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Link To Aunt Mid¡¯s Cut Lettuce Reveals Need For Industry Firms To Have
Easy Access To Top Epidemiologists
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
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:
Q: How did this outbreak
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
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
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
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
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
¡°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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 719-4705,
or visit www.MarlerClark.com and www.marlerblog.com.
SOURCE: Marler Clark
Mary Siceloff, 206-719-4705
coli in Michigan lettuce traced to California
By Marie Vasari
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
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
"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,"
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
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
The Detroit Free Press contributed to this report.
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.
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
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
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,"
Written comments on this issue must be received by October 18, and can
be sent through the federal eRulemaking Portal, at www.regulations.gov.
shows huge variety of protozoa in meat plants
By Jane Byrne
Source of Article: http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/
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
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.
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
¡°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,
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
"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
"As project director, I will answer questions or I will direct questions
to those members of the consortium most qualified to address them,"
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
Offered World Wide Rights to E.coli Vaccine From the University of New
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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