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PCA Salmonella Outbreak Could Lead to Food Safety Reform

Date Published: Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Source of Article:
This year¡¯s deadly peanut salmonella outbreak has prompted two Illinois law makers to propose changes to U.S. food safety law. According to cbs2chicago, US Reps. Mark Kirk and Peter Roskam, both Republicans, want food manufacturers to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) access to any questionable food testing results.
This year, a salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter and other products made by Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) has sickened 654 people in 44 states, and has killed at least nine. Salmonella was found at two plants in Georgia and Texas, leading to the plants¡¯ closures and recalls of ingredients made at those facilities. PCA once supplied peanut ingredients to 85 other firms, and as a result, the number of recalls of foods made with PCA ingredients has exceeded 2500.
Last month, inspections of the Georgia plant found that PCA shipped peanuts that tested positive for salmonella contamination at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008. At the time of that discovery, PCA officials told the FDA that those peanuts tested negative for the bacteria in a second round of testing. But the FDA eventually discovered that PCA actually shipped some of the peanuts before the second tests were completed. Other lots were shipped without testing and, in some cases, no second test was performed even after the first one came back positive.
At a hearing into the outbreak before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, emails revealed that PCA owner Stewart Parnell repeatedly told employees to ship tainted products. At the same hearing, one official from a company hired by PCA to test products said the firm¡¯s contract was terminated after its test found salmonella at the PCA Georgia facility on several occasions. The FDA never knew about these incidents.
Both Reps. Kirk and Roskam told cbs2chicago that the PCA debacle shows a need to reform US food safety laws. They are promoting a law that would give the FDA access to food test results. ¡°And if there¡¯s adverse information that comes about, that information has to be disclosed,¡± Roskam told cbs2chicago. ¡°In other words, you can¡¯t shop around for a favorable result.¡±
The law would also give the FDA authority to order food recalls. Right now, companies like PCA only have to voluntarily issue recalls. As we reported yesterday, health officials in Texas had to issue their own recall of products from the PCA Texas plant after the company was slow to do so.
According to cbs2chicago, Roskam introduced similar legislation last year, but it never came up for a vote. Both Roskam and Kirk told the TV station that they hope the furor over the PCA salmonella outbreak leads to passage this year.

Tests confirm salmonella at Texas peanut plant
Source of Article:
By JAMIE STENGLE 38 minutes ago
DALLAS (AP) Tests show ground peanuts at a Texas plant were contaminated with the same strain of salmonella that has sickened hundreds of people across the nation, state health officials said Wednesday.
The peanut meal was tested at the Plainview plant Feb. 12 after the facility had voluntarily shut down, said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. Previously, private tests conducted by Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America, which operated the plant, had tentatively indicated that there may have been salmonella at the plant. It is not yet known what strain those preliminary private tests showed, he said.
The Texas plant is the second facility operated by the embattled Peanut Corp. to test positive for salmonella. A different strain was found at the company's Blakely, Ga., plant.
The national outbreak has sickened more than 600 people and is suspected of causing at least nine deaths, and led to one of the largest product recalls in U.S. history. Unable to recover from the fallout, the company has filed for bankruptcy.
"The FDA's investigation is ongoing and the agency is looking at both the PCA Blakely plant and the PCA Plainview plant as sources of contamination for the outbreak," said U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek.
Kwisnek said that since the salmonella findings at the Blakely, Ga., plant, the FDA had expanded the scope of inspections to include other plants, including the one in Plainview.
Texas health officials ordered a recall on all peanut products from the Plainview plant on Feb. 12 the same day they took the peanut meal sample that tested positive ? after finding dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area.
It isn't clear if the batch of products tested sickened anyone, but on Tuesday, federal officials said other test results confirmed peanut butter made from peanuts processed at the Texas plant also contained the same strain.
Health officials in Colorado had traced salmonella cases there to peanut butter sold by the Vitamin Cottage grocery chain. The natural foods chain has said that the peanuts used in the Vitamin Cottage peanut butter came from PCA's plant in Plainview.
Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into allegations Peanut Corp. knowingly shipped tainted food. Peanut Corp. also faces a growing number of federal lawsuits seeking millions of dollars of damages from victims of the outbreak.
A message left Wednesday afternoon with Andy Goldstein, the Peanut Corp.'s bankruptcy lawyer, was not immediately returned.
The FDA said that so far, more than 2,670 products have been recalled.

Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella Typhimurium Outbreak Update
Source of Article:
So far the CDC reports that 654 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium have been reported from 44 states. The outbreak began September 1, 2008 and has continued through at least February 3, 2009. The ill are less than one to over 98. 23% reported being hospitalized. Infection may have contributed to nine deaths: Idaho (1), Minnesota (3), North Carolina (1), Ohio (2), and Virginia (2).
The recall began in January with a few hundred products and as of Sunday now stands at 2,591 products from more than 200 companies. Products from both the Georgia and Texas Peanut Corporation of America plants are part of the recall. The recalls have extended (we could call them exports) beyond American borders to Aruba, Australia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Haiti, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, St. Maarten, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United Kingdom. The recalls also have reached into some surprising products, such as bird food. Here is a complete Peanut Butter and other Peanut Containing Products Recall List.

Salmonella Count Now at 666
Date Published: Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
Source of Article:
The peanut salmonella outbreak linked to ingredients made by a Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) manufacturing facility in Blakely, Georgia plant has now sickened more than 600 people. Meanwhile, health officials have confirmed that salmonella found at a second PCA plant in Texas was also tied to the nationwide salmonella outbreak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), tainted PCA products have sickened 666 people across the country. Cases of salmonella poisoning - including 9 deaths - related to the outbreak strain have been reported in 44 states and Canada. The CDC also said that 19 clusters of infections in five states have been reported in schools, long-term care facilities and hospitals. King Nut brand peanut butter - which was made by PCA - was present in all facilities.
King Nut brand peanut butter was among the first products recalled last month because of salmonella contamination. But because PCA makes peanut paste, peanut butter and other ingredients for 85 other firms, hundreds of other recalls soon followed. Those recalls now exceed 2000.
At first, the salmonella outbreak was traced to PCA¡¯s plant in Blakely, Georgia, resulting in its closure. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) inspections last month found that the company knowingly shipped products from that plant that had tested positive for salmonella. Emails revealed at a Congressional hearing showed that PCA owner Stewart Parnell had repeatedly urged his employees to do so.
Earlier this month, Texas health officials closed a PCA plant in Plainview after finding horrible conditions there, including dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area. Apparently, the plant¡¯s air handling system was pulling debris from the infested crawl space into production areas.
As we reported at the time, this facility was not licensed with health officials. Despite having been in operation since 2005, it also had not been inspected until the PCA plant in Georgia had been implicated in the salmonella outbreak.
The Texas inspection also revealed salmonella contamination there, and the bacteria found at Plainview was eventually tied to six cases of salmonella poisoning in Colorado. Now, the CDC has confirmed that the Texas salmonella strain is the same one implicated in the nationwide outbreak.
Texas health officials ordered everything from the PCA Plainview plant recalled last week. However, the health department was forced to issue the recall action itself after PCA was slow to do so.
PCA is now the focus of a criminal probe being conducted by the US Justice Department. Earlier this month, the company filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy. A statement from PCA¡¯s attorney blamed the fallout from the salmonella scandal for the filing.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 at 6:36 am and is filed under Legal News, Food Poisoning, Salmonella.

Salmonella outbreak may linger for 2 years
Source of Article:
By Craig Schneider
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The national salmonella outbreak linked to more than 2,600 peanut products could last as long as two years, as contaminated foods sit like ticking time bombs on store shelves and in kitchen cabinets, federal health officials said Wednesday.
The process of identifying those products and ensuring their removal has been complicated and confusing, said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of food safety at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
¡°We¡¯re really concerned. This is not over yet,¡± Sundlof said. He said the outbreak could last as long as products are around, possibly as long as two years.
That¡¯s because peanut products, seemingly harmless as they linger in homes and the marketplace, can have a relatively long shelf life, officials said. Vegetables and meat, which spoil relatively quickly, must be thrown away.
The recalled products that officials said were produced by Peanut Corp. of America ?- peanut butter, peanut paste, granulated peanuts and others ?- became ingredients in thousands of other foods distributed across the U.S. and about 20 other countries.
Despite one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, including 2,670 foods as of Tuesday, up to two dozen salmonella cases continue to be reported each week. That represents a decline from the peak in December when as many as 60 new cases were reported in a week.
The national outbreak has sickened 666 people in 45 states and is suspected of causing at least nine deaths.
Meanwhile, the recall that began in mid-January continues to expand with products added to the off-limits list each day.
A previous salmonella outbreak linked to the ConAgra plant in Sylvester that produces Peter Pan peanut butter lasted less than a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That outbreak occurred in 2006 and 2007.
¡°If somebody has something hidden in the back of the pantry, and pulls it out a year from now and eats it, there could potentially be a new illness,¡± said Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, a CDC epidemiologist.
The FDA had previously identified Peanut Corp.¡¯s plant in South Georgia as the sole source of the outbreak. But state and federal officials are now also focusing on the company¡¯s plant in Texas. Six cases of illness in Colorado have been linked to the Texas plant.
Texas health officials said Wednesday that a sample of peanut meal from the Texas plant tested positive for salmonella and also matched the genetic fingerprint of the salmonella implicated in the national outbreak.
Peanut products were regularly shipped between Peanut Corp.¡¯s Blakely, Ga., and Plainview, Texas, processing plants, raising the prospect of a contamination link between the two plants, the FDA said Wednesday.
The Blakely plant¡¯s shipments included honey-roasted peanuts, hot and spicy peanuts and other seasoned products, said Stephanie Kwisnek, a spokeswoman for the FDA. The Plainview plant shipped peanut meal to Blakely, she said.
Sundlof, of the FDA, said the agency suspects that the salmonella contamination originated from the Blakely plant and was transferred to the Plainview plant. Many more contaminated products have been traced to the Georgia facility, he said.
Wherever the contamination began, the plants should have had the proper sanitation and cooking process to eliminate the problem, he said.
Peanut Corp. has three plants, the ones in Georgia and Texas, plus one in Virginia. All have been shut down, and the company has filed for bankruptcy liquidation.
> ON THE WEB: For a list of recalled products, visit, or call 1-800-232-4636.

Bizarre fish poisoning sparks alarm
Source of Article:
Little-known ciguatera infection switches victims' sensations of hot and cold
By JoNel Aleccia, Health writer,
updated 5:30 a.m. PT, Thurs., Feb. 26, 2009
The fish was delicious, no doubt about it.
Perfectly seasoned and cooked just right, the broiled grouper on the Texas menu last summer tempted Donna Schroeder to eat every bite.
The only problem? It was poisoned, tainted with a hard-to-detect toxin that produces symptoms so bizarre, they put peanut-linked salmonella infections to shame.
¡°It¡¯s horrible, I¡¯m telling you,¡± said Schroeder, 65, a retired Beaumont, Texas, realtor, who is only now recovering from the worst symptoms of ciguatera fish poisoning, an exotic foodborne illness that health officials say may be dramatically under-recognized in the United States.
The malady afflicts at least 50,000 people a year worldwide ? and the real number may be 100 times that many. While ciguatera fish poisoning is largely unknown in most of the U.S., several recent cases have attracted growing concern, officials say. They hope a greater awareness will help alert consumers and doctors and improve treatment of the incurable illness caused by coral algae toxins that accumulate in large tropical reef fish.
Within hours of the July dinner, Schroeder was stricken not only with typical nasty food poisoning symptoms ? diarrhea, vomiting and fatigue but also with a dangerously slow heart rate and neurological problems that caused her hands and feet to tingle painfully and, oddest of all, reversed her sense of hot and cold. Some patients also say they feel like their teeth are falling out ? and the symptoms can linger for years.
¡°Whatever I touched, if it was hot, it would feel cold. If it was cold, it felt hot,¡± Schroeder recalled. ¡°I couldn¡¯t walk on the tile floor. It felt like it was burning me.¡±
That should have been a clue to emergency room crews and doctors, but it wasn¡¯t, said Schroeder, who was sent home with a general diagnosis of food poisoning, but nothing to explain the odd reactions or why they lingered so long.
¡±Doctors don¡¯t even know what it is,¡± she said. ¡°How sad is that?¡±
Ciguatera fish poisoning often is missed, even though it is the most common seafood-toxin illness reported in the world, said Richard Weisman, a toxicologist and director of the Florida Poison Information Center.
¡°If you go to the Caribbean Islands, you can¡¯t find anybody who hasn¡¯t had it,¡± he said.
Residents there and in other tropical places ? Hawaii, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico ? know that large, predatory fish caught by sport fishermen on coral reefs are common sources of ciguatera fish poisoning.
The actual toxin is produced by microscopic sea plants, which are eaten by smaller fish that are, in turn, eaten by larger fish such as barracuda, grouper, sea bass and snapper. The toxins become increasingly concentrated as they move up the food chain.

Recent outbreaks
In the continental U.S., reported cases have been rare, typically confined to tourists who become ill after returning home from tropical vacations or to fishermen sickened by their own deep-sea catches.
Recently, however, worries about the illness increased after it cropped up in unexpected places. In 2007, 10 people in St. Louis who ate imported fish at two restaurants were sickened with ciguatera.
Last year, several unspecified outbreaks of ciguatera linked to grouper and amberjack compelled the federal Food and Drug Administration to expand guidelines warning about the risk of ciguatera in fish caught in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
And just last month, food safety inspectors in Canada issued a health hazard alert for ciguatera-tainted frozen Leatherjacket fish after two people became ill in that country.

Symptoms mistaken for multiple sclerosis
Part of the problem is that ciguatera fish poisoning is hard to detect for seafood suppliers and consumers alike, said Melissa Friedman, a neuropsychologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami who studied victims of the illness.
¡°You can¡¯t tell from the way it looks. You can¡¯t tell from the way it tastes. There¡¯s nothing you can do in terms of storage. There¡¯s nothing you can do in terms of cooking,¡± she said. Instead, people simply eat the toxic fish and become ill. Baffled doctors often confuse ciguatera symptoms with those of multiple sclerosis, or else they come away empty-handed, Weisman said.
¡°There are people having CT scans, MRIs, all these tests.¡± he said. ¡°They do million-dollar workups, but no test will ever come back positive.¡±

Three-day window for best treatment
That can delay one of the only treatments for the illness: an intravenous dose of a drug called mannitol, which can reduce or prevent the neurological symptoms. The drug is most effective, however, within the first 72 hours of illness, Weisman said.
The worst of the illness usually lasts for a week or two, and it's rarely fatal. But in some victims, the effects linger much longer, or never really go away. Many patients find that certain foods such as other fish, nuts or alcohol trigger relapses, and that overexertion can send the symptoms flooding back.
One of the most pressing problems with ciguatera is that, although the illness has been chronicled since Christopher Columbus' crew ventured to the New World, there is no baseline data about incidence ? or prevalence.
Between 1998 and 2002, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logged only 16 foodborne outbreaks of ciguatera affecting 73 people in the U.S., a 2006 summary showed.
But only 2 percent to 10 percent of ciguatera fish poisoning cases are reported to authorities and many health officials don¡¯t realize it¡¯s a reportable condition, said Dr. Lora Fleming, a ciguatera expert from the University of Miami. Using data from Dade County, Fla., where about 50 to 60 cases are reported a year, experts estimate that for every single case of ciguatera detected, between 10 and 100 cases go unreported.

Just last month, the CDC launched the Harmful Algal Bloom-related Illness Surveillance System, a monitoring system that will track ciguatera in people and animals, among other things. First results aren¡¯t expected for a year, however, said Lorraine Backer, a scientist with the National Center for Environmental Health.
One outcome of the project may be to further discussions of whether global climate change is influencing ciguatera outbreaks, Backer said. Some scientists believe that ciguatera is moving north as ocean waters warm, and that increased numbers of hurricanes and tropical storms may cause disturbances in coral reefs that make them more hospitable to the toxic algae.

'More prevalent than we think'
In the meantime, it¡¯s hard to convince victims like Donna Schroeder that ciguatera is not a serious, growing and misunderstood problem. She only discovered she had ciguatera poisoning by asking her daughter to research fish-borne food illnesses on the Internet and then matching her bizarre symptoms to those listed online.¡°I feel it¡¯s more prevalent than we think,¡± Schroeder said. ¡°There¡¯s a lot more of it and people are getting sicker.¡±

Schroeder has filed a lawsuit against the place where she ate the meal, the Stingaree Restaurant in Crystal Beach, Texas, and against Katie¡¯s Seafood Market of Galveston, Texas, which supplied the seafood.The legal action was inspired mostly by a desire to raise awareness about the illness, Schroeder said. ¡°I really wanted to get the word out about this fish,¡± she said. But other victims have been less altruistic. Todd Stewart, a lawyer in Jupiter, Fla., has handled a dozen ciguatera cases in the decade, including the largest-ever settlement for the illness in the state¡¯s history. It was in the six figures, he said, declining to be more specific. Stewart argues that seafood suppliers and restaurants have an obligation to research so-called ¡°ciguatera hot spots,¡± places in the world where the ciguatoxin is common, and to avoid buying fish from there. ¡°They ought to be asking: Did you take this from a ciguatera area?¡± he said. ¡°You could potentially be exposing customers to a poisonous fish.¡±
Brad Vratis, general manager of the Stingaree Restaurant, said he couldn¡¯t even pronounce ¡°ciguatera¡± before he learned of Schroeder¡¯s illness. ¡°We haven¡¯t served a piece of grouper in this restaurant since then,¡± Vratis said.
It can be tough for consumers to protect themselves against a poison that can¡¯t be detected and can¡¯t be killed by freezing or cooking. At least one Hawaiian company, Oceanit Laboratories Inc., markets a $30 ciguatera fish test kit that claims to successfully identify the toxin within an hour, said Dr. Joanne Ebesu, a senior scientist with the company.
But the paper co-authored by Friedman and Fleming concludes that no commercially-available fish testing product has been proven to be accurate by independent tests.
Mostly, Fleming said, consumers are on their own.
Fish-lovers hoping to avoid ciguatera poisoning can take a couple of steps. First, ask where the fish is from. If a restaurant or supplier can¡¯t say, be wary.
Second, eat small portions of different fish instead of larger servings of a single fish. That will perhaps lessen the dose of any toxin present.
Finally, consider avoiding certain fish altogether.
¡°Personally, I don¡¯t eat large reef fish,¡± said Fleming. ¡°And I don¡¯t eat fillets of fish because I don¡¯t know what the original fish was.¡±

Link found between Alzheimer's, mad cow protein
Source of Article:
Bernadette Tansey, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009
(02-25) 19:56 PST -- The latest in a recent flurry of clues on the workings of Alzheimer's disease comes from Yale University researchers who found a link between the disorder and the prion protein, which can cause mad cow disease and other maladies.
The Yale team found that the prion protein, whose normal function is to maintain brain health, may contribute to nerve damage if it becomes entangled with a protein fragment that scientists consider a chief suspect as a cause for Alzheimer's disease.
That suspect fragment, the amyloid beta peptide, builds up in the gluey plaques in the brain that are a characteristic sign of Alzheimer's, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. The amyloid peptide seems to stick to the prion protein, block its benign effects and interfere with learning and memory, the Yale group said in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
'Very tantalizing'
"It's very tantalizing," said Dr. Lennart Mucke, director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, who wrote a commentary on the Yale theory in the same issue. Mucke is part of a robust community of Bay Area scientists who are trying to ferret out the root causes of Alzheimer's disease and develop new medicines.
The prion work adds to a spate of new leads produced at the Gladstone Institute at UCSF's Mission Bay campus, the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, South San Francisco biotechnology leader Genentech Inc. and other research teams.
The study by Dr. Stephen Strittmatter and his Yale colleagues raises the possibility of a link between Alzheimer's and the family of prion diseases that includes mad cow disease and a related human neurodegenerative illness called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. But the evidence so far shows no sign that Alzheimer's disease involves a prion protein with the deformed structure seen in mad cow and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Such misfolded prions can arise from genetic mutations or can be carried into the body by infectious particles from tainted meat.
Mucke said that the prion protein, if it is involved in Alzheimer's, is probably in its normal form. There's no evidence that the disease somehow releases infectious prions. "I don't believe it's communicable," he said.

Other new theories
The prion study does not contradict other new theories about Alzheimer's, which all suggest fresh potential mechanisms by which the amyloid peptide or its parent, a protein called APP, may wreak destruction on the brain, said Dr. Dale Bredesen of the Buck Institute. Each theory opens potential new avenues to experimental therapies, he said. So far, much of the drug discovery in Alzheimer's has been focused on simply clearing the amyloid peptide and its plaques from the brain, on the theory that they cause broad physical or chemical damage, Bredesen said. But new work shows that APP and the amyloid peptide are involved in sensitive signaling networks that can go awry and destroy healthy nerves.
"I think we're seeing a fundamental switch in the view of the disease," he said. Recent failures of experimental drugs aimed at the amyloid peptide alone suggest that additional tactics are needed, he said. "Amyloid beta was the tip of the iceberg, but there's more."
Bredesen has his own overarching theory. He sees APP as a molecular switch on the nerves that flips between health and destruction. The protein can split up into three parts that each nourish the nerve. Or it can fracture differently into four parts that each attack the nerve - and one of those destructive four is the amyloid peptide, he said.

Search for a therapy
In the search for a possible therapy for Alzheimer's, Bredesen is focusing on a molecule that seems to block the destruction switch. The nerve growth factor netrin-1 appears to curb the release of the amyloid peptide from APP, he said. Work is under way on methods to deliver netrin-1 to people with early signs of Alzheimer's, but it could take five years to produce an approved drug, he said.
Mucke said the Gladstone Institute is working on an array of strategies, which include preventing the amyloid peptide from finding molecules that pass along its destructive signals.
Scientists are starting to see Alzheimer's as a complex disease like cancer or hypertension, which can arise from various root causes. That means patients may need a cocktail of several drugs, and maybe a custom-made mix for each individual.
"I'm absolutely convinced that different people get Alzheimer's for different reasons, and drug development will have to take that into account," Mucke said.

GMA extols irradiation¡¯s virtues for food safety
Source of Article:
By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 25-Feb-2009
The Grocery Manufacturers Association has been at pains to reassure consumers that it does not consider irradiation a replacement for current food safety procedures, but it could be incorporated into the food safety system to minimize risk of food-borne illness.
The GMA has released a science policy paper, entitled Food Irradiation: A Guide for Consumers, Policymakers and the Media, which has been released at a time of heightened food industry and consumer concern regarding the safety of the US food supply. It hopes this will convince the public of the safety of irradiated food.
The report includes a review of available irradiation techniques, how they work to kill pathogens including salmonella, E. coli and listeria, and current US government standards on what it considers to be safe irradiation dosage levels for food.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published a final rule allowing the use of irradiation for iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach; the technology can already be used with other foods such as spices, meat, poultry and shellfish.
Chief science officer for GMA Robert Brackett said: ¡°Food irradiation is just one more tool that industry will have at its disposal to provide consumers with safe food products; however, the adoption of this technology cannot in any way serve as a substitute for industry adherence to good manufacturer, agricultural and sanitary practices that are so essential to maintaining a safe food supply.¡±
The paper also argues that the FDA, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Medical Association have all agreed on the safety of food irradiation at approved doses, following 50 years of research.

Irradiation resistance
However, the feasibility of irradiation becoming widespread for killing pathogens has long been called into question, and the GMA first petitioned the FDA nine years ago to extend the range of products that can be irradiated.
The paper said: ¡°Consumer education is needed to enhance the acceptance of irradiated foods by the public.¡±
The Center for Food Safety has expressed concern that if the use of irradiation expands, it could take the place of other food safety measures.
¡°Irradiation is an after the fact ¡®solution¡¯ that does nothing to address the unsanitary conditions of factory farms, and actually creates a disincentive for producers and handlers to take preventative steps in production in handling,¡± it said.

Additional problems
However, reservations about its use go beyond safety concerns, and the paper points out that a product made with irradiated ingredients is not eligible for a natural claim, as irradiation is considered to be ¡°more than minimal processing¡±. Nor can it be certified as organic.
In addition, according to a report from Global Industry Analysts, the cost of irradiation can be off-putting to manufacturers. Despite this, its report, released last October, forecast the world food irradiation market to be worth $2.3bn by 2012.
Its use is currently approved in 37 countries, but the US is the world¡¯s largest user of the technology, accounting for an estimated 32 percent of global demand in 2008.

Further calls for BPA free infant food packaging
Source of Article:
By Jane Byrne, 25-Feb-2009
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should ban Bisphenol A (BPA) in children¡¯s products and food containers, and has enough scientific data to support such a move, claims the Consumers Union (CU).
The demand from the not for profit organisation follows the update the FDA gave to its Science Board yesterday regarding its ongoing safety review of the packaging chemical.

According to the CU, the FDA tacitly acknowledged the serious health concerns regarding BPA at Tuesday¡¯s public hearing.
BPA is used in certain packaging materials such as polycarbonates for baby food bottles. It is also used in epoxy resins for internal protective linings for canned food and metal lids.
The FDA said it is planning to analyze and conduct a series of studies to determine how BPA affects infants.
¡°The Consumers Union (CU) is glad that FDA will be conducting more studies, however it is clear the agency is still trying to determine if exposure limits are appropriate,¡± said Dr Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist and policy analyst at the CU.
He maintains that the FDA should act immediately to protect high risk populations, such as children and babies, while it gathers more data on BPA.

BPA level in blood
In addition, the CU has called on the FDA to make public all testing information on BPA and the organisation also encouraged the agency to do more bio-monitoring of blood levels of the packaging chemical in people.
The FDA's assessment of BPA has been criticised by scientists and US lawmakers.
Last year, the agency claimed the packaging chemical was safe at current levels in consumer products but it used industry-funded reports to support this assessment.
The scientific community argued that the FDA, in its review of the chemical, should have also included independent studies that raise uncertainties in regard to the potential effects of low dose exposure to BPA in humans, in particular infants.

Baby bottle ban
Canada banned the use of BPA in the manufacture of baby bottles in 2008, a move which FDA officials have described as overly cautious.
The FDA has repeatedly said that it cannot just follow Canada in this regard but instead must reach its own conclusions regarding the packaging chemical's safety.
Meanwhile bills are currently under consideration in the US states of Washington, Minnesota and Connecticut that aim to ban the use of BPA in products aimed at children under the age of three.
Last week, retailers, can manufacturers, seafood processors and other business groups testified against the proposed Washington state ban, saying that the use of BPA in food and drink containers is safe.

EU Agrees Further Concession on Allergen Labelling
Source of Article:
The European Commission has agreed to extend the deadline for mandatory labelling of allergens in wines until the end of 2010 following strong representations by the WSTA and other wine bodies, supported by the UK Government.
The extension from May 31 this year will save wine businesses thousands of pounds associated with the costs of re-labelling product ranges.
Late last year regulators agreed to adopt a flexible approach to the existing deadline to give some latitude to Southern Hemisphere wine producers facing the cost of re-labelling during the middle of the bottling process.
Now all wine producers will have an exemption from the requirement to indicate levels of egg and milk content in their products until December 31 2010.
Jeremy Beadles, Chief Executive of the WSTA, said: "The extension granted by the EU is a common sense approach and is to be welcomed. It will will help businesses in what remains a tough economic climate but also ensure labelling requirements are ultimately met in a fair way. "
Notes to Editors:
1. Established in 1824, the WSTA represents the whole of the wine and spirit supply chain including producers, importers, wholesalers, bottlers, warehouse keepers, logistics specialists, brand owners, licensed retailers and consultants.
With over 330 members the WSTA works to promote the responsible production, marketing and sale of alcohol and to share best practice with the entire trade.

New x-ray machines may kill food bacteria, prevent outbreaks
Source of Article:
Zapping nuts, spinach, lettuce and other foods with x-rays could kill more pathogens that cause nationwide disease outbreaks. Drawbacks remain, however.
By Jessica Knoblauch
Environmental Health News
February 24, 2009
Researchers are experimenting with x-ray technology to zap dangerous bacteria that hide in foods such as leafy greens, tomatoes, ground beef and, most recently, peanuts.
A new x-ray machine being tested at Michigan State University can reduce pathogens 99.999%, a higher percentage than traditional methods such as chlorine washes, food experts say. The technique, which uses a low-dose form of irradiation, destroys the bacteria on delicate foods without turning them to mush.
As such methods improve, some food safety experts say irradiation is a necessary step that could prevent many illnesses and deaths tied to E. coli and salmonella. In August, the Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation for iceberg lettuce and spinach, which have been responsible for some of the worst outbreaks in recent years. That approval is expected to open doors to more irradiated foods.
¡°The question is, do we want to keep on working with technologies that are 19th and 20th century technologies or do we make a decision as a country to move into the 21st century?¡± asks Suresh Pillai, director of the National Center for Electron Beam Research at Texas A&M University.
About 76 million Americans are stricken with food-borne illness each year. In the increasingly global food economy, a single head of contaminated lettuce can spread across state lines and contaminate many people.
Peanut products contaminated with salmonella have sickened more than 650 people in 44 states and killed at least nine since December. And in 2006, spinach tainted with E. coli from one field in California caused one of the worst nationwide food-poisoning outbreaks in recent years, killing three people and sickening at least 205. A few months after that, in two separate outbreaks, at least 150 people became ill from eating iceberg lettuce at Taco Bell and Taco John's restaurants. As each recall is issued, consumer confidence in food safety diminishes.
Irradiation, also known as cold pasteurization, kills harmful bacteria by briefly exposing food to ionizing radiation, or short energy wavelengths. Irradiation has already been approved for use on many foods, including spices, poultry, wheat flour and ground beef. FDA officials, who have conducted irradiation safety evaluations for more than 40 years, say they have "determined the process to be safe for use on a variety of foods."
But there are many barriers to irradiating foods on a larger scale, particularly fresh produce. Some experts say it¡¯s not ready for mass production due to a lack of major facilities. Also, irradiation is not permitted on certified organic products. And much of the public is still uneasy about buying foods that carry an international symbol for irradiation.

¡°The recent FDA approval for irradiating spinach and iceberg lettuce is misleading to the public because it¡¯s not ready for industrial use by any means,¡± says Will Daniels, who oversees food safety at organic leafy greens producer Earthbound Farm. ¡°There are some food items currently irradiated, but by no means are these irradiation facilities geared up to irradiate everybody¡¯s fresh produce.¡±
Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7-- involved in many of the recent outbreaks --are two of the pathogens targeted by the new technology at MSU.
The x-ray machine uses a higher dose of irradiation than medical x-ray imaging, yet less than competing irradiation methods such as gamma ray and electron beam. So far, the researchers have proved that x-rays can kill bacterial pathogens on ground beef, leafy greens and nuts.
¡°Our work to date has shown that x-ray technology is very effective in killing the bacterial pathogens without causing undesirable changes in product quality,¡± says Bradley Marks, a professor in the MSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.
The MSU researchers are concentrating on x-ray irradiation because most research to date has been almost exclusively conducted with gamma ray or e-beam. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only four commercial x-ray irradiation units have been built in the world since 1996.
¡°Our overall goal is not to promote a particular technology, but to give food processors the best information available so that they can decide which irradiation technology is best for their process,¡± Marks says.
Currently, the MSU researchers are testing their technology¡¯s ability to kill pathogens in nuts such as walnuts or almonds, with a possibility for future work on peanuts.
Nuts, because of their high fat and oil content, tend to become rancid after irradiation. ¡°High fat/oil products naturally become rancid over time. Irradiation could speed up that process,¡± Marks says, adding, ¡°I¡¯m not saying that it will happen, but we just need to test for that.¡±
Patrick Archer, President of the American Peanut Council, says irradiation has been tested on peanuts in the past, but was ¡°found unacceptable because it degraded the taste of the nut.¡±
However, MSU¡¯s preliminary tests show no major quality problems such as rancidity, possibly due to the different nature of x-ray irradiation, which is lower energy than other methods.
To determine the proper dosage, the researchers first inject food with bacteria. The contaminated food is then put in a prototype machine that¡¯s about the size of three home refrigerators hooked together. After the food is irradiated, the researchers count any surviving bacteria and look for physical changes in the food product.
¡°Our preliminary results have shown that x-ray technology is at least as effective at killing bacteria as e-beam or gamma ray, and in some cases it might be more effective,¡± Marks says.
A major advantage is that its low energy requires less protective shielding which means the equipment is more compact and can be installed right in the processing plants. Other irradiation methods have to be located in specialty facilities.
One downside, however, is that the x-ray can only process small quantities of food at a time, such as five-pound bags of lettuce. ¡°You have to treat the product in single servings,¡± Marks says. Other technologies can irradiate food by the pallet.
Rayfresh Foods Inc., a technology start-up company that provided MSU with an x-ray prototype machine, is looking to ramp it up to a commercial scale. Recently, the company landed its first contract to build an x-ray machine to treat ground beef for Omaha Steaks.
¡°We feel very strongly that if we¡¯re going to sell ground beef, it¡¯s going to be irradiated because that¡¯s the highest level of food safety that we can provide to our customers,¡± says Beth Weiss, public relations director at Omaha Steaks.
The steak company has been irradiating its ground beef since 2000, but currently the meat has to be sent on a five-day road trip to Florida to be irradiated at a separate facility. Using Rayfresh¡¯s machine, on the other hand, will allow the process to be in-house.
Chris Schoch, the vice president of sales at Rayfresh, said the third-party testing MSU performs helps establish credibility for the technology. Schoch said irradiation is ideal for high-risk products such as ready-to-eat foods like bagged lettuce and raw nuts because there is currently no other kill step that¡¯s as effective at wiping out bacteria.
Rayfresh has proven the x-ray process can cut pathogens like E. coli and salmonella from 100,000 microbes per product sample to one. ¡°We have had success with complete sterilization,¡± says Schoch.

But irradiation is no silver bullet.
Instead, many said it should serve merely as an additional step to complement other food safety practices. ¡°If you irradiate a product but then expose that product to other contamination risks, then irradiating the product was a waste of your time,¡± Marks says.
For example, irradiation probably would not have been able to prevent the recent salmonella outbreak in peanuts, where poor sanitary conditions and employee negligence were the culprits.
The public is still unsure about irradiated foods, despite the fact that some food products like spices have been irradiated since the 1900s. No radioactive substances remain in irradiated foods. Irradiation is a type of energy that disappears when the energy source is removed.
However, the public¡¯s uneasiness could change as more foodborne illness outbreaks occur.
¡°After a foodborne illness outbreak, if people hear irradiation will increase safety, the majority are interested in trying irradiated food,¡± says Dr. Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California, Davis.
Bruhn said health authorities need to take a more active role in advising the public that they can choose irradiated ground beef, poultry, spinach and lettuce and that supermarkets should offer them at reasonable prices.
The Organic Consumers Association disagrees, claiming that irradiated foods only appear fresh and contain fewer vitamins than non-treated foods.
Many food processors believe that irradiation is not the only answer to eliminating pathogens.
Organic producers such as Earthbound Farm are not allowed to use irradiation under the National Organics Program standards.
Earthbound Farm, which packaged the spinach responsible for the 2006 E. coli outbreak, has since put in place the industry¡¯s most aggressive testing and safety program. Included is a process of triple-washing foods with a chlorine rinse and pathogen-testing at every step of production. In 2008, 0.14% of the leafy greens that arrived at Earthbound Farm¡¯s plant tested positive for salmonella or E. coli and was destroyed.
Many leafy greens producers have signed onto a California agreement that verifies that growers follow food safety practices. So far nearly 120 members have signed on, representing over 99 percent of the volume of California leafy greens. Recently, the USDA expressed interest in nationalizing the program.
The peanut outbreak has also renewed interested in revamping what food safety experts believe to be an outdated food safety system. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he supports merging the nation's food-safety system, which is currently divided into the US Department of Agriculture and the FDA, into one agency.
Meanwhile, some food safety experts maintain that any tool demonstrated to be safe and effective should be available to protect the public from harmful bacteria. Said Bruhn, ¡°The goal is to protect the public while permitting the consumption of healthful tasty foods.¡±

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