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Salmonella and Cantaloupe: What Can Consumers Really Do?

Source of Article:

Experience with overall consumption of cantaloupe purchased and prepared in the home should give consumers confidence in the safety of this nutritious and enjoyable fruit. Many improvements in food safety awareness and management have been put in place by
domestic and international producers and shippers, particularly over the past three years, which are also providing a foundation for confidence in the supply of cantaloupes throughout the year. However, no one can guarantee an absolutely risk-free system for
melons grown in an open environment despite the best of precautions and intentions. Consumers have a precautionary role in food safety with cantaloupes and that involves adequate washing just prior to cutting for consumption and timely refrigeration of uneaten fruit.
Washing and scrubbing under running tap water is all we recommend but some consumers are sufficiently concerned to use a variety of disinfectant treatments. These are challenging to perform in the home but may add a little extra benefit if done correctly. Though we don¡¯t advocate the necessity for these extra wash steps, for some the effort is worth the piece of mind that ¡°what can be done has been done¡±. Why Talk about Melon Washing Now?
Concern over widespread illness due to consumption of cantaloupe has surfaced once again. Although any potentially affected melons should be gone from the market, the timing of news reports raises the level of concern for other imported cantaloupes and comes very close to the beginning of domestic melon shipments to retail stores. What triggered this now is that imported cantaloupes from a single company have
been associated with over 50 cases of illness involving 16 states, from California to New York and five provinces across Canada. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an alert for retailers and consumers to discard any remaining fruit and to prevent further entry of cantaloupe from this shipper, based on current information, whose export season to the U.S. and Canada typically runs until May.

Fruit from this shipper, as with many others, may be sold in retail stores as individual melons or are available in large membership ¡°wholesale¡± retailers as a consumer-pack of three cantaloupes in a netted sleeve. Consumers would be highly unlikely to know whether

the cantaloupes originated from the named shipper or another based on information in common media channels. The immediate media association of Salmonella to cantaloupe
consumption is unfortunate but understandable as there have been seven such outbreaks since 1990 and more than six large-scale cantaloupe recalls in the past three years triggered by contamination detected in surveillance programs. Each time we experience one of these episodes the questions ¡°What can consumers really do? Does washing prevent illness? always come up. Despite the availability of consistent information from the FDA, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and various universities and food associations about the why¡¯s and how to¡¯s of home washing of melons, information communicated
to the media doesn¡¯t always have a practical ring to it from a consumer perspective. In an effort to translate laboratory perspectives to consumer messages, recommendations for washing the outer rind of cantaloupe with up to 200 ppm bleach with a mild
detergent always surface. We do not support this approach, nor does any consumer guidance from FDA and CDC include such methods. Resources for the standard recommendations are provided below. The core messages are repeated here in the Sidebar for convenience. The purpose of this UC Food Safety Note is to briefly describe a few
options that are easy to obtain for home use and relatively inexpensive. Each would be a positive step in safe handling of cantaloupe melons and seem more likely to be safely applied during food preparation in the average home. Fruit Blemishes May Increase Risk
The first step is the selection of melons in the store. Focusing on some signs that should raise an immediate red-flag, that may be relevant for the current FDA advisory; avoid all fruit that have sunken and darkened areas on the rind and around the ends. Surface pitting or sunken and brown patches may be associated with harvesting cantaloupes too early and improper management during shipping. We have observed this disorder in retail stores over the past few months

with disturbing frequency. Although cutting away these areas is typically needed only for cosmetic reasons and not food safety, why take a chance? These prematurely softened and sunken areas are more likely to allow for transfer of surface contamination to the edible
flesh. Once this occurs, no amount of washing will help. The same is true for any visible signs of mold growing on the surface or around the stem-end scar (like a belly-button). If you can see any mold with the naked eye, there is a chance that the fine strands on the
surface have created an avenue for bacteria, including Salmonella, to reach the edible flesh. Shipping melons long distances in special film bags generally improves quality but, if handled incorrectly, can lead to early development of exterior mold growth that will enter the interior flesh but not cause visible decay right away. Here again, washing after the fact won¡¯t help. Though domestic shipments are not packed and handled in this way those same precautions for careful inspection of the fruit you buy apply. Neither sunken areas nor minor mold growth mean that there is Salmonella contamination or a certain risk
of illness. However, it is your money, Why take a chance? Unfortunately, though extremely rare, even good looking, sound melons may also be carriers for Salmonella contamination but proper washing has a much better chance of providing some protection.
Sensible Choices for Cantaloupe Washing Unfortunately, survey after survey confirm that consumers generally don¡¯t wash fruit items like cantaloupes before preparing for eating or
serving to family and guests. Washing with scrubbing, as described in the guidance articles listed below, is a good, simple, and prudent step that will help reduce risk in most cases. We do not agree that household bleach, especially at 200 ppm, should be used for washing
cantaloupes, or other fruits and vegetables. Typical bleach products are not labeled for this use and may have various additives that make them unsuitable for food preparation uses.

Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide has been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of transferring surface contamination prior to cutting through a melon rind. Typical retail and drug store sources (3% Hydrogen Peroxide) are not recommended. These products typically contain stabilizers or additives not suitable or registered for food use, such as phenols; fine
for finger cuts but not for eating. Consumers can purchase 7, 10, 19%,
or up to 30% Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide for Horticultural and Home Uses from a variety of sources. Our recommendation is not to handle the higher concentrates in the home, especially if there are young children around. A solution made from food grade 7%
hydrogen peroxide, diluted one-half cup per gallon, to use for a vigorous surface scrub of the cantaloupe followed by a quick rinse in a clean sink under running water is a good precautionary step before cutting on a cleaned and sanitized surface. It is a good idea to wear clean gloves when handling hydrogen peroxide, especially the concentrate; wearing safety glasses when pouring concentrates that come in larger containers makes good sense.
Though more work is involved, washing cantaloupe in heated hydrogen peroxide helps increase the killing power. Wash and scrub the cantaloupe under running tap water and set on a clean paper towel. Heat the water until uncomfortable to touch but not beginning
to boil. Remove from heat. Add the hydrogen peroxide and immerse the melon so it is about half covered in the container. Rotate and vigorously scrub for about 30 seconds. Remove and blot dry with paper towels before cutting. Vinegar White vinegar, commonly available as a 5% solution, is reported to be effective as a cantaloupe surface treatment for disinfection. However test results reported in scientific literature are highly variable which
makes clear consumer tips for the kitchen nearly impossible. In several tests white vinegar was better than brown. One thing we do know is that it takes quite a lot to be effective, so spraying a mixture of 1 cup white vinegar mixed with one cup tap water over the surface
of the melon may be a best choice. It does take some time to kill what

you can that might be on the surface so spritz the entire cantaloupe until well covered and let set for at least 2 minutes, preferably 10 minutes, and then rinse in a clean colander or sanitized sink under running water. Blot dry before cutting. Off-flavors should be unlikely
unless the cantaloupe was overripe. Well ripened and softer melons are more likely to absorb the vinegar and it is difficult to fully rinse off after treatment.
Commercial Produce Washes for the Home
Rigorous comparisons of retail and on-line marketed produce washes are hard to come by and none are currently approved and registered as antimicrobial agents. The main reasons aren¡¯t necessary to describe for the purpose of this article but there are some that have shown to be effective at both removing soil and applied fruit waxes and helpful
in removing bacteria from the surface of produce. We provide two examples because these are easily available to consumers and have been tested. Each appears to provide a benefit to eating quality and to reduce food safety concerns. Ingredients are all FDA food-safe,
typically plant extracts that have detergent-like properties for cleaning and mild, plant-based acids and antimicrobials. Applications are a few ounces per pint applied as a spray for larger fruit such as cantaloupe. As above, spritz the entire surface of the cantaloupe until well covered and let set for about 2 min, then rinse in a clean colander or sink
under running water. Blot dry before cutting. Various plant essential oils are also effective but expensive in concentrated form, harder to obtain, and more likely to impact flavor.
SunSmile¢ç Fruit & Vegetable Rinse
Veggie Wash¢ç
Are These Wash Steps Necessary?
Unfortunately, we can¡¯t truly answer this most reasonable question. As
we said at the beginning, the risk of illness is very, very low but it

does happen. Science doesn¡¯t have a clear answer or solution that will ensure the safety of all consumers though efforts to move closer and closer to practical answers continues. We feel strongly that thorough washing, as described below, is both sensible and sufficient. The extra steps described above are strictly a matter of personal choice.
A Few Consumer Friendly Resources for Melon Washing Information:
Safe-Handling of Fruits & Vegetables
Cantaloupe: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy.
Safe Handling of Raw Produce and Fresh-Squeezed
Fruit and Vegetable Juices
Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables and Safe Handling
of Fresh Cantaloupe
Prepared by Trevor Suslow
Extension Postharvest Specialist
Dept. of Plant Sciences
University of CA, Davis
The information in this extension note should not be viewed as an authoritative
source for current registration status or legal use recommendations of any product.
No specific or exclusive endorsement of named products is intended. No criticism is
intended nor implied of similar products that are not mentioned. Mention of the
circumstances implicating cantaloupe or associating cantaloupe shipped from any
source should not be viewed as authoritative knowledge that these associations are
unequivocally established.

Basic Consumer Recommendations
for Cantaloupe Washing
Wash cantaloupes just before you eat or serve them. Even though you do not eat the rind, it is important to wash the cantaloupe before you cut it.
? First, wash your hands with hot, soapy water for 20 seconds. Dry your hands with a new paper towel.
? Wash with soap and water and sanitize all food preparation areas and utensils, including any fruit/vegetable brush, with a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart water.
? Use a cleaned and sanitized fruit/vegetable brush to vigorously scrub the outside of the cantaloupe in a clean sink under clean running water.
? Do not use detergents, soaps or laundry bleach to wash cantaloupe. These products contain materials that are not suitable for food uses, may leave off-odors and change the
flavor, and could be poisonous.
? Refrigerate leftover cut cantaloupe within 2 hours. If it is left unrefrigerated for longer than 2 hours, throw it away.

Salmonella Litchfield Cantaloupe Outbreak sickens 50 in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin

Posted on March 22, 2008 Source of Article:
FDA Warns of Salmonella Risk with Cantaloupes from Agropecuaria Montelibano
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an import alert regarding entry of cantaloupe from Agropecuaria Montelibano, a Honduran grower and packer, because, based on current information, fruit from this company appears to be associated with a Salmonella Litchfield outbreak in the United States and Canada. The import alert advises FDA field offices that all cantaloupes shipped to the United States by this company are to be detained.

Marler Blog
In addition, the FDA has contacted importers about this action and is advising U.S. grocers, food service operators, and produce processors to remove from their stock any cantaloupes from this company. The FDA also advises consumers who have recently bought cantaloupes to check with the place of purchase to determine if the fruit came from this specific grower and packer. If so, consumers should throw away the cantaloupes.

Cantaloupe and Salmonella ? sound familiar? We have been involved in several, here are two:
Kunick Cantaloupe Salmonella Outbreak
On May 13, 2002 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release reporting an outbreak of Salmonella Poona connected with Susie Brand cantaloupes distributed in the United States and Canada by the I. Kunik Company of McAllen, Texas. The outbreak of Salmonella Poona infected dozens of people throughout the United States and Canada. The FDA reported that the cantaloupe was sold in retail stores, restaurants, and possibly used in other institutions. The recall of Susie Brand cantaloupes was the result of an FDA traceback investigation that linked salmonella infection to the consumption of this brand of cantaloupe. The FDA detained all cantaloupe imported by I. Kunik from Mexico.

Shipley Sales Cantaloupe Salmonella Outbreak
In May 2001, the FDA issued a press release warning consumers about Viva Brand imported cantaloupe. The FDA advised consumers of an outbreak of Salmonella Poona linked to cantaloupe imported to the U.S. by Shipley Sales Service of Nogales, Arizona. The outbreak was implicated in numerous illnesses and two deaths in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington state. The FDA detained all cantaloupe imported by Shipley Sales Service and took steps to prevent the importation of any additional contaminated cantaloupe.

Some other Cantaloupe Salmonella links:
Multistate Outbreaks of Salmonella Serotype Poona Infections Associated with Eating Cantaloupe from Mexico --- United States and Canada, 2000--2002
Three multistate outbreaks of Salmonella serotype Poona infections associated with eating cantaloupe imported from Mexico occurred in the spring of consecutive years during 2000--2002. In each outbreak, the isolates had indistinguishable pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns; the PFGE patterns observed in the 2000 and 2002 outbreaks were indistinguishable, but the pattern from 2001 was unique among them. Outbreaks were identified first by the California Department of Health Services (2000 and 2001) and the Washington State Department of Health (2002) and involved residents of 12 states and Canada.

Castle Produce Announces the Recall of Cantaloupe Melons Due to Salmonella Contamination
Castle Produce, a subsidiary of Tropical Produce, Inc., a wholesale importer of fresh fruit and vegetables announced the recall of cantaloupes in California due to potential health concerns. Some cantaloupes delivered on or after 2/16/2007 have tested positive for Salmonella, although no illnesses have been reported.
Dole Fresh Fruit Company announced the recall of cantaloupes in the Eastern U.S. and Quebec due to potential health concerns.
Some cantaloupes packed on January 25, 26 and 27, 2007 by an independent, third-party grower in Costa Rica have tested positive for Salmonella. Although no illnesses have been reported, Dole voluntarily has decided to recall all cantaloupes imported from Costa Rica and packed by that grower.
According to news reports, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya called the FDA decision ¡°extreme and imprudent,¡± as the melons were contaminated on their peel, not inside, meaning they may have come in contact with salmonella bacteria after they were shipped.

Salmonella Ghost Map of Alamosa
Posted on March 21, 2008 by Salmonella Lawyer
Source of Article:
Inside the cover of Steven Johnson¡¯s ¡°The Ghost Map¡± reads:
It is the summer of 1854. Cholera has seized London with unprecedented intensity. A metropolis of more than 2 million people, London is just emerging as a one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure necessary to support its dense population - garbage removal, clean water, sewers - the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure.

Marler Blog

Sounds a bit like the spring of 2008 in Alamosa, Colorado. According to news reports:

Boiling tap water will kill bacteria to make it safe for use, but health officials warned that no one should use even boiled tap water once the flush of the water system begins. Investigators are working to determine how the system was contaminated. Possibilities include a compromise in a storage tank or cross-contamination with a sewage line. The city had been working to switch to a chlorinated system, but the salmonella outbreak is speeding up the city's timetable. The outbreak has affected business for many restaurants, who were told to toss any produce washed or misted with city water if it was going to be served raw, and to stop serving ice or soda fountain drinks made with city water. They also could not wash dishes with city water.

Marler Blog
As recently at March 2008, the Chieftan reported that a new water treatment plant designed to bring Alamosa in line with federal arsenic standards for drinking water should be ready by Aug. 1, said Public Works Director Don Koskelin. The plant became necessary when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revised its drinking water standards for arsenic to 10 parts per billion in 2004, down from the old rule of 50 ppb.

"We'll get the EPA off our backs, won't we," Mayor Farris Bervig said.

Even earlier and perhaps odder, in 2005, water was an issue. Then it was the start up of Alamosa-based Colorado Water company. It wanted to be ¡°a part of whiskey history.¡± Lewis and Clark believe Colorado's San Luis Valley is just the place to produce a whiskey "slightly above the Jack Daniels/Jim Beam level," as Clark puts it. Why Alamosa? Clark, 50, who previously worked in the microbrewery business, sized up the San Luis Valley's water and abundance of barley, and deemed it ideal for a distillery. He also knew there was no Colorado or Western brand of whiskey. He partnered with Lewis, a native of Scotland and an expert in the field of single-malt Scotch whiskey (spelled "whisky" only if produced in Scotland).

Easter Update Alamosa Salmonella Cases Top 180 - Who is Responsible and How Much?
Posted on March 21, 2008 by Bill Marler
Source of Article:
As of today, 183 cases had been reported in Alamosa. A city spokeswoman says of those, 57 were confirmed by lab testing, and nine people were hospitalized.
The Alamosa News continues to cover the rising toll of what appears to be Salmonella-tainted tap water ? ¡°More salmonella cases reported.¡± According to the paper:
Salmonella has not been definitively linked to the Alamosa municipal water supply but the City of Alamosa is taking precautions because one site in the city¡¯s water system tested positive for coliform bacteria and city officials decided not to take any chances with public health. The contaminated sample is undergoing further tests.
Alamosa County Emergency Operations Center Public Information Officer Connie Ricci said that by late Thursday the number of lab-confirmed cases of salmonella rose to 47 in addition to 76 cases that met the clinical definition for salmonella but had not been confirmed through laboratory tests.
Interesting fact ? Let us assume that the Salmonella is coming from the Alamosa City water. And, let us assume that the parents of the sick and hospitalized children seek compensation. What result? Interestingly, under Colorado Law (C.R.S. 24-10-106) the city would not be immune from liability (not able to sue them), but any damages awarded would be capped at $150,000 per person and a total of $600,000 per incident. So, the more sick people, the less the city has to pay per person. Interesting incentive to NOT poison your citizens.

Salmonella Outbreak from Cantaloupe Prompts Recall
Date Published: Monday, March 24th, 2008
Source of Article:
Salmonella tainted cantaloupes have been blamed for an outbreak of food poisoning that spans 16 states and several Canadian provinces, prompting the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a warning for cantaloupes imported from Honduras. In addition, the Dole Fresh Fruit Company has recalled cantaloupes it purchased from a grower in Costa Rica because those cantaloupes have tested positive for Salmonella as well.
According to the FDA, cantaloupes imported from Honduras by the company Agropecuaria Montelibano have left 50 people ill with Salmonella poisoning. While no deaths have been reported as a result of the Salmonella tainted cantaloupes, 14 victims have required hospitalization. In the US, the cantaloupe Salmonella poisoning has been reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. In Canada, Salmonella from the cantaloupes has been seen in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.

The FDA is warning wholesalers, grocers and consumers who purchased Agropecuaria Montelibano cantaloupes to discard them at once, and the agency has ordered that the company¡¯s cantaloupe imports be detained at the border for further testing. Consumers who have purchased cantaloupe should check with their grocer to see if the fruit was imported by Agropecuaria Montelibano.

The Dole Fruit Company has also announced a recall of cantaloupes purchased from a third party grower in Costa Rica. These cantaloupes have tested positive for Salmonella, although no illnesses have been reported. According to Dole, approximately 6,104 cartons of cantaloupes were distributed to wholesalers in regions of the eastern US and Quebec between February 5 and February 8, 2007. The cantaloupes were distributed for sale in bulk in cardboard cartons, with 9, 12 or 15 cantaloupes to a carton. The recalled cartons of cantaloupes are dark brown with ¡°Dole Cantaloupes¡± in red lettering. They have a thirteen-digit number on a white tag pasted to the carton; the tenth digit is a 2. Consumers with additional questions should contact the Dole Consumer Center at (800) 232-8888.

The FDA is also recommending that consumers take the following steps to reduce the risk of contracting Salmonella or other foodborne illnesses from cantaloupes:

Purchase cantaloupes that are not bruised or damaged. If buying fresh-cut cantaloupe, be sure it is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
After purchase, refrigerate cantaloupes promptly.
Wash hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling fresh cantaloupes.
Scrub whole cantaloupes by using a clean produce brush and cool tap water immediately before eating. Don¡¯t use soap or detergents.
Use clean cutting surfaces and utensils when cutting cantaloupes. Wash cutting boards, countertops, dishes, and utensils with hot water and soap between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, or seafood and the preparation of cantaloupe.
If there happens to be a bruised or damaged area on a cantaloupe, cut away those parts before eating it.
Leftover cut cantaloupe should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.
Use a cooler with ice or use ice gel packs when transporting or storing cantaloupes outdoors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Salmonella bacteria sicken 40,000 people every year. Although the true number could be much higher, because it is estimated that for every case of Salmonella poisoning reported, two others are unreported. Salmonella causes fever, abdominal pain, nausea, gas and bloody diarrhea. Symptoms appear within 36 hours of exposure, and usually last four to seven days. In very severe cases, Salmonella can lead to kidney failure and other complications. Salmonella can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. In rare cases, Salmonella can cause a disease called Reiter¡¯s Syndrome, a difficult- to- treat condition that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination.

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April 9 Public Meeting to Seek E. coli O157:H7 Solutions
March 26, 2008

Source of Article:

"E. coli O157:H7 - Addressing the Challenges, Moving Forward With Solutions" is the title of an April 9 public meeting sponsored by the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service, which has yet to publish details on the location and time of the meeting. FSIS, part of USDA, said the purpose of the meeting is to discuss with stakeholders recent spikes in recalls/illnesses related to E. coli O157:H7, update them on FSIS initiatives, "and build a foundation for establishing solutions to address the challenges this pathogen causes."

Details will be made available in future issues of the FSIS Constituent Update ( and at

Earlier this month, Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond announced FSIS' newest office, the Office of Outreach, Employee Education and Training, which results from the International HACCP Alliance headed by Dr. Kerri Harris to change the agency's approach to serving needs of small and very small plants. FSIS said the concept of the new office began in 2005, "when many in the industry questioned whether FSIS took the needs of small and very small establishments under consideration when HACCP was first implemented." As a result, FSIS held meetings to get input from such plants, joined the alliance at a December 2005 meeting, and set up a task force that developed the Strategic Implementation Plan to Strengthen Small and Very Small Plant Outreach. "This task force made a lot of progress," said Raymond, "but we realized that for long-term success, we needed to make the important function of training and outreach for small and very small plants a formal part of the agency."

Leading the new Office of Outreach, Employee Education and Training is Dr. Karlease Kelly, who FSIS said has been instrumental in leading the consolidation of outreach and training. "Ensuring that small plants get the exact resources they need to comply with any regulatory requirements is a true passion of mine," said Kelly. "I'm looking forward to furthering the Agency's goal of improving its outreach and training services for plant and agency personnel alike."

Black pepper may contain salmonella bacteria
Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, March 27, 2008
Source of Article:
OTTAWA -- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is warning the public not to use National Black Pepper Powder because it may contain salmonella bacteria.
The pepper is a product of Pakistan and is sold in a 50-gram package, labelled UPC 6 20514 00077 0 and B.B. END MAY. 2010.
It has been distributed in Alberta and British Columbia by Pak National Foods Ltd., of Richmond, B.C. The company is voluntarily recalling the pepper from the marketplace. CFIA is monitoring the recall.
The agency said there have been no reported illnesses associated with this product.

USDA Might Limit Meat Recall Information
(Associated Press, DC)
Under pressure from the food industry, the Agriculture Department is considering a proposal not to identify retailers where tainted meat went for sale except in cases of serious health risk, The Associated Press has learned.
Had that been the rule in place last month, consumers would not have been told if their supermarkets sold meat from a Southern California slaughterhouse that triggered the biggest beef recall in U.S. history.
The plan is being considered as the USDA puts the final touches on a proposed disclosure rule. It had lingered in draft form for two years until getting pushed to the forefront in February, when 143 million pounds of beef were recalled by Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif., after undercover video by an animal-rights activist showed workers abusing crippled cows.
Agriculture Department spokesman Chris Connelly confirmed Wednesday that the agency is weighing whether to make naming the stores mandatory only for so-called ''Class I'' recalls, which pose the greatest health hazard. The Chino recall was categorized as ''Class II'' because authorities determined there was minimal risk to human health.
Currently, the government discloses only a recall itself. It does not list which retailers might have received recalled meat. The same holds true for recalled vegetables.
Consumer groups and Democratic lawmakers contend that the public should have access to the names of retailers in all meat recalls. As originally written, the rule would have applied to all meat recalls.
''It's unacceptable to us because of the way the rule was originally fashioned, and we have an immediate example of the Hallmark case being exempted,'' said Tony Corbo of Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group.
At an appearance in Sacramento, Calif., earlier this week, Agriculture Secretary Edward Schafer said there are ''differences with the different classes of recalls.''
''But, you know, a Class I recall, to have a retailer notification, I think, is important,'' Schafer said.
Partly for competitive reasons, industry groups support the way recalls are currently done, where a description of the recalled product is released by the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service along with some other information including where it was produced.
Retailers must remove recalled meat from their shelves but there's no requirement that they notify their customers about meat already sold, though some take voluntary steps to do so.
Consumers may be able to identify prepackaged foods like hot dogs that the Agriculture Department mentions by brand name, but with ground beef or other items that are repackaged at grocery stores, there's usually no identifying information on the package to tell consumers it's a recalled item.
Kristi Thacker, a registered nurse in the small town of Eldon in central Missouri, said she had no idea the frozen ground beef in her freezer, purchased at her local grocery store, was tainted until her 5-year-old daughter became sick from E. coli. This was during a recall in 2002 and her daughter, Savana, has now recovered.
''My child would not have gotten sick if they would have told me that I had bad hamburger. I would have thrown it away,'' Thacker said in an interview Wednesday. ''Instead, a month later, with bad hamburger sitting in my freezer the whole time, she became deathly ill.''
Stories like Thacker's have led consumer groups to argue that customers need more information, a position shared by Dr. Richard Raymond, who made publishing the retailer rule a top priority when he took over as the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for food safety in 2005.
In an interview this week Raymond said that it was ''common sense to assume'' that some consumers may have fallen ill because they didn't have access to names of retailers selling tainted meat. But he disputed the suggestion that industry opposition -- expressed in written and public comments, meetings with the White House Office of Management and Budget, and other venues -- has stalled the rule.
''It's going through the normal process,'' Raymond said. ''It does unfortunately take a long time to go through the normal process.''
Industry groups argue that even if just Class I recalls are covered, the rule could create confusion for consumers since retailer lists could be incomplete or take days or weeks to compile. Customers could have a false sense of security if their grocery store doesn't immediately show up on the list, the groups contend.
Some cite the example of California, which is unique among states in having a law requiring disclosure of retailers' names in recalls. California's list of retailers from the Westland/Hallmark recall is 147 pages long and has been continuously updated.
''We've met with USDA numerous times to be sure that they understand our goal, which is to be sure that if a consumer has bought a product that has been recalled we do not want them to eat that food,'' said Jill Hollingsworth of the Food Marketing Institute in Arlington, Va.
But some industry officials also acknowledge competitive concerns, because if lists of retailers selling recalled meat become public, competitors would know who to approach to offer the product at a lower price. ''That does cause some issues in the marketplace,'' said Jeremy Russell, spokesman for the National Meat Association. 3-26-08

USDA says more tainted beef likely
By PHILIP BRASHER ? Register Washington Bureau ? March 20, 2008
Source of Article:
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Washington, D.C. - Federal inspectors are expected to find more beef contaminated with deadly E. coli bacteria this year because of a simple change in laboratory methods.
Randy Huffman, vice president of scientific affairs for the American Meat Institute, warned a food industry conference in Nashville, Tenn., this month that the number of positive tests for the bacteria could increase as much as 20 percent to 50 percent.
But an increase in E. coli positives doesn't mean that there will be more contaminated meat reaching consumers, said Jim Dickson, a food microbiologist at Iowa State University.
"It doesn't change what is in the marketplace. It just means the government is in a better position to find it if it is there," he said.
If there is an increase in the E.coli rate, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be under pressure to do more to prevent contamination from occurring, said Chris Waldrop, a food safety expert with the Consumer Federation of America.
"They're going to want to do something about it, both from a public health perspective and their own credibility," he said.
At the end of January, USDA laboratories started using a more sensitive method of detecting bacteria on meat samples. The technicians are using a broth that causes the bacteria to grow more quickly if the microbes are present in the meat.
Last year, USDA inspectors tested 12,200 samples of beef, and 29 turned up contaminated with E. coli, a rate of 0.23 percent. That was an increase from the 2006 rate of 0.17 percent.
Recalls were up far more drastically in 2007. Meatpackers recalled a record 33.4 million pounds of beef for possible E. coli contamination last year, up from 181,900 pounds in 2006, according to the USDA. The old record of 25.6 million pounds was set in 1997.
Eleven of the 21 E. coli-related recalls last year stemmed directly from the USDA's testing program. Other recalls were linked to other circumstances, such as food-poisoning outbreaks being traced to contaminated products.
Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the change in testing methods was planned before the increase in positive tests turned up last year. "Certainly the expectation is that if you're using a more sensitive broth, we may find more" of the bacteria, Eamich said.
She said the more sensitive testing would help ensure that beef is safer.
Processors could avoid many recalls by setting aside meat being tested by the USDA until the laboratory results are known. However, some firms "simply can't afford to hold product while they wait for test results," Eamich said.
Huffman said his prediction was based on conversations with people with experience in testing.
"I wanted to make people aware that there was going to be a change and that we needed to be paying attention to the issue," he said in an interview.
American Meat Institute member companies include Tyson Foods, JBS Swift & Co. and other meat processors.

FDA lax in spinach safety, U.S. government report says
Thursday, March 20, 2008
CBC News Source of Article:
There are "significant lapses" in the way the United States Food and Drug Administration verifies the safety of fresh spinach, a new U.S. government report says.
"It appears that FDA is inspecting high-risk facilities infrequently, failing to take vigorous enforcement action when it does inspect and identify violations and not even inspecting the most probable sources of many outbreaks," said the report by the House committee on oversight and government reform released last week.
The report, titled "FDA and Fresh Spinach Safety," adds that these inspections of packaged fresh spinach facilities are the agency's primary means of checking product safety.
The investigation was prompted by a September 2006 outbreak of E. coli strain O157:H7 that caused more than 200 illnesses, including that of an Ottawa woman, and three deaths that were ultimately traced back to packaged fresh spinach.
There have been at least 20 U.S. outbreaks of this strain of E. coli tied to fresh spinach or lettuce in the past 12 years. E. coli, or Escherichia coli, is a species of bacteria that lives in animal intestines.
The committee found that the FDA's current scope of investigation "appears too narrow to capture the sources of an E. coli outbreak."
"The outdated statutory sanitation standard severely limits the scope of FDA's ability to adequately prevent many outbreaks," read the report. "Laboratory sampling can detect some microbial contaminations, but cannot prevent many outbreaks."
Sanitation complaints
Inspectors look at the interior of the facility, but not the exterior, which is believed to be the source of the 2006 outbreak. Officials said the water at the facility in San Benito County, Calif., was likely contaminated by cattle feces, pig feces or river water.
In addition to "significant shortfalls" in the scope of inspection and testing, the report also cited difficulties in enforcing corrections to unsanitary conditions.
The committee found that the FDA observed objectionable conditions during nearly half its inspections of fresh spinach packing facilities, with the most common complaints linked to plant sanitation, plant construction and worker sanitation.
The report said the FDA took "no meaningful enforcement action," such as warning letters, seizures or injunctions, and did not follow such practices at the source of the 2006 E. coli outbreak, where lab testing indicated microbial contamination.
When further investigation is deemed necessary, the report found the FDA had difficulty in accessing relevant material or firm records, as the agency lacks the authority to force companies to hand over the information. In at least eight cases, including with the facility at the source of the outbreak, the agency was denied access. The report also noted that packaged fresh spinach facilities were inspected once every 2.4 years rather than once a year, which is the FDA's inspection goal. The committee said that inadequate funding and resources for food safety activities at the FDA may contribute to the problems with spinach safety inspections.

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