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USDA Under Secretary Dr. Elsa Murano talks to MeatNews about recalls, HACCP, and the future direction of food safety.

Source of Article: http://www.meatnews.com/
USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano recently sat down with MeatNews to discuss current issues that the meat industry is facing.

MeatNews:Recently USDA office of the inspector general came out with two reports critical of USDAs handling of the 2002 Listeria in ready-to-eat poultry and the bovine spongiform surveillance plan. What is your response

Murano: During a recall, the job of compliance officers is to conduct effectiveness checks to be sure the consignees are informed and the product is retrieved and a records are kept so that all of the product is accounted for and all of the appropriate people are notified down the retail level.

The inspector general had some ideas on how this could be done better. One was to make sure the documentation was detailed enough so that if the inspector general conducted an audit, it will be easy for them to see how well we conducted our effectiveness check.

In my opinion, the 2002 recall involved something that never happened before ?FSIS collaborated very closely with CDC in an epidemiological investigation where CDC concentrated on the victims and we concentrated on what plants and products were involved. This was unprecedented and we worked together to successfully identify the plants. As I recall, there were a lot of different products that could have been involved but weren. If CDC jumped the gun products that weren contaminated could have been recalled and the outbreak would not have been stopped.

Effectiveness checks could have been done more efficiently at that time (2002). We identified this through our (FSIS) Program Evaluation, Enforcement, and Review office. We improved how we carried out those checks that we had all of the right information and completed it in as timely a manner as possible. In our Fulfilling the Visions publication, we listed the improvements we have made in our effectiveness check procedures that we do during a recall. We identified the areas where we needed to improve and we made those improvements.

When we conducted the Class Two recall last December to recover the meat from the BSE-infected cow, the effectiveness checks were much more efficient than those in the 2002 recall.

Similarly, the inspector general office identified areas in the BSE surveillance program that needed to be improved. The inspector general had several recommendations and identified certain areas that needed improvement.

The OIG reports are useful in identifying areas that need improving. Where we take some exception is when the OIG makes recommendations on how to fix the problems it finds. These people (OIG staff members) are auditors and not scientists or statisticians or experts in disease or microbiology. What USDA tries to do is identify what we think will fix the deficiencies identified in the OIG report.

We sometimes differ with the OIG auditors want to do. In my experience as Under Secretary for Food Safety, when we put into place solutions to food safety problems that a lot of times differed from what OIG wanted to do the result has been decreases in the incidence of food-borne illnesses that weve seen today, especially reduction in E. coli O157:H7 illnesses -- a 36 percent reduction in one year. We have cut the number of recalls in half and broke the cycle of multi-million-pound recalls. We have had one every year between 1997 and 2003. Last year, 2003 was the first year that we didnt have a multi-million-pound recall. This is very significant. We identified problems and found solutions that actually worked.

MN: To what specifically do you attribute the reductions inE. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella contamination?

Murano: We know the majority of illnesses caused by E. coliO157:H7 is due to undercooked ground beef. Therefore, I attribute the reduction in illnesses caused by E. coliO157:H7 to three things.

First and foremost is the reassessment of the HACCP plans in facilities that make ground beef to determine if E. coliO157:H7 in their operation was a hazard reasonably likely to occur. In years past, conventional wisdom was that E. coliO157:H7 was rare in a beef plant. But, recently it has become more prevalent. When the plants did their reassessments, they found that E. coliO157:H7 was a hazard reasonably likely to occur and they changed their HACCP plan accordingly. Second, for the first time, FSIS was able to conduct audits of the HACCP reassessments with the correct team of experts people who were specifically trained in the science of HACCP. The audits helped the industry with an assessment that would be a second pair of eyes with the scientific knowledge to say Lets look at this again.This never happened before because of the lack of knowledge about HACCP.

Third, we have placed emphasis on training our inspectors. We started a very extensive training of our inspectors in food safety regulatory essentials. This will give us consistently trained inspectors and consistent enforcement action. Our supervisors are also better trained on supervision.

For Listeria, the final rule that we published was based on a risk assessment of the risk of Listeria in processing plant that made ready-to-eat products. It was a long time in the making. This was during the Pilgrims Pride recall and we were under pressure to do something.?We resisted until the risk assessment was completed which showed us the most effective way to reduce -- if not eliminate -- Listeria in a plant was not by testing the environment but by applying post-processing treatments or by having a Listeria-inhibiting substance in the formulation.

It changed the behavior of a lot of plants. We just completed a survey that shows a lot of companies have changed their operations which has contributed to a reduction in Listeria contamination.

For Salmonella, we had a performance standard where if a plant tested positive three times, there were consequences. This goes against HACCP. Testing should only be used for verification. Now, if we have one positive sample, we conduct an in-depth investigation to determine where the control was lost.

The big picture is the injection of scientific principles, risk assessment, sound training, and fixing HACCP have contributed to the declines in food-borne illnesses.

MN: Do you see further decreases in food-borne illnesses?

Murano: We havent reached the bottom yet. Our Visions of the Future document talks about some of the initiatives we have in mind. One is the hazard coefficient concept. It looks at universe of meat and poultry processing plants in the United States and be able to categorize those plants according to the products they make and according to how well they comply with food safety requirements. The plants that produce the riskiest products but arent doing a good job in terms of food safety are the plants that FSIS will concentrate on.

Also, the industry will be able to look at it and say: We as an industry can target our programs to help get those plants out of that quadrant and into the quadrant with high food safety compliance.

MN: You've stated that HACCP must be science- based and flexible. Explain.

Murano: Science-based in the sense of it being based on risk and knowing the risk through risk assessment. What is the risk in a food or in a given situation HACCP has seven principles. Perhaps, there needs to be an eighth validation of the processes in place at the critical control points. Some companies dont validate the processes that they use in their plants. They take a process someone else is using and put it into place in their plant. They need to validate that that process works in their plant with their product.

This is where flexibility comes in. We need to look back and say maybe there is something that need to be tweaked or added or teased out. Science evolves in terms of the information we receive. There may be a new bacteria or a bacteria develops a way to survive a treatment. This is also flexibility. You need to keep up with the science of food safety and not be so rigid that you think you have done your HACCP plan and dont need to revisit it again.

MN: How are you involving the meat industry in consumer education of food safety?

Murano: Food safety education is very important. The consumer or food preparer is the final link in the food safety chain. The meat industry has a role to play. The processors can support organizations such as the Partnership for Food Safety Education with their time and ideas so those who have more direct contact with consumers, such as retailers, can deliver the food safety message more effectively. Also, the packaging of products disseminates the food safety message.

We have launched an aggressive food safety campaign. It is an up-hill battle because consumers are exposed to so much information everyday and sometimes they dont realize what is important. We have done events in key cities with celebrities, such as Wynonna Judd. We try to catch the medias attention.

The Food Safety Mobile has worked well. It gives us a person-to-person contact. People see it and say Here is the federal government coming to bring a message to me. I better pay attention.But, we only have one vehicle and it's a big country. I wish we had a fleet of them. We have done surveys that show the Food Safety Mobile really gets the message across.

We have started a pilot program where we educate community leaders PTA, soccer moms --creating a multiplier effect in educating other members of the community. We call them the Boom-Burgs baby-boomers that live in the suburbs.
Web posted: July 23, 2004

Salmonella: Strategic, stealthy invasion
By Jennifer Bails
Friday, July 16, 2004
Source of Article: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/trib/news/s_203683.html

Salmonella bacteria aren't just dangerous to your health -- they're sneaky, too.
Most harmful bacteria that enter the body are killed almost immediately. But when salmonella invade the cells lining the human intestine, they form fatty bubbles to protect themselves from being destroyed.

Microbiologist Jorge Galan and his colleagues at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., have determined how salmonella pull off this remarkable survival feat.

The bacteria, they reported last month in Science, have a small, syringe-like device on the outside of their cells called a Type III secretion system.

The "mini-syringe" is used by salmonella to inject special proteins into the outside layer of intestine cells, Galan said. The proteins trick the cells of the digestive tract into swallowing the salmonella bacteria and stashing them away in special compartments.

"Salmonella is an extremely sophisticated creature," Galan said. "These bacteria don't enter your intestinal cells by brute force. They do it in a careful manner using this absolutely wonderful syringe."

Once salmonella have bamboozled their way inside the intestine, they wield their tiny syringes again. This time, the bacteria inject proteins into the outside membrane of the compartments where they are being stored, Galan said. This prevents the compartments from being recognized by the body's defense mechanisms; therefore, the salmonella have a safe place to live and grow -- and possibly cause food poisoning or even typhoid fever. Galan's discovery of the role of the Type III secretion system in salmonella infection could lead to new therapeutic strategies for treating bacterial illness.

"Many companies are looking for drugs that will inhibit the 'syringe,' which could cripple the bacteria and eventually make it harmless," Galan said. He acknowledged that most people don't know they have ingested salmonella until they become ill. By then, disabling the bacterial "syringe" won't stop food poisoning or other illness from setting in, but it could help infected people to get better more quickly.

Report: USDA regulatory policy has been¡°hijacked¡± by agribusiness industry
July 23, 2004
Press Release
Omaha, --A new report released today finds that regulatory policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been ¡°hijacked¡± by the agribusiness industry, which has seen to it that many key policymaking positions at the agency are now held by individuals who previously worked for the industry.
The report, titled USDA INC., was commissioned by the Agribusiness Accountability Initiative (AAI), a network of family-farm and public-interest groups concerned about the growing power of the big agri-food corporations. It is being released today at a conference in Omaha sponsored by the Organization for Competitive Markets. The report can be found online after 9am Eastern Time at . ¡°In its early days, USDA was known as the People¡¯s Department,¡± said Fred Stokes of the Organization for Competitive Markets, which first proposed the paper. ¡°Today, it is, in effect, the Agribusiness Industry¡¯s Department, since its policies on issues such as food safety and fair market competition have been shaped to serve the interests of the giant corporations that now dominate food production and distribution.¡± ¡°It is not surprising that USDA is slavishly following the agenda of agribusiness when you consider who holds many of the top jobs at the Department,¡± said Philip Mattera, Director of the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First and author of the report. ¡°The upper ranks of USDA are filled with industry veterans, while people formerly associated with family-farm, consumer or public-interest groups are just about nowhere to be found.¡±
In addition to working directly for agribusiness companies such as ConAgra and Campbell Soup, top USDA officials came to the Department from industry trade associations (such as the Food Marketing Institute) and producer groups (such as the National Cattlemen¡¯s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council), which are closely aligned with big processing companies and are partially funded by them. Even Secretary Ann Veneman, who has spent most of her career as a public official, has a past industry connection: she served on the board of directors of Calgene Inc., a biotechnology company that was later taken over by Monsanto. ¡°It¡¯s difficult to avoid the conclusion that agribusiness has packed USDA with its people,¡± said Peter O'Driscoll of the Center of Concern, coordinator and co-sponsor of AAI.
The report illustrates the hijacking of USDA policymaking through five case studies: ¡¤ USDA¡¯s refusal to adopt strict safety and testing measures for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), despite the appearance of a case in Washington State last year. ¡¤ USDA¡¯s refusal to vigorously enforce rules against anti-competitive practices in the cattle industry, despite the growing tendency of the big meatpacking companies to force independent ranchers into so-called captive supply arrangements.
¡¤ USDA¡¯s promotion of weakened slaughterhouse inspection practices in the face of a resurgence of health hazards such as E.coli bacteria and listeria. The Department also continues to promote dubious ¡°solutions¡± such as irradiation. ¡¤ USDA¡¯s continuing boosterism for agricultural biotechnology, despite a lack of consumer acceptance and the plunge in exports due to international resistance to genetically modified crops. ¡¤ USDA¡¯s support for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), despite the growing evidence of serious public health effects of these factory farms. The Department has also supported the misguided policy of using conservation dollars to subsidize the futile attempts of CAFOs solve their manure problems.
In each of these cases, the report notes the presence of industry veterans among the chief officials responsible for adopting or maintaining these questionable policies.
The report concludes with a set of recommendations on how to begin loosening the grip of agribusiness on USDA¡¯s policies. These include: ¡¤ Reappraisal of ethics rules to prevent government officials from overseeing policies that directly affect the interest of their former employers; ¡¤ Enhancement of Congressional oversight over regulatory appointees; ¡¤ Evaluation of whether USDA can continue to serve both as a promoter of U.S. agricultural products and a regulator of food safety; and ¡¤ Further research on revolving-door conflicts of interest at USDA. Progress on these measures, the report argues, will begin to turn USDA Inc. back into an arm of government that represents the public interest. The report was commissioned by a working group of the Agribusiness Accountability Initiative. The following working group members helped research and edit the paper:
Scotty Johnson, Defenders of Wildlife
Ben Lilliston, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Patty Lovera, Public Citizen
Larry Mitchell, American Corn Growers Association
Peter O¡¯Driscoll, Center of Concern
Mark Smith, Farm Aid
Fred Stokes, Organization for Competitive Markets

BAX¢ç Receives Worldwide Approval for the Detection of Food-Borne Pathogens

The DuPont Qualicon BAX¢ç system (available from Oxoid Limited) has met with approval all over the world for the detection of food-borne pathogens in a variety of foods. Receiving acknowledgment and certification from some of the world's toughest regulatory bodies, the BAX* system is being increasingly recognised as a valuable tool for quality assurance in the food and associated industries.

The globally recognised AOAC International has certified the BAX¢ç system as an Official Method for the detection of Salmonella (2003.09) and Listeria monocytogenes (2003.12). In addition, the AOAC Research Institute has awarded Performance Tested Method status to the BAX¢ç system for the detection of Salmonella (100201), Listeria monocytogenes (070202) and E. coli O157:H7 (010401).

In the United States, the BAX¢ç system has been adopted by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for the detection of Salmonella in raw meat and poultry, along with ready-to-eat meat, poultry and pasteurized eggs (MLG 4C.00), and for the detection of Listeria monocytogenes in meat and poultry (MLG 8A.00).

Health Canada has approved the BAX¢ç system in Canada as an analytical method for detecting Salmonella (MFLP-29), Listeria monocytogenes (MFLP-28) E. coli O157:H7 (MFLP-30) and Enterobacter sakazakii (MFLP-27).

The BAX¢ç system has also received AFNOR certification in France for the detection of Salmonella (QUA 18/3 - 11/02) and, in Scandinavia, has been validated and certified as an alternative microbiological method by NordVal for the detection of Salmonella in all foods and animal feed (NV-doc.1-2004-01-01). Furthermore, the BAX¢ç system has been approved for sale by the Ministry of Agriculture in Brazil for the detection of Salmonella, Listeria and L. monocytogenes in all food, environmental and carcass samples, and for the detection of E. coli O157 in beef, poultry and pork.

The BAX¢ç system is a genetics-based, automated testing platform for the rapid detection of food-borne pathogens. BAX¢ç system assays are available for Salmonella, Listeria spp, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 and Enterobacter sakazakii.

Salmonella Cases Spread to Five States

Source of Article: http://www.csnews.com/
JULY 26, 2004 -- PITTSBURGH -- Pennsylvania health authorities released results of a study Friday indicating that Roma tomatoes were the likely cause of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 280 people in five states, reported the Associated Press.

No tests have pinpointed the cause, but food histories of those who ate at Sheetz convenience stores and got sick -- and those who ate there and didn't get sick -- indicate that the tomatoes were the likely source, said Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for the state Health Department.

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that 289 people from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia have been sickened since July 2.

Hundreds of samples of tomatoes and lettuce from Sheetz have been tested. Only tests on an unopened bag of tomatoes were positive for salmonella, but not the strain responsible for the recent outbreak.

On Friday, state officials said they were testing additional food samples, but McGarvey cautioned that it would not be not unusual if the direct cause were not found. "What oftentimes happens is that what's been contaminated is used up," McGarvey said.

Those who got sick ingested a strain of salmonella usually found on produce, and all those sickened in Pennsylvania bought sandwiches from one of at least 16 Sheetz stores, company officials have said.

"The results announced today reinforce that it is safe to eat at Sheetz," said Steve Sheetz, chairman of the Altoona, Pa.-based company, in a statement Friday night. He added that the company removed the tomatoes before being asked to do so by the health department.

The supplier of the Roma tomatoes, Wheeling, W.Va.-based Coronet Foods, has said that tests turned up no contamination at its processing plant, but suspended purchasing and processing of the tomatoes.

FDA Investigates Certain ROMA Tomatoes as Source of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Mid-Atlantic States

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several state health and agricultural agencies, is focusing on certain pre-sliced tomatoes as the likely source of Salmonellosis in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Since July 2, 2004, 289 cases of Salmonella have been reported in these states. Many appear to be related to pre-sliced Roma tomatoes purchased at deli counters in Sheetz Gas Stations between July 2nd through July 9th based on epidemiological investigation of the Salmonella cases.

Salmonella is an organism which causes serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e. infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis.

FDA continues its close collaboration with the CDC, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and other authorities to identify the source of the current outbreak of Salmonella and help prevent any further spread of these outbreaks.

Individuals who believe they may have experienced the same symptoms of illness after consuming sandwiches from this company are urged to contact their local health department.

USDA BSE Test Results
FDA Issues Alert on Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic States
FDA Investigates Certain ROMA Tomatoes as Source of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks
FDA commends passage of food allergen labeling

Federal Measures to Mitigate BSE Risks: Considerations for Further Action
PCDD/PCDF Exposure Estimates
Final Report: Japan-United States BSE Working Group
Federal Measures to Mitigate BSE Risks: Considerations for Further Action
Statement By Dr. Peter Fernandez Of The Animal And Plant Health Inspection Service
Food Safety and Inspection Service Honors Scientist With Food Safety Achievement Award
Metabolife, Founder Indicted for Lying to FDA about Ephedra Risks
Improved Consumer Protection and Incentives for Animal Drug Development
USDA And HHS Strengthen Safeguards Against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Food Safety While Hiking, Camping & Boating

Current Outbreaks
07/27. Source of Pennsylvania salmonella outbreak could prove tough
07/27. E. coli outbreak closes camp: Partially cooked hamburger fin
07/27. Salmonella Cases Spread to Five States
07/27. [UK] Mayonnaise linked to salmonella outbreak
07/27. Salmonella cases reach 260 in state
07/27. E. coli second case
07/27. Boy, 12, in Toronto hospital after E. coli outbreak sickens 23
07/27. Food poisoning ruins reunion
07/27. Durham Caterer Charged In Connection With Food Poisoning
07/27. One man died and 30 were hospitalized of food poisoning in t
07/27. [Pakistan] 18 faint due to food poisoning in Pano Aqil
07/26. E. coli O157, butcher shop - UK (Durham)
07/26. Vibrio vulnificus in Taiwan
07/25. FDA Issues Alert on Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic States
07/24. FDA Investigates Certain ROMA Tomatoes s Source of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks
07/23. E. Coli O157, cantaloupes - USA (Montana)
07/23. Listeriosis, cluster - USA (Virginia)
07/23. Salmonellosis - Ireland (county down)

Current New Methods
07/27. Municipalities on surface water step up water treatment syst
07/27. Bacteria's worst nightmare
07/26. New Celsis CellScan Innovate¢â Rapid Microbial Screening for Dairy Industry
07/26. Improved Haemolysis Test For Listeria Identification
07/26. New Software for Microbiology Test Management
07/21. Technology may provide protection from smuggled meats
07/21. Product of the week
07/21. Putting pathogen detection in the palm of your hand
07/21. Comprehensive Sampling Manual Now Available
07/16. USDA Study Shows that Matrix-Pathatrix System is Key to E.coli O157 Testing
07/14. BAX¢ç Receives Worldwide Approval for the Detection of Food-Borne Pathogens

Current Food Safety Informaiton
07/27. Teen finds different kind of roach in food
07/27. Suit claims man found maggots in Denny's milk in Norfolk, Va
07/27. "Plain language" book protects kids from nut allergy
07/27. Advisory - Health Canada advises consumers not to use produc
07/27. Chemical safety - dioxins
07/27. Vets support food safety
07/27. BSE update
07/27. In defense of the U.S. BSE program
07/27. FSIS honors Dr. Dell Allen with food safety achievement awar
07/27. New York lawmaker has beef with butcher inspections
07/27. Food safety fact sheets: E. coli O157:H7; Barbeque; Hiking
07/27. Food quality and safety - call for IPs and NoEs
07/27. Food quality and safety - call for STREPs, CAs and SSAs
07/27. Food quality and safety - call for specific support actions
07/27. Inconclusive Test Result Should not Cause Consumer Concern
07/27. Judicial review urges reform in Ontario meat industry
07/27. AMI Launches a New Web site: Meatsafety.org
07/27. Seafood allergies affect 1 in 50 adults
07/27. Celiac Disease Officially Earned a Spot in Mainstream Americ
07/27. Cleaners take on peanut allergen
07/27. Mad cow linked to 1 death: report
07/27. U.S., Japan could be near deal to end Tokyo's ban on U.S. be
07/27. State may take steps to thwart import of chronic wasting dis
07/27. Infectious Vibrio bacteria transmitted through salt water
07/27. Simple Tips Can Help Prevent Listeria
07/27. Dr. Elsa Murano talks to MeatNews about recalls, HACCP, and
07/27. Salmonella: Strategic, stealthy invasion
07/27. What's on your plate?
07/27. Take steps to avoid food-borne woes
07/27. Reminder from the Partnership for Food Safety Education: To
07/27. Food Safety: While vacationing, stay on the road to food saf
07/27. Japan asks qualifications of food handlers
07/27. Safe food-handling is focus of workshop
07/27. [UK] Council Awards Cheshunt Marriott Hotel with Silver Good
07/27. [Ireland] Labour calls for regulation of food safety consult
07/27. Perchlorate Threat Looms For Farmers

07/26. Activist group report rips USDA for cozy industry ties
07/26. NCFST to hold food safety workshop in August
07/26. Tokyo talks conclude; Japan expected to drop 100 percent BSE
07/26. U.S. study supports reopening border to live Canadian cattle
07/26. Beef groups to press USDA for private BSE tests
07/26. Farmers and consumers want action: Food safety must be top p
07/26. FSANZ issues advice to fructose intolerant people to avoid n
07/26. Beyond HACCP

07/25. Report: USDA regulatory policy has been¢® hijacked¢® by agribus
07/25. Flies and campylobacter infection of broiler flocks
07/25. USDA statement on U.S.-Japan BSE talks
07/25. The pork quality and food safety summit and antimicrobial re
07/25. New AMI-sponsored web site: Meatsafety.org
07/25. Implement recommendations on meat inspection, OPSEU urges
07/25. Report calls for new food agency

07/24. What is Escherichia coli O157:H7?
07/24. Editor¡¯s Note: Organic Food Safety
07/24. US - Food and Wine Reviews and News
07/24. FDA commends passage of food allergen labeling
07/24. New Review - Pathogens on Fresh and Prepared Produce

07/23. U.S., Japan Compromise On Mad Cow Tests
07/23. Prior Notice of Imported Food
07/23. 100 Percent Testing for BSE Not Justified,says Meat and P
07/23. U.S.-Japan BSE Working Group talks conclude
07/23. US-Japan BSE Discussions
07/23. Second possible UK case of vCJD transfer via blood
07/23. Food allergen labeling bill passed
07/23. Irradiation of food
07/23. Ont. needs better enforcement of food safety: report
07/23. Food safety a government priority since day one

07/22. Food Safety While Hiking, Camping & Boating
07/22. FDA Alerts Consumers Not to Feed Infants Chinese Infant Formula
07/22. FAO and INEA sign agreement to promote food security in the
07/22. Fear of catching mad cow disease overblown: study
07/22. No epidemic predicted
07/22. NFPA applauds passage of Food Allergen Labeling Legislationb
07/22. The continual challenge of emerging infectious diseases

Current Recall Information

Bacteria's worst nightmare

By Jennifer Bails
Saturday, July 24, 2004
Source of Article: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/trib/news/s_204971.html

Imagine a brave new world where self-cleaning countertops keep themselves free of salmonella, E. coli and other nasty bugs.
No more stockpiling an arsenal of antibacterial sprays to wipe down your kitchen or wondering where your medium-rare cheeseburger was hanging out before the waiter brought it to your table.

Such a world would be a germophobe's dream and a bacterium's worst nightmare -- and scientists at PPG Industries Inc. and Penn State University are working to make it a reality.

Researchers at Pittsburgh-based PPG's Coatings Laboratory in Hampton are working with Penn State environmental engineer Bruce Logan to design a surface treatment for counter tops that has the power both to repel bacteria and to kill them on contact.

In a country fixated on hygiene, where even toothbrushes and toys are stamped with an antibacterial label, germ-killing counter tops would have tremendous commercial potential, PPG senior scientist David Diehl said.

More important, this technology could help to stave off disease caused by food-borne contaminants such as this month's salmonellosis outbreak linked to Roma tomatoes at Sheetz convenience stores.

Salmonellosis causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. It lasts up to 10 days, but is rarely fatal.

Nationwide, 76 million people suffer from food-borne illness such as this each year, accounting for 325,000 hospitalizations and more than 5,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Diehl said it's impossible to speculate whether antibacterial counter tops would have prevented the Sheetz outbreak, which so far has sickened 249 people in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, and possibly 38 more people in Maryland and Virginia.

It's clear, though, that unsanitary food preparation areas represent a serious health problem that could be solved, at least in part, by using antimicrobial coatings, Diehl said.

"If you have a food preparation area, and you think you've cleaned it, the truth of the matter is if you go back in and take swabs, the bacteria are still there," Diehl said. "We're trying to address this as best we can with our coatings technology."

Here's how it would work. First, the food preparation surface would be treated with an antimicrobial coating thinner than 1/80,000th of the diameter of a human hair.

Once applied to the surface, the coating's attack on bacteria would be two-fold: The coating would combine with ultraviolet rays from a fluorescent bulb to produce electronically charged particles that destroy any bacterial cells they contact, Logan said.

Also, the photoactivated coating would be chemically unfriendly to the bacteria so they are less likely to stick to the surface in the first place, Logan said.

Diehl wouldn't speculate about when the antimicrobial counters might be available to buy or discuss specifics about the coating chemistry because he said PPG hasn't received a patent yet.

U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods, is working to secure a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help PPG and Penn State accelerate the development of this technology and bring it to market as quickly as possible.

"It's something that is so new and so cutting edge that it deems us looking at it, especially in light of the recent (salmonellosis outbreak)," Hart said.

Hart also is seeking an additional $400,000 from the USDA for expanded research to control and prevent food-borne bacterial disease.

Some of these dollars could be put toward research into antimicrobial coatings that are applied either directly to your food or to its packaging, rather than to the countertop.

For example, Catherine Cutter, a food safety expert in Penn State's Department of Food Science, is working on how to incorporate proteins with natural germ-destroying properties into the plastic packaging of ready-to-eat meat products such as hot dogs and bologna.

This could help to kill dangerous bacteria that can get stuck in the crevices of food packaging machinery and find their way back into meat after it is cooked and before it is wrapped, Cutter said. These antimicrobial proteins also could be used in the packaging of raw meat, Cutter said.

In addition, Cutter is testing new antimicrobial substances that could be added to the meat "batter" before it is cooked, and she is exploring whether bathing packaged meat in boiling water could kill bacteria.

"We've been demonstrating that these technologies work, and they are all things that processors could do to help control (bacteria)," Cutter said.

Yet, scientists agree the use of antibacterial coatings -- whether applied to food, plastic wrap or kitchen fixtures -- will still be just one of the many precautions food handlers must take to prevent food-borne contamination.

Even in a world with germ-killing counter tops, you will still have to wash your hands.