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7/25
2007
ISSUE:265

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Company widely expands botulism recall
Source of Article: http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/


Jul 23, 2007 (CIDRAP News) ? The company that recalled its chili sauce last week after four people got sick with suspected botulism poisoning dramatically expanded the recall over the weekend to include products that contain meat, including one dog food brand.
Steve Mavity, senior vice president of technical services and quality assurance for Castleberry's, based in Augusta, Ga., said in a press release 2 days ago that the company believes it has isolated the botulism problem to underprocessing that occurred on one line of the production facility.
"We have shut down this line altogether and are recalling all products produced on it," Mavity said in the press release.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a statement 2 days ago that the recall was expanded after federal officials found that processing malfunctions at the plant existed longer than initially thought.
The recall now includes chili, beef stew, hash, corned beef hash, barbecue pork, barbecue beef, chipped beef, Brunswick stew, sausage gravy, and four types of Natural Balance dog food. More than 80 products are included in the expanded recall, which affects at least 24 different brands. A full list of recalled products can be found on the company's Web site, www.castleberrys.com.
The USDA said that all of the affected products that contain meat and are under its inspection services bear the establishment number "EST. 195" inside the USDA inspection seal.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in an update yesterday that botulinum toxin was identified in leftover chili sauce from an unlabeled sealable bag collected from a patient's refrigerator.
Only one product is implicated in the cases of the people who were sickened: Castleberry's hot dog chili sauce.
No new cases have been reported to the CDC besides the four suspected cases that were initially announced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Jul 19. They include two children from Texas and an Indiana couple. The CDC said the onset dates range from Jun 29 to Jul 9, 2007.
Few details were available about the patients; however, Castleberry's said the FDA told them two of the cases had been confirmed.
Botulinum toxin is a nerve poison produced by Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium commonly found in soil. Botulism symptoms include double or blurred vision, droopy eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness, according to the CDC. If untreated, the illness can progress to paralysis of the limbs, trunk, and breathing muscles.
People who have any of the recalled products should throw them away, and anyone who shows symptoms and may have consumed one of the affected products should seek medical attention immediately, the FDA has said.
See also:
Jul 21 Castleberry's press release
http://www.castleberrys.com/news_pressRelease0721.asp
Jul 21 USDA press release: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Recall_033_2007_expanded/index.asp
Jul 22 CDC press release
http://www.cdc.gov/botulism/botulism.htm
Jul 20 CIDRAP News story "FDA warns of possible link between botulism and chili sauce": http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/fs/food-disease/news/jul2007botulism.html

Castleberry's closes chili plant

By Tom Johnston on 7/24/2007 for Meatingplace.com
Castleberry's Food Company has shut down operations at its Augusta, Ga., production as federal agencies probe the firm's recall of tainted chili sauce that led to four human cases of botulism. (See Castleberry's expands earlier canned meat recall on Meatingplace.com, July 23, 2007.)
The move came after 16 cans of chili sauce at the Augusta plant tested positive for Clostridium botulinum, the organism that causes botulism, over the weekend, the Associated Press reported.
"So that we can devote all available resources to this investigation, we agreed to shut down our entire facility in Augusta. We will not process any more food there until FDA and the USDA agrees it is appropriate to reopen," Dave Melbourne, senior vice president for Castleberry's, told AP. "And, we have stopped all further product distribution from our centers."
Castleberry's said it also hired an outside agency to deploy personnel to more than 8,500 retailers in an effort to expedite the removal of recalled products, according to AP.

Botulism Food Poisoning in Human and Dog Food - Recall Expansion and Update
Posted on July 21, 2007 by Bill Marler

Source of Article: http://www.marlerblog.com/2007/07/articles/legal-cases/botulism-foodpoisoning-in-human-and-dog-food-recall-expansion-and-update/

I have been posting about botulism over the last four months on www.foodpoisonblog.com:


Foodborne botulism (as distinct from wound botulism and infant botulism) is a severe type of food poisoning caused by the ingestion of foods containing the potent neurotoxin formed during growth of the organism. The toxin is heat labile and can be destroyed if heated at 80¡ÆC for 10 minutes or longer. The incidence of the disease is low, but the disease is of considerable concern because of its high mortality rate if not treated immediately and properly. Most of the 10 to 30 outbreaks that are reported annually in the United States are associated with inadequately processed, home-canned foods, but occasionally commercially produced foods have been involved in outbreaks. Sausages, meat products, canned vegetables and seafood products have been the most frequent vehicles for human botulism.


FDA Expands Its Warning about the Risk of Botulism Poisoning From Certain Castleberry Food Products and Dog Food

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expanding its warning to consumers. This expansion is for consumers and pet owners regarding canned food products and dog food produced by Castleberry Food Company of Augusta, Ga., due to the risk of botulinum toxin. Castleberry is expanding the recall to include all of the following canned products with all "best by" and code dates, and FDA is warning consumers not to purchase or eat any of the canned products listed in the table below. The agency is expanding its warning based in part on FDA test results and information obtained during a joint FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection of the Castleberry¡¯s facility in Augusta, Ga.


Georgia Firm Expands Recall of Canned Meat Products That May Contain Clostridium botulinum

Castleberry's Food Company, an Augusta, Ga., establishment owned by Bumble Bee Foods, LLC, is expanding its July 19 recall of canned meat products that may contain Clostridium botulinum, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced today.

The recall is being expanded after information gathered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FSIS indicated that processing malfunctions at the establishment have existed longer than initially estimated. For that reason, Castleberry's has agreed to recall all of the following products that may still be in commerce, regardless of the "best buy" date stamped on the bottom of the can. Consumers who have any of the products listed are urged not to eat them, but rather return or dispose of them.

The following products listed below are subject to recall. Each can label or can end bears the establishment number "EST. 195" inside the USDA seal of inspection. The canned meat products were distributed nationwide. The problem was discovered during an investigation into illnesses in Indiana and Texas. The investigation led to a recall by FDA of three types of meatless hotdog chili sauce.

FDA RECALL

Austex Onion Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Austex Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Castleberry's Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Castleberry's Onion Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Bunker Hill Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Kroger Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Meijer Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Food Lion Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Bloom Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Thrifty Maid Hot Dog Chili Sauce
Irish Stew with Beef Dog Food
Chinese Take Out with Sauce with Vegetables and Chicken Dog Food
Southern Style Dumplings with Gravy with Chicken and Vegetables
Dog Food
Hobo Chili with Chicken Pasta Dog Food

USDA RECALL

* 12-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Austex Beef Stew."
* 15- and 19-ounce cans of "Austex Chili with Beans."
* 12-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Austex Chili No Beans."
* 12-pack of 19-ounce cans of "Austex Chili No Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Best Yet Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Best Yet Corned Beef Hash."
* 15-ounce cans of "Big Y Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Big Y Chili no Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Big Y Corned Beef Hash."
* 15-ounce cans of "Black Rock Chili with Beans."
* 24-pack of 10-ounce cans of "Bryan Hot Dog Chili Sauce."
* 24-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Bryan Corned Beef Hash."
* 24-pack of 10-ounce cans of "Bryan Chili No Beans."
* 24-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Bryan Chili No Beans."
* 24-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Bryan Chili with Beans."
* 10-ounce cans of "Bunker Hill Chili no Beans."
* 10-ounce cans of "Bunker Hill Chunky Chili no Beans."
* 10-ounce cans of "Castle Chili No Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Castleberry's Beef Stew."
* 15-ounce cans of "Castleberry's Brunswick Stew."
* 10-ounce cans of "Castleberry's BUNKER HILL, ORIGINAL Chili NO BEANS."
* 15-ounce cans of "Castleberry's CHILI WITH BEANS."
* 12-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Castleberry's Chili No Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Castleberry's Corned Beef Hash."
* 10-ounce cans of "Castleberry's HICKORY SMOKED, OVEN ROASTED, WITH SKINS, BARBECUE PORK IN BARBECUE SAUCE."
* 12-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Castleberry's Hot Chili with Beans."
* 10- and 14.5-ounce cans of "Castleberry's BBQ Pork."
* 10-ounce cans of "Castleberry's Sausage Gravy."
* 10-ounce cans of "Castleberry's Chip Beef Gravy."
* 15-ounce cans of "Cattle Drive Beef Stew."
* 15-ounce cans of "Cattle Drive Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Cattle Drive Chili no Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Cattle Drive CHILI WITH BEANS."
* 8-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Cattle Drive Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Cattle Drive Chicken Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Firefighter Chicken Chili."
* 15-ounce cans of "Firefighter Chicken Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Firefighter Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Firefighter Chili no Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Food Club Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Food Club Corned Beef Hash."
* 15-ounce cans of "Georgia Hash."
* 10- and 15-ounce cans of "Goldstar Chili."
* 15-ounce cans of "Goldstar Tex Mex Chili."
* 15-ounce cans of "Great Value Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Great Value Hot Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Kroger Beef Stew."
* 15-ounce cans of "Kroger Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Kroger Chili no Bean."
* 15-ounce cans of "Lowes Chili no Bean."
* 15-ounce cans of "Lowes Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Lowes Corn Beef Hash."
* 15-ounce cans of "Meijer Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Meijer Chili no Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Meijer CORNED BEEF HASH."
* 12-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Morton House Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Morton House Corned Beef Hash."
* 10- and 15-ounce cans of "Paramount Hot Dog Chili Sauce."
* 15-ounce cans of "Paramount Chili no Bean."
* 15-ounce cans of "Paramount Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Piggly Wiggly Chili with Beans."
* 10- and 15-ounce cans of "Piggly Wiggly Chili no Bean."
* 15-ounce cans of "Piggly Wiggly Corned Beef Hash."
* 12-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Prudence Corned Beef Hash."
* 15-ounce cans of "Southern Home Chili with Beans."
* 10- and 15-ounce cans of "Southern Home Chili no Bean."
* 15-ounce cans of "Southern Home Corned Beef Hash."
* 10-ounce cans of "Steak N Shake Chili."
* 15-ounce cans of "Thrifty Maid Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Thrifty Maid Corned Beef Hash."
* 15-ounce cans of "Triple Bar Chili with Beans."
* 12-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Triple Bar Chili with Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Triple Bar Chili no Beans."
* 12-pack of 15-ounce cans of "Triple Bar Chili no Beans."
* 15-ounce cans of "Value Time Chili with Beans."

Growers Sign New Rules To Prevent E. Coli Outbreak
Source of Article: http://cbs2.com/topstories/local_story_203164243.html
(CBS) RIVERSIDE, Calif. Nearly all of the state's growers and processors of leafy green vegetables have signed on to stringent new rules for handling the organic products from field to fork to avoid an E.coli outbreak similar to the one that killed three people and sickened more than 200 who ate spinach, it was reported Sunday.
The agreement will require strict cleanliness measures and inspections to prevent contamination of various types of lettuce, as well as assorted plants like escarole, endive, spinach and arugula. Nearly 99 percent of California's growers and processors have signed on to the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which goes into effect Monday, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"We're going to do everything in our power to prevent anything like that happening again," Imperial County grower Jack Vessey, who helped draft the measures, told the paper. "We wanted to do the fastest-possible remedy for our industry, and this was the fastest."
The E. coli outbreak in September resulted in a $100 million loss for California's $160 million spinach crop, and sales still haven't returned to their previous levels.
The source of that outbreak was traced back to river water and animal feces from a small grass-fed cattle operation in the Salinas Valley that leased land to Mission Organics, a spinach grower. The tainted spinach was contained in Dole-brand bagged baby spinach processed by Natural Selection Fonds in San Juan Bautista.
Vessey said he and growers in Imperial County, which was not involved in the outbreak, took a 15 to 20 percent hit to their bottom line because of lost sales.
Critics of the agreement say food safety would be better ensured by a mandatory government program.
"This doesn't inspire confidence that the industry is the one overseeing the safety measures," Elisa Odabashian, director of the West Coast office of Consumers union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine said.
"It's the fox taking care of the henhouse," she said. "There's still room for contaminated produce to reach the marketplace."
The new safety measures will also cost growers, who will pass on the extra cost to consumers.

Food Safety and Quality Job Information
Instrumentation Chemistry, Supervisor ? Northland Laboratories ? Northbrook, IL

QUALITY ASSURANCE Manager - Avendra, LLC - Dallas/Ft Worth or Houston, TX
MICROBIOLOGIST Chestnut Labs - Springfield, MO
Quality Assurance Manager Bar-S Foods Co Clinton, OK
Quality Assurance Mgr. - Flying Food Group Starbucks Account Lawrenceville, GA
Corporate Technical Services Specialist - McKee Foods Corporation Collegedale, TN
Dept Head, Processing and Packaging - GMA/FPA Ctr for NW Seafood Seattle, WA
Quality Assurance Coordinator - Shaw's Southern Belle Frozen Foods Jacksonville, FL
Food Technologist Hatfield Quality Meats
Quality Coordinator Johnsonville Sausage, LLC

Food Safety and Quality Job Information

Leafy greens handlers ready for food safety audits audits
The Associated Press Article Launched: 07/23/2007 11:31:02 AM PDT
Source of Article: http://www.mercurynews.com/breakingnews/ci_6443947
FRESNO, Calif.?The bulk of the state's lettuce and spinach growers, shippers and processors will submit to audits starting Monday designed to assure customers their products are safe, agriculture officials said.
Ninety-nine percent of the leafy greens industry has signed up for the voluntary inspections as part of their membership in a leafy greens marketing agreement, state Department of Food and Agriculture officials said.
The agreement was drawn up by the salad greens industry in an effort to restore consumer confidence following last year's E. coli outbreak linked to fresh California spinach. The bacteria caused the deaths of three people and sickened about 200 others.
Federal officials warned U.S. consumers not to eat bagged or bunched spinach for two weeks in September, but did not find that growers or processors had deliberately skirted the law.
Auditors will start visiting randomly selected leafy greens handlers Monday to check their compliance with new, stricter food safety rules, said Joseph Pezzini, chairman of the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Board.
Companies that pass the audits can seal their produce with a food safety mark of approval to show they're committed to food safety, agriculture officials said.

2nd International Conference for Food Safety and Quality (Nov. 6-7, 2007), South San Francisco Convention Center

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

House committee ties FDA funds to food safety plan
By Janie Gabbett on 7/23/2007 for Meatingplace.com

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved increased funds for the Food and Drug Administration next year tied to the FDA coming up with a plan to improve food safety.
The bill, which is expected to go to the House floor later this month, boosts FDA funding by $128.5 million to $1.69 billion and includes extra funds for inspecting imports and filling vacancies at the agency.
"We can help with additional resources, but there also needs to be a corresponding commitment from management to perform its duties," Committee Chairman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement.
The committee budget directs the FDA to submit a plan to begin changing its approach to food safety when it submits the fiscal year 2009 budget, giving the committee time to review the plan before the funds to implement it become available on July 1, 2008.

N.C. A&T Food Scientist Develops Allergen-Free Peanut
Tuesday, 24 Jul 2007
Source of Article: http://www.myfoxwghp.com/
GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) -- Peanut-allergy sufferers rejoice!
North Carolina A&T announced Monday that one of the school's agricultural researchers had developed a process to make allergen-free peanuts.
Peanut and tree nut allergies are among the more severe of all food allergies, affecting approximately 3 million Americans and causing 100 to 150 deaths annually.
A spokesman for the university said food companies are showing a strong interest in licensing the process, which does not degrade the taste or quality of treated peanuts and might even render them easier to process for use as a food ingredient.
According to a media release from the school, tests showed 100 percent inactivation of allergens in whole-roasted kernels, and processed peanuts indicated no reaction from severely allergic individuals.
The inventor, Dr. Mohamed Ahmedna, an associate professor of food science, is continuing to refine the process to remove allergens from other foods.

One in 10 salads has poisonous bacteria
By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 22/07/2007
Source of Article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Food safety experts are calling for stricter production controls on ready-to-eat salads after tests revealed that many contain bacteria which can cause potentially deadly food poisoning.
A report compiled by the government's Health Protection Agency (HPA), found that one in 10 pre-packaged salads containing meat or seafood was contaminated with the listeria bacteria. Evidence of E. coli and salmonella was found in some bags of salad.
The HPA report, which involved testing more than 2,600 ready-to-eat salads, concluded that the control of bacteria in food manufacturing and in shops was essential to minimise the potential for hazardous food contamination.
Food poisoning due to contaminated salad is still rare. The HPA has recorded two notable outbreaks in the past two years, although only the most serious cases that result in hospitalisation will be reported.
David Barney, from the Fresh Prepared Salad Producers Group which represents the industry in the UK, said that the washing and preparation procedures used by producers removed far more bacteria than consumers could in their homes.
The UK pre-packed salad market is worth more than ¡Ì300 million a year.

Developing nanotechnology to test food quality

Source of Article: http://www.meatnews.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Article&artNum=15536

UNITED KINGDOM: Nanotechnology tests can be used to detect pathogens and contaminants in food.

Researchers have created two tiny instruments capable of detecting a range of contaminants, from molecules to whole bacteria, in food and water, according to an article in the August issue of Microbiology Today

Cantilevers are miniature diving boards that measure 200 micrometers long and 40 micrometers wide, about half the width of a human hair. Two cantilevers are placed in a sensor and liquid is passed through them. When the molecule or microbe that is being sought pout binds to its surface, the board bends and its electrical resistance is altered. Detection is achieved by measuring the change in resistance.

The device can be designed to search for specific things, for example, if the organism to be detected was E. coli, the cantilever could be coated in antibodies specific to E. coli cells.

Many different molecules or organisms can also be recognised simultaneously.

¡°The sensor can be expanded to contain several cantilevers, each coated with a specific detector molecule¡± says Professor Anja Boisen.

Lid devices also have a flexible board or ¡®lid¡¯ but it is placed on top of a tiny box that contains marker molecules, which produce colour visible to the naked eye. An organism, for example, binds to the lid, which then opens and releases the colour, indicating the presence of the organism. This can also be achieved by coating the board with ¡®food¡¯ for bacteria instead of binding molecules, so deflection occurs when the coating is removed. It can therefore be used to measure bacterial activity. The device is contained in a 1cm plastic box so, like the cantilever, it is portable.

Cantilevers and lid devices may soon be available to consumers.

¡°We use processes where the cantilevers are fabricated by etching a thin silicon wafer three-dimensionally,¡± says Professor Anja Boisen. ¡°The procedure is suitable for mass production and it might be possible to make sensors so cheaply that they can be disposable.¡±

The applications for this new technology are abundant. The sensors can detect DNA, so they may be used to test for human genetic diseases. They are also extremely sensitive and can measure deflections of just one nanometre, so are able to detect the presence of very small molecules. Conversely, whole bacteria and even parts of bacteria can be identified, making the sensors ideal for testing the quality of water and food samples.

¡°The lid device could be included in food packaging since it requires no external energy and is cheap to make. When a food is infected, the control unit in the plastic wrapping becomes coloured. Thus a simple colour indicator can show the quality of the food,¡± Boisen said.

bioMerieux TEMPO¢ç Granted Approval for Performance-Tested Methods from AOAC Research Institute
source from: rapidmirobiology.com
Automated tests validated as effective test methods for
E. coli, Total Coliforms and Total Viable Count
bioMerieux Industry, a world leader in industrial microbiology, has been granted Performance-Tested Methods (PTM) approval from the AOAC Research Institute for the TEMPO¢ç TVC (Total Viable Count) test, TEMPO CC (Total Coliforms) test, and TEMPO EC (E. coli) test.

The TEMPO tests were validated and certified as PTM methods for total viable count and the detection and enumeration of E. coli and total coliforms after rigorous and comprehensive testing under the guidelines of the AOAC Research Institute.

¡°The AOAC Research Institute independent laboratory reported the TEMPO system was easy to use and the software was intuitive and user-friendly,¡± said Robert Jechorek, rtech laboratories, AOAC RI independent testing laboratory. ¡°By eliminating numerous manual procedures, the automation of the TEMPO system provides reliable, rapid Most Probable Number (MPN) results, significant economic savings in labor, and increased efficiency.¡±

The PTM approval certifies TEMPO EC, TEMPO CC and TEMPO TVC for the testing of a variety of food categories, including a select group of raw and frozen meat and poultry products, fish products, fruit and vegetable products, dairy products, pasteurized eggs and some processed foods. In addition to the foods listed above, TEMPO EC and TEMPO CC are certified to test dry pet food.

The AOAC RI's independent laboratory determined that the TEMPO system could provide total viable count MPN results in a minimum of 4 0 hours compared to 48 hours for the AOAC method, total coliform MPN results in 24 hours versus four days for the AOAC MPN method, and E. coli MPN results in 24 hours compared to six days for the AOAC MPN method.

¡°bioMerieux is proud to have our products granted such a reputable status by the AOAC Research Institute,¡± said Herb Steward, Executive Vice President, bioMerieux, Inc. ¡°The TEMPO system represents our contribution to increasing the level of food safety for consumers, and we are thrilled to be recognized as an innovative leader in this industry.¡±

TEMPO automates testing for quality indicator organisms, including total viable count, coliform count, generic E. coli, and Enterobacteriaceae. The technology behind TEMPO is based on the established microbiological MPN method. Through automation, TEMPO takes the older, labor-intensive MPN method and standardizes numerous preparation steps, interpretation, and t est results. The outcome is a fast, accurate method with more reliability than the original process. TEMPO reagents are developed and manufactured in France.

Johanns to talk on farm bill, food safety
Source of Article: http://www.meatnews.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Article&artNum=15528
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
UNITED STATES: Agriculture Secretary to address National Press Club on farm bill, food safety.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns will discuss the pending farm bill and trade issues in a luncheon address at the National Press Club on Friday, July 27.
Johanns, a former governor of Nebraska, is pushing Bush Administration efforts to trim farm subsidies as part of a massive new multi-year farm bill to replace current law which expires in September. The bill includes changes developed by USDA after hearings that Johann held in farm communities in virtually every state. It includes provisions ranging from crop subsidies to ethanol promotion and land conservation.

Johanns has also been an advocate for expanding global trade in agricultural goods, although efforts to negotiation a new round of trade liberalization agreements have stalled over agricultural issues. Meanwhile, several instances of tainted food have raised public concerns about imports. He is a member of an inter-agency Cabinet-level task force appointed by President Bush to come up with new recommendations on product import safety by September.

Elected to two terms as governor of Nebraska, Johanns has been cited as a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Chuck Hagel if Hagel decides not to seek re-election in 2008.

The National Press Club luncheon will begin promptly at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, July 27. Commissioner Everson's remarks will begin just after 1:00 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session. Advance reservations should be made by telephoning (202) 662-7501.

Time to Go Easy on the Sushi? Study Finds High Mercury Levels Among New Yorkers
By Sewell Chan
One quarter of New York City adults have elevated blood mercury levels, and the problem ? closely tied to fish consumption ? is most acute among Asians, women and higher-income New Yorkers, according to findings released this morning by the city¡¯s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. For most adults, the higher levels do not pose a health risk, but children born to mothers with very high mercury levels during pregnancy are at greater risk of cognitive delays.
The city says it is conducting follow-up studies of fish sold in local markets, but in the meantime, has urged pregnant and breastfeeding women to moderate their consumption of mercury-rich fish.
The findings are likely to stir what is already a contentious debate over sushi. On The Times¡¯s Op-Ed page last week, the author Steven A. Shaw argued that alarm over mercury levels in sushi has been vastly overblown and that there is too much empty speculation over food-borne illnesses, while another author, Trevor Corson, contended that the much-hyped depletion of bluefin tuna is not as much of a problem as it is made out to be.
¡°No one needs to stop eating fish, but some people may need to change the type and amount they eat,¡± said Daniel Kass, the Health Department¡¯s assistant commissioner for environmental surveillance and policy. ¡°Young children, breastfeeding mothers, and women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy should eat fish that are lower in mercury and limit fish that are higher in mercury.¡±
Mercury levels remain the same whether a fish is cooked or served raw. ¡°The reason pregnant women should avoid raw fish is not because they¡¯re more susceptible to food-borne illness (they¡¯re not), but because many antibiotics to treat food-borne illness are contraindicated during pregnancy because of risks to the fetus,¡± a spokesperson for the Health Department wrote in an e-mail message to The Times.
These are the major findings released by the Health Department:
Among women 20-49 years old in New York City, the average blood mercury level is 2.64 ¥ìg/L (micrograms per liter), three times that of similarly-aged women nationally (0.83 ¥ìg/L)
Approximately one quarter of New York City women in this age group have a blood mercury level at or above 5 ¥ìg/L, the New York State reportable level.
People who eat fish three or fewer times each week have, on average, levels of mercury below the reportable level, while average readings exceed the reportable level among those who eat fish four or more times.
Higher-income New Yorkers have higher mercury levels; New Yorkers in the highest income bracket average 3.6 ¥ìg/L, compared to 2.4 ¥ìg/L among the lowest income group.
Average blood mercury levels are considerably higher among New York City Asian women (4.1 ¥ìg/L); nearly half (45 percent) have blood mercury levels at or above the State reportable level.
Among Asians, foreign-born Chinese women have particularly high levels compared to the rest of New York City. Two thirds (66 percent) have mercury at or above the reportable level.
Foreign-born Chinese New Yorkers eat an average of three fish meals per week, compared to about one among New Yorkers over all. About one quarter of Chinese New Yorkers eat fish five or more times each week, compared to fewer than one in 15 overall.
The Health Department has prepared a brochure [pdf] ( http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/edp/mercury_brochure.pdf ) in English, Spanish and Chinese that urges New Yorkers to eat fish in moderation and a fact sheet on mercury ( http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/epi/mercury.shtml ). High-mercury fish include Chilean sea bass, grouper, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, tuna steaks and sushi grade tuna.


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