4/26
2004

ISSUE:
115

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Education key in fighting foodborne illnesses:
A free, updated primer for physicians highlights newly identified pathogens, provides resources for patients and offers CME credit

April 26, 2004
American Medical News
Susan J. Landers
Washington -- Public health officials are now more quickly able to identify outbreaks of foodborne illness by genetically connecting the dots that represent individual cases. But they rely on primary care physicians to supply those important dots.
It is often the report of an astute physician that leads to the detection of an outbreak and its rapid containment, said Arthur P. Liang, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Food Safety Initiative.
Physicians hold a vital position in recognizing foodborne illnesses -- no small matter, as more than 200 diseases are known to be transmitted through food -- and educating patients on the need for food safety.
"Understanding this important role will help health professionals recognize the necessity of testing patients with gastrointestinal symptoms for foodborne illnesses and will lead to earlier detection," said AMA Trustee Cecil B. Wilson, MD, an internist from Winter Park, Fla.
Foodborne illnesses affect 76 million Americans every year -- even more than the common cold -- causing 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, said Dr. Wilson.
On April 7, Dr. Liang, Dr. Wilson and others released an updated edition of a free primer for physicians on diagnosing and managing foodborne illnesses.
The primer, a collaborative effort by the AMA, the American Nurses Assn., the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the Dept. of Agriculture, includes sections on newly identified foodborne illnesses as well as information on the intentional contamination of food and water -- a heightened concern as a result of stepped-up terrorism awareness.
The primer provides up-to-date information on a range of illnesses. Since more than 75% of deaths are caused by three pathogens, Listeria, Salmonella and Toxoplasma, information on the latter two has been added to the new primer. The Listeria section has been updated. There are also new sections on hepatitis A and norovirus.
It offers 2.75 hours of category I continuing medical education credit for physicians and 3.3 hours for nurses and includes a consumer guide on food safety to share with patients.
The guide, produced by the Agriculture Dept., can be copied and distributed, said Barbara Masters, DVM, acting administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
A changing society
An outbreak of hepatitis A in Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee last year was traced to contaminated green onions imported from Mexico and served at a chain restaurant. In Pennsylvania alone, 555 illnesses were linked to the onions and three people died.
Also last year, a Michigan supermarket employee deliberately contaminated beef with an insecticide, causing those who ate the beef to become sick with nicotine poisoning.
And outbreaks of the norovirus on cruise ships made headlines in 2002.
These experiences underscore how society has changed. As a result, physicians should remember to ask ill patients about recent travel, restaurant food eaten and whether other family members were sick.
As the nation's population ages and is less able to rebound from symptoms that can range from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening neurologic syndromes, food safety will be of even greater concern, noted David Acheson, MD, FDA director of food safety and security. Pregnant women, infants and children, and individuals with suppressed immune systems are also particularly vulnerable, he said.
New pathogens are continually emerging to take the place of older enemies. Some of the more notorious foodborne pathogens, such as Cyclospora, Cryptosporidium and the agent causing bovine spongiform encephalopathy, were unknown before the 1980s and 1990s, said Dr. Liang. "In fact we think there are still many causes of foodborne illness yet to be discovered."
Dr. Liang estimated that from 50% to 80% of foodborne illnesses are caused by agents that have not yet been identified. While physicians should be on the lookout for new illnesses, the garden variety reportable diseases are still important to track, said Dr. Liang. "We are getting much better at connecting the dots."
Back to top.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Food fight
A free primer, Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illnesses, is designed to help physicians:
Recognize the potential for a foodborne pathogen to be responsible for a patient's illness.
Realize that many, but not all, cases of foodborne illness have gastrointestinal tract symptoms.
Obtain stool cultures and recognize that testing for some specific pathogens must be requested.
Appreciate that a foodborne illness may be due to intentional contamination.
Report all suspect cases to the appropriate public health officials.
Talk with patients about ways to prevent food-related diseases.
Recognize the vulnerable populations most susceptible to adverse events from foodborne illness.
Appreciate that any patient with foodborne illness may represent the first case of a more widespread outbreak.
Source: American Medical Association

Campylobacter reviewed

http://www.foodproductiondaily.com

- 23/04/2004 - A comprehensive review of Campylobacter in poultry processing has been published by scientists from North Carolina University, US. The report coincides with a number of food scares related to the safety of poultry.

The review, published in the Institute of Food Technologists, includes a description of the pathogen, distribution of the infection, how it spreads, and interventions to reduce infection. Campylobacter is the leading bacterial cause of human gastroenteritis in the US, with 40,000 cases and approximately 680 deaths documented annually.
Doses as low as 500 organisms have been reported to cause illness - equivalent to one drop of raw chicken juice. Campylobacter is routinely found in cattle, sheep, swine, and avian species.

The report says that avian species are the most common host, probably because of their higher body temperature. Research has shown that Campylobacter reach their highest populations on poultry during the warmer months when up to 97 per cent of samples tested were positive for C. jejuni. However Campylobacter outbreaks have also been associated with raw milk, contaminated water and contact with pets and farm animals.

There are several species of Campylobacter (C. jejuni, C. coli, C.lari and C. uppsaliensis) capable of causing human illness. C. jejuni is implicated in approximately 85 per cent of the cases with the remaining 15 per cent being caused by C. coli. These are referred to as thermophilic Campylobacters, being able to grow at 37oC ?42 oC.

C. jejuni has been shown to survive for more than 4 hours at 27 oC and 60 per cent to 62 per cent relative humidity on some common clean or soiled food contact surfaces. However, Campylobacter can be killed by heating to above 60 oC, and populations reduced but not eliminated by freezing. Although Campylobacter will not survive below a pH of 4.9, it is capable of growing in the pH range of 4.9 ?9.0, and grows optimally at pH 6.5 ?7.5.

The publication of the guide coincides with a number of food scares related to the safety of poultry. Last month for example, the Dutch government ordered the culling of 600 ducks on a farm after routine blood tests showed signs of antibodies to a mild strain of bird flu. There are fears of a return of the virus that devastated much of northern Europes poultry industry last year.

The agriculture ministry said in a statement that it had decided to order the culling of the ducks after antibodies showed up which could indicate the birds were in contact with the contagious virus. A follow-up test has not confirmed an outbreak of bird flu but a further test was not able to rule out a mild strain of the virus.

The safety of chicken eggs in the UK has also been challenged. The UK's Soil Association claimed that as many as one in eight eggs may contain residues of a veterinary drug that are potentially harmful to humans.

The drug in question, lasalocid, is permitted in poultry raised for meat. But the Soil Association claims that tests on eggs by the UK government's veterinary medicines directorate show residues were found in 12 per cent of egg samples last year, up from 1 per cent in 1999. This means that consumers may be eating up to three million eggs a day containing residues.

Similar drugs have been reported to cause severe illness and death in livestock such as cattle, turkeys and sheep. The Soil Association says that although there is no direct evidence of potential poisonous effects on humans from lasalocid, checks have never been made.

“Publication of this new CFA Guidance is very timely bearing in mind recently publicised incidents involving unauthorised or banned veterinary residues,?said Kaarin Goodburn, CFAs secretary general.

“We anticipate that this Guidance will prove to be aninvaluable reference tool for all involved in the chilled food chain, particularly as the European Commission is currently reviewing legislation in this area.?

Consumption of under-cooked poultry and/or the handling of raw poultry are risk factors for human Campylobacter infection. Contamination occurs both on the farm and in poultry slaughter plants.

The rest of the article goes into some detail of the critical hazard points and how use of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point HACCP system may reduce occurrence of the pathogen. The authors conclude that further effort is needed to design more efficient and effective washing systems at the processing plants.

Carcass breaking research could pave way for safer beef
April 21, 2004
Canada Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund Media Release
Calgary, Albert a,: New research points to the beef carcass breaking process as a major source of disease-causing bacteria, not the carcass dressing process, as is often thought to be the case.
The research findings lead Dr. Colin Gill, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher in Lacombe, Alta., to believe that redesigned carcass breaking equipment could significantly reduce the levels of E. coli contamination, and therefore result in safer beef.
Gill conducted his research to help the beef industry find ways to reduce the risk of beef being contaminated with pathogenic bacteria in the wake of increased food safety concerns. Safer beef means a more saleable, marketable product, which is good for producers, and it means fewer product recalls, which is good for processing plants and the stores that sell the beef.
E. coli is a common bacterium that lives in the intestines of cattle, but it can be transferred to the surface of beef during processing. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but some, such as E. coli O157:H7 can cause disease. Usually, proper handling and cooking of beef is the best defence against E. coli infection in humans.
Because beef is pasteurized after the carcass dressing process, very few E. coli-infected carcasses enter the breaking facilities; however that hasn't completely eliminated the E. coli threat. Since E. coli tend to reappear on the meat after carcass breaking, Gill decided to take a closer look at the carcass breaking process - to determine why intestinal bacteria sometimes contaminate meat during carcass breaking.
"Traditionally, efforts to prevent beef contamination have focused on the carcass dressing process or on the cattle before they come for processing," says Gill. "It seemed that further bacterial contamination of meat could occur during carcass breaking. The research results showed the levels of E coli on beef were often higher after carcass breaking than before."
Gill used two beef packing plants for his research. At Plant A, where approximately 120 carcasses are broken per hour, samples were taken after carcass breaking to determine total aerobic counts, coliforms and E. coli. For each group of bacteria, numbers were greater on trimmings than on carcasses entering the breaking process.
"Not only were the numbers greater after breaking, but the numbers of bacteria recovered from the cattle trimmings tended to increase at successive stages of trimmings collection," says Gill.
At Plant B, where 240 carcasses are broken per hour, the microbiological effects of six out of 16 sequential breaking operations (operations 1, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 12 were examined) on random hanging beef carcasses were evaluated. Each carcass tested was swabbed at specific sites before and after six breaking operations.
At five of the six sites swabbed, the operation related to each did not increase the numbers of the few coliforms or E. coli at the site, and in fact, operation 7 (trimming the rump), decreased the numbers of coliforms and E. coli at a site in the anal area. However, samples were also taken from cotton gloves worn by workers involved in the breaking of hanging carcasses and those findings were the opposite.
"For the glove samples, E. coli was recovered in rather large numbers from the water in which gloves were rinsed and in small numbers from swabs of those same gloves," says Gill. "This leads us to believe that the gloves must become contaminated with E. coli from surfaces within the breaking facility, as the numbers are too high to be derived from the carcasses."
Gill says this information points to two sources of contamination. One, fixed carcass breaking equipment, such as conveyors, and two, equipment worn or used by workers, such as steel mesh gloves and knives.
Finding the sources of contamination leads to a need for solutions. Gill suggests that carcass breaking equipment be redesigned to improve cleanability, to assure that the equipment can be wholly cleaned during each working day. A lot of carcass breaking equipment is currently not designed to be cleanable, therefore it cannot be adequately cleaned during routine daily cleaning. In the interim, though, Gill says merely keeping the product and the carcass breaking equipment dry will reduce the risk of contamination.
In the future, Gill suggests that appropriate microbiological sampling be used to determine whether equipment is adequately clean and not the current method, which is largely based on inspection of meat contacting surfaces for visible cleanliness.
CABIDF is a joint $16.4 million fund of Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The Fund is administered by Alberta Beef Producers and has supported more than 50 projects in five major categories identified to benefit the Alberta beef industry.

Current USDA/FDA NEWS
Microbiological Testing Program for Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Raw Ground Beef Products
HACCP; Procedures for the Safe and Sanitary Processing and Importing of Juice
Need To Complete New Registration Form: Extension of date
FSIS Constituent Update/Alert: Updated April 19, 2004

Draft Rapid Determination of Perchlorate Anion in Lettuce, Milk and in Bottled Water
Dr. Lester M. Crawford Outlines Science-Based Plan for Dietary Supplement Enforcement
Cattle from Australia and New Zealand: Testing exemptions
Need to complete new registration form
Tribal Drinking Water Operator Certification Program Draft Final Guidelines
OPPD (Policy) What's New Page: Updated April 16, 2004
Bioterrorism Outreach Meetings For Asia
FSIS: Compliance Guidelines For Establishments Regarding Escherichia coli O157:H7
Safety and Quality of Fresh and Frozen Shellfish Exported From the ROK to the USA
Prior Notice of Imported Food Under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness

Current Outbreaks
04/23. Courthouse virus hits judges, lawyers, clerks, inmates
04/20. Food poisoning leaves woman dead
04/20. Poisonous food leaves 115 people sick in northwest China pro
04/19. Fake milk powder kills dozens of babies in central China: re
04/16. Food poisoning fells 7 at police academy
04/16. Eight cases confirmed in a salmonella outbreak
04/16. Seventy-four down by poisoned food in NW. China province

04/13. Health officials say a Mendon woman died of rare brain illne
04/09. Four siblings in Vietnam die after eating poisonous mushroom
04/08. BANGLADESH: Diarrhoea cases on the rise
04/08. Llanelli stars recover from food poisoning
04/06. JUST THE TONIC!
04/05. Man dies after cholera outbreak
04/05. Department baffled by source of cholera
04/04. Phelps back in the water after suspected case of food poisoning

Current New Methods
04/23. Proactive Quality System Offered to Reinforce U.S. Livestock
04/23. Foodpro - A Safer And Healthier Way To Heat Food Products
04/22. Wrappers smarten up to protect food
04/22. Ability to remove pathogens from chicken manure and human waste

04/21. Vapour could 'wipe out' superbug
04/21. Medtrol¡¯s selection of hand sanitizers
04/19. New RiboPrinter¢ç Software Allows Compliance with 21 CFR Part 11 for Electronic
04/19. DoD Awards Portable Water Purification System to Remove Chemical & Biological
04/19. New W-Zip Pouches for Oxoid Compact Atmosphere Generation Kits
04/18. E.nose helps food industry smell the cost-benefits
04/17. UB scientist dips into past for new way to clean water
04/16. Water supply safety
04/15. Two new tests for detecting ractopamine
04/15. New tests created to detect feed additive

Current Food Safety Informaiton
04/23. Salmon of the Americas initiates evaluation of brominated fl
04/23. Large cost to U.S. cattle producers of 100 percent BSE testi
04/23. USDA launches consumer-focused food safety Web site
04/23. New FSA research requirements
04/23. Travel associated illness in England, Wales and Northern Ire
04/23. New multiresistant strain of Salmonella enterica serotype Ch
04/23. Flame retardants (PBDEs) in farmed salmon
04/23. Officials downplay Martin-Bush summit
04/23. USDA opens new bio-safety lab
04/23. Researcher says carcass breaking can contaminate beef with E. coli
04/23. Study links chicken litter to antibiotic resistance
04/23. Heat on cayenne...
04/23. The missing link in meat processing?
04/23. Can the world afford to reject GM foods?
04/23. China faces fake baby milk scandal
04/23. International Media Briefing to Communicate U.S. Beef Safety
04/23. N.J. Boy Suspended Over Cookie Threat
04/23. Mad cow disease testing could cause problems in Arkansas
04/23. Readers Say [Dietary Supplements]
04/23. U.S./China Agree to Further Cooperative on Food Safety
04/23. Polansky comments on USDA downer rule
04/23. USDA should OK total testing
04/23. The National Food Laboratory Grows 30% In 2003
04/23. Campylobacter reviewed
04/23. US-China Food Safety Accord
04/23. Teen helps get lead out

04/22. International Conference, Listeria monocytogenes and Risk An
04/22. Different but the same: The growing debate on harmonizing No
04/22. Ontario government commits to action plan on public health:
04/22. European meat producer¡¯s organization CLITRAVI comments on t
04/22. USDA allows import of Canadian bone-in beef
04/22. Irradiation helps kill bacteria in our food
04/22. Education key in fighting foodborne illnesses
04/22. China Detains Five in Infant Deaths Case
04/22. Slippery Slope of Testing
04/22. China partially eases beef import ban; talks about bird flu
04/22. NCBA estimates cost for total BSE testing more than $30 per-
04/22. UK supplement industry hoping renewed attention will influen
04/22. Reaction to breast milk may be cause of colic
04/22. Reports: Japan, U.S. Work on Mad Cow Talks
04/22. Two Reports Hail Egg Industry Success - UK Beats Salmonella
04/22. GMO rules explained
04/22. Residue guide published
04/22. A weighty issue
04/22. Farmed Shrimp is Safe; Meets Same High Safety Standards as W
04/22. Woman arrested for poisoning porridge

04/21. BC-Mad
04/21. The veal you may not know
04/21. Food poisoning risk is greater for seniors; ask a dietitian
04/21. Carcass breaking research could pave way for safer beef
04/21. March restaurant closures [II]
04/21. March restaurant closures [I]
04/21. Food producers set out to win back consumer confidence after
04/21. County may rate eateries: San Bernardino County restaurateur
04/21. Sushi served on naked women unfit for Chinese consumption
04/21. Chinese food safety on the menu for consumer health
04/21. Integration of economics into evaluation of pathogen reducti
04/21. How safe is that steak?
04/21. Consumer group calls for country-of-origin beef labels in California
04/21. USDA launches revamped food safety Web site
04/21. Creekstone gains sharp edge in the spin battle for public opinion
04/21. US fears over beef supply
04/21. Deadline Extended for FSIS Business Registration
04/21. AAAAI: Skin care products hiding food allergens
04/21. Nut and Peanut Allergy Diet
04/21. Japan, U.S. dispute at-risk age for mad cow disease
04/21. Veterinarian says Mad Cow threat is minor
04/21. Records contradict USDA's mad cow decision
04/21. Alberta Liberals call for improvements to provincial BSE tes
04/21. Mad-cow-testing request from Ky. divides industry
04/21. Capital city restaurants cited for health violations
04/21. Germ Wars: Experts Wash Away Antibacterial Misconceptions
04/21. Light shines on action behind foodborne disease Listeria
04/21. Dietary Supplements Can Cause Cancer, Kidney Damage
04/21. No guarantee of safety for detox kits
04/21. USDA launches a consumer-friendly food safety website
04/21. Japan Says It Will Maintain Ban on Beef From U.S., Kyodo Say
04/21. Chinese food safety in Ireland
04/21. Safety Rules for New Members
04/21. Hayashi to talk in curry-poisoning appeal

Current Recall Information

Comprehensive review of campylobacter and poultry processing
April 2004
Institute of Food Technologists - Vol. 3 Issue 4
The complete document can be viewed from:
http://www.ift.org/pdfs/crfsfs/crfsfsv3n2p0105-0116ms20030509.pdf
K.M. Keener, M.P. Bashor, P.A. Curtis, B.W. Sheldon, S. Kathariou
Complete article - p 105-116 (Download PDF - 448kb)

NEWS ANALYSIS: Creekstone gains sharp edge in the spin battle for public opinion

by Daniel Yovich on 4/21/04 for Meatingplace.com
The mainstream media may have overlooked the most significant development in the increasingly pitched battle between those who support and those who are fighting Creekstone Farms' efforts to voluntarily test all of its product for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Speaking at the beginning of a Monday teleconference hosted by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association ?an event scheduled on the heels of Sunday's New York Times news story and editorial about the Creekstone issue ?U.S. Premium Beef CEO Steve Hunt leveled with reporters about the real reason USDA and the larger segments of the industry oppose the Creekstone initiative: It comes down to dollars and cents.

If Creekstone is allowed to test, Hunt said, it would likely cause a "domino effect" where the nation's major processors would have no choice but to follow suit. The cost to the industry, Hunt said, could be $1 billion per year, and Hunt said he believes that cost would not be readily absorbed by consumers.

For weeks, the Agriculture Department and some of the trade associations have tried to diffuse Creekstone's arguments by stressing that the Arkansas City, Kan.-based processor's plan is not scientifically sound. But if a stream of recent editorial and opinion pieces from newspapers big and small are any gauge of that strategy's success, it would seem that line of thinking has backfired.

An editorial in Tuesday's Chicago Tribune ?a newspaper not known as a font of liberalism ?supported the Creekstone argument, noting that if foreign buyers want to pay and domestic producers are ready to sell on their terms, why in the world is the U.S. government standing in the way?

Tuesday's Los Angeles Times published an op-ed piece by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, which noted that USDA "may be correct that testing every animal in the U.S. is unnecessary and not cost-effective."

But Turley also argued that Creekstone should be allowed to test, if, for no other reason, to find out what the market will bear, noting that the current USDA position is an affront to anyone who believes in the free market system.

"It's as if the Department of Transportation refused to allow Volvo to add air bags just to keep the pressure off other carmakers," Turley said.

An editorial in Tuesday's Salt Lake Tribune, whose readership is decidedly conservative by national standards, took out the heavy lumber to whack USDA. The editorial concluded that the "USDA action is an insult to consumers in Japan, and in Utah, who will be denied the option of voting with their grocery dollar and supporting food-safety standards that go beyond those required by government."

Creekstone also won support from columnists Tuesday at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Wisconsin's Capital Times.

Conversely, USDA and the trade associations' positions have been shut out from the nation's opinion pages this week, with news searches failing to find a single column in support of the agency's or the industry's position.

Creekstone CEO John Stewart told Meatingplace.com that the company's editorial presence is not the result of a coordinated public relations campaign orchestrated by an outside firm.

"It's just me, my phone and my laptop," Stewart said.

That said, it's likely U.S. consumers will see some rebuttals penned by USDA or the trade associations published later this week, justifying why it is not prudent to allow Creekstone to test all of its product.

A look inside Medtrol¡¯s sanitation toolbox reveals a selection of hand sanitizers.

source from: http://www.meatnews.com/
Medtrol calls hand sanitation ¡°a critical defense against contamination.¡± To help meat processors and other food handling establishments create an effective contamination defense, Medtrol offers a selection of hand-sanitation products. The company says its Clini-Gel 62-percent alcohol-based, quick drying, rinseless hand-sanitizer and dispensing system is one of its most popular products.

The Clini-Gel line features contamination-free 800 ml sealed refill bags. ¡°Simply open dispenser, insert the bag-n-box and you're ready to go,¡± the company explains. Clini-Gel is available as an unscented, clear gel and packaged 12 refills per case. Wall dispensers are available in white or black. Clini-Gel is also available in four-ounce squeeze bottles, eight-ounce counter-top pump bottles, and Medtrol's new touchless mobile dispenser.

Another Metrol product -- Clini-Sudz -- provides extra protection and is designed to complement rinseless hand-sanitizing programs. Clini-Sudz anti-microbial hand soap contains an active ingredient that kills a broad spectrum of bacteria including Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and other pathogens. Clini-Sudz is mild yet effective and like Clini-Gel, is available in easy-to-mount wall dispensers or Medtrol's touch-less mobile dispenser. Clini-Sudz is recommended for wash sink areas and lavatories, and can be used prior to applying Clini-Gel for added protection.

For more information contact Ray Gorrzynski, Medtrol Inc., 7157 Austin Ave., Niles, IL 60714; Tel: (800) 647-7180; Fax: (800) 255-3027; E-mail: rgorzynski@medtrol.com; Internet: www.medtrol.com.

Web posted: April 20, 2004

Wrappers smarten up to protect food
April 21, 2004
New Scientist
Kurt Kleiner
http://www.newscientist.com/news/
Unwrapping your shopping to find you have bought mouldy bread, rotten strawberries and sour milk could, according to this story, soon become a thing of the past ? thanks to a range of emerging "active packaging" technologies.
While conventional packaging simply acts as a barrier that protects food, active packaging can do a lot more. Some materials interact with the product to improve it in some way, or give the consumer better information on the state it is in.
For instance, the story says, they may soak up oxygen inside a wrapper to help prevent food spoilage or show whether potentially dangerous foods like red meat and chicken have been stored at unsafe temperatures. Others kill bacteria, and some can reveal whether the food is beginning to go off.
In a small way, containers that do more than just store goods are already familiar. Probably the best-known active package on the market today is the widget-equipped beer can. Yanking off the ring pull causes the pressure in the can to fall, triggering a nitrogen-filled ball inside to release its pressurised payload and give the beer a foamy head. The latest attempt to make a smarter beer container is a self-cooling lager can.
Aaron Brody, a researcher in food technology at the University of Georgia in Athens, was cited as saying that active packaging has been slow to catch on because of the extra costs involved in developing and making it, but that is changing as companies realise the potential benefits of giving consumers demonstrably fresh produce, adding, "There are lots of benefits to active packaging, and a lot of companies are now going to incorporate it in one or another form."
One of the new breed of packaging technologies has just gone on the market in France, where the Monoprix supermarket chain is using a device called a time temperature indicator on a number of fresh foods.
The TTI, made by Temptime of Morris Plains, New Jersey, is a label that tracks the temperature a package has been kept at and for how long. The bullseye-like label has a dark ring around a lighter circle. The central ring contains a chemical which polymerises, changing colour as it does so from clear to dark.
If the package is kept cool, the reaction is slow, but increasing the temperature speeds up the polymerisation. Since bacteria on food respond to temperature in the same way, consumers can see from the colour of the TTI if the food has been kept too warm for too long. When the inner circle darkens, it means the product is no longer guaranteed fresh. Stores that have been using the technology report that far fewer consumers are returning spoilt products.
Other indicators are being developed to monitor the gases being given off inside frozen food packages to reveal if fish, meat or vegetables are rotten ? perhaps because of a freezer breakdown.
The story goes on to say that the Canadian company Toxin Alert of Mississauga, Ontario, is working on an antibody-coated sandwich wrap that changes colour if the product contains any food-poisoning bugs.
And HortResearch in New Zealand is trialling a package that indicates when squishy fruit like pears are ripe ? so people do not have to handle them to check for ripeness. With so many possibilities, Brody predicts that between 20 to 40 per cent of all food packaging will someday be active.