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New restaurant regulations to protect public
An amendment to COLORADO RETAIL FOOD ESTABLISHMENT RULES AND REGULATIONS will take effect on March 1, 2007, and will help to protect people that eat at restaurants or buy food from delis. Fremont County Environmental Health Officer Sid Darden reports that the amendment prohibits bare hand contact with any food that is ready-to-eat or not subject to any further cooking, and most restaurant owners and managers have been aware that this new regulation was coming for the past few years.
As additional reinforcement, most local health departments, including Fremont County Environmental Health, have been discussing the concept with owners and operators over the course of the past several months during routine inspections. In addition, a copy of the new regulation was mailed along with each license renewal back in November, and another copy of the new regulation and a pamphlet entitled Bare Hand Contact with Ready-to-Eat Foods-Questions and Answers, written by the Consumer Protection Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, was mailed along with the 2007 licenses. The new regulation and the pamphlet were also written in several languages such as Spanish, Chinese and Japanese.The basic concept is that any food that is ready-to-eat and will not be further cooked, is not to be touched with bare hands by the people preparing and serving the food. Most people automatically assume that this means the use of disposable food gloves, and in many cases this will be the method used to meet the new requirements, however the use of tongs and other serving utensils, deli papers or other approved methods, may also be used. If a food item is going to be cooked prior to serving, such as pizza toppings, raw meats and other ingredients for recipes prior to cooking, it is acceptable for these items to be handled with bare hands as long as proper handwashing practices are followed and food and equipment are not cross contaminated. Anyone that did not receive this information along with their 2007 restaurant license, anyone with questions, or anyone with an interest in obtaining copies of any of this information can contact Fremont County EHS at 276-7460.
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Retail Meat Analyzed for Parasites
By Rosalie Marion Bliss
February 14, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14?A recently completed survey of meats for a common microscopic parasite found none in raw beef and poultry and a low level in pork. The study focused on the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which commonly infects animals and humans worldwide, and was conducted by scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The study was led by scientists Dolores E. Hill and Jitender P. Dubey of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and was published in The Journal of Parasitology. Hill and Dubey are experts in parasitology research at ARS' Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center (BARC).
The scientists analyzed samples of retail meat obtained from nearly 700 stores nationwide. More than 6,000 samples?2,000 each of pork, chicken and beef?were purchased from stores in 28 major U.S. geographic areas. Each sample weighed a minimum of 2.2 pounds, for a total of more than 14,000 pounds of meat tested.
None of the raw beef and chicken meat samples contained live T. gondii parasites, based on a controlled analysis. In raw pork from retail meat cases nationwide, the prevalence of live T. gondii parasites was estimated at a low 0.4 percent, or about four per 1,000 samples.
"The survey shows that beef and chicken have negligible amounts of the parasite, while pork has extremely low levels that are effectively eliminated by proper cooking," said microbiologist Mark Jenkins, with ARS' Animal Parasitic Disease Laboratory at BARC.
Besides the consumption of undercooked meat, another route of T. gondii infection is exposure to egglike oocysts in the feces of infected cats. A rodent- or bird-eating cat that has T. gondii in its body expels millions of infectious-stage oocysts of the parasite during a week or two.
The parasite can seriously damage developing fetuses and persons with weakened immune systems, such as those infected with HIV, according to experts. Infants born to mothers who become infected for the first time just before or during pregnancy are at risk of developing severe toxoplasmosis due to T. gondii exposure.
The hardy encapsulated oocysts create the risk of infection when deposited in soil, sand and litter boxes or near farm animal feed. To reduce risk of infection, wash hands well after outdoor activities and after handling raw meat, and don't eat undercooked meat.
For more tips on reducing the risk of infection, go to:

Food safety high priority for farmers

Atlantic City Press (NJ)
Maya Rao
Vegetable farmers in southern New Jersey will, according to this story, begin their planting season in several weeks with a fresh vigilance after the E. coli contamination of spinach last fall, which led to the recall of fresh spinach across the country and deflated consumers' confidence in the safety of the vegetable.
Although no New Jersey farms were implicated in the outbreak that began in California, killed three people and sickened about 200, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture is working with the federal and state government and national produce associations in an effort to make food-safety regulations uniform across the nation. New Jersey's food and agricultural-complex industry is worth an annual $80 billion.
The story says that the state's Department of Agriculture passed a food-safety resolution at its annual convention in Atlantic City on Tuesday that says, among other things, that it will emphasize the importance of third-party audits of produce in the state. The resolution declares its support for the state's Produce Safety Task Force and public education on the state's produce industry's high food-safety standards.
The story notes that farmers generally obtain third-party audits at the request of brokers and supermarkets, according to attendees at the convention, which leads to piecemeal maintenance of food safety and unclear guidelines for consumers.
Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, was cited as saying it would be problematic for different regions or farms to specifically advertise the safety of their produce" adding, "We're all in this together. Your neighbor's food safety affects your own.¡±
The uniform federal oversight of produce safety that Stenzel's association is seeking would go by a commodity-specific approach, which means that the FDA would set different safety standards for different crops.
The problem, Stenzel said, is that the FDA is under-funded and understaffed. Stenzel said that though farmers' instincts generally are not to invite federal intrusion, this was the only way to totally restore consumers' confidence. The recurrence of such an outbreak was likely due to the nature of pathogens, he said.
Wesley Kline, who is the Cumberland County agent for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, said that if federal regulation became mandatory, small-time producers, who make up the bulk of growers in this region, would be hurt.
Still, Kline has seen more farmers coming in for his food-safety training programs ? funded by a USDA grant ? for farmers across the state.

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Mother sues Taco Bell after E. coli outbreak
WCBS-TV New York - NY
TRENTON, N.J. -- A lawsuit, filed in Manhattan's state Supreme Court, was cited as saying that Edwina Mooney brought food home from the Taco Bell in Hempstead, N.Y., on Nov. 18, 2006 and it sickened her son, James Robinson, 16, who was hospitalized.
Mooney's lawyer, Eric Richman, was cited as saying Monday that Robinson fell ill about four or five days after eating the Mexican meal from TacoBell and that the youth was hospitalized with severe abdominal pain, dehydration and stomach flu, adding that an official of the Nassau County Department of Health, Steven Jacob, "called my client after he was released (from the hospital) and told him he had food poisoning caused by E. coli."
Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch was cited as saying Monday he was not aware of Mooney's lawsuit and could not comment but that "the health and safety of our customers is our No. 1 priority."
Poetsch was further cited as saying he had not heard of a definite cause of the outbreak since officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in December the most common factor seemed to be contaminated lettuce.

Settlement reached in botulism case

Star-Telegram (TX)
Jim Fuquay
FORT WORTH -- Town Talk Foods on Tuesday, according to this story, became the latest party to settle with food distributor Ben E. Keith Co. in the three-week trial over a 2001 botulism outbreak spread through tainted chili.
Terms of the settlement, reached Tuesday morning, were not disclosed. Attorneys for Town Talk, a Fort Worth discount food retailer that sold the chili to consumers, said the store had sought about $3 million in lost profits and also reimbursement for a $2.85 million settlement in 2004 with six people who were hospitalized after eating the chili.
R. Wayne Gordon, Town Talk¡¯s attorney, was quoted as saying, "We are very satisfied with how it worked out. I think the evidence in the case was overwhelming, in my opinion, of Ben E. Keith¡¯s liability."

FDA's Pilot Program to Better Educate Consumers about Recalled Food Products
FDA's Pilot Program to Better Educate Consumers about Recalled Food Products

Storage of meats could double acrylamide levels
By Ahmed ElAmin
Source of Article:
09/02/2007 - Acrylamide concentration levels almost double during the storage of precooked, battered protein foods, according to a new scientific study.
The study is one of many launched worldwide to help processors and others lower the levels of acrylamide ending up in foods.
The chemical 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 in carbohydrate-rich foods. Previous studies have linked the chemical with cancer in laboratory rats.
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 coordinated by national governments, the EU and the United Nations.
Reducing acrylamide in foods industry wide can only help improve the public perception about food safety, which has suffered in recent years. The Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the EU is also working with the European Commission and regulators to find ways to reduce acrylamide.
In their paper, published in the current issue of the Journal of Food Protection, researchers E.K. Paleologos and M.G. Kontominas said they wanted to study the effect of processing and storage conditions on the generation of acrylamide. They used precooked breaded chicken products in the study.
The generation of acrylamide was determined during frying and during cold storage of the breaded chicken products. They also evaluated the role of the batter crust in acrylamide formation.
The effect of storage under a modified atmosphere on the fate of acrylamide was investigated during a 23-day storage period under refrigeration. Acrylamide was analyzed by using normal phase high-performance liquid chromatography according to a previously developed methodology. The methodology allows for dual identity verification as acrylamide and acrylic acid.
The two analysed 28 commercial precooked samples. Initial acrylamide concentrations ranged between 0.91 mg per kg and 0.97 mg per kg. They attributed the levels to the combined effect of batter and meat.
In all cases, acrylamide concentrations increased during storage, attaining a maximum ranging between 1.36 to 1.80 mg per kg between day 15 and day 19.
The maximum value was observed in samples packaged under air, and the minimum value was observed under a modified atmosphere mixture of 60 per cent carbon dioxide and 40 per cent nitrogen. In this group, the maximum acrylamide concentration was reached after 19 days of storage.
"These data indicate that there is a high concentration of acrylamide in precooked, battered protein foods and that the concentration changes considerably during storage, which may lead to almost twice the initial amounts when air is present within the package," the researchers stated.
Little is known about acrylamide. However, it is thought to induce cancer in animals, damage nerves and impair male fertility. In April 2002, Swedish scientists produced results demonstrating disturbingly high levels of acrylamide in certain cooked foods, sparking off concerns among regulators and consumers.
The European Commission responded to the findings by generating a database on all research activities. The World Health Organisation has additionally developed an international network of researchers. Diet is thought to contribute to about 30 per cent of some cancers and the increasing dependence on processed food means that research is essential.
Acrylamide appears in a wide range of cooked foods - prepared industrially, in catering, or at home. The foods include bread, fried potatoes and coffee as well as specialty products like potato crisps, biscuits, crisp bread, and a range of other heat-processed products. Such products contain acrylamide at levels between a few parts per billion (ppb) to over 1000 ppb.

FDA weighs approval of irradiating produce
Oneline News Hour
A petition pushing for the use of irradiation, a process that uses high-energy radiation to kill pathogens found in raw foods, like E. coli, has been submitted to the FDA for approval. The NewsHour reports on the debate over the technique's effectiveness and safety.
TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent: The spinach in this bowl was deliberately contaminated with enough E. coli bacteria to kill a human being. No amount of rinsing could make it safe to eat.
But businessmen Harlan Clemmons and Dave Corbin dumped on some salad dressing and ate it anyway, betting their lives on a process called irradiation.
HARLAN CLEMMONS, Sadex President: I am very confident in the process. What we do here has over 100 years of research behind it.
TOM BEARDEN: Clemmons runs an irradiation facility for the Sadex Corporation in Sioux City, Iowa. He says irradiation could prevent many of the 5,000 deaths and 76 million illnesses that occur each year from contaminated food.
The claim is getting new attention, in light of the recent E. coli outbreaks involving spinach and lettuce.
HARLAN CLEMMONS: I think the public needs to be aware of what capabilities in food safety is out there. There's no reason for human illness due to pathogens; there's no reason for people to get sick when we have the technology.
TOM BEARDEN: Although irradiation has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat some foods, like spices, wheat, red meats and poultry, it has not been widely embraced by the public, like people like San Francisco health food store owner Gilles DeSaulniers.
GILLES DESAULNIERS, Harvest Urban Market: I couldn't imagine eating irradiated food. It's just the idea horrifies me. I feel like I'm sitting next to a pellet of plutonium. I don't understand why you have to irradiate food. It's making our body lazy, I would think, you know, because you're not exposing it to the elements that otherwise would be in the normal world. more information

Rep. Farr introduces bill to help growers
February 9, 2007
Hollister Free Lance (CA)
Michael Van Cassell
Hollister -- U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, the Democrat who represents San Benito County and the rest of California's 17th District in Congress, was cited as introducing a bill Thursday called the Spinach Research and Recovery Act, which would authorize $26 million for fresh produce safety research and fund emergency assistance to spinach growers and handlers still suffering financially from September's E. coli outbreak.
Richard Silva, vice president of the San Benito County Farm Bureau and a leafy green grower, was cited as saying the next step would be a requirement that all California growers of leafy greens follow a high standard of safety practices, adding, "I'm very happy that the marketing agreement has gone through with 24 people signing up for it representing over 70 percent of the acreage."
Tim Chelling, vice president of communications for the Western Growers Association, was cited a saying the marketing agreement was the "first salvo in our overall war on foodborne illness," and that, "The marketing agreement was just the first in a series of actions at all levels to enhance food safety."
Jim Gibson, owner of the Hollister Super chain in San Benito County, was cited as saying he has been surprised that consumer confidence in spinach has not returned in full, adding, "Spinach is still less than half of what it used to be as far as sales. People had really gotten into eating spinach. We were selling a lot of spinach."
The recent freeze tripled prices of spinach, Gibson said. He said the increase in price may account for the delayed rebound.

Copper Alloy Surfaces Can Eliminate E. coli

Source of Article:
New York, NY - Scientists at the University of Southampton, U.K., have found that E. coli O157:H7, a harmful bacterium primarily associated with raw and undercooked ground beef or foods that come into contact with raw meat, cannot survive on certain copper alloy surfaces. The study, published in the June 2006 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, compares the ability of copper alloys to eradicate E. coli with that of stainless steel, which is commonly used for food processing surfaces.
According to the Unites States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, there have been six E. coli-related meat recalls in the past six months. In September 2006 there was a multi-state foodborne illness outbreak linked to E. coli contaminated fresh spinach. E. coli contamination is a serious concern in the food processing and preparation industry. Infections caused by this pathogen can be life threatening, especially in children, seniors and individuals with compromised immune systems.
The Southampton study compared the survival rates of E. coli O157:H7 on several copper alloys and on stainless steel, with regard to both temperature and exposure time. Tests were conducted over a period of six hours at room (72 degrees F) and refrigeration (39 degrees F) temperatures.
The results were significant. While stainless steel had no effect on the viability of the E. coli at room temperature, three copper casting alloys effectively eliminated it, and two others significantly reduced it. The bacteria sample tested on silicon bronze (95% copper) were significantly reduced in 45 minutes and completely eradicated in 75 minutes. Brass (85% copper) and red brass (93% copper) killed the bacteria in 3.0 hours and 4.5 hours, respectively. Significant reductions were noted after six hours on Ni- Al bronze (81% copper) and yellow brass (61% copper).
At 39 degrees F (refrigeration temperature) the stainless steel had no effect on the E. coli, while the three alloys with the highest copper content -- silicon bronze, red brass and brass - eliminated it within three hours.
Copper alloys with 90% or more copper content are proven to have significant disinfection ability at both room and refrigerated temperatures. Dr. Jonathan Noyce, lead author of the study, comments, "Although stainless steel is easily cleaned, it is not intrinsically effective at reducing bacteria. It would seem that the food processing and preparation environments would benefit from using materials, like copper, that are inherently antimicrobial."
The study was funded by the Copper Development Association Inc. and the International Copper Association Ltd.
SOURCE: University of Southampton, U.K. and Copper Development Association Inc.

FDA approves new food safety technology

Source of Article:
UNITED STATES: The FDA has approved a ¡°no rinse¡± product that protects cut poultry against foodborne pathogens and food-spoilage organisms.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the used of Selectrocide in cut poultry and produce.
The product is manufactured by Danvers, Massachusetts-based Selective Micro Technologies and claims to be the world¡¯s first antimicrobial solution of 99 percent-pure chlorine dioxide produced without a chemical generator.
A news release from the company says, unlike many other antimicrobials, Selectrocide has been cleared by the FDA for use on cut produce and poultry without requiring a post-application potable water rinse, making treatment more convenient and efficient.
The company also says Selectrocide products provide other benefits to poultry processors, including: increased shelf life; sensory characteristics; user-friendliness; compatible with stainless steel (and other non-porous materials) at recommended application strengths; not considered a ¡°skin sensitizer¡±; contains no byproducts at levels of concern.
More information about Selectrocide and Selective Micro Technologies can be found at
Web posted: February 12, 2007

Salmonella DNA test returns faster results
By George Reynolds
Source of Article:
09/02/2007 - A new salmonella detection system that uses genetic profiling to analyse food samples could slash result times, claim researchers.
Salmonella is one of the food industry's most problematic food-poisoning pathogens. Eggs, poultry meat and pork are the major sources of human Salmonella infections.
Conventional microbiological techniques can take up to week, resulting in either costly delays in processing plants or expensive recalls if perishable foods shipped prior to result confirmation are found to be contaminated.
Researchers with the University of Basque Country in Spain, claim the new system can detect and return results of salmonella contamination within 24 hours.
Several strains of Salmonella have been totally sequenced by scientists and so the genetic make up of some bacteria can be specifically tested for their presence.
Certain genes are unique to salmonella or are not found in any other living matter. Reducing what the system is searching for reduces the time in which results can be confirmed, the scientists said in revealing details of their work.
However, the drawback of conventional testing of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is that it is stable and therefore present even when the harmful bacteria is destroyed using pasteurisation or sterilisation.
University researchers claim to have found another, more specific marker for detecting of the active bacteria.
The new system looks for messenger ribonucleic acid (RNA), which is an unstable and easily degradable molecule and only produced when the bacteria is active.
With this knowledge, the researchers have designed a procedure to extract this RNA from food samples.
Once an RNA sample is taken, it is transformed into DNA by means of inverse transcription. This process results in the DNA copy being created, which is then detected by probes previously developed by the University.
The probes are DNA chains that are complementary to Salmonella genes marked with a fluorescent compound.
According to the researchers, if the DNA copy and the complementary DNA unite, the fluorescent compound emits a signal detectable in real time.
The device also enable quality controllers the number of Salmonella cells present in the food sample.
According to a European Commission study published in 2005 there were 192,703 reported cases of salmonellosis, the human illness caused by salmonella, during 2004 in the EU's then 25 member states.

February 8, 2007
"Last night, Canada announced a detection of BSE in a mature bull from Alberta, Canada. I have visited with Canada's Minister of Agriculture, Chuck Strahl, who welcomes our participation in the investigation. I am dispatching a USDA expert to Canada for that purpose.
Based on what is known at this time, I would not expect this Canadian detection to impact our trade with Canada. Regarding the proposed minimal risk rule that specifies additional movement of cattle and beef into the United States, we remain in an open comment period until March 12, 2007. While the risk assessment for the proposed rule factors in the possibility of additional cases, the open comment period allows for consideration of additional information that might result from this investigation."

Silicon Valley companies take aim at detecting deadly pathogens
February 7, 2007
The Produce News
Brian Gaylord
SANTA CLARA, CA -- NanoSensors Inc., a Silicon Valley-based nanotechnology development company, is, according to this story, licensing nanoporous silicon-based biosensor technology through Michigan State University and a university in South Korea to develop food-safety analysis systems.
In addition to silicon-based filters, NanoSensors is also using carbon nanotube technology to detect and isolate biologically based pathogens. The story says that carbon nanotubes are cylindrical carbon molecules with properties that make them potentially useful in extremely small-scale electronic and mechanical applications.
NanoSensors is working on a reusable testing kit. The disposable sensor is about the size of a quarter and has a reader for measuring data embedded in it. The sensor transmits back to an external data acquisition unit that can be used by people at all levels of the food distribution chain. Customers will be able to buy and use disposable sensors on each specific lot of produce that is tested.
NanoSensors licensed its biosensor technology in August. Its sensor can detect E. coli but cannot tell what strain it is. Depending on the host molecule, the sensor could be used to detect salmonella.
The sensor detects the DNA of the host molecule on porous silicone. The DNA of the molecule is attached to that surface; the sensor is functionalized when DNA is placed on the surface. The base of the sensor is disposable. Joshua Moser, vice president and chief operating officer of NanoSensors, said that the company "has made a tremendous amount of progress in a short amount of time."

Public Meeting To Address Agenda Items for Codex Committee On Methods of Analysis and Sampling
Congressional and Public Affairs
(202) 720-9113
Bridgette Keefe
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2007 - The Office of the Under Secretary for Food Safety, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Department of Health and Human Services today announced a public meeting to provide information and receive comments on agenda items and draft U.S. positions that will be discussed at the 28th Session of the Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling (CCMAS), to be held in Budapest, Hungary, March 5 - 9, 2007.
The public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, in Room 1A002, Harvey Wiley Federal Building, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, College Park, Md.
Agenda items and documents relating to the 28th Session of CCMAS will be available on the Codex Alimentarius Web site at
Codex was created in 1963 by two United Nations organizations: the Food and Agrculture Organization and the World Health Organization. Codex develops food standards, guidelines and codes of practice in order to protect the health of consumers, ensure fair food trade practices and promote coordination of food standards undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Interested parties should submit their comments on this meeting notice. Comments may be submitted by e-mail to Gregory Diachenko, U.S. Delegate, at For further information concerning the 28th Session of the CCMAS, contact Dr. Diachenko by e-mail or phone at (301) 436-1898, or by fax at (202) 436-2364.
Persons requiring a sign language interpreter or other special accommodations for the public meeting should notify Syed Ali, international issues analyst, U.S. Codex Office, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA, at (202) 205-7760, or by fax (202) 720-3157.

2nd International Conference for Food Safety and Quality
Nov. 6-7, 2007
South San Francisco Convention Center
Click here for more information

1st International Conference for Food Safety and Quality (Nov. 7-8, 2006)
Major Topic: Current Detection Methods for Microbiological/Chemical Hazards for Food Safety/Quality

Blame factory farming, not organic food
Nature Biotechnology - 25, 165 (2007)
Craig Holdrege
Via AgBioView at
To the editor:
Clearly, editorials provide a journal the opportunity to express opinions. But your October editorial "Why silence is not an option" (Nat. Biotechnol. 24, 1177, 2006) goes too far by misrepresenting some basic facts.
The editorial laments that biotech crops get bad press whereas organic crops, when something goes awry, seem to come away unscathed. Your example is the recent contamination of fresh spinach with the food pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7, which led to numerous human illnesses and, up to now, four deaths. You insinuate that organic spinach was the carrier of the pathogen. That is not the case. The manufacturing codes from the contaminated bags of spinach have, to date, all been from conventionally and not organically grown spinach. The conventionally grown spinach was packaged at the same warehouse as Earthbound Farm's organic spinach 1. (was the spinach grown on a transitional organic farm? -- dp)
You go on to decry that no one has pointed out that "the combinations of 'organic' and 'spinach' [are] simply a time-bomb waiting to go off." You provide absolutely no evidence for this radical claim. I would expect more substance and less hyperbole from a scientific journal. The problem of E. coli O157:H7contamination is complex. The largest known reservoir of these pathogens is the colon of cattle. When cattle are fed large portions of grain--as is the case in feedlots and large factory farms--both the number of E. coli and their acid resistance rise significantly 2, 3, 4. This increases the likelihood that pathogenic E. coli--including O157:H7--will survive and reproduce. Perhaps 30?50% of grain-fed cattle harbor E. coli O157:H7. Because the strain is acid resistant, if it contaminates uncooked food it survives the acid environment of human stomachs, which normally kills most bacteria, and then can cause serious illness.
Manure and runoff from factory farms and feedlots can easily pollute streams and groundwater--water used to irrigate those huge vegetable farms in California that produce most of the produce for the United States, including fresh spinach. The US Food and Drug Administration sees contamination of irrigation water supplies as a primary means of spreading E. coli O157:H7 and warned California growers about this danger in a letter in November 2005 (ref. 5). Factory farming and concentration of the food supply is the issue here, not organic food. Your editorial got it wrong.
In fact, researchers studying E. coli O157:H7 found that when cattle feed was shifted from grain to forage (hay or silage), both the pathogen population in the cattle and the bacterial acid resistance dropped drastically 2, 3, 4. Although it may be hard to swallow, you're probably much safer eating a hamburger made from grass-fed beef slaughtered in a local slaughter house and topped with a piece of lettuce from your neighbor's organic farm that used the grass-fed cow's composted manure as a fertilizer than you are eating products of all-American industrial agriculture.
I would agree with your editorial's conclusion that "there is a basic truth that bears repetition: and that is that basic truths bear repetition." The basic truth I missed in your editorial is that the recent food contamination has to do with systemic problems in conventional industrial food production and processing. Don't blame organic farming.
2. Diez-Gonzalez, F. et al. Science 281, 1666?1668 (1998).
3. Russell, J.B. et al. J. Dairy Sci. 83, 863?873 (2000).
4. Callaway, T.R. et al. J. Dairy Sci. 86, 852?860 (2003).
5. US Food and Drug Administration. Letter to California Firms that Grow, Pack, Process, or Ship Fresh and Fresh-cut Lettuce, November 4, 2005.

Nature Biotechnology responds:
It is instructive that a proponent of organic agriculture is outraged and prompted to speak out against an editorial that intentionally (and ironically) sought to apply to organic spinach the types of media distortions that are all too often applied to genetically modified (GM) products. If only the industrial and academic research community were as forthright in defending GM products from media distortions and scaremongering, our editorial would have been unnecessary.
When we wrote that "all spinach was bad for consumers, organic fresh produce per se was hazardous" and "combinations of 'organic' and 'spinach' [are] simply a time-bomb waiting to go off," our intention was not to alert readers to the explosive dangers of organic spinach, nor to tarnish the image of spinach or organic food as a whole?it was simply to illustrate the preposterousness of some of the claims concerning GM food that are bandied about by the media without challenge.
As stated clearly in our editorial, the facts presented concerning the suspected source of contamination were correct at the time Nature Biotechnology went to press. Subsequently, Natural Selections Foods' Earthbound Farm did issue a press release (the release mentioned in ref. 1 above appears to be no longer active on the website) claiming that manufacturing codes from packaging retained by patients were all from nonorganic spinach?a claim parroted widely and without critique in the media; however, what was not widely reported was that these codes were obtained for only a relatively small number of victims. So the possibility that organic spinach was responsible for illness in other patients has never been ruled out by federal authorities; indeed, perhaps an important question to ask is why Natural Selections Foods issued press releases absolving its organic products from culpability only three days into a national outbreak of a food-borne illness for which no products had been cleared by regulatory authorities and in which the source of the E. coli O157:H7 contamination had yet to be ascertained.
We agree with Holdrege that "the problem of E. coli O157:H7 contamination is complex." Thus far, this strain has been found in every cattle herd tested by US Department of Agriculture researchers, including animals raised on open pastures at low densities in remote areas. On the basis of information available to date, government investigators have traced the most likely source of the September E. coli outbreak to a herd of cattle raised on a pasture-based, grass-only beef ranch--not "cattle fed large portions of grain as is the case in feedlots and large factory farms," as insinuated by Holdrege. The grazing cattle were about a half mile from the field where the tainted spinach was grown. E. coli O157:H7 was found in samples from a feral pig killed on the ranch, together with evidence that pigs had breached the fencing around the spinach fields. The supposition is that wild pigs spread the E. coli from the cattle pastures to the spinach fields 1.
Holdrege is correct that industrialized agriculture and its distribution system contribute to the problem of food-borne illness in the United States. Indeed, cattle on US feedlots produce more than a billion tons of manure every year--manure chockfull not only of nasty microbes like E. coli 0157:H7, but also high concentrations of pharmaceuticals used to medicate feedlot animals--which can end up on fields and in food. At the same time, increasingly centralized food washing and distribution systems are likely to continue to give microbes ample opportunities to cross-contaminate a vast amount of our food.
But organic food is not an absolute solution. It is not going to feed the entire country (or indeed the whole world)--it is an expensive lifestyle choice available to only a minority of consumers. And contrary to the wholesome hamburger picture painted by Holdrege, organic practices may even increase the likelihood of E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. The most comprehensive peer-reviewed study 2 to look at contamination of produce found that organic fruits and vegetables are three times more likely to be contaminated with bacteria than conventional produce; indeed, of all the produce tested, the study found the pathogen Salmonella exclusively in organic lettuce and organic green peppers. Of a total of 15 farms that had E. coli?positive samples, 13 were organic and only two were conventional 2.
There is a simple fix available, however, that could stem the rising tide of cases of food-borne illness in the United States. Irradiation of fruits and vegetables would eliminate 99.999% of pathogens. It would have prevented or drastically reduced all of last year's E. coli outbreaks. And most important of all, it would have saved lives. It's hard to understand why a country that already irradiates its meat should not do the same to its fruits and vegetables.
1. 2. Mukherjee, A. et al. J. Food Prot. 67, 894?900 (2004).