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Internet Journal of Food Safety

10/15
2006
ISSUE:230

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FDA Statement on Nunes Lettuce Recall
Soure from: FDA
On October 8, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became aware that The Nunes Company, Inc., of Salinas, California initiated a voluntary recall of green leaf lettuce distributed under the Foxy brand. The company reported to FDA that it initiated the recall because of E.coli contamination of water used to irrigate the lettuce plants in the field during growing. At this time, there has been no determination of whether the E. coli found is O157:H7?the highly infectious type that can cause life-threatening foodborne illness in humans?or the more common, generally harmless strains of E. coli that usually do not cause disease. Further, there has been no known human illness linked to this recall.

Based on current information about the scope of this E. coli contamination, FDA views the firm's prompt action as commendable, because it is better to be cautious than to potentially put consumers at risk of contracting a serious foodborne illness. As FDA becomes aware of additional information about the contamination of the water supply that triggered the current voluntary recall, including the results of additional ongoing tests, the agency will make this information available to the public immediately.

Fresh leafy greens grown and consumed in the United States are safe. Every year there are many thousands of pounds of fresh leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach grown in the United States and consumed by the public with no consequent illness. However, outbreaks do occur, such as the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to raw spinach, and there is a need to do everything possible to minimize the likelihood of further outbreaks and prevent serious illness. For this reason, FDA has taken a number of actions in recent years, in partnership with its sister agencies, to improve the safety of fresh leafy greens and is working on additional steps. From farm to table, everyone has a responsibility to ensure food safety, including growers, processors, distributors, retailers and consumers, and government.

FDA believes there is a need to examine and improve certain agricultural practices to minimize the risk of E. coli O157:H7 contamination of leafy greens. FDA and the State of California launched the Lettuce Safety Initiative in August 2006 to minimize such risk and to create greater awareness by industry of FDA's commitment to food safety and concern about the safety of lettuce. This Initiative has since been broadened to include spinach and other leafy greens. The Initiative has a number of key objectives, including assessing current industry approaches and stimulating new efforts to improve lettuce safety; identifying industry practices that potentially lead to product contamination and developing policy or guidance and identifying research to minimize future outbreaks; taking targeted regulatory action using a risk-based approach toward areas most likely to be the source of contamination; and alerting consumers early and responding rapidly in the event of an outbreak.
For more information on the FDA Lettuce Safety Initiative, see www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/lettsafe.html.
FDA will update the public on the lettuce and spinach recalls as more information becomes available. Check this site for updated information.

Nationwide E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak: Questions & Answers
(Questions & Answers are also available in Spanish)
FDA and the State of California announced October 12 that the test results for certain samples collected during the field investigation of the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in spinach are positive for E. coli O157:H7. Specifically, samples of cattle feces on one of the implicated ranches tested positive based on matching genetic fingerprints for the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 that sickened 199 people.
The trace back investigation has narrowed to four implicated fields on four ranches. The outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 from cattle feces was identified on one of these four ranches. At this time, testing of other environmental samples from all four ranches that supplied the implicated lot of contaminated spinach are in progress. The positive test result is a significant finding, but is just one aspect of this investigation. More information may come forward as the investigation continues. These four fields, located in Monterey and San Benito counties, are not currently being used to grow any fresh produce. While the focus of this outbreak has narrowed to these four fields, the history of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to leafy greens indicates an ongoing problem. As FDA stated in its letter to the lettuce industry in November of 2005, FDA continues to be concerned due to the history of outbreaks and the on-going risk for product contamination of leafy greens.

FDA announced on September 29, 2006 that all spinach implicated in the current outbreak has traced back to Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, California. This determination is based on epidemiological and laboratory evidence obtained by multiple states and coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Natural Selection Foods issued a recall of all implicated products on September 15, 2006. More specifically, Natural Selection Foods has recalled all spinach products under multiple brand names with a date code of October 1 or earlier. Five other companies have issued secondary recalls because they received the recalled product from Natural Selections. See below for a complete list of brand names that are subject to the recalls. Spinach processed by other manufacturers has not been implicated in the outbreak. Processed spinach (e.g., frozen and canned spinach) is not implicated in this outbreak.

FDA, the State of California, the CDC and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continue to investigate the cause of the outbreak. more information

Complete Spinach/E. coli Information

Source of Deadly E. coli Is Found
(New York Times)
By LIBBY SANDER
Cattle manure collected from a California ranch under investigation by federal and state authorities contains the same strain of E. coli that killed three people and sickened nearly 200 in a recent outbreak linked to tainted spinach, federal and state food safety officials said Thursday.
¡°We know where the E. coli comes from,¡± said Dr. Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health Services. But while the discovery of the match between E. coli in the manure and in the tainted spinach is an unprecedented development in the scientific investigation of food-borne illnesses, Dr. Reilly said, it does not solve the mystery of how the spinach was contaminated in the first place.
¡°We are continuing to try to determine the connection between these findings and how spinach on the fields may have been contaminated,¡± Dr. Reilly said in a news conference.
Pinpointing how the bacteria made its way into the spinach fields, whether from tainted irrigation water, flooding, poor hygiene among field workers or by wildlife capable of breaking through fences, is the next challenge for investigators, he said.
The manure samples were taken from a large ranch in the Salinas Valley that has a beef cattle operation as well as fields where produce is grown, Dr. Reilly said. Investigators collected the samples which are 3 of about 650 specimens taken from various ranches since the investigation began about a half-mile from the spinach fields, he said.
The authorities are also investigating three other ranches. All of the ranches in question are in either San Benito or Monterey Counties, and none are currently growing any produce, Dr. Reilly said.
Joan Rose, a microbiologist and food safety expert at Michigan State University, said she was not surprised by Thursday¡¯s finding that the E. coli came from animal feces.
¡°If you start to look at the pathogen levels even in untreated sewage, it¡¯s minor compared to animal waste,¡± Ms. Rose said, dismissing the notion that a field worker with poor hygiene could have spread the bacteria. ¡°One person can¡¯t touch that much spinach.¡±
The close proximity of farm animals to produce fields ¡°has always been a concern¡± of the Food and Drug Administration, said Dr. Robert Brackett, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the agency. Dr. Brackett declined to comment on whether the agency would try to regulate how close those animals can be to fields where ready-to-eat produce is grown.
The ability to trace a nationwide outbreak of E. coli back to cattle manure on a specific Salinas Valley ranch within a matter of weeks is a scientific leap that would not have been possible a decade ago, Dr. Reilly said.
¡°This is the first time in nine outbreaks that have linked back to the Salinas Valley that we have had the ability to match up the genetic strain¡± of the E. coli, he said, crediting improved laboratory technology with the advance.
The history of E. coli outbreaks traced to leafy vegetables grown in Central California, particularly in the Salinas Valley, is long, the F.D.A. said. Federal and state food safety officials have asked industry groups to present long-term strategies for minimizing the likelihood of future outbreaks, and the agency has said it will not rule out the possibility of regulatory requirements.
The most recent outbreak has sickened people in 26 states and Canada, and resulted in deaths in Idaho, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Earlier this week, Mexico announced that it would halt its imports of lettuce grown in the United States after another Salinas Valley company, the Nunes Company, issued a voluntary recall, believing that some of its lettuce may have been irrigated with water containing harmful E. coli. Laboratory tests later showed that concern to be unfounded, and Dr. Brackett of the F.D.A. said the agency was working with the Mexican government to address the issue. 10-13-06

Set guidelines for E. coli: Government regulators need to adopt testing standards for farmers
11.oct.06
LA Times
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-spinach11oct11,0,5167077.story?coll=la-opinion-leftrail
The Salinas Valley grower that recalled 8,500 cartons of lettuce this week did all the right things, according to this editorial: The company tested its irrigation water, and when it found E. coli, it took its lettuce off the market even before the tests could show whether it was a dangerous strain. But the current E. coli outbreak, the 20th in a decade, indicates that not all farmers take all the steps they should.
The editorial says that most farms are more careful than most people realize. They regularly test their soil and irrigation water for E. coli and follow other common safety practices. The companies that buy their produce insist on it, and they require audits to back it up. Growers and markets have a powerful built-in incentive not to poison customers.
But how often do farms perform the tests and follow other safety measures? Does every farm do them, and how much is enough? These questions are difficult to answer ? but they shouldn't be. Different buyers sometimes require different practices; some farms fail to take all the necessary steps. Government-mandated, uniform protocols could go a long way toward avoiding health-related catastrophes.
As long as farming is done outdoors, there is no way to guarantee against E. coli getting on produce. Although the investigation into another recent case, involving spinach contamination, is not complete, agricultural safety experts suspect that it happened in the field, not at the packaging plant, and that it was not caused by the chance droppings of a bird or other wild animal. It appears to have come up through the roots, indicating that the soil or the irrigation water was compromised.
In addition to testing, common safety practices involve locating fields at a distance from livestock operations in order to avoid contamination from manure. If farms use manure as a fertilizer, it's supposed to be pathogen-free, and even then there's generally a waiting period between fertilizing and planting. But not all farms follow all these practices, or to the same extent. In the spinach contamination case, investigators are examining manure from a cattle pasture next to the field. The editorial says that the strain of E. coli found in the manure is the same as that implicated in the deaths of three people who ate the contaminated spinach.
Each time there is an E. coli breakout, the state and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demand that the industry clean up its act. The industry asks for precise guidelines on what to do, and it gets no answers. Regulators can start by outlining mandatory, common-sense safety practices to protect both public health and farming's reputation.

New Methods for Detecting Listeria
By Laura McGinnis October 12, 2006
Source from: ARS, USDA
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Wyndmoor, Pa., are improving methods to detect foodborne pathogens like the potentially deadly Listeria monocytogenes.

Quick, accurate, cost-effective methods for detecting pathogenic bacteria?essential to ensuring a safe food supply?are part of ARS food safety research highlighted in the current issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Listeriosis, the illness caused by L. monocytogenes infection, affects around 2,500 people in the United States every year, and kills about 500. Newborns, seniors, pregnant women and individuals with compromised or weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible.

Most methods for detecting harmful foodborne bacteria rely on antibodies, which are proteins used by the immune system to fight infections and foreign bodies. Because these antibodies target very specific infections, researchers can use them to identify and locate specific pathogens.

Antibodies vary in their degree of specificity. Current antibody-based methods for detecting L. monocytogenes can't distinguish this bacterium from the mixture of harmless bacteria found in most foods, according to Shu-I Tu. He's research leader of the Microbial Biophysics and Residue Chemistry Research Unit at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor.

A molecular method called "phage display" uses bacteria and bacterial viruses, or phages, to quickly select antibodies to detect pathogens. Now ARS microbiologist George C. Paoli and chemist Jeffrey D. Brewster have employed phage display to isolate an antibody fragment that binds specifically to L. monocytogenes.
The researchers' success demonstrates that antibody phage display can be used to select antibodies for pathogen detection, even where traditional methods have proved inadequate.
Read more about the study and other ARS food safety research in the October 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Tainted carrot juice paralyses 2
09.oct.06
The Toronto Star
Meghan Hurley and Tamara Cherry
http://www.thestar.com/
Two Toronto residents are paralyzed in hospital after they drank toxic carrot juice purchased in Toronto that has been recalled across North America.
Dr. Elizabeth Rea, an associate medical officer of health, was quoted as saying, "There are two adults who are severely ill in hospital and they had a history of drinking the exact same juice that's been part of the carrot juice recall."
The juice, produced by Bolt-house Farms in Bakersfield, Calif., was ordered off shelves Sept. 30 after four cases of botulism were linked to toxic carrot juice in the United States. The company's website says they distribute carrot juice to the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Rea was cited as saying that on Saturday, lab test results confirmed that Bolthouse Farms carrot juice purchased in Toronto sometime last month and consumed by the Toronto patients was positive for the botulism toxin, adding, "We've got conclusive proof that shipments of the juice in Canada do have the botulin contamination."
Bolthouse Farms 100 per cent Carrot Juice, Earthbound Farm Organic Carrot Juice and President's Choice Organics 100 per cent Pure Carrot Juice with a best-before date before Nov. 11 have been recalled.
Rea wouldn't say whether the two patients know each other or if the carrot juice came from the same container. But sources told the Star that the man and woman are a couple, although they were taken to different hospitals.

Carrot juice maker blames buyers
11.oct.06
The Toronto Star
Tamara Cherry
People who contracted potentially fatal botulism from Bolthouse Farms carrot juice are responsible because they didn't refrigerate it properly, the company says.
That's the message the California-based company has for consumers more than a week after yanking three brands of carrot juice off shelves throughout North America and Hong Kong. So far, four Americans and two Torontonians have contracted the paralyzing illness.
Bolthouse spokesman Tim Warner was quoted as saying yesterday, pointing to three Georgia residents and a Florida woman who are paralyzed and on ventilators, stating, "It appears that it was consumers that did not take the good counsel to keep the product refrigerated. We have validated that our process of keeping our juice refrigerated through the distribution channel is a good one and of high quality. ¡¦ It was primarily the concern that the product could be left unrefrigerated by people who just, for one reason or another, chose not to follow the guidance on the package."
The story says it is unknown whether the two Toronto victims - who have been in hospital since before the U.S. botulism cases first became public in mid-September - refrigerated the juice.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the juice will stay off shelves "until CFIA is satisfied that the appropriate technical concerns have been addressed."

Canadian botulism victims did properly store carrot juice: officials
13.oct.06
CBC News
http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2006/10/13/carrot-botulism.html
Public health officials were cited as saying that two Toronto residents, who were poisoned after they consumed tainted carrot juice, did indeed properly refrigerate the product.
The maker of the recalled juice, California-based Bolthouse Farms, said earlier this week that consumers in the U.S. were sickened after they had failed to keep the product refrigerated.
However, tests in Canada have shown that the juice consumed by the Toronto residents was handled and stored properly. The two patients, who live in the same household, are in intensive care. Both are paralyzed and on ventilators.
Meanwhile, public health officials are continuing to monitor the recall of the product and plan to inspect shelves at another 1,250 stores over the coming days. Public Health inspectors have already surveyed 2,700 stores. After discovering bottles of the recalled juice still on the shelves in 11 of those, they removed them.
The CFIA issued a voluntary recall of the product on Sept. 30 after four cases of botulism in the U.S. were linked to the toxic carrot juice. The federal regulator followed up with a second alert on Oct. 7 to ensure public awareness.
All containers with a "best before" date of up to Nov. 11 are involved in the recall.
A Florida woman has been in hospital and unresponsive since mid-September. Three people in Georgia suffered respiratory failure and are on ventilators since drinking carrot juice a month ago.

Bovine tuberculosis kills nightclub man (UK)
By Nick Britten
(Filed: 12/10/2006)
Source of Article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
A deadly strain of bovine tuberculosis has killed one man and infected five others amid fears that it was spread around a nightclub. One of the infected men is believed to have passed it on to at least two friends while out drinking with them. The source of the outbreak is believed to be a man who drank unpasteurised milk. The Health Protection Agency said the average age of the victims was 32 and none had any contact with cattle.

Investigations link a bar and a nightclub in Birmingham to the bovine TB cluster, the first in the West Midlands for around 15 years.
All of those affected were treated immediately. One man died but the others made a full recovery.
Some of the victims are reported to have already been suffering from medical conditions which had weakened their immune system.
One is understood to have had diabetes, one is believed to be HIV positive and another is alleged to have been a bodybuilder who had been abusing anabolic steroids.
Although bovine tuberculosis in humans is rare, there are around 30 cases a year.
The authorities were alerted after one case was reported at the end of 2004, five others developed the infection in 2005 and another case was reported in early 2006.
DNA tests showed the strain of TB was "indistinguishable" amongst the victims, suggesting it was spread person-to-person and that they were probably infected by a common source.
The strain was also linked to a batch of infected cattle in the West Midlands.
Hugh Lamont, of the Health Protection Agency, said: "Each case was individually investigated at the time in line with national guidelines and what is important is that all the appropriate actions were taken to prevent a new spread."

Food Safety Job Information

X-ray system detects tiny contaminants
By Ahmed ElAmin
Source of Article: http://www.foodproductiondaily.com
13/10/2006 - An X-ray inspection system introduced into Europe this month, can detect foreign bodies in packed and unpacked fresh foods.
Ishida Europe said its advanced X-ray inspection system is already a proven top seller in Japan. The company has now launched the IX-GA range into Europe for the first time. Keeping contaminants out of products is essential for food processors, as recalls can lead to huge costs and fines, along with loss of consumer trust in the brand.
X-ray dectection offers advancements over standard metal detectors as it is not only able to detect metal but also other foreign materials. In addition, it distinguishes between 'legitimate' metal, such as clips on the ends of sausages or aluminium tins, while still monitoring and identifying unwanted items.
The IX-GA range uses self learning algorithm technology to offer detection that is sensitive enough to find impurities down to 0.3mm in size. It can also be used spot missing items or damaged products. In addition, the place of contamination can be accurately pinpointed, Ishida stated.
The machine can handle top sealed and thermoformed trays and flexible bags as well as unpacked product. It features a Windows XP operating system. An auto-set function allows the X-ray output and sensitivity level to be automatically set up for each product.
The machine's conveyors and belts are manufactured to international standards. Ishida says it has designed the machine with hygiene in mind. Tool-free access is available to all parts, allowing for fast cleaning. A stainless steel body and three sets of lead curtains provide protection for operators.
Other safety features include warning lamps when the machine is in operation and automatic stopping of the X-ray process if the inspection cover door is opened or if a product remains in the inspection area. "Today with heightened awareness of food safety among consumers, manufacturers want maximum peace of mind, knowing that the products that leave their factories are totally safe," stated Ishida Europe marketing director Paul Griffin.

Clean-Trace system tops hygiene tester study
By Neil Merrett
Source of Article: http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/
13/10/2006 - Biotrace International¡¯s Clean-Trace system, has topped an independent study of surface hygiene testers by Cara Technology Limited.
The study aimed to find which products - if any, were most consistent under a repeated number of set circumstances. In these repeatability tests, Clean-Trace was found to give the most accurate results over duplicate tests against three competing products.
According to the company, Clean-Trace is capable of allowing food and beverage manufacturers to asses the cleanliness of a surface within seconds.
It is hoped that the device could allow manufacturer's greater flexibility in establishing hygienic conditions for food and beverage production, and is part of their growing portfolio of food testing equipment including rapid pathogen, toxin and allergen kits.
¡°We are delighted that our dedicated focus on ensuring very high technical performance from the Clean-Trace test has been recognised by this study. Our customers across the world place Clean-Trace at the heart of their hygiene programmes and these results show they can have every confidence they have made the right decision,¡± said Colin Hunt, International Product Manager at Biotrace International.
Clara technology who issued the test, supply problem solving solutions to the brewery industry designed to prevent incidents, and improve efficiency in the sector.

Researchers develop technologies to devour food pathogens
06.oct.06
Purdue University
Douglas M Main
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University researchers are developing two inexpensive technologies that may be able to prevent future food-borne illness, such as the recent outbreak of E. coli in contaminated spinach.
Together, these technologies rapidly detect and eradicate food-borne pathogens.
The first method uses a laser to detect and identify many types of bacteria, and is about three times faster and one-tenth as expensive as current technology.
"A second innovation uses chlorine dioxide gas to kill pathogens on produce, fresh fruits and vegetables. This would be a large step up from current technologies, which mainly involve washing and scrubbing, and cannot completely rid a product of a pathogen like E. coli," said Richard Linton, a professor of food science.
"We can use the laser technology to detect problems more quickly, determine exactly what the pathogen is and where it came from," Linton said."As for using this gas as a disinfectant, I would say that in my 13 years of doing research, it is 10,000 to 100,000 times more effective than any process I have seen."
While different in nature, the methods have the common goal of keeping food safe and preventing people from getting sick, and have each progressed to the point where they could be commercialized, Linton said. Patents are pending on both technologies, and the laser technology is available for licensing.
Linton says there is a definite need for these new methods.
"Current technologies are insufficient to prevent food-borne illness," he said."In the present system, once produce is contaminated with something like E. coli, that's it."
Arun Bhunia (pronounced Boon-ee-yuh), also a professor of food science, leads the team that developed the laser-based technology, called"Bacteria Rapid Detection Using Optical Scattering Technology." The process works by shining a laser though a petri dish containing bacterial colonies. A computer program determines the type of bacteria by analyzing how light is refracted?a unique"scatter pattern."
Bhunia has shown his technology is capable of recognizing Listeria monocytogenes, a microbial pathogen that is the leading cause of food-borne illness. The pathogen has a high mortality rate?one in five?and kills about 500 people each year. E. coli, which has the second highest mortality rate, kills less than 1 percent of those infected.
"This is a really exciting technology," Bhunia said."I definitely believe it could help save lives, which is our ultimate goal."
Industry has shown interest in Bhunia's technology, as well as the chlorine dioxide work done by Linton and the project's co-leader, Mark Morgan, a professor of food science.
"We are currently working on an industrial tunnel system to apply the gas to produce," Morgan said. His team is also investigating using the gas to sterilize processing equipment."This would be very helpful, as it could speed up the sterilization process and eliminate the heat energy currently used for such processes."
Previous results have shown the gas to be highly effective at killing microbial pathogens. The largest obstacle remaining is optimizing the system to dispense the appropriate amount of chlorine dioxide, Morgan said. Enough of the gas must be deployed to kill the pathogens, but too much can cause a decrease of quality in the product, such as browning of leafy greens.
"If the product is safe, but nobody will eat it, that's not what we want," Linton said."We are always thinking in terms of, "Will this work for industry?' In this case, I believe the answer is yes. I would like to see this technology used regularly by industry in a couple years from now."
Both technologies have the potential to help prevent food-borne illness, Linton said, but he also noted that following proper agricultural practices is as important, if not more important, for food safety.
Since E. coli, or Escherichia coli, is found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, it does not naturally contaminate most produce. Therefore, following more stringent sanitary policies, as well as practicing better manure and water management, can go a long way to help prevent future outbreaks, Linton said.
E. coli is especially problematic because it only takes as few as 10 cells to infect humans. Other pathogens, like salmonella, need thousands or millions of cells to cause infection.
As of Sept. 26, 183 cases of illness were reported due to spinach contamination with a virulent strain of E. coli.
"What is happening is unacceptable," Linton said.
Bhunia's technology is further described in an article published this summer in the Journal of Biomedical Optics. Linton and Morgan have been working with chlorine dioxide for years, and have several published studies, one of which appeared in the Journal of Food Protection in 2004
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