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FDA names and shames over benzene in soft drinks
By Chris Mercer
Source of Article:

22/05/2006 - Five US soft drinks were found containing the cancer-causing chemical benzene at levels above the legal limit for drinking water, America¡¯s food safety watchdog has announced, sparking calls for more thorough testing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demanded reformulation after tests on more than 100 drinks found four contaminated with benzene above the World Health Organisation's (WHO) 10 parts per billion limit for benzene in drinking water.
The offenders were batches of Safeway Select Diet Orange, AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water, Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange and Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail. A fifth drink, Crush Pineapple, had benzene above the US' five parts per billion water limit. Benzene is a known carcinogen, although authorities have set no specific limit for it in soft drinks. The FDA has been under pressure to release results of its tests on soft drinks since one of its own scientists first revealed to in February that some drinks had been found contaminated with benzene above water limit. The news prompted testing on drinks in several countries, and recently led to the recall of four drinks contaminated with benzene in the UK. All authorities have assured there was no health risk to consumers. The suspected source of benzene is a reaction between two common ingredients in drinks: benzoate preservatives and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Erythorbic acid and citric acid are also thought to play a similar role to ascorbic acid, and the reaction is enhanced if drinks are exposed to higher temperatures. Both the FDA and the US soft drinks association have known this for 15 years, an investigation by found earlier this year. Top drinks, including those owned by Cadbury Schweppes, were reformulated after private industry testing in late 1990 revealed a problem. No public statement was ever made, with the FDA allowing industry to ¡°get the word out¡±. Now, the re-emergence of that problem indicates a communication breakdown in industry and government, although the FDA re-iterated Friday that there was no risk to consumers' health from benzene levels found so far in drinks. The FDA added it intended to test more drinks for benzene in the near future. It was unclear whether it had tested drinks after exposing them to heat. Lawyer Ross Getman criticised the agency for not testing enough ¡®high risk' drinks. Getman and a former food scientist for the soft drinks industry, Larry Alibrandi, re-alerted the FDA to the ongoing presence of benzene in drinks last autumn. The two men sent the FDA independent lab tests they commissioned, which showed two drinks with benzene above the WHO water limit. The FDA made no mention of these drinks on Friday. The drinks, BellyWashers 2/3 Less Sugar, made by In Zone Brands, and Polar Diet Orange, made by Polar Beverages, have since been hit by lawsuits in the US over alleged benzene content. Lawsuits have also been filed against PepsiCo and Talking Rain drinks groups.

The FDA said in its statement on Friday that all the producers of affected drinks had agreed to reformulate. The American Beverage Association said it was sending out a new guidance document across the industry on how to minimise benzene in drinks. ¡°Repeated reviews by the FDA over the years continue to turn up the same answer: there is no threat to the health of consumers,¡± it said. Michael Knowles, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at Coca-Cola Europe, said soft drinks makers had learnt to control benzene formation. Consumers must understand, he added, that sodium benzoate's strong ability to kill off bacteria in drinks hugely outweighed the risks.
Other scientists were not so sure, however.
¡°What are we to tell consumers? ¡®Product contains cancer-causing substance, drink immediately, do not store in a warm environment or near sunlight?' Preferably benzoate should not be used in combination with Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or added juice,¡± said a scientist involved in industry testing for benzene 15 years ago. Glen Lawrence, a scientist who helped the FDA understand the chemical reaction in drinks back then, agreed that sodium benzoate and vitamin C should not be used together.¡°It is really very easy to avoid the problem,¡± he said.

Bio-Rad's RAPID'E. coli 2TM Agar Granted Performance Tested Method Status by AOAC Research Institute

RAPID'E. coli 2 agar (REC2), manufactured by Bio-Rad Laboratories, was granted Performance Tested Method status by the AOAC Research Institute (certificate # 050601). REC2 is a chromogenic medium for detection and enumeration of E. coli and other coliform bacteria in food in 24 hours. REC2 is a rapid method producing accurate and easy-to-read results. Current methods for enumeration of E. coli and coliform bacteria can be costly and laborious. The use of chromogenic substrates in media has lead to development of faster and easier methods for detection, differentiation and enumeration of target bacteria.

REC2 is validated for enumeration of E. coli and other coliform bacteria in raw ground beef, raw boneless pork, fermented sausage, processed ham, processed turkey, frozen turkey breast, raw ground chicken, cottage cheese, processed ricotta cheese, unpasteurized raw milk, and dry infant formula. REC2 is validated at two incubation temperatures, 37¡ÆC and 44¡ÆC (cottage cheese and processed ricotta cheese are only validated at 37¡ÆC only).

The principle of REC2 medium relies on simultaneous detection of two enzymatic activities, Beta-D-Glucuronidase (GLUC) and Beta-D-Galactosidase (GAL). The medium contains two chromogenic substrates. One substrate is specific to GAL and results in blue green coloration of colonies positive for this enzyme and one substrate is specific to GLUC and results in violet coloration of colonies positive for this enzyme. Coliforms, other than E. coli, (GAL+/GLUC-) form blue to green colonies while, specifically, E. coli (GAL+/GLUC+) form violet colonies. A count of total coliforms can be obtained by adding the number of blue colonies and the number of violet colonies. Differentiation of coliforms and specifically E. coli is carried out by observing a simple color change reaction. Observation of gas bubbles for differentiation is not necessary.

REC2 is available in two formats, dehydrated media (Item # 356-4024) or ready-to-use bottled media (Item # 355-5299). For more information, please visit or call (800) 4BIORAD.

Source of Article: Northwest Food Processors Food Safety News
May 22, 2006
The USDA¡¯s Economic Research Service (ERS) has developed an online Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator. The Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator provides information on the assumptions behind foodborne illness cost estimates and gives the user a chance to make their own assumptions and calculate their own cost estimates.
Source: Institute of Food Technologists 5/17/06

Beverage Safety
May 19, 2006
Source of Article:

Food Products Association Says FDA Test Results for Benzene in Beverages ¡°Demonstrate the Safety of the U.S Beverage Supply¡±
(Washington, D.C.) ? Commenting on the release of test results for benzene in various beverages, issued today by the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Craig Henry, Senior Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Science Officer for the Food Products Association (FPA), made the following comments:
¡°The FDA¡¯s test results demonstrate the safety of the U.S. beverage supply. According to FDA, the results of their survey indicate that the levels of benzene found in soft drinks and other beverages do not pose a safety concern for consumers.

¡°The beverage industry will continue to work proactively to minimize the formation of benzene in beverages. Beverage companies have reviewed and tested their products, and in some cases already have reformulated products to minimize benzene formation. Additionally, guidance for companies on how to minimize benzene formation has been developed by the industry. Together, these actions will further reduce the already low levels of benzene found in some beverages.
¡°The food industry works hard to ensure the safety of food products for consumers. FDA¡¯s test results are good news for consumers, demonstrating that they can purchase and enjoy beverages with confidence in their safety.¡±

Chemicals in baby food surveyed
Thursday 18 May 2006
The Agency has today published a survey into levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in 208 samples of baby food and infant milk formula on sale in the UK at the time of sampling. Overall levels found were very low or undetectable and do not pose a health concern for babies or infants.
PAHs are a group of about 250 related chemical compounds, some of which can be harmful to human health at high levels. PAHs are found in the environment because they are produced when fossil fuels are burnt. They are also in tobacco smoke and vehicle exhaust emissions.
As PAHs are in the air, they get into the soil and therefore into plants and animals, and PAHs in the sea get into fish. This means that PAHs are present at low levels in most foods.
The survey was carried out in advance of new European Union (EU) regulations that came into force on 1 April 2005. The regulations include baby foods and infant formulae, for which the limit is set at 1 microgram/kg or one part per billion. The results of the survey showed that no samples would have exceeded the limits set by the new regulations and the vast majority were well below permitted levels.
The purpose of the survey was to assess the PAH concentrations in the products and the level of exposure babies and infants might have to the contaminants, as well as to compare the results with the newly introduced EU limits.

Key facts from the survey
111 samples of commercial baby foods and 97 samples of infant formula obtained from across the UK were tested for 15 PAHs. Most PAHs were not detected in the majority of samples.
No samples were above the maximum permitted level of 1 microgram/kg and most were substantially lower.
In 78 samples (74%) of baby food and 57 samples (59%) of infant formula PAHs were below the limit of detection.
Three samples of baby food contained relatively higher levels of PAHs than most samples in the survey, but were still within the EU limit. However, analysis of further samples from additional batches of these three products showed much lower levels.

Restaurant violations to be listed
May 18, 2006
Knight Ridder Tribune
Virginia Grantier, The Bismarck Tribune, N.D.
Mel Fischer, administrator of the city's Environmental Health Division, was cited as saying that Bismarck restaurants that are cited with critical violations during inspections will be listed on the city's Web site starting in June.
Fischer guesses, based on the area restaurants' past history, that in a month's time there will be about a dozen restaurants listed, along with their violations.
Critical violations of the food code are such things as proper food storage, required temperatures for cooling, freezing and heating, insect and rodent control, utensil-washing procedures and personal hygiene practices.
Fischer was further cited as saying that restaurants with critical violations have up to 10 days to correct the violations, adding, "It depends on the nature of the violation."
If a violation is corrected during the course of an inspection, that too will still be listed on the site, specifying that it is a "corrected" violation.
Also listed on the site will be any restaurant closures. About once a year, a situation in a restaurant is considered critical enough to warrant advising that it voluntarily close until violations are corrected. Usually, a restaurant operator will agree to voluntarily close instead of going through a public hearing process that could result in suspension of his or her license.
Fischer said his department decided to provide the information on the city Web site after a 2005 Tribune article on restaurant inspections was published and resulted in an increase in citizen inquiries. He said some people even were bringing in lists of their favorite restaurants to get inspection information.

Food Products Association Calls Court Decision on Proposition 65 Case ¡°Good News for Consumers¡±
Source of Article:

(Washington, D.C.) ? Commenting on a decision by a California Superior Court Judge that warning labels are not merited for canned tuna, Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the Food Products Association (FPA), made the following comments: ¡°This ruling is good news for consumers, not only because it reaffirms the safety and health benefits of canned tuna but also because it underscores the importance of having the U.S. Food and Drug Administration establish national standards for food safety and warning requirements. This case ? which required a major expenditure of time and effort by the California Superior Court and the companies involved ? would never have gone forward if national uniformity was the law of the land.

¡°The Judge found that California¡¯s Proposition 65 conflicts with the FDA¡¯s ¡®carefully considered approach¡¯ to informing consumers about the benefits and risks of eating fish, including canned tuna, and therefore FDA¡¯s policy preempts the state warning requirement. Consumers benefit from the FDA¡¯s science-based approach to food advisories, which are designed to inform consumers without needlessly alarming them about safe and healthful food products.
¡°The Judge's decision is an important recognition of FDA's leadership in this area and underscores the need for national uniformity for food safety standards and warning requirements, in order to keep similar lawsuits ? which do nothing to advance consumer safety but clog the Court system ? from moving forward in California or any other state. That is why the Food Products Association strongly supports the National Uniformity for Food Act, which recently was passed by a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives, and urges the U.S. Senate to promptly consider this important legislation.¡±

Simply change ingredients to reduce acrylamide, say researchers
By Stephen Daniells
Source of Article:
5/16/2006 - Substitution of certain ingredients could reduce acrylamide content of finished products by as much as 70 per cent, say Swiss researchers.
The new study, a collaboration between the Institute of Food Science and Nutrition at ETH Zurich and the Swiss biscuit manufacturer Kambly, reports that substitution of key ingredients could significantly reduce the acrylamide content of a semi-finished biscuit product.
"Experiments on an industrial scale with a semi-finished biscuit gave evidence that these three approaches are feasible and that the sensory properties of the semi-finished products as well as the finished products conform to a high-quality standard expected by the food industry and the consumer," wrote lead author Maya Graf in the journal LWT Food Science and Technology.
Acrylamide is a carcinogen that is created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, fried or toasted. It first hit the headlines in 2002, when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration first reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide, found to cause cancer in laboratory rats, in carbohydrate-rich foods.
Since the Swedish discovery a global effort has been underway to amass data about this chemical. More than 200 research projects have been initiated around the world, and their findings co-ordinated by national governments, the EU and the United Nations.
The researchers, led by Renato Amado from ETH Zurich, looked at the effects of replacing the baking agent ammonium hydrogencarbonate with sodium hydrogencarbonate, an inverted sugar syrup with a sucrose solution, and addition of extra tartaric acid on the acrylamide content of a biscuit.
Since the biscuit produced was a semi-finished product that is not consumed directly but ground to crumbs and used in further biscuit production, the researchers also looked at the effect of a second baking process.
Batches of 410 kg of biscuit dough were prepared by using type 550 wheat flour, water, powdered sugar (sucrose), vegetable fat, sodium chloride, milk powder, inverted sugar syrup, a starch preparation, and a baking agent.
The baking agent used was either a combination of both ammonium hydrogencarbonate and sodium hydrogencarbonate, or the latter by itself.
After five minutes of baking at 225 to 230 degrees Celsius, the researchers found that the acrylamide content of the biscuit was reduced by 70 per cent if sodium hydrogencarbonate was used alone. The use of sucrose syrup also decreased the acrylamide content by a similar magnitude if used in place of an inverted sugar syrup.
However, lead author Maya Graf stressed that this measure is "limited to products where the browning is not of primary importance."
Addition of extra tartaric acid, an organic acid often used in baking with sodium hydrogencarbonate to improve leavening, was found to reduce the pH of the biscuit mix and thus affect acrylamide formation.
By including 244 g of tartaric acid, an increase of almost 50 g per 100 kg from the standard preparation, the researchers found that the acrylamide content of the semi-finished biscuits was reduced by almost a third. "However, the amount of acid to be acid may be limited, mainly for sensory reasons," said Graf, referring to the possible production of an acidic taste.
"Other groups of bakery products may behave differently," concluded Graf, "especially the leavening and the texture might be critical points if the product is directly consumed."

FSIS denies that inspectors are to be furloughed
by Pete Hisey on 5/22/2006 for
The Food Inspection and Inspection Services concedes that it is facing a difficult budgetary climate through the end of its fiscal year in September, but denied that it plans to furlough meat, poultry or egg inspectors.
"FSIS has reduced or eliminated expenditures not directly related to food safety programs and has frozen hiring for non-inspection positions," the agency's spokesman, Steven Cohen, said in a statement. "The agency is very carefully considering further cost-saving measures, but presently has no plans to furlough inspection program personnel."
FSIS was responding to questions by consumer groups including Food & Water Watch, which had sent a letter to Dr. Richard Raymond, USDA under secretary for food safety, asking about rumors that the agency planned to furlough food inspectors to make up for budget shortfalls.

Nursery opens after E.coli tests (UK)
May 23, 2006
BBC News
An Aberdeenshire nursery closed since two children were struck down with E.coli O157 has reopened.
Food, water and environmental samples tested negative after children from Dreams Daycare Nursery in Insch were infected.
The nursery reopened on Tuesday to staff and children who have had two negative test results.
The building has had a precautionary clean. The source of the infection remains unknown.
Sally Jaffray, co-owner of the Dreams Daycare Nursery, was quoted as saying, "The nursery was inspected by a representative from environmental health. No indication of the E.coli O157 strain has been found at the nursery. We have worked closely with the healthcare professionals and are now delighted to be reopening the nursery to staff and children who have had two negative test results. We have received a tremendous amount of support from the local community and we look forward to welcoming the children back to the nursery."

Food scientist finds effective way to clean produce
May 18, 2006
University of Guelph
Buying prewashed lettuce can save you time, but it can also make you sick, as close to two dozen U.S. consumers discovered last year. Now University of Guelph food scientists have found a more effective way of cleaning vegetables that can dramatically reduce the risk of contamination.
¡°Pathogens can actually get into the internal tissue of the lettuce,¡± said Prof. Keith Warriner of the Department of Food Science. ¡°You can wash it for as long as you like, but you¡¯re not going to remove all the pathogens because they can hide in cut edges and the pores of the lettuce leaves.¡±
When lettuce is harvested for bagged salads it¡¯s kept cool in containers of water and then it¡¯s washed again at the processing plant, he said. ¡°If the water is contaminated, which it sometimes is, bacteria will be passed onto the lettuce, and simple washing can¡¯t remove them.¡±
This could be what happened in October 2005 when 23 people in three states became sick from eating lettuce contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, said Warriner. Most people aren¡¯t aware that, next to ground beef, fresh produce is the most common culprit in food-borne illness, he said.
At least 19 food-borne illness outbreaks have been linked to leafy greens since 1995, resulting in two deaths and 425 people becoming seriously ill, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
To find a way to eliminate pathogens in vegetables, Warriner, along with researcher Christina Hajdok, decided to apply the same method used to decontaminate food cartons. Like fresh produce, the surface of carton packaging material is full of crevices that can provide protective sites for microbes. Milk, juice and soup cartons are sterilized by being sprayed with hydrogen peroxide at the same time they are illuminated with UV light. The UV light converts the hydrogen peroxide into antimicrobial free radicals that penetrate into the packaging material to inactivate microbes.
To test this method on produce, Warriner artificially contaminated tomatoes, cauliflower, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, Spanish onions and broccoli with Salmonella. After ¡°cleaning¡± the vegetables using the hydrogen peroxide/UV method, ¡°we managed to achieve 99.999-per-cent inactivation of the Salmonella,¡± he said.
This inactivation is huge in food-safety terms. ¡°The good thing about hydrogen peroxide and UV is that they make free radicals that can penetrate right into the subsurface of vegetables so we can ensure the pathogens in the lettuce leaf can be inactivated, something that washing cannot do,¡± said Warriner.
You wouldn¡¯t actually be consuming any hydrogen peroxide by eating vegetables that have been cleaned by this method, said Warriner. Plants contain enzymes called catalase that degrade hydrogen peroxide into water. ¡°These free radicals are so short-lived that within seconds they do their job and are converted to water as the by product.¡±
Warriner has determined the optimal levels of hydrogen peroxide and exposure time. Next, he will test his decontamination method on produce contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and viruses to show the true potential of the system. This new way of cleaning produce will not only make food safer to consume, but it should also extend the shelf life of products because vegetables are often spoiled by microbial action, said Warriner.

Bacteriophages used to detect pathogens
By Ahmed ElAmin
Source of Article:
18/05/2006 - A US company plans to develop the use of bacteriophages as a means of speeding up testing for pathogens in foods and industrial plants. With the increasing emphasis by consumers and regulators on food safety, and the prospect of costly recalls, fines and brand damage, processors are constantly on the lookout for quicker and cheaper ways of preventing bacterial contamination of their products. Strategic Diagnostics said it intends to develop the detection method for a broad range of food pathogens. The first product will be a new Salmonella assay, targeted for release in third quarter of 2006. The details are revealed in a patent application, filed in November 2004 and published this week. The publication of the application means that the US Patent Office has disclosed Strategic Diagnostics' claims for public review and comment. The patent application has not been ¡°approved¡±, or ¡°issued¡± and remains open to approval or rejection. Matthew Knight, the company's president and chief executive officer, said the technology matches the best performance characteristics of a lateral flow assay with a highly targeted enrichment media. "The new system is expected to deliver substantial customer benefits such as fewer steps to follow, lower space requirements, reduced material and time requirements, while improving both the specificity and sensitivity associated with the assay," he stated. "These improvements are consistent with our efforts to deliver real benefits to the customer as measured in both time and money." Some large food processors and laboratories are in the process of testing the technology, Knight said this month in releasing the company's first quarter 2006 financial results. To food pathogens like Listeria, bacteriophages are the viral hit squads of the microscopic world. They have the potential to be the next big technological advance in anti-bacterial agents processors can use in ensuring their products do not leave the plant loaded with dangerous pathogens like Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. Bacteriophages are viruses that target bacteria, rather than human, plant or animal cells. For every bacteria, there is a phage that likes to latch on to them, take over their life processes and multiply. The baby phages then burst out to attack other nearby targets, thus killing the host cell.

Biosensor uses nanotechnology to spot the right smell
By staff reporter
Source of Article:
19/05/2006 - An electronic biosensor using nanotechnology techniques could help companies to develop the right smells for their foods, or to sniff out rotting ingredients in the receiving area.
The researchers say that an electronic nose based on natural olfactory receptors could be used to give companies a means of honing in on precise smells according to product and consumer requirements. The tiny bioelectrics sensors may take some of the guess work out of this process.
The technology could also be used to pick up the smells produced by bacteria and pathogens as they break down foods, helping to increase product safety. ¡°The potential uses of smell technology are endless,¡± said Josep Samitier, the coordinator of the Spot-Nosed project. Researchers at project are using nanotechnology to developing biosensors to mimic the way human and animal noses respond to different odours. The researchers claim that the nose biosensor is capable of detecting odours at concentration that would be imperceptible to the human nose. ¡°Our tests showed that the nanobiosensors will react to a few molecules of odorant with a very high degree of accuracy. Some of the results of the trials surpassed even our expectations,¡± Samitier said. The accuracy was achieved by using proteins corresponding to olfactory receptors in animal noses. A layer of the proteins is placed on a microelectrode, Data is then measured by determining the reaction when the proteins come into contact with different odors. The Spot-Nosed researchers copied the genes from several hundred different proteins from rats, which they claim is enough to determine almost any type of smell due to the number of reactions the proteins produce. The human nose uses 1,000 different proteins to allow the brain to recognize 10,000 different smells. While the project has to date focused on replicating the physical reaction that takes place in animal noses to determine odours, the researchers say that their next step will be to develop an electronic nose that recognizes smells using high accuracy electronic instrumentation on a nanoscale level. While the project has so far focused on replicating the physical reaction that takes place in animal noses, the researchers now plan to work on developing the instrumentation and software tools necessary for an electronic nose to recognise smells. The approach is being developed and tested by researchers in Spain, France and Italy under the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) project. The total funding for the project is about ¢æ2.3m, with ¢æ1.5 of that from the EU.

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New hope over food poisoning
Source: scenta
Scientists have found a potential new treatment for listeriosis, a deadly form of food poisoning.
A University of Bristol team, led by Professor Jose Vazquez-Boland, has shown that one particular antibiotic ? fosfomycin ? can treat Listeria in the body.
The Listeria bacterium causes the food-borne disease, listeriosis.
The drug has never been considered before as a treatment for listeriosis because it was not effective in the laboratory.
"Our results illustrate that antibiotic resistance in the laboratory does not always mean that the drug will not work in the infected patient," said Professor Vazquez-Boland.
"This work brings some optimism to the highly worrying problem of the increasing resistance to antibiotics." It often triggers a brain infection and kills up to 30 per cent of those affected.

To test whether antibiotics are effective, bacteria is taken from patients and tested in the laboratory. These tests measure whether antibiotics can halt the growth of Listeria and other pathogens in laboratory conditions. Such tests are usually a measure of how effective the drug will be in the body. However, Listeria had been shown to be resistant to the antibiotic fosfomycin when tested this way, which has prevented researchers from considering the use of the drug, until now. Lead author Dr Mariela Scortti added: ¡°Our findings warn about the need to revise laboratory methods currently in use to determine the susceptibility or resistance of bacteria to such drugs, so that the tests reflect better what actually happens in the body.¡±
The team's work is reported in Nature Medicine.