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Food poisoning caused by strain used in biological weapons
Source of Article:
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _

An American expert is investigating an outbreak of food poisoning in Thailand after a finding that the bacteria that caused it is the same strain used to produce biological weapons, officials said Tuesday. Last week, 143 people suffered stomach pains, vomiting and muscle weakness after eating fermented bamboo shoots at a temple fair in the northern Thai province of Nan, and 39 remain in critical condition, said Prajaya Boonyawongwiroje of the Public Health Ministry. An expert from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is in Nan to investigate the outbreak and has brought 50 doses of anti-toxin serum, said Prajaya, the ministry's acting permanent secretary said. Britain and Canada also have sent serum. The serum is used to cure botulism, a form of food poisoning caused by the clostridium botulinum bacteria, one of several used in biological weapons. Severe cases of botulism can be fatal. Thai officials have given no indication that the food poisoning originated from anything else but contaminated food. Cases of botulism are reported in Thailand and across the world each year. Thai officials say U.S. health experts are eager to study such outbreaks of botulism to strengthen preparedness for biological weapons attacks in the United States.

200 report sickness on cruise to Mexico: Common virus suspected in outbreak; tests planned
March 18, 2006
Cheryl Clark
More than 200 people who returned to San Diego yesterday from a cruise to Mexico reported suffering a highly infectious stomach illness.
Their reports prompted public health officials to alert area physicians that they should expect more cases of the ailment in coming days.
The outbreak occurred aboard the Celebrity Cruise ship Mercury. It was probably caused by a norovirus, an infection spread through commonly touched surfaces containing the stool or vomit of infected people, according to Celebrity Cruises and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It will take several weeks to confirm the infection source through CDC lab tests, but everything is pointing to the norovirus, said David Forney, chief of the CDC's vessel sanitation program.
As of yesterday afternoon, Celebrity Cruises said 191 passengers and 14 crew members had reported having symptoms of the illness.

Toxicological Principles for the Safety Assessment of Direct Food Additives and Color Additives Used in Food
FSIS reissues directive clarifying use of photographs

GIPSA Verifies Performance of Test Kit to Detect Aflatoxin in Corn
Confidentiality arrangement between the FDA and French Health Products Safety Agency
FDA Joins Investigation of Latest BSE Case
David W. Boyer Appointed New Head of FDA's Office of Legislation
Presentations from Meeting on Advances in Post-Harvest Reduction of Salmonella in Poultry
EIAO Assessment of Compliance with the Listeria monocytogenes (LM) Regulation
Verification Procedures for Consumer Safety Inspectors for the Listeria monocytogenes Regulation
BSE; Minimal-risk regions and importation of commodities
National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods
Ante-mortem inspection of horses; Correction

FSIS directives on listeria regulations
March 20, 2006
Herd on the Hill
Edited by Elliotte Bowerman
The FSIS has issued two directives regarding compliance and verification of the Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) regulation as well as an introduction to Phase 2 of the Lm risk-based verification testing program.
Copies of the directives are available at NMA¡¯s Files page

Study Says Americans are Eating Less ¡®Risky Foods¡¯
March 21, 2006
Source of Article:

A new study the says that the number of people who reported eating one or more foods associated with an increased risk of foodborne diseases declined by a third from 1998 to 2002. The study was released today at the International Conference on Emerging Infections

Researchers compared data from two Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) telephone surveys conducted in 1998 and 2002, which asked subjects about the foods they consumed in the previous week. In 1998, 31 percent of those surveyed said they had consumed one or more risky foods in the previous week. In 2002, the number had dropped to 21 percent. ¡°Risky foods¡± were defined as foods commonly associated with an increased risk of foodborne illness. They include

- pink hamburgers
- pink ground beef
- raw fresh fish
- raw oysters
- raw or unpasteurized milk
- runny eggs, and
- alfalfa sprouts.

A working group that included researchers from the California Department of Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Connecticut Emerging Infections Program, the Georgia Division of Public Health, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Oregon Department of Health Services, conducted the study.

Click here for more information

Source of Article:
JAPAN: Authorities confirm the country¡¯s 23rd case of the brain-destroying disease,
the first case in beef cattle.
Japanese authorities have confirmed a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a cow raised in Nagasaki. This is the 23rd case of the disease in the country, and it is the first case in beef cattle in Japan. All the other cases had been in dairy cattle. The cow was a 14-year old Japanese Black cow that had been used for breeding beef cattle. The agriculture ministry has reported that the cow had had 10 calves and some of them had been slaughtered for meat, but it reassured consumers that because BSE is not transmitted from mother to calf, there was no danger to humans.

Japan rejects US calls to end beef ban
March 20, 2006
Agence France Presse English
TOKYO - Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the government spokesman, was cited as telling a news conference Monday that Japan has rejected a US call for the immediate resumption of US beef imports, because Japanese consumers will not buy the meat unless Washington clears concerns over mad cow disease, adding, "Unless safety is firmly secured, imports cannot resume. In the first place, Japanese consumers will not buy it" if Washington fails to prove US beef is safe. "US measures should be considerable enough to get rid of concerns. We need to demand what we need to demand."

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Novel vaccine approach stimulates protective immunity against listeria
March 20, 2006
Harvard Medical School
BOSTON When bacterial pathogens attack the surface of a cell, vaccine-induced antibodies can mount a formidable defense and fend off the bad bugs. The trouble comes when antibodies cannot recognize the pathogen because the bacteria have infected the cell and are hidden, growing inside the cell's wall.
To mount a defense against these cloaked attackers, Darren Higgins, Associate Professor of Microbiology at Harvard Medical School, and H.G. Archie Bouwer, Immunology Research Scientist at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute and Portland VA Medical Center, have developed a vaccine strategy for generating an attenuated strain of an intracellular bacterial pathogen. The study appears in the PNAS online early edition the week of March 20, 2006. The vaccine approach could also protect against other intracellular bacterial pathogens, such as tularemia.
The team has initially applied their strategy to Listeria monocytogenes, which affects the most vulnerable humans the chronically ill, the elderly, pregnant women, and young children, who are susceptible to a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria. In the United States, an estimated 2,500 persons become seriously ill with the infection each year. Of these, 500 die.
After absorption by antigen presenting cells, the attenuated Listeria strain does not replicate, and is readily killed. Unlike other attenuated Listeria strains that do not replicate in host cells, vaccine studies in animals showed that the new strain provided protection from challenge with a virulent, disease-causing, Listeria strain.
"For the first time, an attenuated strain of Listeria that does not replicate in an animal and does not require any manipulation of the bacterium or host prior to immunization still provides protective immunity," Higgins said.
The team found the replication-deficient vaccine strain of Listeria was cleared rapidly in both normal and immunocompromised mice. At the same time, a required class of T-cells ? coordinators of the immune system was stimulated following immunization. As a result, animals immunized with the vaccine strain were resistant to 40 times the lethal dose of virulent Listeria.
"In theory, we could apply this vaccine strategy to other bacterial pathogens like Salmonella," said Higgins. "All we need is to use existing strains that do not replicate inside host cells."
The new Listeria vaccine was based on a 2002 study performed by the Higgins group in which they developed killed E. coli strains as vehicles for delivering antigens to professional antigen presenting cells in the body. In the prior study, Higgins showed that the E. coli-based vaccines protected mice from developing tumors when challenged with melanoma producing cells.
"We have now taken our E. coli-based cancer vaccine work and expanded it into infectious disease areas," Higgins said. "Our Listeria studies demonstrate the potential to generate vaccine strains of bacteria that are effective, yet safe for both healthy and immunocompromised individuals."
The Higgins and Bouwer team is continuing to improve and expand their approach to other intracellular bacteria.

Hand sanitizers, good or bad?
March 21, 2006
New York Times
Deborah Franklin
What started out as an informal classroom experiment at East Tennessee State University has turned up disturbing evidence about some alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers ? the antiseptic gels and foams that have become popular as a quick way to disinfect hands when soap and water aren't available.
The story says that many such sanitizers ? whether a brand name or a generic version ? work well, and are increasingly found in hallway dispensers in hospitals, schools, day care centers and even atop the gangways of cruise ships as one more safeguard against the hand-to-mouth spread of disease. Several studies from such settings have shown that use of the alcohol-based rubs on hands that aren't visibly soiled seems particularly helpful in curbing the spread of bad stomach and intestinal bugs. more information

Naming grocers on tainted meats
March 19, 2006
Washington Farm Report
The Des Moines Register
Philip Brasher
Washington, D.C. ? The Bush administration could, according to this story, be making life tougher for the nation's meatpackers and that's going to sound bizarre to those who think the Agriculture Department is a wholly owned subsidiary of big agribusiness.
The story says that the department is making a proposal that could ratchet up the pressure on processors to ensure that the meat and poultry they sell isn't contaminated with harmful bacteria.
The plan? Start releasing the names of supermarkets where contaminated products have been sold.
Suffice it to say that the executives at Hy-Vee, or Dahl's or Wal-Mart won't be excited to have their company names linked to meat recalls.
What consumer wouldn't think twice about shopping at a store known to have sold potentially tainted meat?
What store wouldn't think twice about buying from a supplier with a record of producing tainted meat?
Ken Kelly of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, was quoted as saying, "Meat processors are going to have to spend more attention and time to make sure they are putting out a safe product. Retailers don't want their names out there."
Beef processors have had a lot of success recently in reducing the incidence of E. coli bacteria. Pressure from USDA after a series of high-profile recalls in 2003 forced packers to significantly increase in-house testing of beef.
The overall number of recalls involving meat and poultry has dropped dramatically as well. There were 53 last year, down from 113 in 2002.
But contamination with Salmonella bacteria remains a problem throughout the industry. USDA's new undersecretary for food safety, Richard Raymond, a former Nebraska physician, has pledged to do something about it.
Changing recall policies might help.
James Dickson, an expert on food safety at Iowa State University, was cited as saying he believes processors are doing about as much as they can to prevent contamination, adding, "It will be interesting to see what happens the first time there's a large outbreak."

Coca-Cola tests soft drinks for benzene
By Chris Mercer
Source of Article:

20/03/2006 - Coca-Cola said it was testing its soft drinks around the world for benzene, as the group sought to reassure consumers that soft drinks were only a very small contributor to daily benzene intake. The soft drinks giant said in a statement it was testing products globally for benzene levels, one month after the US Food and Drug Administration revealed to it had found some drinks containing benzene above the legal limit for water in the US.
Benzene is listed as a known carcinogen, although the FDA assured it did not present an immediate health risk at the levels found to date in drinks. Coca-Cola said it had tested drinks for benzene in the past, and stated ¡°unequivocally that our products are safe¡±. It did not deny some of its drinks contained benzene traces. ¡°Consumers around the world invite us into their lives more than one billion times a day; we take this relationship and responsibility very seriously,¡± the group said.
more information

Bacteria vs. Bacteria: The New Fight Against Salmonella
Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Managing Editor
Sat Mar 18, 9:00 AM ET

Source of Article:
Salmonella and other potentially deadly bacteria in poultry face a new enemy, as scientists develop more effective ways to fight fire with fire. As they've been doing since the 1970s, researchers put "good" bacteria into the chickens on purpose to fight bad bacteria. Now one group has cooked up a culture of the beneficial variety that preliminary studies show is more effective in combating salmonella. The good bacteria is sprayed on chicks or introduced into their water.
It's all okay with the Food and Drug Administration, so long as the bacteria is what researchers call a "defined culture," one that's derived from a single defined group of known bacteria.
"They're known organisms, specific isolates that are well characterized," explained Billy Hargis University of Arkansas's Food Safety Consortium project. more information

New Guidelines Reveal the Complexity of Food Allergy Management
Source of Article:
Newswise ? Allergists representing three organizations developed evidence-based guidelines for food allergy diagnosis and management, which has become more sophisticated and challenging in recent years due to the increase in prevalence of certain food allergies and important scientific developments. The Joint Task Force guidelines, ¡°Food Allergy: A Practice Parameter,¡± are published this month in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). The Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters, representing the ACAAI, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) and the Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (JCAAI), has published 20 practice parameters for the field of allergy-immunology.

¡°The practice parameter on food allergy represents more than 10 years of research and investigation of literature by members of the Joint Task Force,¡± said Jean A. Chapman, M.D., Cape Girardeau, Mo., a chief editor. ¡°Designed to improve patient care, the guidelines provide practicing physicians with an evidence-based, broadly accepted approach to the diagnostic evaluation and management of IgE-mediated (allergic) food reactions.¡± more information

Comprehensive guidance to reduce infection risk from spa pools and whirlpool baths
March 16, 2006
Eurosurveillance editorial team
New guidance on practical measures to reduce the risk of infection has been published in the United Kingdom (UK) for commercial and domestic owners of spa pools (also known as hot tubs) [1,2]. Microbiological hazards associated with the use of poorly maintained spa pools and whirlpool baths are recognised worldwide [3,4].
The warm water temperature, large numbers of bathers compared to water volume, together with other factors in spa pools can provide the perfect conditions for waterborne pathogenic microorganisms to grow, including species of legionella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Mycobacterium avium, other mycobacteria and amoebae. In addition, the air and water jets create an aerosol at head height level, providing ideal conditions for the transmission of legionnaires¡¯ disease if the water contains legionellae. The risk of infection can be greatly reduced if spa pools are properly designed, installed and maintained.
Technical guidance for the prevention and control of travel associated legionnaires¡¯ disease has been published at a European level by the European Working Group for Legionella Infections (EWGLI, [5], and some countries have passed legislation targeting this disease [6,7]. These UK guidelines update and expand upon previous guidance issued in 1994. more information

Woodland raw milk scare has Oregon reviewing its laws
March 14, 2006
The Daily News (WA)
Barbara LaBoe
It is, according to this story, illegal to sell unpasteurized milk without a license in Washington, but Longview residents need only cross the Lewis and Clark Bridge to get raw milk in Oregon, where no license is required for small farms.
That could soon change, though, as Oregon officials review their laws in light of a December E. coli outbreak at a raw milk farm in Woodland.
And those changes could impact Oregonians like Rainier's Tanya Duarte, who sells raw milk from her Jersey cows. She's okay under current law as long as she has three or fewer cows, sells only on farm property and doesn't advertise.
The story says that until recently, Duarte listed her farm on a "Where Can I Find Real Milk Products" webpage of a national raw milk advocacy group.
Is that advertising?
That's one of the things state officials hope to answer when they review their raw milk laws, admitting some are too vague to render an opinion about Duarte's web listing.
Ron McKay, administrator of the food safety division of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, was quoted as saying, "I think those regulations were written before we had (websites)," and that advertising in newspapers or on the radio, though, is banned.
Duarte was cited as saying she didn't consider the website listing advertising, though she took her listing off the website after The Daily News contacted her because she realized she had enough customers, adding, "I'm not supposed to advertise, and that's why I don't have a price (on the milk listing). And I remember checking with the state and them saying the law had too many gray areas to address websites."
McKay was further cited as saying this is one of several raw milk issues his department plans to review in the coming months and that Washington's Dee Creek Farm case -- and the subsequent review in the Legislature -- sparked the review.
Also included will be how cow shares -- sometimes used in an attempt to circumvent bans on raw milk sales -- should be regulated. Cow share programs sell a portion of a cow to a person for a monthly fee. In return, the cow's "owner" receives regular milk.
Woodland's Michael and Anita Puckett -- who produced the E. coli-tainted milk that sickened 18 Dee Creek Farm customers -- said their cow shares program exempted them from Washington's license requirement. State officials disagreed, warning the couple months before the outbreak that they needed a license.
Legislation awaiting the governor's signature strengthens that restriction, providing state inspectors greater access to farms and allowing producers to be charged with a misdemeanor for violations. Similar action could happen in Oregon.
McKay said Ag officials will need to work with the state Attorney General's office to determine their next steps, including whether to approach the Legislature or begin a series of public hearings.
Duarte was cited as saying she wouldn't mind the laws being clearer, but she certainly doesn't want Oregon to follow Washington in requiring a license for all raw milk sales, adding, "That would be bad news, definitely. ¡¦ I just did a lot of research and came to the decision that raw milk is better for you. I think the media does a really good job of scaring people a lot when it's not necessary. And I think people ought to be more informed on both sides."

New Technique Rapidly Detects Harmful Bacteria
By Kristin Bullok

Source of Article:
March 13 - Scientists developed a rapid and efficient way to identify the presence of pathogenic bacteria within an unknown mixture of microbes. Using this sequencing-based method, the research team successfully distinguished between two closely related microbes -- a pathogenic soil bacterium and an anthrax bacterium. This new method should advance the study of microbes in the environment and improve the ability to distinguish between benign and harmful bacteria.

The multistep process, described in the March 2006 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, involves mixing various bacterial DNA with a specific enzyme capable of cutting the DNA into short segments. Creating short DNA segments allows for specific tagging and rapid sequencing of the pieces, resulting in the identification of each unique bacterium in the mixture. The more traditional technique of culturing bacterial populations involves more time and may favor the detection of certain bacteria over others.

A number of National Research Council reports discuss the need to rapidly identify microbes. Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism says it is necessary to develop rapid and sensitive techniques to detect harmful microbes in the environment. Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response calls for a global effort to address emerging infectious diseases and provides a set of recommendations for responding to the threat. Indicators for Waterborne Pathogens recommends improving current microbe detection methods and highlights the promise of using DNA-based techniques to determine the presence of pathogenic microbes in water.

Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism (2002)
Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response (2003)
Indicators for Waterborne Pathogens (2004)
Other Sources:
"Use of Single-Point Genome Signature Tags as a Universal Tagging Method for Microbial Genome Surveys" in Applied and Environmental Microbiology
U.S. Department of Energy's Microbial Genome Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Preventing Emerging Infectious Diseases: A Strategy for the 21st Century