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Salmonella Saintpaul Tomatoes Sicken 613 in 33 States
Posted on June 23, 2008 by Salmonella Attorney
Source of Article:
I said to the AP today:
The tomato epidemic is not the first the country has seen, but is the largest since an outbreak in 2004 sickened 564 people, said William Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in food contamination cases.
Marler has been involved in seven of the last 12 salmonella cases involving tomatoes in the last decade. However, this is the only one that has involved the salmonella Saintpaul strain, he said.
Overall, salmonella outbreaks linked to raw tomatoes are common. The CDC estimates salmonella poisoning from raw tomatoes has sickened as many as 79,000 people in 12 multi-state outbreaks since 1990.

According to the CDC, since April, 613 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 33 states and the District of Columbia. These were identified because clinical laboratories in all states send Salmonella strains from ill persons to their State public health laboratory for characterization. The marked increase in reported ill persons since the last update is not thought to be due to a large number of new infections. The number of reported ill persons increased mainly because some states improved surveillance for Salmonella in response to this outbreak and because laboratory identification of many previously submitted strains was completed. In particular, one new state, Massachusetts reported ill persons. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Arkansas (3 persons), Arizona (34), California (8), Colorado (4), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (14), Idaho (3), Illinois (45), Indiana (9), Kansas (9), Kentucky (1), Maryland (18), Massachusetts (12), Michigan (4), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (79), New York (18), North Carolina (1), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (17), Oregon (5), Pennsylvania (5), Rhode Island (2), Tennessee (4), Texas (265), Utah (2), Virginia (21), Vermont (1), Washington (1), Wisconsin (5), and the District of Columbia (1). Among the 316 persons with information available, illnesses began between April 10 and June 13, 2008. Patients range in age from <1 to 99 years; 50% are female. At least 69 persons were hospitalized. No deaths have been officially attributed to this outbreak. However, a man in his sixties who died in Texas from cancer had an infection with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul at the time of his death. The infection may have contributed to his death.

In 1990, a reported 174 salmonella javiana illnesses were linked to raw tomatoes as part of a four-state outbreak. In 1993, 84 reported cases of salmonella montevideo were part of a three-state outbreak. In January 1999, salmonella baildon was recovered from 86 infected persons in eight states. In July 2002, an outbreak of salmonella javiana occurred associated with attendance at the 2002 U.S. Transplant . held in Orlando, Florida during late June of that year. Ultimately, the outbreak investigation identified 141 ill persons in 32 states who attended the .. All were linked to consumption of raw tomatoes.

During August and September 2002, a salmonella newport outbreak affected the East Coast. Ultimately, over 404 confirmed cases were identified in over 22 states. Epidemiological analysis indicated that tomatoes were the most likely vehicle, and were traced back to the same tomato packing facility in the mid-Atlantic region.
In early July 2004, as many as 564 confirmed cases of salmonellosis associated with consumption of contaminated tomatoes purchased at Sheetz Convenience Store were reported in five states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. Seventy percent were associated with tomatoes in food prepared at Sheetz convenience stores.
In 2006 two outbreaks of salmonella-tainted tomatoes where reported by the FDA. One was blamed for nearly 100 illnesses in 19 states. FDA also traced tomatoes involved in another outbreak involving 183 people in 21 states. For more information on Salmonella visit and

Salmonella fear traps some 30,000 tons of tomatoes in Mexico 2008-06-20
Source of Article:
MEXICO CITY, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Nearly 30,000 tons of tomatoes are trapped in northern Mexico due to a salmonella scare in the United States, the Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Feeding Ministry of Mexico (Sagarpa) said on Thursday.
A total of 2,259 hectares of tomatoes were planted in Sonora, which will produce 28,600 tons of tomatoes for the U.S. market in 2008, said Fernando Miranda Blanco, a representative of the northern state of Sonora in Sagarpa.
The situation will turn grave for Mexico's tomato industry if the U.S. maintains the alert of salmonella and the closure of borders, Blanco said.
The U.S. authorities have recently demanded a halt to importing two kinds of tomato from Mexico -- round tomato and saladette tomato, after investigation indicated that they might be salmonella carriers.
The Mexican government said last week that its tomatoes were being unjustly targeted and claimed that the uncommon Salmonella Saintpaul bacteria identified in the tainted-tomato incident has never been found in Mexico.
Most of the tomatoes in Mexico were planted under the protected agriculture system in greenhouses where all the production processes are controlled, Blanco said.
Blanco stressed the Mexican tomatoes are not the cause of the sickness, a claim yet to be certified by the United States.
Farmers in Sonora said they have certificates which could prove that their tomatoes fulfill all the sanitary and innocuous requirements.
By Monday, over 200 people have contracted salmonella in 23 U.S. states since mid-April, according to U.S. health officials.
The United States is still searching for the source of salmonella-tainted tomatoes. The search has begun focusing on southern and central Florida and Mexico, though the FDA said tomato shipments from Mexico and northern Florida were safe if they were accompanied by a certificate from the areas' respective agriculture departments.

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Salmonella can ride water into tomatoes
By LAURAN NEERGAARD – 2 hours ago
Source of Article:
WASHINGTON (AP) Pick a tomato in the blazing sun and plunge it straight into cold water. If that happened on the way to market, it might be contaminated. Too big of a temperature difference can make a tomato literally suck water inside the fruit through the scar where its stem used to be. If salmonella happens to be lurking on the skin, that's one way it can penetrate and, if the tomato isn't eaten right away, have time to multiply.
That doesn't mean people shouldn't wash their tomatoes — they should, just probably not in cold water.
But as the Food and Drug Administration investigates the nation's outbreak of salmonella from tomatoes, the example shows the farm isn't the only place contamination can occur — and checking things like water quality and temperature control in packing houses and other supply stops is one key to safety.
Raw fruits and vegetables are crucial to a healthy diet. But they're also the culprits in a growing list of nasty outbreaks: E. coli in spinach and lettuce. Hepatitis A in green onions. Cyclospora in raspberries. Salmonella in cantaloupe. Shigella in parsley.
This newest salmonella outbreak is the 14th blamed on tomatoes since 1990.
Preventing future illnesses depends on learning how salmonella sneaks onto and inside tomatoes, which might seem to be pretty well protected by their smooth waxy skin. Yet scientists have few answers, prompting the FDA last year to begin a Tomato Safety Initiative that is studying industry practices in Virginia and Florida, origin of several previous outbreaks.
Florida's agriculture department on July 1 begins enforcing so-called "tomato best practices," farming and handling guidelines that leading growers pushed the state to formally adopt, and that many farms voluntarily began following in the past year.

The FDA likewise wants the authority to set mandatory safe-handling rules, what it calls "preventive controls," for growers and suppliers of foods linked to repeated outbreaks of serious illness, such as tomatoes and leafy greens. Congress hasn't yet acted on that request.
"We need them, we've asked for them, and we don't yet have them," says Dr. David Acheson, the agency's food safety chief, who is directing the CSI-like hunt for the tainted tomatoes.
Further complicating the picture, budget woes mean the FDA's inspections of food-producing facilities have plummeted by 56 percent between 2003 and last year. Acheson says the drop has continued this year, and the FDA plans to hire more inspectors with a pending budget boost from Congress.
But inspections aren't the solution to food poisoning, insists Acheson, who also hopes to double or triple the 10 percent of FDA's budget historically devoted to prevention.
FDA "is not arguing that you can inspect your way out of these problems," he says. "The critical point is to build safety upfront, not load up inspection at the end."
There are some common themes when fresh produce sickens, either from salmonella — bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts of humans and numerous animals — or other microbes: Water sources, worker hygiene and wildlife or domestic animals near fields are frequent culprits because they involve points where safety systems can easily break down.

Washing fresh produce under running water is a commonsense consumer defense.
"We know you can wash off some salmonella," says Virginia Tech food microbiologist Robert Williams, who accompanied FDA scientists to Virginia farms as part of the tomato initiative. But, "nobody's ever shown it washes off all salmonella."
Water is an automatic first suspect. Was clean water used to irrigate, mix pesticides sprayed on crops, wash down harvest and processing equipment, and wash field workers' hands?
Then in packing houses, tomatoes often go straight into a dump tank, flumes of chlorinated water for a first wash. To guard against salmonella washed into the water in turn being sucked into the tomatoes, producers often keep wash-water 10 degrees warmer than the incoming crop, says food-safety scientist Keith Schneider of the University of Florida, also part of FDA's tomato initiative.
Beyond packing houses, the industry points to cases where suppliers were shipped unwashed, warm tomatoes and dunked them in ice-water baths to firm them for further processing.
Another question: How often does the water have to be changed? Dirt, leaves and other sediment reduce the chlorine's effectiveness.
Studies never have shown that plant roots can suck salmonella up and inside the tomato, where it can't be washed out, says Virginia Tech's Williams, whose lab is working to confirm that. Still, if contaminated water is sprayed onto the leaves or blooms, or bird droppings fall directly onto the foliage, salmonella might be absorbed internally, he says.
In fact, salmonella may be particularly hard to prevent in a variety of crops because birds, reptiles and amphibians carry it — the same reason children should wash their hands after handling a turtle, iguana or frog. The tomato industry's guidelines already advise surrounding fields with bare soil "buffer zones" to discourage reptiles.
"You're not going to stop a bird going through a field. You're not going to stop a frog," Schneider says.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.

US searches for salmonella in Mexico
Associated Press - June 23, 2008 4:13 PM ET
Source of Article:
MEXICO CITY (AP) - The United States wants to open an office in Latin America to monitor food safety.
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt (LEH'-vit) made the proposal as U.S. inspectors examined Mexican farms and distribution sites to see if a salmonella outbreak originated in Mexico or Florida. The outbreak has sickened more than 500 people.
A team of Food and Drug Administration inspectors arrived in Mexico over the weekend and is looking at tomatoes from three states (Jalisco, Sinaloa and Coahuila). Tomato exports from all other Mexican states have been cleared.
Leavitt says the main goal of the planned FDA office would be to make sure that that food and other products from Latin America are safe for consumption or use.

US, Central America partnering on food safety
Associated Press 06.25.08, 12:15 PM ET
Source of Article:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt says the United States is partnering with Central American growers to improve the quality of food exports.
Leavitt said Tuesday that Washington wants to protect the food Americans eat and the reputation of growers in Central America.
Salvadoran President Tony Saca says he supports the initiative and proposed installing a local U.S. customs enforcement office to inspect U.S.-bound food.
Leavitt says Central America is the largest exporter of food products to the U.S. after Mexico and Canada.
A team of inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are in Mexico this week to determine if a salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 500 people in the U.S. originated in Mexico or Florida.

Michigan, Ohio E. coli illnesses linked to ground beef
By Janie Gabbett on 6/25/2008 for
The Ohio and Michigan health departments are investigating more than two dozen illnesses linked to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, and Michigan has issued a public health alert "due to the illnesses from E. coli associated with ground beef."
Ohio departments of Health and Agriculture said test results released today confirmed that a raw ground beef sample provided by an Ohio E. coli O157:H7 case is linked by genetic fingerprinting to the multistate outbreak in Ohio and Michigan. The agencies said 19 Ohioans have been sickened in recent weeks.
The Michigan Department of Community Health said it has confirmed 15 E. coli cases that are genetically linked, and 10 of those cases are hospitalized. More than half of the Michigan patients reported purchasing and consuming ground beef from Kroger Food Stores. Product traceback is in progress, and additional retailers and outlets may be identified, the agency said.
"Kroger is fully cooperating with state and federal investigators," said Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Don Koivisto in a statement. Kroger did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

E. coli strikes in Michigan and in Ohio - Kroger Common Link? What Happened to New Jersey Meat Producer? Why no recall?
Posted on June 25, 2008 by E. coli Attorney
Source of Article:
Recall, Recall, where is the recall? We know that dozens of people are sickened in Michigan in Ohio, but FSIS/USDA has not issued a recall? I can not imagine why there would not be, perhaps they thought since we are focused on tomatoes no one would notice? We have also been contacted by victims in other states who may be linked to a nationwide E. coli outbreak.
According to press report late last night, 15 Michiganders affected in a recent E. coli outbreak (number may be as high as 35) reported purchasing and consuming ground beef from Kroger stores, the Michigan Department of Community Health announced Tuesday. The same genetic strain of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria also has been confirmed in illnesses among 10 of 16.
Although Kroger has been linked as the source of the meat purchased. A question arises were the meat came from. Early press reports from the Ohio papers suggested that Dutch's Meat in New Jerseys recall of 13,275 pounds of hamburger on June 8 after discovering that it might have been tainted with the sometimes-lethal bacteria might be linked. However, Dutch's gets its meat from three or four suppliers. If the strains match, it's possible that one of those companies sold him tainted meat and also distributed that meat to Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere, he said. Granaldi would not name a meat supplier but said that one in the Midwest might be the source. "They probably distribute all over the country," he said.
Over the years we have done several dozen food cases in Michigan: Black Forest Bakery Salmonella Case, Dole Spinach E. coli Case, ConAgra Potpie Salmonella Case and Bravo Cucina Italiana Norovirus Case. And, in Ohio: King Garden, E. coli Case, Corky and Lenny Salmonella Case, Sams Club E. coli, Dole Spinach E. coli Case, KFC E. coli Case and ConAgra Beef E. coli. We have also done just a few E. coli cases:

* AFG / Supervalu E. coli Outbreak - Minnesota
* Bauer Meat E. coli Litigation - Georgia
* BJs Wholesale Club E. coli Litigation - New York and New Jersey
* Cargill E. coli Outbreak - Nationwide
* Carneco / Sams Club E. coli Outbreak - Wisconsin & Michigan
* China Buffet E. coli Outbreak - Minnesota
* ConAgra Ground Beef E. coli Outbreak - Nationwide
* Dole Lettuce E. coli Outbreak - Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon
* Dole Spinach E. coli Outbreak - Nationwide
* Emmpak E. coli Outbreak - Wisconsin
* Excel E. coli Outbreak - Georgia
* Finley Elementary School E. coli Outbreak - Washington
* Fresno Meat Market E. coli Outbreak - California
* Gold Coast Produce E. coli Outbreak - California
* Golden Corral E. coli Outbreak - Nebraska
* Habaneros E. coli Outbreak - Missouri
* Jack in the Box E. coli Outbreak - Western States
* Karl Ehmer Meats E. coli Outbreak – New Jersey
* KFC E. coli Outbreak - Ohio
* King Garden Restaurant E. coli Outbreak - Ohio
* Nebraska Beef E. coli Litigation - Minnesota
* Odwalla E. coli Outbreak - Nationwide
* Olive Garden E. coli Outbreak - Oregon
* Parsley E. coli Outbreak - Washington & Oregon
* Peninsula Village E. coli Outbreak - Tennessee
* PM Beef Holdings, Lunds & Byerlys E. coli Outbreak
* Rochester Meat Company E. coli Outbreak - Wisconsin, California
* Sizzler E. coli Outbreak - Wisconsin
* Sodexho Spinach E. coli Outbreak - California
* Spokane Produce E. coli Outbreak - Washington, Oregon, Idaho
* Stop & Shop E. coli Case - New Hampshire
* Taco Johns E. coli Outbreak – Iowa and Minnesota
* Topps and Price Chopper E. coli Case - New York
* Topps Meats E. coli Outbreak - Nationwide
* United Food Group E. coli Outbreak - Western States
* Wendys E. coli Outbreak - Oregon
* Wendys E. coli Outbreak - Utah

E. coli Testing Protocols Lacking
Date Published: Monday, June 23rd, 2008
Source of Article:
Whole cuts of beef that may be contaminated by Escherichia coli E. coli are not only legal to market, but the government does not test them for the bacteria.
In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness and about 73,000 people are infected and 61 people die from E. coli annually; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks. The problem is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, -distribution centers, and -transporters. Scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are now spreading and several countries are reporting cases. Worse, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.
In light of a record number of recalls, illnesses, and deaths linked to E. coli, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering new regulations for the sale of steaks and other beef cuts. Richard Raymond, the USDAs undersecretary for food safety, said he was shocked when he found out it was legal to sell E. coli-contaminated beef and that he is seeking a “practical solution” to “what I feel to be a gap” in USDA regulations. The USDA has not proposed any specific measures.
Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and, while normally harmless, some strains such as those linked to food poisoning are serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia. Because many infected with the bacteria experience less severe symptoms, many cases are never reported.
Consider this, 14 people were sickened from E.coli-tainted meat near Omaha this spring; however, the bacteria was not found in undercooked hamburgeras is often the casebut in roast beef. The most virulent form of E. coli is carried in cattle manure and can contaminate beef during processing, but whole cuts are considered less risky because bacteria are on the outside and killed quickly when cooked. But tainted and inappropriately handled whole beef cuts can contaminate kitchen surfaces and other foods, which is what likely occurred at a Sizzler restaurant in 2000 in which fresh watermelon is believed to have been contaminated by raw sirloin tips. In Omaha, investigators believe E. coli may have moved from outside of the roast when the cook inserted garlic cloves into the meat; however its possible bacteria were in the sink and the beef became contaminated when the cook rinsed it.
Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority, a consumer advocacy group, said its way past time” for the USDA to take steps to prevent the sale of contaminated beef cuts. It takes such a small amount of this to make a person sick,” she said.
The nations most current food poisoning outbreaks involves a wide-spread and nationwide fresh Salmonella-tainted tomato outbreak and a possible ground beef contamination that is now emerging in Ohio and Michigan that may be linked to a Dutchs Meat recall earlier this month.

Source from:
OTTAWA, June 23, 2008 - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a cow in the Province of British Columbia. This case poses no risk to human or animal health since Canadas stringent BSE safeguards prevented any part of the animals carcass from entering the human food chain or any potentially infective parts of the animals carcass from entering the animal feed chain. The animal was detected through Canadas national BSE surveillance program. The CFIA has launched a comprehensive investigation in an effort to determine the birth farm of the animal.
Canadas enhanced feed ban, introduced last summer, virtually eliminates the potential spread of BSE through the animal feed chain and places Canada on an accelerated path to eliminate BSE. As the level of BSE continues to decline, the periodic detection of a small number of cases is fully expected in line with the experience of other countries. Concurrently, Canadas food safety system maintains the highest levels of human health protection.
The national surveillance program, which targets the highest risk animals, has tested more than 220,000 cattle since 2003. The program continues to benefit from very strong producer participation.
The detection of this animal does not affect Canadas status as a BSE controlled risk country as recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
As has been done with previous cases, the CFIA will update information as it becomes available through the ongoing investigation.

Canada probes new mad cow case; no threat seen
Tue Jun 24, 2008
Source of Article:
By Allan Dowd
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada confirmed a new case of mad cow disease on Monday, its 13th since 2003, but said the case in British Columbia did not pose a health threat.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the animal was detected as part of its ongoing surveillance program for mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which it has vowed to eradicate within a decade.
The cow, whose age was not released, was reported to CFIA after it died at a farm in the western Canadian province, and officials said no part of the animal entered the human or animal food chain.
"At this point in time we are in the process of determining the birth farm. Once we have got that solidified then we'll be able to confirm the birth date of the animal," said CFIA senior veterinarian George Luterbach.
CFIA has traced Canada's earlier cases to cattle feed produced before the country enacted a ban it containing rendered cattle or other ruminants in 1997. Additional feed restrictions were imposed last year.
Canada discovered its first home-grown case of mad cow disease in 2003, and officials have said they expect to find a small number additional cases until all the cattle exposed to residual contamination in the feed system are gone.
Proteins from the brains and spines of diseased animals can spread BSE. The human form of BSE, known as variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, is believed to be caused by eating infected meat.
CFIA, echoing language it has used on other recent cases, said the latest discovery does not affect Canada's status as a BSE controlled risk country as recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health.
"It was an animal that died on farm and was removed by a dead stock service," Luterbach said.
Luterbach said because officials are still trying to confirm the animal's birth farm, it was too early to say how many birth cohorts or what records exist on any offspring.
Canada's inspection program targeting animals at high risk of BSE has tested more than 220,000 cattle since 2003, CFIA said.
While Canada's initial home-grown case of the disease in 2003 prompted trade bans by other countries, the most recent cases have prompted little if any reaction from commodities markets.
(Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Frank McGurty).

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Wood River salmonella cases linked to national outbreak
Source of Article:
The tomato salmonella outbreak officially hit the metro-east, with confirmation by the Madison County Health Department that three of the nine local cases matched the genetic fingerprint of the national outbreak.
Nine salmonella cases were confirmed after patrons ate at Los Tres Amigos, 180 Vaughn Road in Wood River. The restaurant has been closed since the illnesses were discovered last week, according to the Madison County Health Department.
Three of those cases had a genetic fingerprint matching the national outbreak. More than 650 people in 34 states and the District of Columbia have contracted salmonella from tomatoes, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"The focus at this point of the investigation is to prevent additional illness from person-to-person transmission," said Toni M. Corona, administrator at the health department.
To prevent the spread of salmonella, the health department recommends:

Thoroughly cooking food products.

Avoiding cross contamination.

Washing hands frequently while handling food and after using the bathroom.

Avoiding eating tomatoes not listed on the current Food and Drug Administration's list available on

Ill persons in sensitive occupations -- such as providing direct care to children, elderly and individuals with immunity problems -- and persons who handle food should be restricted from work and tested if infection is possible.
Salmonellosis is often mistaken for the stomach flu and symptoms, which last from 24 hours to 12 days, include headache, muscle aches, diarrhea, chills, fever, nausea and dehydration. Symptoms usually appear six to 72 hours after ingestion, although longer incubation periods have been reported in this outbreak.

Food safety requires a strong supply chain
By Christa Hoyland editor
24 Jun 2008
Source of Article:
More than 550 people in 32 states sickened, and 50-plus hospitalized. More than $100 million in losses to the tomato industry.

The costs of one of the largest salmonella outbreaks linked to tomatoes still are being tallied, just as are the effects on consumer confidence. For the short term, consumers seem to have taken in stride the removal of tomatoes from restaurant menus and store shelves.
They appreciated the fact we were looking out for their health and safety,” said Les Winograd, public relations coordinator for Subway, of customer response to the sandwich shops pulling the menu item.
Subway, one of the largest users of fresh, red, round tomatoes, voluntarily pulled tomatoes from its menus after the FDA advised Texas and New Mexico against eating red, round tomatoes June 4.
Once the FDA cleared a number of states’ tomatoes on June 10, Subway “was able to get tomatoes back into stores the next day,” Winograd said.
Removing tomatoes from the menu had no noticeable effect on sales, Winograd said, especially since Subway has a variety of sandwich toppings. Customers really do understand. It wasnt just us. It was everybody.”
Fast-food chains across the country pulled tomatoes as a result of the FDA advisory, including Jack in the Box Restaurants and McDonalds.
Kathleen Anthony, spokesperson for San Diego-based Jack in the Box, said the burger chain also voluntarily pulled tomatoes June 4 as a precautionary measure.”
Once the FDA cleared its source of tomatoes on June 6, the chain began re-supplying red-round and grape tomatoes to its stores. Grape tomatoes were not included in the advisory.

Tracing outbreak a complex issue
With the definitive source of the outbreak still to be determined, tomato consumption and demand has decreased. According to the California Tomato Growers Association, consumer demand for the fruit is off about 60 percent, while demand from restaurants is off about 30 percent.
Some parts of Florida still havent been cleared by the FDA as the agency examines that area as one of the possible sources of the outbreak, posing a major threat to that states $700 million tomato industry.
Determining the source of the outbreak — now narrowed to parts of Mexico as well — was complicated by the fact that tomatoes do not have individual identifiers such as barcodes, said FDA spokesperson Sebastian Cianci. Additionally, tomatoes grown on different farms often are commingled in the packing process.
Improving traceability is one of the hallmarks of Florida s new regulations on food-safety standards in the tomato industry, which go into effect July 1. The states tomato industry worked with the FDA and other experts to develop scientific-based safe-handling standards.

Florida s regulations require Positive Lot Identification (PLI) for every package of produce that leaves a packinghouse or a supplier. The PLI allows for clear identification of the source of the tomatoes, but not necessarily the date it was grown. It also ensures a package, or lot, can be traced backward to the farm or forward to the buyer, said Martha Roberts, a consultant on food safety to the Florida fruit and vegetable industry.
The FDA seems to have the start of such an identification system in place as it allows tomatoes from southern Florida and Baja , Mexico , to enter the U.S. supply chain once again. Only tomatoes accompanied by a certificate proving they were grown after the initial outbreak are allowed to integrate into the food supply.
The practice of mixing tomatoes from different farms in the packing or repacking process also is adding to the complexity of the trace-back.
Commingling occurs, for example, when buyers such as restaurants request a specific-size tomato, so that batches of produce from several farms are hand-sorted and packed together before shipment.

Roberts said the Florida tomato industry and FDA advises against commingling and instead recommends packagers box each farms produce separately and not dump them together ... so they can get back to (the originating farm) easily.”

Restaurant operators can do their part
In the long term, the industry is looking to improve its standards based on scientific research. For example, tomato growers in California have developed safe-handling standards that require state audits.
The FDA developed its Food Protection Plan last fall, targeting prevention methods to improve traceability and speed up investigations. The agency — along with the tomato and restaurant industries — is pushing for long-awaited federal mandates for safe food handling of fresh high-risk produce such as tomatoes.
Until such mandates are in place, the restaurant industry needs to ensure the fresh produce it receives has been handled properly at all ends of the supply chain.
Knowing all the links in the supply chain is essential to preventing health crises like the current one with tomatoes, said Donna Garren, vice president of health and safety regulatory affairs for the National Restaurant Association.
The association encourages its members to develop a relationship with its suppliers in order to ensure everyone along each point is doing what they can to ensure a safe product,” Garren said.

Roberts agreed that restaurant operators must do their part.
The restaurants are such an important key part of the food safety chain too,” Roberts said. Buy from somebody that has their product coded in which you would be able to get back if you had a problem. Just make sure you buy from somebody thats got good traceable records.”
Richard Slawsky contributed to this story.

Raw Milk: Panacea or Poison?
by Dan Pashman
Source of Article:
It was like we put a sign out there, 'Free drugs for addicts,' because the people come and come and come, you can't believe it. Everybody wants raw milk.”
Rick Vreeland
The Bryant Park Project, June 25, 2008 · Rick and Julie Vreeland opened Freedom Hill Farm last year as a place for kids, but quickly found themselves fielding an unexpected request: The people who came wanted to buy raw milk.
In August 2007 the Vreelands began selling raw milk. In that first month they sold 13 gallons of it; last month, they sold more than a thousand.
"It was just amazing," says Rick. "It was like we put a sign out there, 'Free drugs for addicts,' because the people come and come and come, you can't believe it. Everybody wants raw milk."
Raw milk hasn't been pasteurized, meaning it hasn't been heated to destroy pathogens that may lurk inside. But that's just how raw milk lovers like it. They believe you can draw a wide range of health benefits from drinking milk raw and that in the process of eliminating potentially harmful bacteria, pasteurization kills good bacteria, too.

But the scientific community is skeptical, and governments are divided. It's illegal to sell raw milk in nearly half the U.S. and all of Canada. In some places, farmers have been dragged away in handcuffs, their barns raided and their milk seized as evidence. A battle is raging. It includes all the classic elements of a good public policy debate: black markets, big busts, competing studies and — of course — dueling PowerPoint presentations.

The Accidental Activists

Freedom Hill Farm is in Otisville, N.Y., 90 miles northwest of Manhattan. Rick Vreeland, 55, is friendly, but he says his wife is the real people person in the family. Four years his junior, Julie Vreeland doesn't come across as a killer businesswoman, but she knows an opportunity when she sees one.

Julie did some research on raw milk and got a license to sell it. In New York state, it's legal to sell raw milk only at the farm where it's collected, although black market networks and "milk clubs" exist in New York City. Rick estimates that half their customers travel more than an hour to buy his raw milk, many of them bringing pamphlets, links and lectures on its virtues.

Advocates say raw milk eases a long list of ailments: lactose intolerance, digestive problems, allergies, bad skin, bad teeth and more. One woman told the Vreelands she hoped it would help her child's autism. Devotees say it raises your metabolism, boosts muscle growth and strengthens the immune system.

Michele Heinrich of Manhattan swears by the stuff. She's been lactose intolerant her whole life and also suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome. Over the years, she's tried everything to improve her health — soy milk and cheese, a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet, a raw-food diet; nothing worked.

Now she drinks raw milk regularly without a problem, and says she even feels more energetic. "This has been the best, so far, for me," she says, "and I've done a lot of research."

Last year, a Swiss study of nearly 15,000 European children showed that those who drank raw milk had lower rates of asthma and allergies. Another study suggested that most lactose-intolerant people can drink raw milk. That study was funded by the Weston A. Price Foundation, one of the groups leading efforts to make raw milk more accessible.
But Bruce German, a professor and food chemist at the University of California at Davis, says these studies are far from conclusive, because they don't take into account other factors that could influence a person's health.
"People that consume raw milk tend to have a wide variety of different lifestyles, diet and environmental factors that are coincident with the raw milk," he explains. "So that's why we can't say that raw milk, per se, is the reason why these effects are seen."
German says pasteurization isn't the bad guy and that "the vast majority of the beneficial components in milk are still present in pasteurized milk." Pasteurization was invented for a reason, he says: "It's not a hypothetical problem. We know that contamination of milk and other foods by pathogenic bacteria is a genuine threat, and pasteurization is a means to ensure the public safety."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, on average, there are 70 cases of raw dairy food poisoning in the U.S. each year, a small fraction of the estimated 76 million annual cases of food-borne illnesses.

The Food and Drug Administration declined to comment for this story, but a PowerPoint presentation on its Web site calls raw milk "inherently dangerous" and says that drinking it is like "playing Russian roulette with your health."

But the Weston A. Price Foundation put a slide-by-slide rebuttal to the FDA's PowerPoint on its Web site. Its slides point out that people get sick from pasteurized milk, too, and argue that modern advances and responsible farming can make raw milk much safer than it used to be.

German says the truth is somewhere in the middle. Good farming practices can certainly reduce the risk, he says, but they can't overcome biology.

"Some people are developing an almost beatific view of the world around them, that nature is supportive of all things for humans," he says. "Unfortunately, that's not true. Plants have evolved, many of them under a Darwinian pressure to avoid being eaten by animals, and one of the means [by which] they avoid being eaten is to develop toxic substances."

'Our Cows Here Are Absolutely Pampered'
Rick Vreeland is in the perfect position to explain the differences between a big dairy farm and a small one. At Freedom Hill Farm, they've gone from nine to 22 cows, but he used to own a dairy farm with 2,000 cows. He says he wouldn't have downed the milk from his old operation.
"When employees are milking cows at two in the morning, something could go wrong that nobody would ever know about," Rick says. "It might be an honest mistake, but it'd be a dangerous honest mistake."
At his old farm, he says, "cows were pushed to the limit" to produce as much milk as possible. They ate grain, which is cheaper than their more natural food, grass. But at Freedom Hill Farm, Rick says the cows eat better and are cleaned daily. "Our cows here are absolutely pampered."
Rick's old farm was thoroughly inspected about twice a year, and always with advance notice. Since getting a license to sell raw milk, he's been getting unannounced visits from the state inspector every other week. And that's just fine with him. He says neither he nor any of his customers has ever gotten sick from his milk.

"Our milk is pristine," he says.
But Vreeland understands why government agencies are concerned. The risk is much higher at larger farms, he says, and even he's not sure that raw milk could ever be mass produced safely.
Raw milk backers believe factory farms rely on pasteurization to let them play fast and loose with the milk, figuring the heat will kill off whatever bad stuff might get in. For that reason, most proponents don't favor an end to pasteurization. They're just tired of having to buy milk in secret.

Milk Law 101
Only eight states allow raw milk to be sold in stores for human consumption — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maine, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Mexico and Washington. In others, like Florida, the milk has to be marked as pet food. In many of the states where the sale of raw milk is outright illegal, you can still drink it from your own cows, so people get around the law by buying cow shares.
Some folks have formed "milk clubs," with people taking turns driving to farms to get raw milk for everyone else. And black market delivery services have sprouted. Some farmers in the U.S. and Canada have been arrested, their operations shuttered. But that doesn't seem to be slowing down supply or demand.
At Freedom Hill Farm, rising demand or not, Rick Vreeland has no interest in expansion. His current dairy farm is a hobby, and that's just the way he likes it. "I had 2,000 cows," he smiles, "and I'm working for the county. So what's that tell ya?"


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