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A hot (pepper) lead in hunt for salmonella source
Source of Article:
WASHINGTON (AP) ? It was a hot lead for detectives on a cold case. People suddenly were getting salmonella at a Minnesota restaurant more than 1,000 miles from the center of the nation's outbreak.
Not my tomatoes, protested the manager. He'd switched his supply to government-cleared fresh tomatoes and even canned ones. But a lot of his menu items had a raw jalapeno garnish sprinkled on top, and that turned out to be a critical clue in the two-month salmonella mystery.
On July 3, Minnesota e-mailed the feds. After tracing credit card receipts ? to find what the restaurant's healthy customers didn't eat ? there was good evidence that the jalapenos were sickening people. And, officials had a diagram tracing the pepper shipments all the way back to three farms in Mexico.
One of those farms shipped peppers through the same large warehouse in McAllen, Texas, where Food and Drug Administration inspectors weeks later would find a single contaminated Mexican-grown pepper being packed by a neighboring vendor.
How could Minnesota pinpoint hot peppers just days after discovering a cluster of sick residents, when federal investigators had spent weeks fruitlessly chasing tomatoes?
To be fair, "there was already some doubt about tomatoes causing this whole outbreak," cautioned Kirk Smith, foodborne disease chief at the Minnesota Department of Health.
And federal investigators say Minnesota's information came just as they were getting hints from two Texas restaurant clusters that jalapenos might play a role.
"Ours was the first that pointed specifically to jalapenos as an ingredient, not just the salsa," Smith said.
It's too soon to know if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention improperly blamed tomatoes in early June, based on reports from the first people to fall ill in New Mexico and Texas.
"I don't think we can find fault yet," said University of Georgia food-safety expert Michael Doyle. "With tomatoes, if you looked at the initial case-control studies, they really came up high on the list."
The CDC didn't comment Wednesday.
At the FDA, food safety chief Dr. David Acheson told The Associated Press the system should be reviewed to see if it can be improved. "Did every part of this system work from one end to the other?" he asked. "I'm not saying it didn't, but I think one has to question that."
Regardless, the way Minnesota unraveled its own cases ? speedily comparing the sick and the well and then racing to track food suppliers ? offers lessons for a public health system grappling with how to handle increasingly complex outbreaks from tainted produce.
"We have got to put the appropriate perspective on this outbreak as to what went right and what went wrong so the kind of changes that are going to further foodborne disease (prevention) can be made," said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota infectious disease specialist and frequent adviser to the government.
He fears the salmonella mystery may be the "swine flu of foodborne disease," and make federal health officials more reluctant to issue consumer warnings in future outbreaks unless they've found the smoking gun, an actual tainted food.
"That would be the worst legacy of this entire situation," Osterholm said.
Reports of the salmonella strain sickening hundreds elsewhere in the country began dribbling in to Minnesota's state health department on Monday June 23.
Minnesota's system is different from those of many states: Rather than county health departments initially checking outbreaks and reporting to headquarters, Smith's state office handles investigations from the beginning. By Thursday, with six cases reported, he had epidemiologists interviewing the sick: What did you eat in the few days before getting ill? Where?
By Sunday, two people had mentioned the same Twin Cities-area restaurant. Smith ordered that other patients be directly asked about that site. Monday morning, four more people fingered it ? and by lunchtime, epidemiologist Erin Hedican was on the scene.
She quickly found seven more ill: employees who ate their own meals at the restaurant and started getting sick after the first customers had. Good to know: That meant the workers weren't the source.
With the manager, Hedican combed ingredients. Any new items added lately? New suppliers? She requested invoices from shipments just before June 14, the first known meal date of one of the sick, and started the hard push to get credit card receipts so she could learn what people who didn't fall ill had eaten.
By Tuesday morning, a garnish made of diced jalapenos and red peppers was topping a list of possible suspects.
"This is not like a sprig of parsley on the edge of your plate. This was sprinkled directly on almost every entree," Smith said.
Still, "a lot of people didn't notice the jalapenos," Smith said, while they were quick to mention tomatoes.
"Recall, that's what makes it tricky. That's why I wonder about all those initial cases" in other states, he added.
By Wednesday night, Smith's team had interviewed 13 sick people and 28 others who had eaten at the restaurant on the same days but stayed well. The sick were 46 times as likely to have eaten the garnish. The next morning, he alerted CDC and FDA.
Meanwhile, Ben Miller of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which regulates food suppliers, was pursuing those invoices. Miller knows traceback: He is credited with following contaminated lettuce blamed for a 2006 E. coli outbreak back to two suspect farms in California, before FDA singled out the culprit.
This time around, Miller knew his colleagues down the hall were suspicious of that garnish. He doubted a red pepper connection; they're used in far more restaurants than jalapenos.
The Twin Cities supplier that delivered to the restaurant led him to a larger distributor, also local. Miller whittled down shipment dates to between June 5 and 9. That distributor had bought from two sources: a shipper in California and another in McAllen, Texas, who in turn got the peppers from three farms in Mexico. Miller later ruled out one farm by further narrowing shipping dates; now he's waiting to hear from FDA if his Texas link panned out.
"A few phone calls and you can work it fairly quickly back to the grower," Miller said.
Federal officials had lots of questions for Minnesota as they matched that data with the clusters in Texas, the outbreak's center.
The Minnesota data "helped us begin to narrow this down," Acheson said, although he wouldn't call it the key cluster.
But Smith's team wasn't done: By July 8, it had a big enough group ? 19 sick and 78 healthy customers ? to do a statistical comparison of multiple ingredients. The sick were 100 times as likely to have eaten a jalapeno as the well.
The next day, July 9, the CDC issued its first consumer precaution, that people at high risk of salmonella should avoid fresh jalapenos.
Associated Press Writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

FDA: U.S.-grown peppers not to blame for salmonella
Source of Article:
The federal investigation of the salmonella outbreak has narrowed further after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that jalapeno and Serrano peppers grown in the United States did not cause the outbreak.
After reviewing traceback and traceforward information and comparing harvesting times with the people who became ill, the FDA has determined that the salmonella-tainted jalapeno pepper found at a distribution center in Texas was grown in Mexico.
The company, Agricola Zarigosa Inc., of McAllen, Texas, voluntarily recalled its jalapeno peppers after the FDA announced it found a positive sample of the Saintpaul strain in a jalapeno pepper early last week.
Until further notice, consumers are advised to avoid eating foods that contain raw jalapeno peppers if they have been grown, harvested or packed in Mexico. Not associated with the outbreak are commercially canned, pickled and cooked jalapeno peppers from all other geographic locations.
Since April, almost 1,300 people in 43 states have been infected with the Saintpaul strain. About 240 people have been hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Initially blamed for what has been identified as the largest outbreak of food-borne illness in the last decade, the tomato industry this week plans to explain to Congress the damage caused by the investigation and introduce ways federal agencies can work with industry leaders in the future to quickly resolve outbreaks.
A federal bill to compensate tomato growers and packers who were unable to sell their crops as a result of the FDA advisory linking tomatoes to salmonella has been directed to the secretary of agriculture.
Introduced by Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Palm Beach Gardens, the bill was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and three other members of Congress.
Compensation to growers and packers is warranted after the FDA collected about 1,700 samples of tomatoes, which all tested negative for the Saintpaul strain, said Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.
He estimates Florida's damages to be less than $100 million, which is a figure that also includes southern Georgia and South Carolina.
"It's created concern in the public mind when it should never should have," he said. "We're looking forward to the consumers eating tomatoes as soon as we can get them back on the shelves."
Officials say that what's unfortunate is that Florida's tomato industry, which will begin selling its produce again in late September or early October, will have to work to regain public confidence and bounce back from the hit.
The "dark cloud" hanging over the tomato industry would more easily dissipate if the FDA would clear tomatoes for good, said Liz Compton, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture.
Commissioner Charles Bronson, who recognizes the impact of the investigation on the industry, is also expected to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week to give the state's perspective of the outbreak and how the state's resource could have been better used to collaborate with federal officials to resolve the problem.
"Still, they have yet to say that tomatoes were never the problem," Compton said. "They're not saying that because they don't feel that's the case right now, but we do."

Officials find salmonella on another jalapeno
By David Mitchell
Source of Article:
(July 29, UPDATED 2:09 p.m.) A second jalapeno pepper has tested positive for Salmonella Saintpaul, and this time, it has been directly linked to a sick consumer.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said July 28 that that a pepper provided by an ill resident of Montezuma County tested positive with the same strain of salmonella that has caused more than 1,300 illnesses in a multistate outbreak.
Alicia Cronquist, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the pepper was purchased at a Wal-Mart store in the southwestern part of the state, likely on June 24, and the consumer became ill July 4.
Cronquist said state agency received the pepper sample July 21, and the positive test was confirmed July 28.
¡°It¡¯s really important that we¡¯ve been able to link a pepper to a specific person who has been ill,¡± she said. ¡°Most people don¡¯t remember exactly what they ate or exactly when or where they bought it.¡±
No grower or distributor has been identified. Cronquist said the state is working with the Food and Drug Administration to determine the origin of the product.
¡°This is a big priority for all of us,¡± she said.
FDA announced a consumer advisory July 21, warning consumers not to eat fresh jalapenos after a Mexican jalapeno in a McAllen, Texas, distribution center tested positive for Salmonella Saintpaul. The agency also advised high-risk consumers ? infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems ? not to eat fresh serrano peppers.
FDA cleared domestic jalapenos and serrano peppers July 25.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., said in a July 28 news release that ¡°following updated information provided by the FDA on Friday, July 25, we destroyed all Mexico-grown jalapeno peppers and returned all U.S.-grown jalapeno peppers to our shelves.¡±
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said July 28 that there are 1,304 reported illnesses in 43 states; Washington, D.C.; and Canada. There have been at least 252 hospitalizations. The most recent onset date of a reported illness is July 12.

Salmonella Fiasco Could Have Been Prevented with Better Record-Keeping, Enforcement, and Investigatory Tools
Date Published: Tuesday, July 29th, 2008
Source of Article:
It seems that Florida tomato growers are the latest victims in the federal government¡¯s failure to quickly resolve a Salmonella outbreak that sickened approximately 1,300 people nationwide. Because the government bowed to food industry lobbyists and refused to implement an electronic record-keeping system years ago that could more quickly determine the source of food-borne illnesses, record delays and additional illnesses occurred in what is one of the largest Salmonella outbreaks this nation has seen.
But now, a U.S. House investigative subcommittee hearing on Thursday may be the push that will ultimately change the current, paper-driven system. Most experts believe that if better record keeping was in place, tomatoes might not have been mistakenly blamed for this most recent Salmonella outbreak. Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat-Michigan, is the hearing¡¯s chair. Stupak also chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee¡¯s investigative subcommittee. ¡°This latest Salmonella outbreak has shown us that it is necessary to have electronic record keeping and trace-back systems,¡± Stupak told The Associated Press.
When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first said tomatoes might have caused the outbreak, many stores stopped selling them, restaurants stopped serving them, and people stopped eating them, all adversely impacting tomato growers. Two months later, the FDA blamed Mexican jalapeno peppers from a Texas distribution center and said that tomatoes were, in fact, safe to eat after all. But, tomato growers in Florida and elsewhere across the country have lost millions. And while this week¡¯s House subcommittee hearing will not undo the damage resulting from the FDA¡¯s actions, it could help prevent such mistakes from occurring in the future.
The AP discovered through government reports and interviews with former federal officials that the Bush administration was pressured by the food industry to limit companies¡¯ record keeping. Industry lobbyists said maintaining electronic records would be too costly. Because U.S. health investigators have only been left with paper records to review, the speed and effectiveness of the investigation has been hampered, costing businesses about $250 million in loses since the outbreak first began in April. ¡°The food industry is learning the hard way that having a strong FDA and common-sense regulation makes good financial sense,¡± said Representative John Dingell, Democrat-Michigan, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
William Hubbard, former associate commissioner of the FDA, told the AP that if the FDA had been given the resources and authority it requested years ago, ¡°I think we would have solved this already.¡± Also, government records indicate that food industry groups met with White House officials no less than 10 times between March 2003 and March 2004 ¡°as food-safety regulations were under debate.¡± The FDA¡¯s proposed rules ¡°were significantly watered down before they became final,¡± said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. Tommy Thompson, the-then secretary of Health and Human Services, acknowledged to the AP, ¡°We went in with the larger package but knew we had to compromise. If we had more, would it help the situation now? Yes.¡±

FDA food protection plan
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Source of Article:
In November 2007, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled its plans to strengthen and update the U.S. food safety system. In order to make many of the necessary changes, the plan stresses the need to realign roles and responsibilities within the agency and for legislative action.
For instance, the Food & Drug Administration is seeking legislative changes that will allow the agency to require food facilities to renew their FDA registrations every 2 years, which the agency argues will allow for superior prevention.
Also, among other recommended changes, FDA is urging Congress to empower the agency to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated products when voluntary recalls fall short.
The Food Protection Plan was developed in conjunction with the broader U.S. Import Safety Action Plan that focuses on how the U.S. can improve the safety of all imported products.
The Food Protection Plan focuses FDA's efforts on three areas:
- Prevention -- FDA will boost efforts to prevent food from becoming contaminated via a 3-pronged approach of: 1) promoting increased corporate responsibility to prevent food-borne illnesses; 2) identifying food vulnerabilities and assessing risks; and 3) expanding the understanding and use of proven mitigation strategies.
- Intervention -- FDA will intervene at critical points in the food supply chain from production to consumption. Inspections will be based on risk assessments and enhanced risk-based surveillance.
- Response -- FDA intends to improve both the agency's immediate response to a food-borne illness outbreak, and its risk communication with the U.S. public, industry and other interested parties.
Sources: FDA, Trust For America's Health

Enough to make you sick: Most imports not inspected
By Brian Bethel (Contact)
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Source of Article:
From spinach to tomatoes, every few years a new food-related health concern sends government officials and private individuals scurrying for solutions.
A 2007 poll by consumer group Trust For America's Health found that 67 percent of Americans are worried about food safety -- ranked higher than concerns about pandemic flu, biological or chemical terrorism, and natural disasters.
And there is cause for concern. About 76 million Americans -- one in four -- are sickened by food-borne illnesses every year, according to the organization.
Much attention in investigations such as the recent salmonella outbreak is given to the quality and standards of imported foods, which make up 15 percent of food consumed in the United States.
Each year the average American eats about 260 pounds of imported foods, The Associated Press reported in 2007.
But only about 1 percent of imported foods the Food and Drug Administration oversees -- including fruits and vegetables -- is inspected, according to Trust for America's Health.
An estimated 85 percent of known food-borne illness outbreaks are associated with FDA-regulated food products, compared with 15 percent of such outbreaks being associated with meat, poultry and eggs -- items regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
"We need to recognize that Americans are getting 13 to 15 percent of their diet from imported food products," said Sarah Klein, staff attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest's food safety program.
"When you think about how much that is, and how little the FDA is inspecting, it is somewhat alarming."
The FDA regulates $417 billion worth of domestic food and $49 billion worth of imported food each year, according to its Web site. Questions sent to the FDA were not immediately answered.
The organization has been systematically stripped of the funding it needs to adequately oversee food safety, Klein said.
The FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has lost 20 percent of its science staff and about 600 inspectors in the past three years, according to TFAH's April 2008 report, "Fixing Food Safety: Protecting America's Food Supply From Farm-to-Fork."
The organization has 1,700 field inspectors, versus 7,600 for the USDA, and the FDA's budget for fiscal year 2007 was $563 million, versus the USDA's $1.02 billion.
Patty Lovera, assistant director for consumer group Food & Water Watch, said that while for years her group has focused on the USDA, the FDA is responsible for much more of the U.S. food supply, both imported and exported.
"We have a split system, and many people are shocked when they realize how much the FDA doesn't do," she said. "Many more people are familiar with the concept that the USDA is in there. That's their legal mandate -- to be in the plants."
The FDA relies solely on point-of-entry inspections of imported food. The USDA, on the other hand, works with the importing establishments' governments to verify that other countries' regulatory systems for meat, poultry and egg products are equivalent to that of the U.S. and that products entering the U.S. are safe.
The FDA's inspection requirements are company-specific, meaning companies must register with the FDA before importing food products.
The USDA is in many ways "doing a much better job than the FDA," but the organization also imports fewer products and has more resources, Klein said.
The United States Department of Agriculture inspected about 16 percent of imported foods in fiscal 2006, The Associated Press reported last year.
Inherent difficulties
There are inherent difficulties in dealing with any agricultural products from other nations, Lovera said.
"If you're talking about things like salmonella in produce, chances are you're talking about something that was spread through contaminated water," she said. "That's an example of a challenge in other countries."
Items such as fish have an enormous number of challenges, including being kept at the proper temperature.
"There are logistical issues in just moving some of this stuff around the planet and keeping it at the temperature it needs to be," she said.
"There are so many things that can go wrong."
The FDA import model is one of voluntary guidance, she said.
"They tell the industry, 'Here are our suggestions for how to do things safely,'" Lovera said. "When it comes to the inspection resources they have and the size of the industry they're supposed to be regulating, they're just really outgunned."
But according to a 2007 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, federal oversight of food is in general fragmented, with 15 agencies collectively administrating at least 30 laws related to food safety.
"None of those agencies has ultimate authority or responsibility, so accountability for the total system is limited," according to TFAH's April report. "No one person in the federal government has the oversight and accountability for carrying out comprehensive, preventive strategies for reducing food-borne illness," the report says.
America's food safety system includes the government, which ideally serves as a regulatory agency, and the food industry, which produces, processes, distributes and sells food, according to the report, which said that most producers take safety seriously. Historically, innovations in food safety come from within the industry.
The FDA does not have the authority, in this country or elsewhere, to take an overly active role, Klein said. The FDA has had problems with tainted imports including pet foods, seafood and produce in recent years, she said.
"One of the things we saw during the pet food outbreak last year was that the FDA had to basically make a request to China to go inspect facilities that had been importing tainted wheat glutens," Klein said. "We'd like to see the FDA go over and certify these systems before they accept product from them."
While much attention is paid to potential overseas problems, domestic outbreaks can be just as deadly and hard to track, Lovera said.
Two years ago, a domestic E. coli outbreak in spinach made people in "almost the entire country sick" from something that happened in one county in California, she said.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants a comprehensive traceability system, similar to tracking systems used by shipping businesses such as UPS, Klein said.
"When you mail a package, you're given a bar code that allows you to go online and track your package," Klein said.
"It will show you that your package went from the UPS center where you dropped it off to the distribution center where it was sorted to an airplane, where it was sent to another distribution center and sorted again."
In CSPI's vision, a farmer would affix a label to an item of produce, similar to stickers already seen on foods at some supermarkets.
"We're just saying, why don't we do a standardized number?" she said. "On that sticker would be a number that stays with that commodity whether it was repacked, what kind of packing house or distribution it went through, so that in the event of an outbreak like the one we're experiencing now, the FDA would be able to track it right back to its source."
Jaydee Hanson, policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, said some have proposed other solutions such as laser-inscribed tattoos on the skins of fruits.
But determining who should run such a tracking program is difficult, Lovera said.
"We think it should not be an industry-run system," she said. "We need more than what we have now, I think we're living through an example of that. But right now, I don't think that just a traceability system is all we need to do. That's a system for dealing with a problem, and we would also like to put as much energy into preventing problems."
Ideally, government agencies should implement farm-to-fork tracking to prevent drawn-out searches for the source of tainted goods when it happens, while trying to create better practices to ensure safety before the food reaches them, Klein said.
In 2004 the FDA came up with what Hanson called a good food safety strategy but didn't ask Congress for the money to implement it.
"The FDA has come up with some good designs, but it hasn't asked Congress for the resources to build the house," he said.
The Bush Administration released its Import Safety Action Plan in November. The Plan is integrated with the FDA's Food Protection Plan, also released in November, according to the TFAH report.
"The Food Protection Plan discusses the need to build safety into the entire food supply chain -- including imported foods," according to the report.
The plan directs the FDA to "work with foreign governments, which have a greater ability to oversee manufacturers within their borders to ensure compliance with safety standards."
Hanson said the FDA has announced intentions to open offices this year in Latin America, India and China, which he called a good step.
It is essential to stress that the United States wants food that meets its higher standards, he said.
"If China, India and Mexico want to export to us, then let them pay to meet our standards," Hanson said.

Salmonella Outbreak Exposes Food-Safety Flaws
Lack of Preparation And Poor Records Cause Delays, Errors
(Wall Street Journal)
The twisting road that led federal investigators to announce Monday that they found a single contaminated jalapeno pepper grown in Mexico and sitting at a distribution center in McAllen, Texas -- the smoking gun in the continuing salmonella outbreak long blamed on tomatoes -- has exposed problems in the U.S. food-safety system.
After weeks of trying to get to the bottom of the outbreak, it occurred to investigators in late June that they had to look beyond fresh tomatoes. In at least two large clusters of illnesses, tomatoes weren't a factor, and cases kept piling up after the government had warned consumers to avoid eating fresh tomatoes.
Hurdles to the probe ranged from poor record-keeping for tracking fresh produce to some overwhelmed state health departments to the fact that jalapenos had never before been implicated in a salmonella outbreak.
"It's a mess -- that's part of the problem with the food-safety system we have today," said Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety. "When folks get together at the table, no one is officially in charge. Sometimes one person talks over another."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of 12 federal agencies responsible for food safety, relies heavily on state health departments to test stool samples. But some states don't have the money or resources to handle that task quickly. Delays in reporting -- Texas, with the largest number of cases, had a backlog -- slowed the probe.
In early stages of the investigation, jalapeno peppers weren't in the picture. The peppers, never before linked to a salmonella outbreak, weren't on the questionnaire health officials used to interview early patients. Officials in New Mexico and at the CDC decided raw tomatoes were the source of the outbreak because 86% of patients ate them before becoming ill. History also played a part: Tomatoes had caused at least a dozen prior salmonella outbreaks.
But the Food and Drug Administration's hunt for contaminated tomatoes was hampered by poor record-keeping and the common practice of mixing and processing tomatoes from many different farms together. Also, many tomato fields were no longer in production, and all 1,700 samples tested negative for salmonella.
What the federal government and the food industry learn from the investigation could help improve the system. Already, a system to enhance the FDA's ability to trace the source of contaminated food has gained support among some prominent lawmakers and the FDA.
Agricultural producers have been leery of such systems because they could bring liability to their doorstep, but Kathy Means, a vice president at the Produce Marketing Association, said that is changing since recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses have been so costly for farmers and food companies.
The trade group last year began crafting a plan to set up a global, electronic tracking system. "We need to be able to trace produce in minutes or hours, not days or weeks," Ms. Means said.
Officials at the CDC still haven't ruled out tomatoes as the culprit, though the FDA did lift its warning against eating them, but are also doing some soul-searching. "We are asking ourselves: Could you have caught peppers? Was there a pepper component missed in earlier stages?" said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC's division of food-borne, bacterial and mycotic diseases. He added later: "We want very much to learn what we can do better."
As of Monday, the CDC had reported that 1,256 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada had been sickened, and that two deaths were linked to the outbreak. The number may be higher, because many people recover without seeing a doctor or having a stool sample analyzed. Salmonella is a feces-borne bacterium that can cause diarrhea, fever and cramps.
The outbreak was first identified May 21, when New Mexico's state laboratory confirmed three cases with the genetic fingerprint of the rare and virulent Saintpaul strain of salmonella.
The next day, with more cases confirmed, state officials immediately alerted the CDC. Also that day, the CDC told Texas officials that similar salmonella cases had cropped up there.
By May 23, Texas had 14 cases, said William Ayres, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Both states started asking patients what they ate before they got sick. The state questionnaires had more than 200 food items including peppers but not specifically jalapenos. The surveys found a strong link with tomato consumption, a disproportionately high 86%, and less than half of the ill people who were surveyed remembered eating salsa, Dr. Tauxe said.
By late June, investigators were focusing on ingredients in salsa and other dishes that contained fresh tomatoes. Health authorities were scrutinizing two Texas clusters involving Mexican-style restaurants and another in Minnesota. In each of the Texas clusters, about 30 people became ill, Dr. Tauxe said. In one, people ate a dish with fresh jalapeno and fresh tomatoes, and in the other, fresh jalapeno peppers and canned tomatoes, which are considered safe.
In Minnesota, the restaurant had already tossed out tomatoes after the FDA warning, said Kirk Smith, supervisor of the foodborne diseases unit at the Minnesota Department of Health. Among the 20 patrons and seven food workers sickened, jalapenos were the common item.
Jalapenos are hard to pinpoint because they are used in many dishes, and people often don't remember eating them, Dr. Tauxe said. "How do we detect something people don't remember eating."
Last week, the FDA lifted its warning on tomatoes, but still said they could have been to blame for some of the cases. Regulators still held out the possibility that cilantro or serrano peppers might be the cause of some of illnesses, too. 7-23-08

Food Safety Advocate William Marler Calls For Public Meat Inspection Records, USA
Article Date: 28 Jul 2008 - 3:00 PDT
Source of Article:
Food safety advocate and attorney William Marler is calling on the Meat Industry and the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to make the inspection reports from meat processing facilities visible and easily available to the public so that consumers - including grocery stores and restaurants - can make informed choices on which products they want to purchase.
"During the last decade, the number of city and state health departments that post restaurant inspection results online has increased significantly," said Marler from his office in Seattle. "Moreover, in places like Los Angeles County, all restaurants regularly receive either a letter-grade or inspection-score, and these must be prominently posted near the entrance to the restaurant. The primary goal of these efforts is to motivate restaurants to improve sanitation and food-handling practices so that fewer people get sick. When faced with a choice between dining at a restaurant that received a C-grade versus an A-grade, it is pretty much a no-brainer that people are going to be more inclined to spend money at a restaurant with a higher grade!
"But if making this kind of information easily available is such a no-brainer, why then does the FSIS make it so difficult for the public to find out the results of thousands of inspections it performs everyday in meat plants across the country? In 2005, FSIS employed over 7,600 inspection program personnel in about 6,000 federally inspected establishments nationwide with an annual cost of $815.1 million. That is a lot of money to spend on inspections given that the public does not currently have any way by which to gain easy and timely access.
"Right now, for all meat products made in a USDA-inspected plant, the plant's establishment number must appear on the label with the mark of inspection. But if a consumer trying to decide what brand of frozen hamburgers to buy wants to compare one plant's inspection records with another, the only way copies of the inspection reports (called Noncompliance Records, or NR's) can be obtained is by making a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These FOIA requests can, however, take years to be processed. And so usually it is only after there has been a big outbreak and recall - like the recent ones involving Topps or Nebraska Beef - that the public learns about how many times a plant has failed an inspection, or been found to be in violation of safety regulations."
"Consumers should know the record of the company responsible for any meat they purchase," sums up Marler. "We've paid for the inspections - we're owed that much, at least."

An accomplished personal injury lawyer and national expert in foodborne illness litigation, William Marler has been a major force in food safety policy in the United States and abroad. He and his partners at Marler Clark have represented thousands of individuals in claims against food companies whose contaminated products have caused serious injury and death. His advocacy for better food regulation has led to invitations to address local, national, and international gatherings on food safety, including recent testimony to the US Congress Committee on Energy and Commerce. Marler Clark is considered the nation's foremost law firm representing victims of foodborne illness and other serious personal injuries. Contact Mary Siceloff at or (206) 719-4705. For further information visit and

E. coli Lawsuit Filed Against Missouri Raw Milk Distributor
Posted on July 29, 2008 by E. coli Lawyer
Source of Article:
A lawsuit was filed today in the Circuit Court for Barry County, Missouri against Soni Copeland and the Herb Depot and Organic Market. The petition was filed on behalf of Monett residents Brian and Angela Pedersen and their young son, Larry. The Pedersen family is represented by Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm dedicated to representing victims of foodborne illness, and by Aleshire, Robb, and Sivils of Springfield, Missouri.
The lawsuit states that in April, 2008 Angela Pedersen purchased raw milk from the Herb Depot and Organic Market in Monett, where she was encouraged to give it to her son Larry, then one year old. In late April, Larry Pedersen began to suffer from symptoms including vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. He was admitted to the hospital in Aurora, Missouri, where he tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 and subsequently developed HUS, or Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a severe and life-threatening complication. On May 10, 2008 he was transferred to the St. Louis Children¡¯s Hospital, where he remained until May 29. As a result of his infection and illness, he has suffered severe and permanent injuries.
Raw milk regulation is determined at the state level and varies widely across the country. In Missouri, raw milk can legally be sold at the point of production (the dairy farm) or delivered personally by the farmer, but may not be sold by retail establishments such as the Herb Depot. As a state law was violated, the Missouri Attorney General¡¯s office has also filed suit against Soni Copeland and the Herb Depot.
Raw milk is at the center of a nationwide controversy over its potential value as a nutritional food versus the terrible illnesses that can result from contaminated product. Pasteurization was developed to rid dairy products of pathogens like toxic E. coli, as well as to assure a longer, safer shelf life. Proponents of raw milk believe that pasteurization also eliminates healthful benefits of the dairy product.

E. coli Links Nebraska, Georgia, California
Posted on July 25, 2008 by E. coli Attorney
Source of Article:
E. coli cases are such an everyday announcement now days, I have trouble keep up with them on the blog. Here are a few over just the last twelve hours.
York Officials Confirmed E. Coli Case
A health official says restaurant food and a recent meat recall have been ruled out as possible sources of E. coli that sickened at least two people in southeast Nebraska. The cases were reported to the department on Tuesday.
More E. coli lawsuit expected
A law suit filed Monday against Nebraska Beef, who the Public Health Department reports sold E. coli tainted meat to a Moultrie restaurant, may not be the only local complaint filed.
Cargill Meat Recalled - Again
Fresno, California - Beef Packers, Inc., a Fresno, California, firm, is recalling approximately 1,560 pounds of beef cheek products because they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture¡¯s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced today. The following products are subject to recall: 30-pound boxes of ¡°CARGILL MEAT SOLUTIONS CORPORATION, BEEF CHEEK MEAT - SM BX.¡±
E. coli patient hospitalized 3 weeks
Laura Comer spent three weeks in the hospital. Suspect plasma was flushed out of her body and replaced with fresh quantities. Seven doctors treated her, some of them quoting mortality rates. All because of something she ate.

Raw Milk Causing Illness in East, Midwest and West
Posted on July 22, 2008 by Food Poisoning Attorney
Source of Article:
In breaking news this evening, Connecticut state inspectors are investigating raw milk from a Simsbury dairy farm after reported illnesses. The State Department of Agriculture is looking at whether the raw, unpasteurized milk from Town Farm Dairy on Wolcott Street is responsible for making people sick after a number of illnesses have been reported. The dairy has voluntarily shut down production and its store while inspectors investigate.
We are representing a young girl sickened with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome by E. coli O157:H7 in Missouri. Press reports - Raw milk thought to sicken one with E. coli O157:H7 in Missouri. Radio station KSMU reports in this podcast that a local resident has contracted E. coli O157:H7 and that raw milk appears to be a risk factor. Hear it all at KSMU News.
We are also investigating a guillain-barre syndrome case from Crescent City, California that was caused by a Campylobacter infection induced by raw milk consumption. The victim has been hospitalized on a ventilator now for 5 weeks.

We are also continuing litigation on behalf of two children who suffered severe E. coli O157:H7 infections (HUS) after consuming raw milk products produced by Organic Pastures.

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