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Top Ten Food Safety Stories of 2008
Source of Article:
SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler (of Seattle foodborne illness powerhouse Marler Clark) polled his wide range of contacts in the food safety community, and assembled a list of the top ten food safety stories of 2008. Comments can be read (and made) at

1. Melamine in Chinese food products ? where to start? With the kids, of course. We first heard about melamine in Chinese infant formula, resulting in heartbreaking numbers: 294,000 children sickened, hundreds hospitalized, and at least six infants who lost their lives. The crisis widened as melamine was found in candy, coffee, tea, and numerous other Chinese products, sparking recalls, bans, and now the US testing for melamine in our own products. It¡¯s pervasive, it¡¯s global, and it¡¯s going to be in our food supply for a long time to come. In fact, the WHO has just announced first-ever ¡°safe¡± levels of melamine consumption.

2. Salmonella Saintpaul in tomatoes?wait?peppers. A final count of 1,442 ill in 43 states, D.C., and Canada, and those are the confirmed illnesses. Using CDC math - which estimates that for every documented case of Salmonella in the US, another 38.5 go unreported - the total number sickened was probably closer to 50,000. In an outbreak that stretched for months without a smoking tomato, Americans got an inkling of what can go wrong in a global, mass-distributed food economy. The upside is that now there¡¯s a lot of talk about increasing traceability.

3. E. coli ? In addition to the continued rise of E. coli O157:H7 contamination in meat and other products like leafy greens and raw dairy, 2008 saw non-O157 E. coli burst onto the scene in an Oklahoma outbreak that sickened over 300 and caused the death of one. Non-O157 STECs (Shiga-toxin producing E. coli) have been documented and talked about; there have been high-level meetings by food protection agencies to address the issue. But here¡¯s the bottom line: only O157:H7 is listed as an adulterant in meat. Non-O157:H7 STEC¡¯s are not listed yet and not tested for, but still are making people very, very sick.

4. Raw Milk - The food story that has pitted health advocates against health advocates in a debate that sometimes reached the level of a screaming-match. On one side, those who insist that raw milk has numerous healthful benefits destroyed by pasteurization, and on the other side, those who counter (me included) that the bacteria in raw milk can cause terrible illnesses, mostly in kids, (bacteria which is ?you guessed it?killed by the pasteurization process), and believe the risk to the public outweighs the rights of consumption. The issue came to a head in California State Bill 201, which sought to set coliform (basically, bacteria) limits in raw milk production, among other things. Even though the bill hoped to address the issues of both camps, the protectors believed it would actually worsen the regulation problem. Both groups lobbied hard. There were movie stars. Sick kids. The bill passed the legislature, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

5. Listeria in Maple Leaf Deli Meats - Twenty Canadians died and hundreds, perhaps thousands, were sickened by an outbreak of Listeria in deli meats and soft cheeses. Most of the deaths were immunocompromised individuals: elderly, young, sick, or pregnant. The story has raised much awareness not only about Canada¡¯s food safety vulnerabilities, but also the importance of more warnings on product labels and menus, as well as a heads up to the general public.

6. Frozen, uncooked entrees resulting in illness - again. We found out that we¡¯re a microwave culture, and habits are hard to break. Consumers were infected with Salmonella after consuming entrees that contained raw chicken products and were NOT supposed to be cooked in the microwave. But they look just like microwave entrees, and just about everything else is microwavable, so confusion is understandable. Will it be WARNINGS WRIT LARGE or just doing away with problem products?

7. Irradiation of fresh iceberg and raw spinach was approved by the FDA. Consumer confidence in the safety of raw leafy greens has been shaken by spinach and lettuce-borne outbreaks and existing sanitizing technology is clearly not enough. Although irradiation is no replacement for good agricultural practices, it appears to be a good addition to the food-safety tool kit. There has been a great deal of debate about the safety of the products once irradiated, a discussion that has as much to do with personal choice as it does scientific research. Clear labeling will allow consumers to make their own decisions.

8. Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Infections Caused by Contaminated Dry Dog Food. Well, it actually happened in 2006 and 2007 but was reported in 2008. The CDC, state health officials and the FDA investigated this prolonged, multistate outbreak of Salmonella enterica serotype Schwarzengrund infections. The source was identified as dry dog food produced at a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania. Hundreds of humans and presumably a few dogs became ill. Bottom line: after handling pet food, pet owners should wash their hands immediately, and infants should be kept away from pet feeding areas.

9. Westland/Hallmark recall due to downer cows ? This is on the list, in the last position, because many believed it was a food safety story, even though it technically wasn¡¯t. An undercover video made by the Humane Society revealed that Chino-based Westland/Hallmark were slaughtering and selling the meat from ¡°downer cows¡± - animals too sick to walk to slaughter. This is an absolute no-no, as cow sickness can mean bad meat. Because of the video and the resulting bru-ha-ha, 143 million pounds of beef was recalled ? the largest meat recall in American history. Why is this not really a food safety story? Because no contaminated meat or illnesses were documented. But shining a spotlight on poor practice led to better practice, and that should lead to safer food.

10. There are still 13 days left in the year, so this one has been blank in the likely chance something will come up. If not, it will mean a happier holiday season for the American consumer as well as for those in the food safety community. Hats off to those who work hard year-round to keep the American food supply as safe as possible?here¡¯s wishing you a quiet (and safe) season.

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 or (206) 719-4705, or visit and

FDA reform likely to take back seat in Obama plan
Despite push for legislation, 'dysfunctional' agency overshadowed
Source of Article:
By Noam Levey | Tribune Washington Bureau December 22, 2008
After years of food poisoning episodes, tainted imports and unrealized promises of reform, the incoming Obama administration has been saying the embattled Food and Drug Administration would finally get what it needed to make the nation's food supply safer. But now, some of the leading champions of rebuilding the FDA and the food safety system acknowledge that big reforms are likely still years away.
"This is an issue that will have to wait its turn," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and longtime proponent of tougher food laws and a friend of President-elect Obama.
Once again, bigger problems with higher profiles might shoulder aside food safety in the competition for resources. With the federal deficit already in record territory, the new administration committed to nearly $1 trillion in new economic stimuli - on top of billions for financial and other bailouts - and expensive domestic initiatives promised for such problems as healthcare and global warming, more money for food safety may be hard to come by.
And instead of assuming more direct control of the inspection system, the government seems likely to remain heavily dependent on growers, food processors and others in the industry to police themselves and the food supply.
Durbin and others on Capitol Hill nonetheless plan to push ahead with legislation to try to strengthen the FDA, the much maligned agency responsible for overseeing about 80 percent of the food Americans eat. While most meat and dairy products are regulated by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, fresh produce and most processed foods are the responsibility of the FDA.
Obama, who has backed Durbin's efforts and sponsored his own legislation to strengthen state and local food oversight, will continue to back them, according to an official working on his transition.
The federal government's food oversight was once seen as a model. But after years of neglect - and Bush administration distaste for aggressive government regulation - a series of deadly food-borne disease outbreaks involving peanut butter, spinach and peppers called public attention to gaping holes in the FDA's capacity to stay on top of a rapidly expanding market.
The agency struggled to identify the sources of contaminated foods, most recently this spring when federal officials initially linked a salmonella outbreak to tomatoes before concluding that jalapeno peppers from Mexico were the likely culprit.
At the same time, contaminated pet food from China exposed weaknesses in the agency's system for regulating imports. Consumer groups lambasted the agency for failing to protect the public; food-borne illnesses sicken as many as 76 million people and kill an estimated 5,000 each year.
Growers complained that the FDA's failure to identify the source of contaminated food quickly intensified public fears. That, in turn, severely hurt the market for products like leafy greens and tomatoes.
"The spinach industry has never recovered," said Tom Nassif, who heads the Western Growers Association, a leading national trade group based in California.
Independent reviews by the Government Accountability Office and others found the agency lacked even basic information technology capabilities to analyze data and assess risks.
"We need some radical shifts," Dr. David Acheson, FDA's associate commissioner for foods, acknowledged in a recent interview.
A year ago, the FDA announced its own plan for reform, promising a major expansion of overseas inspections, better systems to identify where risks are highest and more cooperation with state and local authorities as well as industry.
The agency opened an office in China this year and plans to open ones in India and Latin America in 2009. But the promised changes have not come soon enough for critics, including many on Capitol Hill. "There is little question that the FDA is dysfunctional," said Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who has pushed for a more sweeping overhaul of the agency. "The current structure is incapable of addressing food safety problems."

Getting Rid of Melamine: Not Just China¡¯s Problem . Guest Blog Phyllis Entis - Part 1
Source of Article:
Anyone who thinks that we've heard the last of melamine is sorely mistaken.
During the first week of December, member countries of the European Union reported three instances of melamine contamination:
- Germany found 275.3 ppm in ammonium bicarbonate baking agent from China
- Germany also reported 6.3 ppm in a dog treat fish cookies with cheese . from China
- Slovenia detected 162 ppm in milk products, and uncovered an attempt to illegally import milk and animal products into the country from China
Two more melamine-contaminated products ammonium bicarbonate (81 and 128 ppm) and rice protein concentrate (21,000 ppm) were reported the following week.
On December 5th, the World Health Organization's expert panel recommended a "Tolerable Daily Intake" for melamine of 0.2 mg per Kg of body weight . a 60% reduction in the previous recommended intake limit of 0.5 mg/Kg on which governments had based their interim maximum allowable levels for melamine in food.
After the WHO report was issued, Canada reduced its maximum allowable limit for melamine in infant formula and sole source nutrition products to 0.5 ppm from 1.0 ppm. Other governments, as far as we can tell, have not yet followed suit.
"Trace" amounts of melamine are turning up in foods even infant formulas that never came within sight of China's borders. For example, low levels . 0.25 ppm or less of melamine and cyanuric acid (a related compound) showed up recently in infant formulas manufactured in the United States.
These findings are not due to deliberate adulteration, as was the case in China. Rather, melamine finds its way into foods via several routes:
- migration from plastic food-contact surfaces;
- migration from cleaning sponges;
- residual melamine from food sanitizing solutions used in processing plants; and
- metabolism of cyromazine and certain other pesticides by plants and animals.
The 2007 contaminated pet food incident opened our eyes to the danger posed by the combined ingestion of melamine and cyanuric acid . both previously thought to be very low health risks. This year's tragedy in China has made all of us aware of the prevalence of melamine in our food.
There are actions that we consumers can take to reduce the risk of melamine migration into our food, especially food that we feed our children. Eliminating melamine from our food supply, however, will require the concerted action of farmers, food processors and regulators.Check back tomorrow for more on how melamine finds its way into your family's food.

New version of mad cow suspected

Source of Article:
Published: Dec. 18, 2008 at 10:31 AM
LONDON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- British medical researchers say they're concerned a new human version of mad cow disease has been detected, officials said.
While most cases of new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD) in Britain have occurred in people with a
genetic profile carried by 42 percent of the population, the BBC reported that a young man with a different genetic profile appears to have the disabling disease.The report said the diagnosis, which must be confirmed by biopsy, suggests at least 90 percent of Britain's population is susceptible to vCJD.The Times of London said the prion protein that malfunctions to cause the disease comes in three versions. People with two copies of the amino acid methionine -- the MM genetic type-- have been thought to be most vulnerable to vCJD. The new case, however, is in a person with the MV genotype. It is unknown whether people with the VV genotype are vulnerable, the newspaper said.

FDA chief will resign at end of Bush's term
Source of Article:
Associated Press / December 17, 2008
WASHINGTON - Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, who made progress in stabilizing a troubled Food and Drug Administration, will resign from his job as commissioner on Jan. 20.
His successor will be named by the new president, Barack Obama, who is considering candidates such as Baltimore's health commissioner, several prominent physicians, and former and current FDA officials.
Von Eschenbach, 67, was appointed by President Bush in 2005 as the FDA was reeling from widespread criticism about lax oversight of prescription drug safety. A cancer survivor himself, he was director of the National Cancer Institute before joining the FDA.
He has overseen a major increase in funding that Congress mandated for the drug safety office. He also directed the FDA's first steps to strengthen its role as an international regulator, opening three offices in China last month.
The FDA has continued to get criticism from Congress and consumer groups, most recently over its handling of a salmonella outbreak. But under von Eschenbach, tensions seem to have eased between the drug safety office and the much larger division that handles drug approvals. Lawmakers and consumer advocates, including critics, say they have found Eschenbach easy to work with.

Salmonella in pigs at slaughter evaluated
Source of Article:
(, December 23, 2008)
PARMA, ITALY ? The European Food Safety Authority¡¯s Task Force on Zoonoses Data Collection published an analysis of the risk factors related to Salmonella in slaughter pigs within the European Union on Dec. 22. While the results reveal that Salmonella-infected pigs were more likely to lead to Salmonella-contaminated carcasses, these could also come from uninfected pigs. What¡¯s more, the Salmonella carcass contamination was more likely to happen in some slaughterhouses compared to others.
Results from this report will serve as a scientific basis to assist Member E.U. States to define the best control measures for reaching the Salmonella reduction targets to be defined by the European Commission.
As a result of the study, E.F.S.A.¡¯s Task Force recommended that Member States and the E.U. pig industry pay attention to preventing Salmonella spread within slaughterhouses since they have proven to have an important role in the contamination of pig meat.
Control measures at the pig-farm level are also necessary for reducing Salmonella occurrence in pigs and pig meat, and that consideration should be given to integrated control programs covering both farms and slaughterhouses, the Task Force noted.
Some similarities between the Salmonella types most frequently reported in humans and those found in slaughter pigs were revealed in the analysis, indicating that pigs and pig meat do contribute to Salmonella infections in humans, though other animal species and food can also be a source for human infection.
Factors related to Salmonella infections were found to vary considerably between countries.
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FDA changes approach to food safety inspections
Source of Article:
By GREGG CARLSTROM December 23, 2008
Hoping to shore up sagging public confidence, the Food and Drug Administration has abandoned the use of random inspections to ensure food safety in favor of inspections targeted at high-risk production sites.
Under the new approach outlined this month, the agency will focus its attention on farms with poor safety records, importers with lower quality standards, and other at-risk food suppliers.
FDA has struggled with its image this year because of its sluggish response to a salmonella outbreak. It took months to find the source ? peppers grown in Mexico ? and several more weeks to find the farm that grew the peppers. The new approach is the first step toward modernizing the inspection process, said Dr. David Acheson, FDA¡¯s associate commissioner for foods.

¡°We¡¯re trying to make better use of the data we¡¯ve got. Do we need more data? Probably,¡± Acheson said in an interview this month. ¡°But it shouldn¡¯t be: ¡®Well, we don¡¯t have enough data, so we¡¯ll just do random inspections.¡¯¡±

But critics say the agency doesn¡¯t have enough data to know which farmers and distributors are high risk. The problem is particularly acute for imported food, they claim, because less than 1 percent of imported food is tested.

¡°How do they determine risks when they¡¯re doing so little testing?¡± asked Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer advocate. ¡°Only a fraction of the food ever sees a lab.¡±

Americans eat about 40 percent more imported food today than in 1995; the food is produced by more than 189,000 facilities. The growing volume of imports means FDA has little choice but to conduct risk-based inspections: It costs, on average, $16,700 to inspect a foreign facility, so the cost of inspecting each facility once ? $3.2 billion ? exceeds FDA¡¯s annual budget. The agency is trying to cut down those costs by opening field offices overseas. The first one, in China, opened last month; FDA planned to open two offices in India this month, but Acheson said the attacks in Mumbai will delay those openings. The foreign offices will lower the cost per inspection, but they will still tax the agency¡¯s resources, according a Government Accountability Office report released earlier this year. ¡°[The] establishment of an FDA field office in China will likely require a long-term commitment of agency resources,¡± GAO wrote. ¡°The overall resource need could be significant.¡± And the small number of offices ? FDA currently plans to open less than a dozen ? means the agency is still able to inspect only a small percentage of foreign food facilities. ¡°What will it take for them to inspect a higher proportion of imports?¡± Lovera asked. ¡°That¡¯s where the cracks show. ¡¦ The agency is completely outgunned when it comes to imports.¡± Critics, including GAO, say the food protection plan also doesn¡¯t have enough benchmarks. There are fewer outbreaks of food-borne illness today than a decade ago, but that doesn¡¯t necessarily mean FDA is doing a better job at inspections.
¡°There¡¯s not a lot of assessment as to whether they¡¯re being effective,¡± said David Plunkett, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. ¡°There are no benchmarks.¡±
Acheson said identifying the highest-risk producers, and inspecting them more frequently, would be one benchmark for measuring the plan¡¯s effectiveness.
FDA will also improve food safety by working more closely with the private sector ? but will not turn over inspections to private companies, he said.
¡°We¡¯re not in the business of contracting out FDA inspections,¡± he said.
Instead, the agency wants to take advantage of the private inspection data that many companies already collect. Major food retailers, for example, require their produce suppliers to meet certain standards, and they inspect those suppliers regularly. Acheson said FDA could use that information to shape its high-risk list.
FDA is working on a pilot program with several major shrimp producers. The companies will send FDA information about how they certify suppliers; Acheson said the agency would periodically send its own inspectors to ¡°look over their shoulders.¡±
The agency also wants to improve its computer systems to better analyze complaints about food products, Acheson said. ¡°We¡¯re trying to pick up the more subtle signals around consumer complaints that are harder to mine,¡± Acheson said. ¡°Say we get complaints about a canned product. ¡¦ If you mine the data, and the cans all come from one manufacturer, maybe the canning process at that firm is not up to snuff.¡±
Consumers generally make those complaints to their state health agencies, which send information to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
FDA intends to ask Congress for a big investment in food safety. It received a $150 million supplemental at the end of 2008; Acheson said he¡¯d like a similar amount added to FDA¡¯s budget for the next few years.
Some of the money would be used to hire new inspectors. The agency is trying to conduct more inspections each year: It conducted about 5,900 in fiscal 2008, up from 2007, but still below the 6,000 it conducted in 2004. The decline is largely due to the agency¡¯s perennially tight budgets.
The agency also wants Congress to act quickly to pass its legislative agenda. FDA wants to require food facilities to register with the agency every two years; that would give the agency an up-to-date list of producers, and a steady source of fees. FDA also wants the authority to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated food products. ¡°There¡¯s been a lot of language from the Hill, but nothing has ever turned into a bill,¡± Acheson said.

Listeria outbreak rocketed Canada's food safety system to top of mind in 2008
Source of Article:
1 hour ago
TORONTO ? The deadly, nationwide outbreak of a previously anonymous bacterium has pushed Listeria and food safety to the forefront of the public consciousness, but experts warn that people are mistaken if they think avoiding Maple Leaf cold cuts amounts to safe eating in 2009.
Canadians can expect food-borne illness outbreak levels to hold steady, or even increase, in the absence of wholesale changes in how such events are tracked and managed, said Rick Holley, a food science professor at the University of Manitoba.
"The organisms that are going to be involved in causing food-borne illnesses may change, but we have done (very little) to reduce the frequency with which food-borne illness occurs in Canada," Holley said.
About 40 per cent of the food produced in Canada is manufactured under federal regulations, while much of the remainder is subject to provincial guidelines.
That's symptomatic of the multi-jurisdictional, sometimes unco-ordinated, nature of food safety in Canada, said Holley.
"If someone says to me, 'I'm not going to buy any more Maple Leaf meat because it's very risky, they don't know what they're doing, I'm going to buy locally,' Well, think again," he said.
"The local guy doesn't have to deal with the federal regulations."
If there was a government funded, central database for information on food-borne illness, food scientists would be able to identify risks then manage them, Holley said.
"If we carry on the way that we are right now, nothing, believe me, is going to change in terms of the frequencies with which we see food-borne illness in Canada, except that it's going to increase as the population increases."
Brian Evans, executive vice-president and chief veterinary officer of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said the federal agency is "fully committed" to building such a database.
"At the end of the day... prevention is our best effort and our most important priority," Evans said.
"At the same time we do realize the limits, that no food-safety system will ever be perfect and will ever be able to eliminate all risk from the food supply."
In August, Maple Leaf Foods (TSX:MFI) began a recall of ready-to-eat meat products amid a nationwide Listeria outbreak. Twenty people died in the outbreak, which was linked to a Maple Leaf facility in Toronto.
Listeria, which had been little known outside food safety circles, became a household word and many were shocked to learn - via repeated messaging from both food inspection officials and Maple Leaf CEO and president Michael McCain - that it's everywhere.
It's in the soil, on produce, and likely on kitchen countertops in millions of homes. Proper cleaning and cooking protocols must be followed to reduce the threat of illness.
"Food safety became a very much front-of-mind issue in 2008, not necessarily for the right reasons, but nevertheless, I think that's a positive overall," Evans said. "I think it is important that people have an understanding."
People are more familiar with food-borne outbreaks of E. coli or salmonella because their incidence of causing illness in people is higher than Listeria, Evans said. With that bacteria, only the subspecies Listeria monocytogenes causes human illness, and then only in the elderly, immuno-compromised and pregnant women.
The public education efforts of McCain and Evans appear to be working, at least for Maple Leaf.
Company data shows consumer confidence in early December was at 91 per cent - up from 64 per cent in the immediate aftermath of the recall.
"(It) was certainly a game-changing year for food safety in this country in many ways," McCain said.
In September, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced an investigation into the listeriosis outbreak. Both McCain and the union representing CFIA inspectors would like to see that happen.
"We would certainly, very actively and assertively, encourage the government to get on with the investigation," McCain said.
The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to questions about the investigation.
Maple Leaf has been scrubbing its image clean, implementing intense sanitization and testing protocols, but some say the company was never the problem.
The real risk lies in a persistent lack of resources that "handcuff" CFIA employees, says the president of the Agriculture Union at the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
"They're making all the right moves in terms of shoring up the program deficiencies, (but) they don't have the resources to actually make it happen," said Bob Kingston.
"Now it's in the government's court. CFIA is trying to make the appropriate changes, but they'll simply need people to do it.
"If the government won't come through then we could be in a worse situation than we were before."
The CFIA may be facing challenges, but there have been no cuts to the budget as a result of the economic downturn, Evans said.
From the time the Maple Leaf recall began making headlines, Kingston has waged a campaign against a government move toward greater industry self-regulation.
Kingston said inspectors drown in paperwork and can't keep a proper eye on the plant floor.
"I think it allowed for what happened at Maple Leaf to go on as long as it did without anybody knowing about it," he said.

Biggest E. coli Outbreaks of 2008 Show a Problem Getting Worse, Says Food Safety Lawyer
Source of Article:
A look at the biggest E. coli outbreaks in 2008 suggests an ever-worsening problem. Food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker says failure of regulation is evident as E. coli outbreaks continued to cause death and serious illness. "You still get companies that continually flout the rules, and there's not enough consequences to stop the bad actors,'' Pritzker said. Pritzker lists details of five major E. coli outbreaks of 2008.
Minneapolis, Minnesota (PRWEB) December 22, 2008 -- A look at the biggest E. coli outbreaks in 2008 suggests an ever-worsening problem.
In 2008, large-scale corporate farms and centralized production facilities continued to play a major role in America's E. coli problem. But by far the largest E. coli outbreak of the year was centered at a lone family restaurant in Locust Grove, Oklahoma.
The Country Cottage Restaurant outbreak started August. 15. By the time it was over, 341 people were sickened with E. coli O111 infections, 72 persons were hospitalized and one 26-year-old man, a gospel singer, was dead.
Fred Pritzker, a Minneapolis lawyer whose law firm is nationally recognized in the area of foodborne illness litigation, said that when taken all together, 2008 was a year in which America's deadly E. coli threat showed no signs of slowing down from a dangerous pace set in 2007. Between June and November 2007, 30 million pounds of beef were recalled by 20 different companies. In 2008, ground beef recalls linked to E. coli outbreaks continued to be common and large.
"It's a failure of regulation,'' Pritzker said. "People are eating food that contains this deadly pathogen.''
In keeping with the axiom that ground beef is the most common vector for E. coli O157:H7, 2008 was marked by multi-state outbreaks of infections that were associated with beef trimmings for hamburger produced by Nebraska Beef Ltd of Omaha. The company ordered two major recalls of tainted beef in June and July.
The year also was highlighted by a major E. coli outbreak related to fresh produce. In 2006, U.S. consumers were rocked by a deadly E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with bagged spinach. In 2008, the tainted leafy green vegetable was iceberg lettuce bagged at a food plant in Detroit. The outbreak sickened at least 50 people.
Pritzker said produce growers still lack effective mandatory safety standards to guard against E. coli contamination. In repeat-offender slaughterhouses, more inspections are needed.
"You still get companies that continually flout the rules, and there's not enough consequences to stop the bad actors,'' Pritzker said.
Ever since 1993, when four children died from E. coli O157:H7 infections in an outbreak linked to undercooked restaurant hamburgers, the U.S. food industry has been under pressure to curb the bacteria.
There was a decade of progress, including help from Congress. But Prtizker said 2008 was another year in which E. coli infections seemed to gain momentum. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005 was the year when rates of E. coli O157:H7 infections in healthy people started to rise again after steady decline.
Some researchers believe a possible explanation for increased prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle is related to a byproduct of ethanol. Called distillers grain, it became increasingly abundant as cattle feed during ethanol's boom in 2006, 2007 and early 2008.
A study by researchers at Kansas State University found higher levels of E. coli O157:H7 in the feces of cattle fed a diet that included distillers grain, which is cheaper than corn.
Although the study was not conclusive, Pritzker said a lot of food safety experts came to believe in 2008 that the correlation makes sense. And two other E. coli problems went unresolved in 2008: Several strains of E. coli that are just as deadly as O157:H7 remained unchecked by the government and some purveyors of raw milk are still skirting the law to sell a product increasingly linked to illness outbreaks.
"It's easy to gloss over the problem if you don't see the individual suffering involved in these outbreaks,'' Pritzker said. "The agony and the suffering of these individuals is dramatic and significant.''
Major E. coli Outbreaks of 2008:
-Country Cottage Restaurant. The outbreak was linked in August to contamination by E. coli O111. A total of 341 outbreak-related cases were reported, 56 cases were in children, 72 persons were hospitalized and one died. The restaurant was shut down and reopened in late November under an agreement with health officials. While no single food item was found to be the source, officials believe several different foods became contaminated with the bacteria.
-Nebraska Beef Ltd. In late June, the Omaha company recalled 5.3 million pounds of trimmings for ground beef. Health officials linked the product to 49 confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection in seven states. About a month later, the same slaughterhouse recalled another 1.2 million pounds of meat linked to 31 confirmed E. coli O157:H7 cases in 12 states. Much of the recalled meat was supplied through the Kroger grocery chain, but the tainted beef also turned up elsewhere. At the Barbecue Pit in Moultrie, Georgia, there were at least eight confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7. In four of those illnesses, victims suffered hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication that can lead to kidney failure.
-Goshen Boy Scout Reservation. Health officials this summer confirmed 25 cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection among attendees at a Boy Scout camp in Goshen, Virginia. The cases were matched through molecular fingerprinting and linked to frozen ground beef from California-based S&S Foods. S&S recalled about 153,630 pounds of ground beef products.
-Aunt Mid's Iceberg Lettuce. Michigan officials confirmed that bagged iceberg lettuce was the common source of illness in a September-October outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections that included 38 cases in Michigan, nine in Illinois and three in Ontario. At least 21 of those who were sickened spent time in the hospital. The outbreak strain of E. coli was never found at Aunt Mid's processing plant and investigators could never say if the lettuce became contaminated at the plant or in California, where it was grown. Aunt Mid's lettuce was associated with E. coli infections at the Lenawee County Jail, two Illinois restaurants and Michigan State University.

-Vermont Ground Beef. In September,Vermont Livestock Slaughter and Processing Co. in Ferrisburg, Vermont, recalled 2,758 pounds of ground beef products that had been distributed to restaurants in the state. The recall was prompted by an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. At least 10 people were sickened, including one who was hospitalized. An investigation by state and federal health officials found that the recalled beef may have caused the illnesses.

Cattle on 21 farms to be slaughtered over dioxin levels

Source of Article:
The samples were last week found to be positive for marker polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and further tests found that the dioxin levels were higher than the results from the recent controversial pork samples. However, while the cattle implicated will have to be slaughtered and the dioxin levels exceeded the legal limit, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said the risk to public health was extremely low.
"The risk assessment carried out by the FSAI indicates that, based on food consumption data, the exposure from beef is 300 times lower than that posed by the pork contamination," a FSAI spokesman said.
"Therefore, consumers should have no concerns in relation to health risks and retailers are not required to take any action."
Farms that could have potentially used contaminated feed have been restricted since December 5, and yesterday the Department of Agriculture confirmed 21 out of 120,000 cattle farms here had received the implicated animal feed.
"The actual number of cattle farms is extremely low, representing 0.02% of the total national number of cattle farms," said the authority spokesman.
Alan Reilly, deputy chief executive of the authority said that while samples were higher than in the pork products, the level of concern was lower owing to the lower likely exposure and superior traceability systems that apply to beef allowing implicated product to be identified, isolated and withdrawn from the market.
Meanwhile, EU member states yesterday backed a disposal scheme for animals locked down on farms that have used contaminated feed, as well as for certain pig meat stocks held in, or still owned by, slaughterhouses.
The EU will co-finance the purchases at an average rate of 50%.
Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Mariann Fischer Boel said: "We hope that co-funding the destruction of affected meat will help bring this problem to a rapid conclusion and assist farmers who face financial difficulties."

Norovirus Outbreak Linked To Illegally Operating Caterer
December 17, 2008
Source of Article:
WINSTON-SALEM -- State health officials are cautioning North Carolinians about food-borne illness, after three confirmed norovirus outbreaks, one of which was linked to a caterer operating illegally from her home in the western Piedmont, have sickened more than 50 people and affected at least nine counties.
Locally, those counties include Forsyth, Caldwell, and some parts of the western Piedmont.
Last week, Forty-two residents and workers at The Oaks At Forsyth nursing home on Bethesda Road became ill after a virus outbreak was reported at the facility. The outbreak at The Oaks was not related to the illegal catering service, Forsyth County Health Director Dr. Tim Monroe said.
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the "stomach flu" or gastroenteritis, and cannot be seen or tasted but spread easily from person to person, according to health officials.
¡°More than a million North Carolinians experience a norovirus-related illness each year,¡± said State Health Director Leah Devlin. ¡°Food is a major part of the holidays for many people, and I want to remind everyone of steps they can take to prepare, serve and enjoy the food more safely during this season."
Linda Means, communicable disease nursing supervisor at the Forsyth County Health Department, said last week that the outbreak at The Oaks carried all the signs of a norovirus outbreak common in nursing facilities.
Means said the virus was most common during the colder part of the season and said strict hand washing was the most effective way to prevent its spread.
Terry Pierce, director of the Division of Environmental Health, said that residents who hire caterers for holiday parties should be especially careful, and need to make sure the caterers are properly permitted or licensed.

New Nanotech Paints for Hospitals Could Kill Superbugs
Products Finishing (December 18, 2008)
Source of Article:
Originally Published:20081201.
New nanotechnology paints for walls, ceilings, and surfaces could be used to kill hospital superbugs when fluorescent lights are switched on, according to a presentation at the Society for General Microbiology's Autumn meeting held at Trinity College, Dublin.
With rising concern about the spread of hospital superbugs, healthcare trusts are increasingly looking to find better ways to maintain hygienic standards in hospitals. The same concerns are driving developments in the food industry and in pharmaceutical companies. These new nanoparticle paints could provide a simple and cost-effective solution.
The new paints contain tiny particles of titanium dioxide, which is the white compound often used as a brightener in commercial paints.
Scientists have discovered that extremely small, nanoparticle-sized forms of titanium dioxide can kill bacteria and destroy dirt when they absorb UV energy from the sun and produce active molecules that clean up the painted surfaces.
"It would be best if the titanium was antibacterial at wavelengths of light that you find indoors, such as fluorescent light, so that paints containing the nanoparticles could be used in hospitals," says Lucia Caballero from Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.
The researchers looked at the survival of the food poisoning bacterium E. coli on different formulations of paints containing the titanium nanoparticles under different types and intensities of lights. "We found that paints containing titanium dioxide are more successful at killing bacteria if the concentration of the nanoparticles is stronger than in normal paint. Our best results showed that all the E. coli were killed under ordinary fluorescent lights," says Caballero.
"However, other common additives in paints, such as calcium carbonate, silica or talc decreased the antibacterial efficiency of the paint. If calcium carbonate was present the kill rate dropped by up to 80%," adds Caballero.

New rapid test for diarrhoea-causing bug
Identifying individual species of Cryptosporidium
Source of Article:
by Wendy Laursen
THE TIME TAKEN to identify the diarrhoea-causing microorganism Cryptosporidium in water samples has been reduced from 15 hours to three, and the new technique enables the most harmful species to be identified so that sources of contamination can be more readily identified.
The technology is based on the detection of the Cryptosporidium species usually found in human faeces using fluorescent probes that target specific sequences of nucleic acid. Existing immuno-chromatographic and immuno-fluorescence-based assays do not provide species or genotype-specific information and polymerase chain reaction techniques involve expensive equipment and reagents.
¡°The probes can distinguish C. parvum and C. hominis which are responsible for most of the outbreaks that are harmful to humans,¡± says Anitha Alagappan, test developer and a PhD candidate at Australia¡¯s Environmental biotechnology Cooperative Research Centre.
¡°Species data is important to understand the risk of infection to exposed people. There are many different species of Cryptosporidium, some of which are infectious to humans and some which aren¡¯t. Many current testing methods only detect the presence or absence of Cryptosporidium, but not the species of concern.¡±
The new rapid screening tool uses fluorescent in situ hybridisation technology. The reliability of the new technology was tested against one of the standard methods applied in the water industry in collaboration with the Cryptosporidium Reference Laboratory in the UK. A strong correlation (0.994) between the two methods confirmed that the species identification method was as reliable as currently-used methods.
¡°The test has been validated now and could be used by water utilities worldwide as it fits into current testing methods quite easily,¡± says Belinda Ferrari team leader from the University of New South Wales.
The diarrhoeal illness, cryptosporidiosis, can be life threatening in immuno-compromised people and currently there is no effective treatment. Public swimming pools and drinking water have been sources of the disease in the UK and the US.

HACCP software enables complete cycle control, says NWA
By Jane Byrne, 12-Dec-2008
Source of Article:
A new software programme manages the complete Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) operational cycle to provide a powerful food safety and quality control system, claims its US developer.
Northwest Analytical (NWA) said that its new eHACCP programme, which is now being released onto the European market, expands on its established NWA Quality Information System (QIS) by encompassing compliant data collation, secure electronic signatures as well as management and reporting capabilities.

Quality control
HACCP is a food safety management system designed to ensure the safe production and packaging of food. The HACCP process provides a systematic and effective method to analyze a process, and identifies potential biological, chemical and physical hazards that can occur in food. In addition, HACCP requires the development of strategies to prevent the inclusion or reduction of these hazards to an acceptable level in the food.

Cycle management
Jeffery Cawley, vice president of marketing development at NWA, said that while there are categories of manufacturing information management systems that supply part of the functionality required, until now there has not been a commercial product that manages the complete HACCP operational cycle. He told that the eHACCP system also includes consultation on the process of converting from a paper-based to a paperless system, with, he claims, 90 per cent of food processing facilities still running paper-based HACCP operational programmes.

Food industry partnership
The development of the eHACCP was informed by collaboration with leading food manufacturers, continued Cawley.
¡°Food processors have been using various NWA Quality components for the past several years for quality control and compliance. This includes the application of the NWA Quality Monitor for controlling workflow and collecting data for both food quality and food safety parameters. ¡°With recent expansions to the underlying NWA QIS, it became reasonable to meet HACCP requirements with a few extensions. We were able to identify these as a result of our long term food industry customer relationships and professional involvement with the food industry,¡± he explained.

Enhanced reporting
According to Cawley, the new software package improves HACCP compliance and reporting through the elimination of transcription errors, better data handling and retrieval as well as alerts based on statistical process control (SPC) trends to indicate process deterioration. Extended reporting templates to meet HACCP based requirements are also included, he added.
¡°With no manual data handling, analysis and reporting, our quality information system (QIS) customers typically report being able to reallocate one to two professionals to more productive process management and improvement operations, as a result of installing the eHACCP system,¡± said Cawley.
NWA said that it teamed up with leading food safety expert, Dr John Surak, to develop a conversion plan that includes the training, validation and verification steps need to properly implement the system:
¡°These steps are critical to assure regulatory agencies, customers and third party auditors that eHACCP is an effective food safety system.¡±

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