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Update: PCA recall¡¯s impact spreads
Source of Article:
2/23/2009-According to the Food & Drug Administration¡¯s Web site, on Feb. 20 the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) informed customers who received products from its Georgia or Texas plants not to distribute or further use those products and to contact the FDA regarding the proper disposition of recalled products. In light of the company¡¯s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing on Feb. 13, PCA¡¯s assets are currently under the control of a bankruptcy trustee, which impacts the company¡¯s ability to take any actions regarding recalled products that were shipped from its Georgia and Texas plants.
On Jan. 28, PCA announced it was voluntarily recalling all peanuts and peanut products process in its Blakely, Ga., facility since Jan. 1, 2007. Further, on Feb. 12, the Texas Dept. of State Health Services ordered PCA to cease the manufacture and distribution of all food products from its Plainview, Texas, plant and to immediately recall all products manufactured there since March 2005. According to a article, so far, 654 people in 44 states have been sickened by the Salmonella outbreak traced to the Ga. plant, which is also linked to nine deaths. In addition, Colorado health authorities have linked at least nine cases of Salmonella poisoning to the Texas plant.
Forward Foods, a food manufacturer who received products from PCA, has had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of the outbreak. In addition, Kellogg Co. Chief Executive David Mackay said earlier this month the recall had an adverse 6-cent impact on earnings per share and that it had cost Kellogg an estimated $70 million in losses. This does not include the possible further costs Kellogg, and other food manufacturers, might see from lawsuits filed against them. According to an article in QSR, Attorney Bill Marler from Marler Clark, a law practice specializing in food poisoning cases, is moving to lift the stay of bankruptcy for PCA so that litigation on behalf of victims can continue.

USDA/FDA Updates

  • Codex Alimentarius Commission: Meeting of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods
  • Public Meeting to Address Agenda Items for the 3rd Session of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods
  • Public Meeting to Address Agenda Items for the 30th Session of the Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling
  • Comprehensive Review Methodology of State Meat and Poultry Inspection Programs
  • FSIS Issues Directive on Review Methodology of State Meat and Poultry Inspection Programs
  • Determination Of Raw Meat And Poultry Salmonella Performance Standard Sampling Eligibility In Official Establishments
  • Proposed Collection; Comment Request; Irradiation in the Production, Processing, and Handling of Food
  • Recalled Peanut Products
  • Food Labeling Workshop; Public Workshop
  • Food Protection; Public Workshop
  • Salmonella Typhimurium Outbreak Updated
  • USDA Proposes to Debar Peanut Corporation of America
  • Verification Procedures for Consumer Safety Inspectors for the Listeria monocytogenes Regulation
  • Enforcement, Investigations, and Analysis Officer (EIAO) Assessment of Compliance with the Listeria monocytogenes
  • Intensified Verification Testing (IVT) Protocol for Sampling of Product, Food Contact Surfaces and Environmental Surfaces for Listeria Monocytogenes
  • FDA Prevents Two Dairies from Adulterating Animal Drugs and Food

  • Bacteria found in French baby formula
    Source of Article:
    2/23/2009-According to an AFP article, the Korean National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service (NVRQS) detected a strain of bacteria called Enterobacter sakazaki in a shipment of 135 kg of canned organic baby formula imported last month from French producer, Vitagermine. However, the producer of the Babynat formula said that the batch was analyzed prior to shipment and no bacteria were found. According to the NVRQS, eight shipments of the product, weighing a total of 1,492 kg, have been imported into South Korea since Dec. 2007, and six of these shipments, totaling 1,222 kg, reached the market. The Korean quarantine service has secured four cans for testing. Results are expected sometime this week, and the NVRQS may order a recall if contamination is found.
    The World Health Organization has deemed E. sakazaki harmful, especially for newborn babies and those with weak immune systems. The bacteria can cause meningitis, enteritis, and in serious cases lead to death.

    Foodborne-illness mystery? Call in the Minnesotans
    Source of Article:
    After solving salmonella outbreak, state held up as a model to follow
    By Tom Webb
    Posted: 02/19/2009 12:01:00 AM CST
    While others celebrated the holidays, Minnesota investigators were tracking a killer.
    A nationwide salmonella outbreak had sickened hundreds of consumers, leaving a growing death toll, and nobody was sure why. Within days, state investigators in St. Paul had cracked the case ? tracing the salmonella to tainted peanut butter from a troubled Georgia plant.
    How did they do it? That's what Congress wants to know as it seeks to improve the nation's uneven food-safety patchwork. If the salmonella outbreak revealed how the food-safety system faltered, it also showed how Minnesota investigators shined during a deadly outbreak.
    "Time and time again, it's the foodborne disease unit at the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that has come up with the answers," said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
    More than 40 states were involved in the peanut case, but Minnesotans were the first to zero in on the type of tainted peanut butter. The first to trace it back to a Georgia plant. The first to confirm salmonella in peanut butter. And first to warn the public about the danger ? prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to shut down the plant that same day.
    "Because institutionally-served peanut butter, in five-pound containers, was identified by the state of Minnesota as a potential vehicle, our investigation began with a strong lead: the brand name of a company and the address to begin our trace," the FDA's director of food safety, Stephen Sundlof, told Congress last week.
    Minnesota officials credit no single thing for making the system here work. It's a complex network and a culture of teamwork: health and food investigators who work side-by-side; state laws that provide strong consumer protections; good facilities and resources to detect problems; and experienced investigators who know how to interview patients, trace products and draw linkages.
    "It's almost thinking like a criminal investigation, like you're trying to solve a murder," said Mike Schommer, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
    | Here's how Minnesotans cracked the peanut case, as told by some who helped do it.

    1: Outbreak begins. On Nov. 10, federal investigators noted a bump in the number of salmonella cases. Within weeks, it was clear a major outbreak was under way. But from where? Deadly salmonella bacteria can hide in many foods, but most commonly it's in poultry, so chicken and eggs were suspected early.

    2: Minnesota hit. The first Minnesota case was reported on Nov. 17. By Dec. 21, there were eight more. State investigators probed for telltale clusters and patterns. "They were all around the state, and there wasn't any clear, obvious pattern at that point," said Carlota Medus, epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

    3: Interview victims. Health officials in Minnesota interview everyone who falls ill from salmonella, rather than wait for an outbreak. Then state epidemiologists can comb through the data, looking for common threads. Early on, an investigator noticed that "pretty much all of our cases were mentioning peanut butter," Medus said. "But there wasn't a clear name, or a product name."

    4: The wave hits. Three days before Christmas, a long-term care facility in Brainerd reported several salmonella infections. A separate Brainerd facility had another case. Yet another case in town surfaced. A cluster had emerged, and investigators bore in.

    5: Search for clues. "We worked with that long-term care facility, looking at things like menus and invoices," Medus said. The menus didn't even list peanut butter. But Medus persisted. She thought, "Hmmm, they had no snacks? I don't think so." Turned out, peanut butter was a common snack at the facility.

    6: Connecting dots. When two schoolchildren in northern Minnesota fell ill, more links emerged. State agriculture officials asked a regional food distributor ? which delivered to the long-term care facility ? whether it also supplied the school. It did. Both received the same brand of peanut butter: King Nut.

    7: Round up suspects. Food inspectors working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture fanned out to seize samples of King Nut peanut butter. "Ideally, you want the product that the person ate," Schommer said. "But once it's opened, there is a risk of cross-contamination. So you (also) go and look at that production lot, and look for unopened products in that lot."

    8: Probing a source. Minnesota investigators traced the King Nut peanut butter back to a processing plant in Blakely, Ga. Said Ben Miller, who supervises the response unit at the state Agriculture Department, "We spoke with the QA (quality assurance) manager in Blakely, and told him we were looking at King Nut as a possible source of salmonella contamination." Separately, Minnesota alerted the FDA that its probe was pointing to the Georgia plant.

    9: To the lab. On Jan. 9, lab tests in St. Paul confirmed that a 5-pound tub of King Nut peanut butter was contaminated with salmonella. "They took like 15 samples (from the tub), and they didn't find it (salmonella) in every single one of them," Schommer said. "The contamination isn't uniform." Because the FDA had been notified earlier, the federal probe got a jump-start. "They were on the ground and in that facility right after we found out the presumptive positive," Miller said.

    10: Retracing a killer. Even before test results were in, investigators had started retracing the peanut butter's distribution path. So when the result was found Friday, Jan. 9, Minnesota officials immediately warned the distributor in North Dakota. Said Miller, "By 5:30 that evening, they had 30 to 35 people crawling all over the establishment," removing tubs and alerting every customer who'd bought King Nut peanut butter in the past six months.

    11: A public warning. The positive test and distribution pattern ? while not definitive ? impelled Minnesota officials to warn the public. On Friday afternoon, a consumer advisory told people and institutions to avoid King Nut peanut butter. "We knew King Nut peanut butter was distributed to nursing homes and schools, and we didn't want to wait over the weekend," Medus said. But even then, officials couldn't "explain all the non-institutional cases" turning up.

    12: A genetic match. On Monday, Jan. 12, genetic testing in Minnesota labs revealed a match. The strain of salmonella in the peanut butter was the same one cultured from ill Minnesotans.

    13: Cop on the beat. Agriculture officials fanned out across the state, checking that questionable products were being removed from store shelves, warehouses and storerooms. If need be, Schommer said, "We do have the power to embargo product."

    14: Final proof. Because outside contamination is possible in opened jars, officials seek confirmation from sealed jars, too. Connecticut found it first. Then Minnesotans identified three strains of salmonella in an unopened jar from the Georgia plant.

    Nine consumers, including three in Minnesota, have died in the outbreak. More than 600 have become ill. The plant owner, Peanut Corporation of America, is closed and has filed for bankruptcy.

    F.S.I.S. pursues performance standards for poultry processors
    Source of Article:
    (, February 23, 2009)
    by Bryan Salvage
    WASHINGTON Studies that will lead to performance standards for Campylobacter are being conducted by U.S.D.A., according to Dr. Daniel Engeljohn, deputy assistant administrator in the office of Policy and Program Development at Food Safety and Inspection Service. Standards for Campylobacter are expected be issued this year.
    A baseline study of Campylobacter in broilers was conducted by U.S.D.A. in 2007-2008 and the agency will issue "guideline performance standards" in 2009, Mr. Engeljohn recently said in remarks during a National Chicken Council committee meeting in Arlington, Va. Samples would be taken at re-hang and post-chill with "enumerative criteria" instead of a qualitative, positive-negative finding, he added.
    Dr. Engeljohn said the agency will conduct a study of chicken parts this year and next, not just the whole carcass, and establish a "guideline performance standard." He indicated that breast portions will be the top priority.
    He also expressed concern about the presence of Salmonella enteriditis in raw broilers. S. enteriditis has historically been associated with table eggs rather than meat chickens. While only 7.4% of broiler carcasses are positive for any type of Salmonella, 18% of those samples have S. enteriditis, he said.
    "F.S.I.S. believes that S. enteriditis can be prevented from entering the human food chain through the foods regulated by F.S.I.S.," he said. "On-farm controls are practical and feasible for the adequate control of S. enteriditis. Federally-inspected establishments are expected to address food-safety hazards before, during and after the product enters the facility."
    However, there is "no known industry-wide or collective focus" to reduction of S. enteriditis in broilers, Mr. Engeljohn said, and the agency is working on a risk-management plan that will lead to compliance guidelines.
    Mr. Engeljohn noted that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that the country had 14.92 cases of salmonellosis per 100,000 population in 2007, which was more than the 13.7 cases per 100,000 population estimated in the baseline year of 1997.
    F.S.I.S. estimates, however, that less than one case per 100,000 is attributable to Salmonella in broilers, he said.
    To post your comments on this story, click here:

    Salmonella Outbreak Prompts Tougher Law Proposal
    Source of Article:
    2 Ill. Congressmen Fight For FDA Access To Questionable Food Testing Results
    Mike Parker
    CHICAGO (CBS) ¡ª There is a new push Monday night to protect you and your family from potentially dangerous food. This comes after a nationwide salmonella scare may have killed nine people, and sickened hundreds of others. CBS 2's Mike Parker reports two Illinois congressmen are fighting to make sure something like this never happens again.
    The deadly tale of the salmonella outbreak that came out of a company in Georgia . how its products killed nine people and how the Peanut Corporation of America, and owner Stewart Parnell hid damning test results - has rocked the country. It has also shocked two suburban Illinois congressmen.
    "A broker visited his facility in the 1980s and said it was a time bomb waiting to go off," said U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk. "If he was a car dealer, he would have been selling cars with no brakes."
    Now Congressmen Mark Kirk and Peter Roskam are trumpeting a new law proposed by Roskam. It would give the Food and Drug Administration access to any questionable food testing results.
    "And if there's adverse information that comes about, that information has to be disclosed," said U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam. "In other words, you can't shop around for a favorable result."
    The proposed new law would also give the FDA a new weapon - the power to order a company to recall dangerous food products. Right now, those recalls are merely voluntary.
    Consumers we talked to today, think that is a good idea.
    "The companies are going to want to make their money, make a profit," one consumer said. "We should worry about the consumer safety."
    "If something's bad on the shelves, it should be taken off," another consumer said. "Because it's important for people's health," a consumer said.
    As for peanut magnate Stewart Parnell¡¦
    "I respectfully decline to answer your question," Parnell said.
    "In my view, this is direct evidence of criminal activity," Kirk said. "If it was just up to me, we would sit him down at a table and make him eat his own peanut butter."
    Roskam introduced a similar measure last year but it went nowhere. It was never called for a vote. He and Kirk believe the recent salmonella tragedy might make a difference this time. The FDA says that 5,000 Americans die every year from food borne illnesses; 76 million get sick. Incredibly, more than 2,500 peanut products have been recalled in this salmonella scare.

    Job openings in Food Safety and Quality
    02/23. Senior Program Leader, FS & Micro . Glenview, IL
    02/23. FOOD SAFETY COORDINATOR . Orlando, FL
    02/23. Food Safety & QA Coordinator . New Orleans, LA
    02/23. Consumer Safety Inspector - Vermont
    02/23. Food Safety Account Coordinator - Ann Arbor, MI
    02/19. FOOD SAFETY MANAGER - Minnesota
    02/17. Dir, Frozen Food Safety & QA - Siloam Springs, AR
    02/16. Quality Control Specialist . Dunedin, FL
    02/16. Food Safety Chemist/Micro . New Century, KS
    02/12. Food Safety Manager - Oklahoma
    02/11. Sr Auditor - Food Safety &Produce . Watsonville, CA
    02/11. Sr Program Ldr . Food Safety & Micro . Glenview, IL
    02/11. Dir-Corporate Affairs Food Safety . Washington, DC
    02/10. Food Safety Supervisor . Kansas City, KS
    02/10. Food Safety Specialist - Ann Arbor, MI
    02/10. Director Quality and Food Safety . Cincinnati, OH

    Marler: Speech Before The National Meat Association
    Source of Article:
    Thank you NMA for inviting me here to Las Vegas. My guess is inviting a trial lawyer into your convention is a bit of a ¡°gamble.¡±
    Once again another food poisoning outbreak, perhaps slightly more outrageous than the ones before, now with over 650 sickened, 150 hospitalized and nine deaths, but eerily similar to those that have come before it. There is the familiar crush of the media for a picture or a quote of a victim, the vows by politicians to see this never happens again, and there is the anguish of burying a parent because they ate a quintessential American food . this time peanut butter.
    I spent last week in Washington DC watching the latest version of the food safety play that seems to run on a constant loop . year to year . decade to decade. Some of the characters change . new victims . new food products . new poisons . new businesses causing the outbreak, but, the governmental response as to why this debacle is not its fault and the call by congressional leaders for new legislation are the same. If you re-run the tapes from the Jack-in-the-Box hearings from 1993 and peanut butter hearings last week they are remarkably the same . including the lack of action.
    The time has long past to do something to stop the tape and to prevent the next outbreak. There are now several pieces of food safety legislation in the halls of the House and the Senate some newer, most are dusted off every time that there is another outbreak that requires another press conference and media opportunity. Yet also in the halls of congress, are those that say the timing is not right to do things on food safety . the economy takes priority . or, some other reason that continued, cautious inaction is required and the various proposals remain shelved.
    Frankly, the time has come to act and not continue simply to react. Consumers, Farmers, Suppliers, Manufacturers, Retailers, Regulators and Politicians need to work together to make our food supply safe, profitable and sustainable. When a quarter of our population is sickened yearly by contaminated food, when thousands die, we do not have the ¡°safest food supply in the world.¡± When a whole industry looses hundreds of millions of dollars because government picks tomatoes when it really was peppers, we should, must, and can do better.
    First, create a local, state and national public health system that catches outbreaks before they balloon into personal and business catastrophe. Surveillance of human bacterial disease is lacking. For many foodborne illnesses, for everyone culture positive case, 20 to 40 other cases are missed because of lack of surveillance. Most people who become ill with a bacterial or viral disease are either seldom seen or never cultured. The more people are tested, the greater the likelihood that a source, accidental or not, will be found sooner.
    Second, governmental departments, whether local, state or federal, need to learn to ¡°play well together.¡± Turf battles need to take a back seat to stopping an outbreak and tracking it to its source. That means resources need to be provided and coordination encouraged so illnesses can be promptly stopped and the offending producer - not an entire industry - is brought to heel.
    Third, we cannot completely regulate ourselves out of this. Standards need to be set with the entire food chain at the table . from farmer, to manufacturer, to retailer and customer. Standards must also be based upon good science.
    Fourth, promote research to develop better technologies to make food safe. Provide tax breaks for companies that push food safety interventions and employee training. We need to use our technology to make food more traceable so that when an outbreak occurs authorities can quickly identify the source and limit the spread of the contamination and stop the disruption to the economy.
    Fifth, improve consumer understanding of the risks of food-borne illness. Industry cannot rely on working parents or the minimum wage worker to be the last ¡°kill step¡±
    not without an investment in real education.
    Sixth, there are too few legal consequences for recklessly sickening or killing customers by selling contaminated food. We should impose stiff fines and prison sentences for violators, and even stiffer penalties for repeat violators.
    None of this will stop bacterial and viral illnesses entirely. These invisible poisons have been around a long time. However, these six steps will enable us to help prevent it, help detect it far more quickly, to alert stores and families, and to keep our most vulnerable citizens - kids and seniors - out of harm's way.

    Salmonella outbreak highlights inspector shortage
    Source of Article:
    By GREG BLUESTEIN 3 days ago
    ATLANTA (AP) . Tight state budgets have led some of the biggest farm states to leave dozens of food inspection jobs vacant at a time when hundreds have been sickened by a nationwide salmonella outbreak tied to a filthy peanut processing plant.
    Georgia, the site of the plant, has about 60 inspectors for some 16,000 sites, while budget cuts have forced the state agriculture department to keep 15 inspector positions vacant.
    California, Texas and Florida are among other states facing the same problems while food experts say the federal government relies increasingly on states to monitor the nation's food supply.
    "You can only shift the pawns on the table so many times before the game catches up with you," Georgia deputy Agriculture Commissioner Oscar Garrison told legislators earlier this month while asking for more money to hire inspectors.
    The salmonella outbreak linked to Peanut Corp. of America has sickened hundreds, may have caused nine deaths and prompted one of the largest food recalls in the nation's history. Federal investigators have launched a criminal investigation, and Virginia-based Peanut Corp. faces mounting lawsuits and a bankruptcy filing.
    Food safety experts warn each loss of an inspector increases the possibility that food problems could elude detection.
    In the Georgia salmonella case, a state inspector found only minor problems when she probed the Blakely plant in October for less than two hours; less than three months later federal agents found roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other problems.
    In Texas, eight of 42 manufactured food inspector positions are vacant, leaving 34 people to inspect about 21,000 facilities, from distributors to food salvage operations.
    That's about one inspector for every 618 facilities, said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. So inspectors have to focus on sites that make higher-risk foods or those with reported problems.
    The agency was lobbying to add seven more positions even before a Peanut Corp. plant in Plainview tested positive for salmonella and was shut down.
    | "I'd love to say, we'd like to get to (every facility) once every 12 to 15 months," he said. "Are we able to always. No, it's sometimes longer."
    Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has left open 12 of its 129 inspector positions open this year. But agency spokesman Terry McElroy said the cuts will not have as great an impact because Florida has been adding positions in recent years.
    "You do the best you can," McElroy said. "We're confident that under the circumstances we're able to do the job effectively."
    California agricultural officials say inspector cuts or vacancies are likely as the state grapples with a shortfall that could be as large as $42 billion.
    Almost every state legislature in the country is staring down budget deficits and scraping funds for schools, roads and other public safety areas, like prisons and police. Food safety is a tough sell.
    "It's getting pretty dire out there," said Doug Farquhar, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "With the salmonella scare, you'd think that now would be the time they'd say we need to invest in food safety. But the opposite is going on."
    The belt-tightening comes at an inconvenient time.
    The federal government increasingly relies on food safety inspections performed by states, where budgets for inspections have remained stagnant and overburdened officials have less training than their federal counterparts.
    Gerald Wojtala, president of the Association of Food and Drug Officials, said the nonprofit is now surveying food programs across the nation to determine how much the burden has shifted.
    He said surveys in 2001 and 2003 showed state and local food safety agencies conduct more than 95 percent of food safety inspections.
    For officials in Georgia, the deadly outbreak has led to some soul searching.
    Legislators have floated proposals to deputize county health officials so they can quickly pursue food safety tips.
    And Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said his department will focus more on food safety inspections and less on other duties, such as monitoring out-of-date foods. Leading lawmakers say they hope to boost inspections, despite budget cuts.
    Inspectors are "referees of the food game," said Joseph Hotchkiss, a food science professor at Cornell University who once worked for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
    "There's no way for us as individuals to know much about our food . how it's manufactured and prepared . without these people we hire. And with fewer of those people, that could in general result in an increased risk."

    C. diff: The next O157.
    Source of Article:
    An "opportunistic bug" could pose a food-safety threat in meat products¡¦or maybe no(, February 01, 2009)
    by Steve Bjerklie

    Making definitive statements about Clostridium difficile¡¯s evident residency in meat products and livestock is risky at best. Some of the research concerning "C. diff," as it is often called, is worrisome, even frightening; other research much less so. And scientists themselves are quick to point out that at this point what¡¯s not known about a meat connection with C.diff far outweighs what is known.
    "Just because C.diff is showing up in food may not mean it¡¯s a problem in food. And as far as C.diff in livestock is concerned, we really don¡¯t know much about the human-animal connection with C.diff. That picture isn¡¯t clear at all," comments Dr. Liz Wagstrom, assistant vice president for science and technology at the National Pork Producers Council. Nonetheless, C.diff in pork and hogs "is something we¡¯ve been following for a long time," she adds.
    Dr. Brandi Limbago, the lead researcher for bacterial characterization, typing and identification in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention¡¯s Clinical and Environmental Microbiology Branch, is only a bit more definite. "We know a fair amount about Clostridium difficile in the health-care environment, and we know it has been found on meat and in livestock, but there are a lot of dots and pieces between these facts that are still blank," she says, noting that studies have found similar strains of C.diff . "some of them indistinguishable from each other" . in humans and food animals. But the microbiologist, who has worked and published with Dr. Glenn Songer at the Univ. of Arizona, one of the world¡¯s leading C.diff researchers, quickly adds: "While it¡¯s very interesting that Clostridium difficile has been found in meat, there¡¯s no evidence that it¡¯s foodborne. To the best of our knowledge, it¡¯s not a foodborne disease."
    Songer himself is less sanguine. C.diff, he says, "could be the next O157 . or it could be nothing. I suspect it¡¯ll turn out to be something in between." He adds: "People in the industry really want to know if this is really a problem or not. I understand that. But we have to think it is before we can think it isn¡¯t."
    A menace and a killer

    The pathogen is a well-known menace in health-care facilities, especially in nursing homes and convalescent hospitals with large populations of older, immune-compromised patients. C.diff infection brings on diarrhea and can lead to dangerous inflammations of the colon . colonitis . if not caught and checked early. Health authorities say it probably causes thousands of deaths, and perhaps tens of thousands of deaths, in health- care facilities every year. (Canadian authorities blame C. diff for roughly 2,000 deaths over 2003 and 2004 in a single province, Quebec.) According to Limbago, as much as 80 percent of all recorded C.diff-caused infections have occurred in a healthcare setting, with human-to-human transmission the most likely distributing vector . but at the same time, she adds, "there are other cases with no health-care connection."

    The usual treatment for pathogenic infection, a regimen of antibiotic therapy, is nearly useless against C.difficile, because antibiotics clear out resident microflora and leave behind, in the human gut, a kind of microbiological desert, which C.diff appears to be especially well-equipped for exploiting. According to a study released last November by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, 13 out of every 1,000 hospital patients becomes infected by C.diff, a rate up to 20 times greater than had previously been estimated. Just as worrying, a virulent new strain, NAP1, has emerged, and its toxin is 20 times more potent than other strains. Moreover, NAP1 has proven to be resistant to fluoroquinolone antibiotics such as Cipro and Levaquin. It¡¯s a proven killer: A pregnant mother of twins spontaneously aborted and then died from C.diff infection, according to a 2005 CDC review. It is the virulent new strain, however, that has been found on meat and in livestock.

    "It¡¯s a very difficult pathogen to get under control," says Dr. David Theno, the recently retired director of technical services at Jack in the Box and one of the industry¡¯s leaders in the battle against E. coli O157:H7. "You¡¯ve got to be really aggressive with it. As the population ages, we¡¯re going to have to figure out a way to effectively deal with it, no question."

    According to the Mayo Clinic, "In hospitals and nursing homes, C.difficile spreads mainly on the hands of caregivers, but also on cart handles, bedrails, bedside tables, toilets, sinks, stethoscopes, thermometers . even telephones and remote controls."

    A taste for sausage

    So what¡¯s it doing in meat. That¡¯s what CDC would like to know. In the effort to come up with an answer, the federal agency called a meeting, in mid-December, of C.diff¡¯s leading researchers and other interested microbiologists and food scientists. The specific purpose of the meeting, according to Dr. Limbago, who attended, "was to discuss methods of detection of Clostridium difficile in foods," but the real driver behind the gathering is the compelling, troubling data gathered by Songer in Arizona, Dr. Scott Weese at the Univ. of Guelph in Canada, and Dr. Roger Harvey, a veterinary medical officer with USDA¡¯s Agricultural Research Service facility in College Station, Texas.

    Glenn Songer¡¯s studies are, in some ways, the most worrisome for the meat industry. He found, for the first time, an identical strain of C.diff in contaminated food and in hogs. Moreover, the professor of veterinary science also found that more than 40 percent of packaged-meat samples taken from three Arizona supermarket chains tested positive for the pathogen, and some of these tested positive for the virulent new strain. He calls the results "very surprising." He has detected C.diff¡¯s presence in ground meats as well as in sausages made from ground product, such as fresh pork sausage, chorizo, summer sausage and even liver sausage. He found the bug in half the ground-beef samples he tested and in 62 percent of the brauschweiger. "We haven¡¯t looked at whole-muscle meat yet, but when we do I suspect we¡¯ll find it," he says.

    He adds that when he first began investigating C.diff in food a few years ago, "I thought it was a fool¡¯s errand. I couldn¡¯t believe someone hadn¡¯t found it already. I was sure that if it was there, someone would have found it. But it seems like no one did look. And when we finally did, we found it."

    Weese¡¯s numbers aren¡¯t quite so shocking, but they remain troubling. His team took C.diff-positive samples from 18 percent of the ground beef and ground veal tested, though they did not find the virulent strain, and the numbers of cells the team found in the positive samples was somewhat lower than what Songer¡¯s team found. Harvey¡¯s work at ARS, and previous work by both Songer and Weese, already found C.diff in dairy calves and pigs, as noted.

    "We know we can find it widely in the environment," Weese says. "What we don¡¯t know is how it travels from farms to food. We¡¯ve got a big gap in our knowledge so far."

    He points out that C.diff, which was first identified in 1935 (it was originally named "Bacillus difficile," or "the difficult" microbe), is unique among pathogens in a couple of ways. One, it can be found among the gut flora of healthy humans, causing no evident ill effects.

    This is why, when the population of C.diff cells suddenly expands (no one knows why), treatment with antibiotics can be so dangerous; with the other microflora pushed out of the way by the drugs, C.diff takes over. Another C.diff¡¯s attribute that¡¯s unique: As a spore-forming microbe rather than a cell-former, it can survive typical cooking temperatures . think of it as a kind of opposite of Listeria monocytogenes, which survives refrigeration.

    Still, Weese actually takes some comfort, he says, in the high rates of positives that Songer found in the grocery meats. "In some ways, finding it so commonly downplays the risk. If it¡¯s being found in 40 percent of humans or on 40 percent of meat samples, we know that 40 percent of the human population isn¡¯t getting sick from it."

    In search of CCPs
    As for meat specifically, Weese isn¡¯t ready to sound alarms. "Meat might be just a carrier, we don¡¯t know. The real problem might always be spreading from human to human, with meat just an intermediary. I don¡¯t think the industry should panic at this point . but we should be concerned." "I can tell you that it¡¯s not coming in to nursing homes on food," adds Dave Theno. "It¡¯s already there. In that environment or in a hospital, it can always move from person to person. We¡¯re talking about a very opportunistic bug."
    "We know it can cause illness in baby pigs," says Liz Wagstrom at NPPC. "But C.diff is not C.diff is not C.diff . what I mean is, just because it¡¯s in livestock doesn¡¯t automatically mean meat is a problem. One reason why it may be showing up in ground meats is because those products are handled by more people than other kinds of meat products." She also points out that both Weese¡¯s and Songer¡¯s retail sampling so far has been regional. C.diff¡¯s national and global distribution in meat and livestock isn¡¯t yet mapped. "I think it¡¯s something that we need to look at carefully to see if there¡¯s an emerging problem. But at this point I don¡¯t believe C.diff is our next BSE or O157."

    CDC¡¯s Limbago, who will be discussing C. diff at a gathering of meat and animal scientists this coming March, emphasizes that "there¡¯s no epidemiological link" connecting even the "indistinguishable" strains found in livestock and humans. "Animals might be just some kind of reservoir," she says, underscoring Weese¡¯s point. In agreement with virtually all other C.difficile researchers and observers, she says it¡¯s just too early to tell what kind of role meat and livestock play in C.diff¡¯s lifecycle and distribution.
    Songer is also cautious about sounding alarms, but he pushes the industry to be proactive. "We can even now probably get ahead of this," he says. "Let¡¯s find the critical control points for this, and let¡¯s take care of them."
    This article can also be found in the digital edition of MEAT&POULTRY, February 2009, starting on Page 64. Click here to search that archive.

    Nanoparticles Might Fight Pathogens
    Source of Article:
    A study published in the Journal of Food Science shows that nanoparticles may be effective at inhibiting some pathogens. For the study, zinc oxide quantam dots (ZnO QDs), nanoparticles of purified powdered ZnO, were evaluated for antimicrobial activity against Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella Enteritidis, and E. coli O157:H7. The ZnO QDs were utilized as a powder, bound in a polystyrene film (ZnO-PS), or suspended in a polyvinylprolidone gel (ZnO-PVP). Bacteria cultures were inoculated into culture media or liquid egg white (LEW) and incubated at 22¡ÆC.
    The inhibitory efficacies of ZnO QDs were concentration-dependent and also related to type of application. ZnO powder and ZnO-PVP showed significant antimicrobial activities against all three pathogens in growth media and LEW. No antimicrobial activities of ZnO-PS film were observed.

    URI chemists set bar high for food safety
    Source of Article:
    Noelle Myers
    Issue date: 2/19/09 Section: News
    02/19/09 - The University of Rhode Island chemistry department has paired up with SIRA technologies to create food safety barcodes that indicate when food has expired when being scanned at grocery stores.
    SIRA technologies came up with the barcode idea and two members of the chemistry department discovered the effect pigments have on food safety labels.
    "SIRA technologies had this idea, but couldn't make it work," William Euler, chairman of the chemistry department, said.
    Euler and Brett Lucht, a URI chemistry professor, wanted to create barcodes containing a pigmentation that reveals whether a food product is too old to eat.
    Currently, perishable foods sold in grocery stores only contain one barcode that reveals the name and price of the product. The new pigmentation labels will contain two barcodes.
    The top label determines the food product while the bottom label suggests unsafe conditions. If the food's temperature decreases and goes bad, a red pigment will appear on the bottom label.
    The red pigment will prevent the scanner from reading the top label. This will cause an error message to appear, indicating the item is no longer purchasable.
    Lucht said they have made a solution using a mix of pigmentation and ink to make these barcodes printable. The pigments involve an activation process, but Lucht said it is too complicated to reveal.
    He said the company's main target is the refrigerator market, particularly dairy and meat aisles.
    The chemistry department is currently working to adjust freezer temperatures that will eventually reveal if meat has been thawed correctly.
    Lucht said the barcodes have been tested in military grocery stores, and there are some barcodes ready to be marketed by SIRA Technologies.
    Euler said the barcodes are currently being developed, but are not being used. They should be on the market in a year, he added.
    URI began developing and experimenting with a similar label about 12 years ago. The initial pigmentation barcodes were called inversable pigmentation labels.
    Rather than revealing if a food was too old to eat, it indicated when a food was warm enough to eat. Items such as frozen dinners and hot coffee were used in experiments.
    URI has been working on the current pigmentation food safety labels for the past 8 years and undergraduate students are helping Lucht and Euler produce them.

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