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10/13
2008
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Disputed Link To Aunt Mid¡¯s Cut Lettuce Reveals Need For Industry Firms To Have Easy Access To Top Epidemiologists
October 7, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.perishablepundit.com/#2
The papers have been filled with news reports indicating that Aunt Mid¡¯s Produce Co. has been the source of an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak -- this one linked to distribution of foodservice or institutional size packages:
The Michigan Department of Community Health recently issued a public health alert in response to an outbreak of illnesses caused by E. coli and thought to be spread through industrial-size packages of iceberg lettuce. The alert names Detroit-based Aunt Mid¡¯s Produce Co., which distributes lettuce directly to restaurants and institutions, as the common thread among some of the¡¦ people who have been sickened since September 8.
Of those affected, 10 people have been hospitalized. Aunt Mid¡¯s has voluntarily suspended production of the lettuce until the investigation into the outbreak is complete. Some students at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have gotten sick during the statewide outbreak.
We mentioned Aunt Mid¡¯s during the spinach outbreak of 2006, as the company worked to reassure consumers of its food safety efforts. Now, the company is objecting to the claim that its product is associated with an outbreak:
In connection with the numerous industry and general media articles regarding the recent E. coli outbreak and its source, it is important that all persons concerned are made aware of the current status of the ongoing investigation to identify the source of the contamination.
On September 26, 2008, the Michigan Department of Agriculture notified Aunt Mid¡¯s that its foodservice pack-size iceberg lettuce was an ¡°item of interest¡± in an E. coli outbreak investigation. Aunt Mid¡¯s immediately and voluntarily halted production and sales of any chopped or shredded iceberg lettuce products.
Since that notification Aunt Mid¡¯s has worked around the clock with the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan Department of Community Health and Michigan State University to determine whether any Aunt Mid¡¯s product was contaminated. To that end, Aunt Mid¡¯s has initiated with outside, certified independent laboratories an ongoing testing program of both its products and its processing facility.
Aunt Mid¡¯s is pleased to report that these tests prove there is NO CONTAMINATION in Aunt Mid¡¯s products. Those laboratory test results have been shared with the State of Michigan.
Aunt Mid¡¯s has also freely and graciously extended to the various departments of the State of Michigan access to its processing facility and has provided additional product samples, for testing by those departments. The Michigan Department of Agriculture has just released to Aunt Mid¡¯s the results of its tests of Aunt Mid¡¯s iceberg lettuce samples and Aunt Mid¡¯s processing facility.

Aunt Mid¡¯s is pleased to report that the State tests confirm the results of Aunt Mid¡¯s independent laboratory tests ? NO CONTAMINATION OF EITHER AUNT MID¡¯S PRODUCT OR PROCESSING FACILITY WAS FOUND BY THE STATE TESTS.
Food Safety is, and always has been, top priority for Aunt Mid¡¯s. Its state-of-the-art, HACCP (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points) certified processing facility houses its own laboratory managed by a quality assurance and control team. Aunt Mid¡¯s voluntarily undergoes stringent third-party food safety audits by AIB International (www.aibonline.org) on a regular basis. Aunt Mid¡¯s consistently earns the highest rating achievable ? ¡°Superior¡±. Aunt Mid¡¯s also has passed all Michigan Department of Agriculture inspections. Inspection results can be obtained by calling the M.D.A. hotline at 800-292-3939.
We wish to reiterate that, to date, after the numerous tests conducted by certified independent laboratories, NO AUNT MID¡¯S PRODUCTS HAVE BEEN FOUND TO BE CONTAMINATED. When more information becomes available in this ongoing and complicated investigation, Aunt Mid¡¯s will make such information available on its website. Aunt Mid¡¯s will continue to fully cooperate with the State of Michigan investigation until a conclusion is reached.
In the meantime ace plaintiff¡¯s attorney Bill Marler and others have been calling on Aunt Mid¡¯s to reveal the source of its iceberg lettuce. Pointing out that if it is true that Aunt Mid¡¯s is the source of an outbreak and, if, as is often the case, the problem starts with the raw product, others may have bought raw product from the same farm and thus other consumers may be at risk:

At least 40 confirmed cases of the infection with the highly toxic pathogen E. coli O157:H7 have been linked to commercial bagged lettuce distributed by Aunt Mid¡¯s Produce, but the Detroit-based company refuses to name the supplier of the contaminated product. Thirty of the illnesses are in Michigan; the others have been documented in Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Oregon.
¡°Food borne illnesses are often difficult to trace, as we saw this summer with the tomato-pepper Salmonella outbreak,¡± said food safety advocate and attorney William Marler. ¡°You want to get to the source as quickly as possible in order to stop the flow of contaminated produce and alert those who might have it in hand to discard or return it. In this case, we have a trail leading directly to the door of the distributor ? Aunt Mid¡¯s Produce ? and they¡¯re blocking the trail there. Not revealing the source of the contaminated lettuce means that there could be other contamination ? in fields or in the supply chain ? which is not being stopped. It¡¯s completely irresponsible and should be illegal.¡±
We wanted to get to the bottom of this situation and so asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more:

Dominic Riggio
President
Aunt Mid¡¯s
Detroit, Michigan

Q: How did this outbreak investigation unfold?

A: We were informed by the Michigan state agencies that there was an E. coli outbreak; several E. coli cases reported. They contacted us on September 26, telling us that iceberg lettuce was one item of interest. Ever since, we¡¯ve been working with the agencies handling the investigation. Upon contact, we stopped selling and processing iceberg products.

Q: How have you participated in the investigation?

A: We sent numerous product samples to independent labs, as well as the same samples to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, all of which have come back negative. We also conducted environmental tests simultaneously with the Michigan Department of Agriculture at our processing facility. Those were pretty extensive. All of our environmental tests have also come back negative.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has also contacted us that they removed samples from the Lenawee County Jail linked to some of the cases, and all the test results from there came back negative. That was their testing, not ours. As a matter of fact, all of our tests have come back negative and there are no outstanding tests out.

Q: Is there any concern that contaminated product could be out in the market?

A: We stopped selling and processing iceberg lettuce in cooperation with the investigation, not because there is anything wrong with it. Our action was voluntary. We are waiting for some case study information from the state, and have already begun our trace-forward investigation. The information the state gathered prior to notifying us on the 26th should be readily available, but we haven¡¯t gotten that back yet.

Q: The Illinois Department of Public Health warned consumers of a connection between E. coli cases in the state with those in the Michigan outbreak. It identified Aunt Mid¡¯s as the distributor of iceberg lettuce consumed by six Illinois residents during late August to mid-September who have been diagnosed with E. coli 0157.

A: We have not been contacted by the Illinois Department of Health or any of the Illinois agencies, so we are not a part of their investigation as of yet. We believe they are taking the news from Michigan and extrapolating it.

After numerous tests, there is no contamination in Aunt Mid¡¯s products.

Q: Could you elaborate on your food safety measures?

A: Food safety is a top priority at Aunt Mid¡¯s. We go to great measures to provide safe working and processing conditions. We go to growers who are certified in the same way. Good manufacturing practices through HACCP plans third-party audited. We undergo stringent food safety audits by AIB International, consistently earning the highest superior rating, as well as regular inspections by the Department of Agriculture. All records can be obtained through a hotline.

The truth is coming back to us through our customers. Our customers have supported us so greatly this last week, sympathizing with how our name is being dragged through the mud. Our customers know the steps we¡¯re taking to insure food safety. We have proved this over time, and that¡¯s why they are standing behind us.

Q: Are you speculating that the epidemiological study and analysis was flawed or incomplete and perhaps led to an immature link to your company?

A: The Michigan agencies have not provided us with the case study, and that should tell us more about why. We¡¯ve requested it and are still waiting. The only one saying it is Aunt Mid¡¯s is the Michigan Department of Community Health on September 26. We don¡¯t have a recall. We voluntarily stopped selling and processing iceberg product, but nothing was found.

Q: If you are voluntarily halting production and sale of iceberg lettuce, why not do a recall of the product already out in the market as well?

A: If they said we identified this problem on this day with these lot codes ? boom, we would recall immediately through our distribution system. No contamination has been found since the beginning of this investigation. We voluntary stopped processing and selling iceberg lettuce as a show of good faith and cooperation with Michigan authorities, not because we thought there was anything wrong. We continue to sell other products.

Q: Just to clarify, although you didn¡¯t recall product, wouldn¡¯t customers or establishments that had Aunt Mid¡¯s product in stock pull it anyway in reaction to the press releases?

A: Some customers have suspended orders till the problems are resolved. Anything that was shipped prior to September 26 was not recalled by us. Some distributors that received our product but had not sold it, returned it to us, but we didn¡¯t recall anything. There was no official recall. The turnover time period in produce is different than beef.

This is the world and we¡¯re in a business where outbreaks and food safety issues are a part of things. We are not running from it; we¡¯re addressing it head on.

Q: I¡¯m sorry your company name has been tarnished through this ordeal, and hope that in the end you¡¯ll be vindicated.

A: On the 26th, when the Michigan Department of Community Health issued their press release with iceberg lettuce as an item of interest, they named Aunt Mid¡¯s, but they named us without proof. Anytime your name is mentioned in the same sentence with any pathogen, you might as well sit in the electric chair. We have a panicked public. We know how the public is going to react.
We believe at this point, our name is associated with the Illinois Department of Public Health press release only because they saw the Michigan report. We¡¯re not working with Illinois state agencies. They¡¯ve pretty much taken the news from Michigan. That¡¯s an assumption on my part. We¡¯d be happy to supply the State of Illinois with all our independent test results and other information that could help in the investigation.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture has been in our facility day and night testing alongside with us. They¡¯re being very careful of what they¡¯re saying. They are truly doing their investigation and we¡¯ve been fully cooperating. The Michigan Department of Community Health contacted us originally in tandem with the Department of Agriculture. It was a conference call. We¡¯ve had little to do with that department beyond September 26.
This relatively small outbreak actually illustrates some very important issues and poses some very important questions for how we can deal with problems such as this in the future.
During the Salmonella Saintpaul situation, we ran a piece from Jim Gorny of UC Davis that focused on the difficulties of epidemiology ? you can find that article here. However, the fact that epidemiology is difficult, time-consuming and can be incorrect, does not mean that the very science of epidemiology is invalid.
In fact, if the produce industry adopts the position that only DNA evidence found as a ¡°smoking gun¡± on product is sufficient to tie a producer to an outbreak, the produce industry will wind up discredited and irrelevant.
As such, although it is reassuring that Aunt Mid¡¯s has done lots of testing and others have done lots of testing, and it has come out negative, as they teach in law school ¡°the absence of proof is not proof of absence.¡± In other words, these tests are being done on different product at different times and simply don¡¯t prove anything about what was or was not happening weeks ago when this product would have been packed.
One thing that all processors should do is hold back under refrigeration samples from each lot so when there is suspicion, at least we can test product from the relevant lots. Because this product is stored under continuous refrigeration, it generally lasts longer than any product on the market, so by the time the samples are rotten, the product is no longer in the market.
One big caveat, and we very much hope that the public health community will join us in this, is that while we will fight hard to make sure the produce industry recognizes the value of epidemiology, the public health community needs to acknowledge just as much that mistakes can be made and that there must be a standard of evidence met before consumers are told to panic and businesses are destroyed.
We were horrified to read this line from Mira¡¯s interview with Dominic Riggio:
¡°We are waiting for some case study information from the state, and have already begun our trace-forward investigation. The information the state gathered prior to notifying us on the 26th should be readily available, but we haven¡¯t gotten that back yet.¡±
Epidemiology is a science and, as such, those who practice it need to be able to make their case. The very first time public health authorities called Aunt Mid¡¯s, the authorities needed to be willing and able to present the epidemiological evidence that led them to indict Aunt Mid¡¯s Produce Co.
There have been cases in which Federal authorities have walked into produce companies demanding recalls and they were shown that their epidemiological evidence was being misinterpreted.
We have begged and pleaded, with the produce associations to help their members by retaining on contract a world-class epidemiologist who would be in a position to be available to a firm such as Aunt Mid¡¯s in the event of a situation such as this.
During the Salmonella Saintpaul situation, we ran an important interview with Michael T. Osterholm, a renowned epidemiologist now based at the University of Minnesota. It was exceedingly influential because his critique of the epidemiological study done in the Salmonella Saintpaul situation was telling.
The Pundit cut his eye teeth in the business on the Hunts Point market, so we understand exactly how the Riggio family must feel and we appreciate that they are doing all these tests to fight back and vindicate their name in the only way they know how. Unfortunately, no amount of testing today will ever persuade public health authorities about whether there was a food safety outbreak several weeks ago.
To do that, what Aunt Mid¡¯s and all produce companies in such situations require is a good epidemiologist who will look at the evidence at the start and quietly point out errors and alternative interpretations and thus prevent these issues from erroneously breaking to the public.
It is also possible that the epidemiologist would be the one pointing out that public health authorities are withholding information and thus preventing anyone from vetting the accuracy of the epidemiological report.
Finally, the epidemiologist may confirm that the public health authorities are correct and that a company is implicated.
But what is required is not for the industry to do endless testing ? but for the associations to facilitate the availability of world-class epidemiological expertise so that the industry can speak the language of public health.
As for our friend Bill Marler, we would certainly join his effort to get the product sources revealed in the case of outbreaks. His logic is 100% correct ? we need to trace back and then trace forward to minimize illness. The issue, however, is whether or not Aunt Mid¡¯s has been properly implicated. The mere assertion that they are implicated, without any supporting evidence, is not sufficient.
As an officer of the court and a representative of a system in which our courts are not only courts of law but of equity, we hope Bill Marler will join our effort to insist on transparency by public health authorities, including a timely revealing of case studies and epidemiological evidence so that these can be reviewed by third parties for accuracy.
We think Bill Marler is too good a lawyer to defend a system in which public authorities in effect declare themselves prosecutors, judge and jury and then conduct a ¡°secret trial¡± and never feel obligated to reveal the basis of their judgments. We don¡¯t see how anyone can believe in the rule of law and believe in a system such as that.
Many thanks to Dominic Riggio for taking the time to explain the position of Aunt Mid¡¯s to the industry.

U.S.D.A. awards $14M for food safety education
(MEATPOULTRY.com, October 03, 2008)
by Bryan Salvage
Source of Article: http://www.meatpoultry.com/news/daily_enews.asp?ArticleID=96914
WASHINGTON Almost $14 million was awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support research, education and outreach for food safety. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced U.S.D.A. awarded the grants in 19 states through the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative. "Most often, the prevention of foodborne illnesses comes through education and safe-handling practices in the preparation of food," Mr. Schafer said. "Sound advice about food safety is based on good research to pinpoint potential pathways of contamination as well as effective solutions and safeguards." National Integrated Food Safety Initiative grant funds are awarded each year by U.S.D.A.'s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service so that sound, practical, science-based knowledge can be shared among teachers, scientists, health professionals, researchers, farmers, food processors, foodservice workers and all who impact the safety of the U.S. food supply. N.I.F.S.I. grant funds are frequently used to develop education and outreach programs for consumers.
Project descriptions can be found at www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/food/pdfs/2008_competitive_projects.pdf.

FDA Sets Safety Threshold for Contaminant Melamine
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, October 4, 2008; Page A05
Source of Article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Responding to concerns about the presence of the contaminant melamine in numerous foods made in China and exported to the United States and elsewhere, the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that consuming a very small amount of the chemical poses no serious risk. The exception, officials said, is melamine in baby formula, which has sickened more than 54,000 infants in China. The agency said it was unable to determine what a safe amount of melamine in formula might be. The FDA set 2.5 parts per million as the maximum "tolerable" amount of melamine that could be safely consumed in other foods. "It would be like if you had a million grains of sand and they were all white, and you had two or three that were black, that's kind of the magnitude," said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's food safety program. Several melamine-contaminated foods found in recent weeks in the United States had far more of the chemical.
Melamine levels in imported Chinese candies recalled last week in California, for instance, were as high as 520 parts per million. White Rabbit candies from China were recalled after authorities in California and Connecticut found melamine. And Friday, a New Jersey company announced that it was recalling a yogurt-type drink from China -- Blue Cat Flavor Drink -- after FDA testing found melamine.
In China, melamine-tainted baby formula has sickened thousands and led to at least four deaths, mainly from kidney problems, according to the World Health Organization. The chemical, which can make it appear that a product is more nutritious and protein-rich than it actually is, has also been found in candies, chocolates, coffee drinks and other items made from Chinese dairy products.
American consumers first learned of the dangers of melamine when it was found last year in pet food ingredients made in China. The Chinese suppliers of the bulk ingredients had been adding the melamine, officials determined, to boost the apparent protein levels in product testing. Thousands of pets were sickened by the contaminated food, and hundreds may have died. The FDA guidelines were issued to help federal and state investigators checking for contaminated Chinese products as they enter the country and in Asian grocery stores. Sundlof said the agency's goal is to identify products with potentially dangerous levels of melamine, rather than to find each small instance of contamination.
But Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), head of a House subcommittee that oversees FDA funding, criticized the agency for saying there could be safe levels of melamine in foods.
"While other countries throughout the world, including the European Union, are acting to ban melamine-contaminated products from China, the FDA has chosen to establish an acceptable level for melamine in food in an attempt to convince consumers that it is not harmful," DeLauro said in a statement. "Not only is this is an insult to consumers, but it would appear that the FDA is condoning the intentional contamination of foods."

Latest Salmonella Scare Permanently Closes Mars Petcare Factory in PA
Date Published: Friday, October 3rd, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.newsinferno.com/archives/3940
Mars Petcare, the company that has recalled salmonella-tainted pet food twice since 2007, is shutting down the Pennsylvania factory that was responsible for the contamination. According to a notice dated Sept. 18 that Mars Petcare sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, some of the Everson, PA plant¡¯s 53 workers will lose their jobs as early as Nov. 12. All employees will be out by Dec. 19.
Salmonella in pet food can cause serious infections in dogs and cats. But it can also cause illness in people if they come in contact with tainted food, or sick animals. Pet food manufactured at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Mars Petcare factory sickened 66 people nationwide in 2006 and 2007. About 40 percent of those infections involved infants, according to a report published in the May 16 issue of the Centers for Disease Control¡¯s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Of the 38 people for whom clinical information was available, 15 (39 percent) had bloody diarrhea. For the 45 persons whose hospitalization status was known, 11 (24 percent) had to be hospitalized. No deaths were reported, according to the report. While 25 cases of Salmonella poisoning were reported in Pennsylvania, the pet food also made people sick in Alabama, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia.
That outbreak prompted the company to recall its Red Flannel Large Breed Adult Formula and Krasdale Gravy Dry Dog Food in August 2007. After that recall, Mars Petcare closed the Pennsylvania plant for cleaning and inspection.
Then, just last month, Mars Petcare recalled more food made at the plant, again over Salmonella worries. Brand names of affected products include some items under the names of Country Acres, Retriever, Doggy Bag, Members Mark, Natural, Ol¡¯ Roy, Special Kitty, Paws & Claws, Pedigree, Wegman¡¯s, Pet Pride, PMI Nutrition, and Red Flannel. Two people had become ill with the same strain of Salmonella (Schwarzengrund) found at the plant, but no direct link was found between the recalled pet food and the illnesses.
As a result of the contamination problems, production at the Everson plant was again halted on July 29. But unlike the first recall, Mars Petcare has now decided to shutter the factory for good.
¡°Since we have not yet identified the source of the salmonella Schwarzengrund at the Everson facility, we do not plan to resume production out of a commitment to the safety of our pet owners and their pets, customers and associates,¡± Debra Fair, public relations manager for Mars Petcare US, said in a statement.

FILES FIRST E. COLI LAWSUIT AGAINST AUNT MID'S PRODUCE Oct. 9, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.marketwatch.com/
The first lawsuit stemming from a recent lettuce-borne E. coli outbreak was filed today in the Circuit Court for Ingham County, Michigan against Aunt Mid's Produce. The petition was filed on behalf of Michigan State University (MSU) student and East Lansing resident Samantha Steffen. Ms. Steffen is represented by Marler Clark, a Seattle food borne illness law firm, and by Michael Heilmann of the Detroit-area firm Counard & Heilmann.
In September 2008, at least 40 people were sickened by the virulent E. coli strain O157:H7. The ill were concentrated in Michigan, and included students at MSU Lansing as well as inmates at a Michigan jail. The outbreak was traced to contaminated lettuce distributed by Aunt Mid's Produce of Detroit, Michigan. Genetic fingerprinting matched the E. coli bacteria on the lettuce to the stool samples of the victims.
Samantha Steffen consumed lettuce on campus in early September, and by September 13, she began to experience nausea, abdominal cramps, and frequent bouts of diarrhea. In the next couple of days, her diarrhea turned bloody, and she asked a friend to take her to the emergency room where she was treated for severe dehydration. A stool sample taken there revealed that she was infected with E. coli O157:H7. After her release from the ER, Ms. Steffen continued to experience painful cramps, nausea, and bloody diarrhea. She has yet to fully recover from her illness.
"The Michigan Health Department has linked these illnesses to lettuce produced by Aunt Mid's Produce," said Ms. Steffen's attorney William Marler. "Despite requests that they reveal the source of the tainted lettuce--a pivotal step toward ensuring that there is no additional tainted product in the supply chain--Aunt Mid's has refused to do so. Food distributors are responsible not only to their direct consumers but also to the food supply system as a whole. By withholding information about a contamination event, Aunt Mid's Produce is not doing their part to keep food safe for everyone."
Although E. coli outbreaks are often associated with meat, produce-borne outbreaks have become more frequent in recent years. The Center for Science in the Public Interest noted that fully 25 percent of E. coli outbreaks from 1990-1998 were traced to produce. Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that over the last 12 years, twenty-two E. coli outbreaks have been traced specifically to leafy greens, including the spinach outbreak in 2006, which made more than 200 ill and caused four deaths.
The two firms representing Ms. Steffen have worked together in the past, most recently representing Michigan victims of the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak.
ABOUT MARLER CLARK: Marler Clark has represented victims of every major food borne illness outbreak since 1993. The firm's attorneys have litigated high-profile food poisoning cases against such companies as ConAgra, Wendy's, Chili's, Chi-Chi's, and Jack in the Box. Marler Clark currently represents thousands of victims of outbreaks traced to ground beef, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and spinach, as well as other foods. For further information contact Mary Siceloff at msiceloff@marlerclark.com or (206) 719-4705, or visit www.MarlerClark.com and www.marlerblog.com.
SOURCE: Marler Clark
Marler Clark
Mary Siceloff, 206-719-4705
msiceloff@marlerclark.com

E. coli in Michigan lettuce traced to California
By Marie Vasari
Monterey Herald
Article Launched: 10/10/2008 07:56:36 AM PDT
Source of Article: http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_10687830
An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in tainted iceberg lettuce that sickened 36 people in Michigan last month has been traced back to California growers.
Michigan agriculture officials had previously named the supplier of the lettuce as Aunt Mid's Produce of Detroit but had not identified where the lettuce was grown.
The outbreak, involving bagged, industrial-sized packages of iceberg lettuce sold through wholesale venues to restaurants and institutions, sickened students at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, and inmates at Lenawee County Jail before spreading to metro Detroit. The Detroit Free Press reported late Thursday that Michigan agriculture officials had confirmed the state of origin, although a region wasn't specified.
Several questions remain to be answered, including in which part of California the lettuce originated. Bob Perkins, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, said September is peak season for Salinas Valley lettuce growers.
"That's when our growers are very busy," said Perkins. "If it's California bagged lettuce, there's a real probability that it will be tied to our area, or to somebody that we know."
Even if it turns out that the lettuce was grown outside the Salinas Valley, he expects the implications could weigh heavily on a leafy green industry still reeling from the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach that sickened more than 200 and left three people dead.
Consumers from California may be familiar enough with the state's geography to differentiate the San Joaquin Valley or Imperial Valley from Salinas Valley, but Perkins thinks that's not likely the case for someone living outside the state.
"For anybody outside of California," he said, "what they're going to remember is California."
As of late Thursday, the news that California had been identified hadn't yet traveled through the local industry.
Perkins said the other big question will be whether health officials will be able to suggest a possible cause for how the bacteria was introduced.
"Everybody's going to want to know as much as possible about the potential causes, because everybody is doing pretty much everything they can to prevent outbreaks," he said.
For consumers reading about food safety outbreaks, he suspects it's hard to know what choices to make. And confusion doesn't help the industry sell its product, he said.
"Just talking about California certainly affects consumer confidence," he said.
Likewise, Dennis Donohue, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of the Central Coast, said the determination that California is the source of the lettuce is only one part of a complete picture.
"How was the product handled by the processor? How was the product handled by the product's consumers? How was it consumed?" he said.
As a founding member of the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement, Donohue said he was proud of the efforts grower-shippers have made to ensure food safety.
"Obviously we would hope that the source would not be identified with that membership," he said. "But no one has ever said it would be a zero-incident world."
But wherever in California the lettuce turns out to have been grown, Donohue said, it will have some impact on consumer trust.
"Consumers, in terms of confidence levels, they tend not to split hairs. So the strongest link is affected by the weakest link," said Donohue. "This is an issue that has affected our industry, if nothing else, in costs and practices, and we're going to have to be eternally vigilant."
Aunt Mid's Produce of Detroit was identified as one of the Michigan suppliers. The company immediately stopped its lettuce distribution, said Chief Executive Officer Philip Riggio, and had its supply and processing facilities tested by outside experts. The tests found no evidence of contamination.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture also tested Aunt Mid's lettuce, with no findings of E. coli, said Jennifer Holton, MDA spokeswoman.
Holton said Aunt Mid's will be able to resume operations soon and the investigation is ongoing in cooperation with California food and safety officials.
The Detroit Free Press contributed to this report.

Newest E. coli Outbreak Linked to Colorado Restaurant
Date Published: Thursday, October 9th, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.newsinferno.com/archives/3979
Laboratory results have just confirmed a strain of E. coli in nine of 16 recently reported cases of severe stomach ailments emerging out of Colorado, many of which have been linked to a Jimmy John¡¯s Gourmet Sandwich shop near the University of Colorado (UC) campus in Boulder. Health officials, cooperating with restaurant management, closed the sandwich shop located at 1125 13th Street Tuesday evening.
The health department is investigating other possible bacteria sources, said Heath Harmon, communicable-disease division manager for the Boulder County health department. Although not named, the strain of E. coli linked to the diseases is said to cause bloody diarrhea and other stomach problems, with the potential to cause kidney failure in children. The infection also hit a sorority house last month.
Jimmy John¡¯s was temporarily shut down as a precautionary measure; however, Chana Goussetis, spokeswoman for the health department, said the county isn¡¯t sure if the restaurant is the E. coli source. ¡°Quite a few people who were sick had eaten at Jimmy John¡¯s, but we¡¯re not sure that is the source,¡± Goussetis said. ¡°It was done to make sure no one else got sick. All the food workers are getting tested, and we¡¯re making sure there is new food.¡± While Jimmy John¡¯s posted a statement indicating that the health department is working with other area restaurants to determine the source of the outbreak, Goussetis said her department is not working with any other restaurants regarding this E. coli outbreak.
Last week, the health department investigated a cluster of eight E. coli cases at UC. Of the eight, seven were students and one was a sorority adviser. Most students were members of the same sorority, which UC officials declined to name. Goussetis said those cases were linked back to Jimmy John¡¯s. At least two of the victims have secured legal representation. Goussetis confirmed the county is now investigating 17 cases of E. coli, but not all are linked to the restaurant.
The strain of E. coli bacteria is one of the most common, according to health officials; the key symptom is bloody diarrhea. The strain can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, resulting in acute kidney failure and the bacteria can be transferred when people handle food after using the bathroom and not washing their hands. According to the health department, there has been a rise in E. coli cases in Boulder County this year, with the county formerly averaging seven annual cases and now seeing 25 cases this year alone. Goussetis confirmed that numbers are up statewide as well.
Some E. coli strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly, such as the very rare and toxin-producing strain E. coli O111 and the more common toxin producing O157:H7. Typically, the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 is found to be responsible in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks and is?along with O111?in groups called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) and Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), linked to food poisoning, that are very serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.


Both sides chime in on carcass irradiation issues
(MEATPOULTRY.com, October 03, 2008) by Bernard Shire
Source of Article: http://www.meatpoultry.com/news/daily_enews.asp?ArticleID=96901
WASHINGTON ? In an effort to cut back the incidence of bacteria and pathogens in ground beef, the American Meat Institute presented a petition that would allow the use of low-level irradiation on the surface of beef carcasses as a processing aid to kill E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture held a Sept. 18 public meeting on the petition that would allow meat processors to use irradiation as a processing aid, which drew a lot of support and opposition. Supporters said it would make beef safer for consumers to eat. But opponents said a single study of the issue, funded by industry dollars, does not prove irradiation used as a processing aid on beef would be safe for consumers or that it would make the beef safer for consumption.
Participants at the USDA hearing discussed a petition submitted by the American Meat Institute to USDA three years ago. AMI Foundation President Randy Huffman, Ph.D., told attendees at the September meeting that low-dose electron beam carcass irradiation can be an important processing aid to enhance beef safety without becoming an ingredient or additive to the final product.
However, Nancy Donley, president of Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P), a group that fights foodborne illness, told MEAT&POULTRY the group believes technology can help improve food safety, but has questions about irradiation. "We¡¯re not really pro or anti-irradiation, she said. "But we have some concerns. First, the single supporting study AMI is using to support its petition was funded by beef checkoff dollars. In our view, because of that, the study might not be impartial."
Huffman said study data shows irradiation could be effective in destroying bacteria on the carcass surface. He pointed out irradiation would be used as a processing aid, but would not be present in the finished product in significant levels. Furthermore, irradiation does not have any technical or functional effect on the food, he added. USDA¡¯s Food Safety and Inspection Service never required the labeling of an ingredient used as an antimicrobial when it is treating meat. FDA also does not require including processing aids on product labels.
The use of irradiation of meat, poultry and other foods was approved by the Food and Drug Administration a long time ago, and FSIS then approved treating uncooked meat and poultry products to reduce levels of foodborne pathogens, as well as extending shelf-life. FSIS went along with irradiation treatment of meat and poultry, but has required packages to carry the radura symbol of irradiation on labels. But due to consumer opposition and fear by the public of "radiation," only a limited amount of food has been irradiated, and the tool has been used on a limited basis as a weapon for food safety.
With the increasing emergency of E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens, industry began looking at irradiation again, but this time as a processing aid, so it could avoid putting the radura logo on packages, and having to label products as "treated with radiation."
"It would be misleading to mandate the labeling of the process or any beef derived from the carcass since those products would evidence no characteristics of irradiated product," Huffman said at the meeting. He pointed out the difference between carcass irradiation, compared to other approved methods, is that it utilizes a lower dose and results in an insignificant portion of the carcass receiving an electron beam exposure, with most of the edible part of the carcass receiving no e-beam exposure at all.
S.T.O.P.¡¯s Donley took issue with other parts of AMI¡¯s petition and the irradiation plan. She noted that live E. coli O157:H7 was not used during the justifying study at all, that the toxin was removed, raising questions about the validity of the study. And she noted that the study gave no indication of how effective the low-dose irradiation would be against pathogens. "There is no indication that the irradiation would be used to address a hazard at a critical control point in food safety," she said.
Written comments on this issue must be received by October 18, and can be sent through the federal eRulemaking Portal, at www.regulations.gov.

Study shows huge variety of protozoa in meat plants
By Jane Byrne
Source of Article: http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/
02-Oct-2008 -
A first time survey of free-living protozoa in meat-cutting plants showed high diversity rates of various species including those that could harbor food-borne pathogens say researchers from Ghent University, Belgium.
They report their findings in the September 2008 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Protozoa are unicellular microorganisms that feed on bacteria, and sometimes the bacteria survive and replicate within the protozoa, the study claims.
Bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli 0157:H7, Listeria and Salmonella that survive within protozoa may be able to resist desiccation and disinfectants, claims the team, which may explain how Salmonella food poisoning still occurs even after the processor takes the required safety measures.
They added that an increase in antimicrobial resistance and virulence of bacterial pathogens after passage through protozoa has been previously demonstrated.

Method
In this study, the researchers used a series of methods to screen for protozoa in meat-cutting plants. Five plants were inspected, one plant produced beef (A), two plants processed pork (B and C) and the two other plants produced beef, pork and poultry (D and E). They were visited during February to May 2007 and samples were taken after a waiting period of two hours after cleaning and disinfection.

Results
The team found communities of amoebae, ciliates, and flagellates to be present in all the plants. Protozoa were detected in floor drains, standing water on the floor, soiled bars of cutting tables, plastic pallets and out-of-use hot water knife sanitizers. In addition, protozoa were identified on surfaces which come into direct contact with meat.
¡°Only the plant E fulfilled the legal requirement of a viable bacteria count of 0 to 10 CFU/cm2 for all surface samples tested.
¡°For plants A to C, the limit was exceeded in only a minority of the samples, In plant D, seven of the samples were unacceptable, including samples from the balance, board meat tenderizer, cutting tables, and saws which were heavily contaminated,¡± said the group.
Cultures were then refrigerated for seven days, after which protozoa were still detected in half of the samples. Through microscopic observations researchers identified up to 61 morphospecies. ¡°This survey showed that there is high protozoan species richness in meat-cutting plants and that the species included species related to known hosts of food-borne pathogens,¡± say the researchers. They added that in most of the samples that yielded a protozoan-positive enrichment culture, residual organic material and/or water was present and said their results suggest that a good hygiene score does not necessarily correlate with an absence of protozoa in the food processing environment.
¡°Protozoa are known to be common inhabitants of drinking water. The possibility that protozoa are spread by means of droplets formed by the aerosolization of water that is sprayed or splashed during cleaning and disinfection processes cannot be excluded.
¡°Locations which were inadequately cleaned and disinfected because of ignorance or inaccessibility (holes in plastic pallets, undersides of cutting boards and conveyor belts, and upper sides of rails) harbored protozoa,¡± concluded the scientists.
They said that further research is required to determine the survival of protozoa and their internalized bacteria in food processing environments under stress conditions such as heat, extreme pH values and disinfection.
Source: Applied and Environmental Microbiology 74. 18:5741-5749
Published online ahead of print
Microscopic and molecular studies of the diversity of free-living protozoa in meat-cutting plants Authors: M.J.M. Vaerewijck, K. Sabbe, J. Bare, K. Houf

COLORADO STATE SCIENTISTS WORK TO CONTROL LISTERIA OUTBREAK
Monday, October 06, 2008
Source of Article: http://newsinfo.colostate.edu/index.asp?url=news_item_display&news_item_id=509713308
FORT COLLINS - Colorado State University researchers are conducting research and education activities for the prevention of listeriosis outbreaks such the one spreading through Canada. In the last several weeks, foods contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes have resulted in more than 60 illnesses and at least 17 deaths in Canada. More than 190 brands of meats and cheeses have been recalled.
Scientists at Colorado State's Center for Meat Safety and Quality and the Food Safety Cluster are working with colleagues at four other universities in the United States to better understand and control such outbreaks. John Sofos, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State and director of the Center for Meat Safety and Quality, is the project coordinator.
"The scientists involved in this project are available to provide guidance to the industry and consumers relative to the various aspects of listeriosis and listeria control," Sofos said.
Listeria monocytogenes is a deadly pathogen transmitted through consumption of contaminated food. The organism, found widely in the environment, can grow at refrigerator-level temperatures. Usually, the pathogen causes human infection through consumption of refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods such as deli meats, soft raw-milk cheeses and seafood salads. The time between consumption of a contaminated food product and onset of illness may be as long as 70 days.
Although the incidence of listeriosis is relatively low, when it strikes, it can be severe. Twenty percent to 30 percent of those who are diagnosed with listeriosis die, with the elderly and fetuses of pregnant women being the most at risk.
Symptoms of the listeriosis infection may include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. Severely infected adults may develop meningitis or other severe complications. Foods contaminated with the pathogen may appear normal with no signs of smell or spoilage. Sofos, along with researchers from Cornell University, University of Nebraska, Ohio State University and Kansas State University, have developed various research, education and outreach components that are designed to reduce the risk of listeria transmission by intervening at the processing, food service and consumer level.
"As project director, I will answer questions or I will direct questions to those members of the consortium most qualified to address them," Sofos said.
The project is funded by the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative of the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Children's allergies a slippery, chewy, nutty slope for schools
Published: Monday, October 06, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/164/story/276988.html
Tom Beck has added lactose-free milk at the Egg Harbor Township schools where he is the food service director. "It's a little bit more expensive, but all the kids can drink it," he said. The district also buys a sealed, pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwich so the school cafeteria staff won't have to personally handle peanut butter near other food.
"We find more and more students with food allergies today," Beck said. "Among the most common are nuts and dairy, things common in school lunches. If we can do little things to make it easier for us and the students, the parents appreciate it."
A newly revised state law requires school districts to develop policies for the management of food allergies in schools. In Sep-tember, the state Department of Education posted a 15-page memo on how to implement the guidelines. Districts must find ways to accommodate students with allergies without seeming to discriminate against or punish them or other students.
It all seems very reasonable, until schools try to put it into practice. Then it can seem, well, nutty. Recent student and parent complaints in a Long Beach Island school in Ocean County show how upset they get when schools try to mess with what they perceive as their social time - lunch.
Many people still don't understand that a food allergy is nothing to sneeze at. A severe allergy can put a child into anaphylactic shock. Food is the primary target, but bee stings, chemicals and cleaning products also can endanger an allergic child.
The guidelines don't require districts to remove specific foods or items but suggest they "consider the benefits and ramifications of serving and/or removing allergen-containing foods."
Other recommendations include creating allergen-free tables, or allergen-full tables. Picture a cafeteria divided up based on what people eat, or don't eat, and you'll understand what got Long Beach Island students so upset.
The guidelines do not just apply to the cafeteria. School nurses must be closely involved, and even teachers must take precautions in the classroom. The guidelines cover cleaning procedures, field trips and the school bus. Finally, there is a reminder that teasing a student with an allergy constitutes bullying and advises against labeling a child in a way that might lead to them being harassed.
Beck said the process must begin at home, with parents who make sure the school is notified of any allergy issues. New debit card systems allow parents and schools to code allergy information so cafeteria cashiers can see if a student has an allergy and watch what they put on their tray.
"Communication is key," Beck said. "We all work with the parents and the school nurse, but we have to know what we're dealing with. Kids will still try to sneak things."

FDA: Tiny bit of melamine in food usually OK
8 hours ago Source of Article: http://ap.google.com
WASHINGTON (AP) ? Federal regulators say eating a tiny bit of melamine is not harmful, except in baby formula.The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that trace amounts of the industrial chemical that has touched off a global food safety scare are safe in most foods, except for baby formula.A safety assessment by the agency concluded that 2.5 parts per million a tiny amount does not raise concerns. Melamine-tainted infant formula and milk have sickened and killed children in China, and authorities here have discovered melamine in some Chinese candies.

Microwaving Foods Does Not Kill All Bacteria
Date Published: Tuesday, October 7th, 2008
Source of Article: http://www.newsinferno.com/archives/3962
Yesterday we reported on a link between 32 cases of salmonella poisoning in 12 states LINKED TO improper cooking of frozen food products such as chicken cordon blue and chicken breast Kiev. According to the United States Department of Agriculture¡¯s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the entrees appear to be precooked and seem to only require microwaving before consumption; however, cooking the food in the microwave may not be sufficient to kill the bacteria. According to the FSIS, ¡°It is especially important to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of these chicken products such that all points of measurement are at least 165¡Æ F.¡±
The recent, multi-state salmonella outbreak associated with undercooked chicken entrees is just the latest in a series of outbreaks related to the consumption of improperly microwaved frozen foods, says the AP. ¡°Given how people use microwaves, it¡¯s great for reheating, but maybe not so good for cooking,¡± said Doug Powell, scientific director of the International Food Safety Network based at Kansas State University.
Here¡¯s the problem according to the AP report, microwaves heat unevenly, leaving cold spots in food that allow dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella, or listeria, to breed. So, microwaving anything that includes raw meat?frozen or thawed?can lead to problems. ¡°I think most food-safety experts probably would have said it¡¯s not a good idea to microwave anything that¡¯s from a raw state,¡± said Michael Davidson, a University of Tennessee food microbiologist. Microwaves operate by emitting short radio waves that penetrate food about one inch and stimulate the water, fat, and sugar molecules to produce heat; however, experts say this heats food unevenly.
¡°Many people wrongly assume all frozen meals are precooked and only need to be warmed; it¡¯s a misconception fostered in part by foods prepared to appear cooked, such as chicken that has been breaded or pre-browned,¡± reported the AP. Actually, some meals meant for microwaving can be unsafe if not heated correctly or cooked using directions meant for a microwave with different voltage.
The government doesn¡¯t track microwave-related food-borne illnesses, says the AP, which added that over 325,000 people are hospitalized for food-related illnesses annually with hundreds falling ill when Banquet pot pies made by ConAgra Foods were linked to salmonella and frozen pizzas made by General Mills were linked to E. coli last year. Both products were recalled. Since the recalls, food companies changed cooking instructions on frozen foods to ensure such instructions are appropriate for killing all dangerous bacteria, says Leslie Sarasin, head of the American Frozen Food Institute trade group. ConAgra and Nestle Prepared Foods, two of the largest frozen foods producers, have issued revised instructions on many of their brands, including Stouffer¡¯s, Lean Cuisine, Banquet, and Healthy Choice.
In the recent outbreak, some of the meals were microwaved despite that the products were not meant for cooking in a microwave. Regardless, experts suggest using a food thermometer to check the temperature of microwaved food in a variety of places, especially if raw ingredients are included.

GeneThera Offered World Wide Rights to E.coli Vaccine From the University of New Mexico
Posted 06 October 2008 @ 06:00 am EST
Source of Article: http://www.ibtimes.com/prnews/20081006/genethera.htm
WHEAT RIDGE, CO -- (Marketwire) -- 10/06/08 -- GeneThera, Inc. (PINKSHEETS: GTHR)announced today that it is in negotiations with the University of NewMexico for world wide development and distribution rights to a vaccinedeveloped there that is designed to significantly inhibit the carriage andshedding of the E.coli bacteria in cattle.
According to University sources, the vaccine is comprised of "LiveAttenuated Bacterial Vaccine to Reduce or Inhibit Carriage and Shedding ofEnterohemorrhagic Escherichia Coli in Cattle"
In the most recent case, the U.S. Agriculture Department, on August 11,said, "Omaha meat packing company Nebraska Beef Ltd is recalling 1.2million pounds of beef because it may be contaminated with a particularlydangerous strain of E.coli."
According to the Associated Press, dated February 17, 2008, "The U.S.Department of Agriculture is ordering the recall of 143 million pounds offrozen beef from aCalifornia slaughterhouse. Officials say it's the largest beef recall inthe United States,surpassing a 1999 ban of 35 million pounds of ready-to-eat meats. Therecall will affect beef products dating to February 1st, 2006."
Commenting on the news, GeneThera Chairman Dr. Tony Milici, MD, PhD stated,"I look forward to finalizing the agreement with the University of NewMexico regarding the E.coli vaccine license rights. I believe this is agreat opportunity for GeneThera to continue developing molecular tests andtherapeutics to better detect and control the spread of E.coli 0157:H7.This could have profound effects on increasing the safety of our meatsupply worldwide... not to mention the millions of dollars it could savethe beef industry by reducing occurrences of E.coli contamination."
If an agreement is reached between GeneThera and the University of NewMexico, it will mean GeneThera will have "exclusive rights to make, use,and sell" the vaccine on a world wide basis. Contact:GeneThera, Inc.Dr. Tony Milici303-463-6371http://www.genethera.net

Tracking Down the Cause of Mad Cow Disease
Source of Article: http://www.physorg.com/news142595542.html
(PhysOrg.com) -- The cause of diseases such as BSE in cattle and Creutzfeld?Jakob disease in humans is a prion protein. This protein attaches to cell membranes by way of an anchor made of sugar and lipid components (a glycosylphosphatidylinositol, GPI) anchor. The anchoring of the prions seems to have a strong influence on the transformation of the normal form of the protein into its pathogenic form, which causes scrapie and mad cow disease.
A team headed by Christian F. W. Becker at the TU Munich and Peter H. Seeberger at the ETH Zurich has now ¡°recreated¡± the first GPI-anchored prion in the laboratory. As they report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, they have been able to develop a new general method for the synthesis of anchored proteins.
The isolation of a complete prion protein that includes the anchor has not yet been achieved, nor has it been possible to produce a synthetic GPI-anchored protein. The function of the GPI anchor has thus remained in the dark. A new synthetic technique has now provided an important breakthrough for the German and Swiss team of researchers.
The sugar component of natural prion GPI anchors consists of five sugar building blocks, to which further sugars are attached through branches. Details of the lipid component have not been determined before. As a synthetic target, the researchers thus chose a construct made of the five sugars and one C18-lipid chain and worked out the corresponding synthetic route. First, the anchor was furnished with the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine.
The prion protein was produced with the use of bacteria and was given an additional thioester (a sulfur-containing group). The centerpiece of the new concept is the linkage of the protein and anchor by means of a native chemical ligation, in which the cysteine group reacts with the thioester. This allowed the prion protein to firmly attach to the vesicle membranes by way of the artificial anchor.
This new concept will allow production of sufficient quantities of proteins modified with GPI anchors for in-depth studies. Experiments with the artificial GPI prion protein should help to clarify the influence of membrane association on conversion of the protein into the pathogenic scrapie form. This should finally make it possible to track down the infectious form of the prion.
Citation: Christian F. W. Becker, Semisynthesis of a Glycosylphosphatidylinositol-Anchored Prion Protein, Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2008, 47, No. 43, 8215?8219, doi: 10.1002/anie.200802161

Nanotechnology Improves Food Safety by Detecting Prions
Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188
By Stacy Kish, CSREES Staff October 9, 2008
Mad cow disease is a fatal neurodegenerative condition in cattle that is related to the human form of a disease that has caused the deaths of nearly 200 people worldwide. Currently, testing for this disease in cattle is a lengthy process that only occasionally results in a correct diagnosis. With funding from USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) National Research Initiative (NRI), scientists in New York created a new device that may provide a faster, easier, and more reliable way to test for mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). This new tool targets prions, which are the cause of BSE. Prions are abnormally structured proteins that convert normal proteins into an abnormal form. Prions are responsible for forms of the neurodegenerative diseases, such as BSE in cattle, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. If often takes years before the symptoms arise that indicate the disease is present.
There are no rapid tests available to test for the presence of prions in cattle.
The only test currently available for BSE involves multiple steps, requires sacrificing an animal host, and takes time. The process requires infecting an animal with a patient's blood. Then, after a several month incubation period, the animal is sacrificed and scientists look for prions during the animal's autopsy. This method produces the correct diagnosis only 31 percent of the time.
A better method of prion detection is necessary to allay public fears, ensure the safety of the nation's food supply, and enhance international trade.
Harold Craighead and colleagues at Cornell University have developed nanoscale resonators, which are tiny devices that function like tuning forks by changing pitch with increased mass.
Craighead's group, in collaboration with Richard Montagna at Innovative Biotechnologies International, Inc., modeled the device after a similar idea used to detect bacterial pathogens. When prions bind to the resonator's silicon sensor, it changes the vibrational resonant frequency of the device. In experimental trials, the sensor detected prions at concentrations as low as two nanograms per milliliter, the smallest levels measured to date.
Currently, the resonator only detects prions in a saline solution. Efforts are now underway to use the resonator to detect prions in more complex solutions, such as blood.
"The real challenge is going to be to build an automated device that can take blood from a cow in the field and give a rapid response as to whether prions are present," Craighead said. "At the moment we only test cows when they fall over, but that is a late stage of the disease. It would be ideal to test cows a lot earlier. Resonators could be one path to doing this."
Scientists hope the new device will soon be used to detect prions in food items to ensure food safety and quality for the national food supply.
CSREES funded this research project through the NRI Nanoscale Science and Engineering for Agriculture and Food Systems program. Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit www.csrees.usda.gov.

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