in hundreds of salad and stool samples taken at Tiffany Gate Foods, came back negative. There was no sign of the shigella bacteria at the plant, in its pasta salad, or in its employees.
Shigella bacteria are known to cause illness at low doses, so only 10 or 15 cells would be needed to make a person very sick. By the time the outbreak was suspected to have come from Tiffany Gate salad, those few bacteria may have died off, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesperson argued at the time.
A class-action suit launched by around 550 people who got sick – mostly in the GTA and Ottawa – was settled last year. Complainants were compensated depending on how long they suffered. For example, people sick between two to four weeks received between $5,000 and $8,000.
Tiffany Gate did not admit liability.
The public health report lists the globalization of the food supply as the "critical food safety issue'' behind three outbreaks in the city:
Twenty-nine cases of cyclosporiasis in 1998, linked to contaminated raspberries from Guatemala.
Sixteen cyclosporiasis cases in 2005 linked to pasta salad containing contaminated basil from Central America.
Two cases of botulism in 2006 stemming from the consumption of contaminated unpasteurized carrot juice distributed across North America.
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