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Public Health Officials in OR, WA, CA and NV track multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Rissen to ground pepper imported, packaged and distributed by Union International Food Co. of Union City, CA

Source of Article:
The contaminated pepper was packaged under the ¡°Lian How¡± and ¡°Uncle Chen¡± labels and sold to restaurant suppliers and markets ? much of it going to Chinese and Vietnamese establishments.

Since December, 42 rare Salmonella Rissen infections have been reported in Oregon, California, Washington and Nevada. Public health officials in those states pooled their resources to identify the source. People were hospitalized in eight of the 42 cases; no deaths have been reported. Oregon had four of the cases, all in metropolitan Portland, a number equal to the average annual number usually reported for the nation.

Salmonella infections cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping and sometimes vomiting. Symptoms typically last less than a week, although infants, the elderly and those with immunodeficiencies are at increased risk for severe illness. Antibiotic treatment is of no value for most patients.

Details about the Lian How and Uncle Chen products are on the company¡¯s Web site:

? The Lian How products were packaged in containers of various sizes: 10- and 15-pound cardboard boxes with plastic liners that are tied closed; 4- and 5- pound clear semi-hard plastic wide-mouth jars; 5-pound plastic bags and 2.2- pound foil bags.
? Following the Lian How brand name, the words ¡°Packaged by Union
International Foods¡± or only ¡°Union International Foods¡± appear.
? The following products are included in the company¡¯s recall: White pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, chopped onion, onion powder, garlic (chopped, minced, powder and granulated); whole white pepper, whole black pepper, curry powder, mustard powder and wasabi powder.
? Uncle Chen brand white and black pepper is sold in 5-ounce plastic jars.

Salmonella Outbreak Traced to White Pepper Spice

Source of Article:

Posted: March 31, 2009 10:32 AM PDT
From the Washoe County District Health Department:

Washoe County and Carson City public health officials announced today that local consumers should avoid eating ground white pepper which has been processed, packaged and/or distributed by Union International Food Company in Union City, California until further notice. Local restaurant and food store managers, restaurant suppliers and spice wholesalers should check their inventories and remove this product immediately.

Ground white pepper products from the UIFC have been linked to a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella. The discovery of Salmonella in food samples collected from restaurants and food distributors prompted these recommendations.

Thus far, two people in Washoe County and two in Carson City are among the 42 who have been confirmed ill as a result of consuming the contaminated product. Other affected states and corresponding number of cases to date include California (33), Oregon (4) and Washington state (1). The last known date of onset of illness for this outbreak is March 13, 2009. No deaths have been reported, though eight people were hospitalized.

While only ground white pepper has been connected to illness in Northern Nevada, the UIFC immediately announced a voluntary recall of all of the following spices:

Cayenne pepper
Curry powder
Garlic - Chopped, granulated, minced and powder
Ginger powder
Mustard powder
Onion - chopped and powder
Pepper, black - ground and whole
Pepper, white - ground and whole
Wasabi powder
These products do not bear lot codes and were sold primarily to distributors and restaurants. They are packaged under the Lian How brand name (red label) for commercial use in the following sizes and types of containers:

10 and 15 pound cardboard boxes with plastic liners that are tie-closed
4 and 5 pound clear semi-hard plastic wide-mouth jars
5 pound plastic bags
2.2 pound foil bags
Following the Lian How brand name, the wording "Packed by Union International Foods" or "Union International Foods" appears.

The items intended for individual consumer purchase and recalled from retail stores could instead display the "Uncle Chen" brand name.

"Investigators in all four jurisdictions are to be commended for their teamwork in finding the source of this outbreak so quickly and implementing steps to prevent consumers from being affected, especially given that this is a very rare type of Salmonella," stated Dr. Randall Todd, Director of Epidemiology for the Washoe County Health District.

Todd said that federal and California authorities are continuing the investigation in an effort to better understand the contamination and distribution processes involved with this outbreak.

Salmonella infections cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in infants, frail or elderly individuals, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals infected with Salmonella often experience diarrhea (occasionally bloody), fever, abdominal cramping, nausea and sometimes vomiting. Symptoms typically last less than a week. In rare circumstances, the infection can result in the organism getting into the blood stream and producing more severe illnesses. Anyone with these symptoms should consult with their healthcare provider.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact UIFC at 510.471.6799.

vestigators Find Source of Many Foods Untraceable
Most food manufacturers and distributors cannot identify the suppliers or recipients of their products despite federal rules that require them to do so, federal health investigators have found.

A quarter of the food facilities contacted by investigators as part of the study were not even aware that they were supposed to be able to trace their suppliers, according to a report by Daniel R. Levinson, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The report, expected to be made public Thursday, comes as President Obama and a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers have promised major changes to the nation¡¯s food-safety system.

And it may help explain why many small food makers continue to issue peanut-related recalls more than two months after the Peanut Corporation of America was identified as the source of a salmonella scare that has sickened at least 691 people and has been linked to 9 deaths. The New York Times obtained a copy of the report.

As late as Monday, the Food and Drug Administration formally asked Westco Fruit and Nuts Inc., based in Irvington, N.J., to recall all of its products containing peanuts made by the Peanut Corporation. Jacob Moradi, Westco¡¯s owner, could not be reached for comment, but he told ABC News that the F.D.A.¡¯s recommended recall ? the agency does not have the power to issue food recalls on its own ? could ruin his company.

¡°They are asking me to commit suicide based on presumption,¡± Mr. Moradi said in a broadcast interview. ¡°They have shown no proof.¡±

An F.D.A. official said Mr. Moradi hid from investigators at his plant.

On March 14, Jay Robb Enterprises of Carlsbad, Calif., announced a recall of peanut-butter-flavored JayBars. Alana Weber of Jay Robb said in an interview on Wednesday that although the company knew the peanuts in the bars came from the Peanut Corporation, it believed until recently that its bars were not part of the recall.

The inspector general recommended that the F.D.A. seek greater authority from Congress to require and ensure that food facilities maintain adequate records. In an official response in the report, the agency said that it largely agreed with the recommendations. Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who is holding a hearing on Thursday where the report will be issued, said the recommendations would be included in reforms passed by Congress.

¡°Traceability is a critical tool in our ability to identify the source of a food-borne illness outbreak and locate where contaminated products were sold,¡± Ms. DeLauro said Wednesday.

To test compliance with the rules, federal investigators bought 40 products ? including tomatoes, oatmeal and yogurt ? from retail stores in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington and tried to trace them to farms or to the border. Foreign firms are not required to maintain supplier records.

Investigators successfully traced the source for only 5 of the 40 products, the report stated. Three of the traced products were egg cartons whose supply chain included only a farm and a retailer. For a tomato, a bag of ice, a bottle of fruit juice and a bottle of water, investigators were not able to even guess the product¡¯s supply chain. For 31 other products, investigators were able to identify only the likely suppliers.

The investigators contacted 220 food facilities to ask about their supplier records. But only 118 of these businesses were included in the study because the rest were not required under rules adopted by the F.D.A. in 2005 to maintain supplier and recipient records. Of those 118 firms, 70 failed to provide investigators with required information about suppliers or customers, with 6 of the companies failing to provide any information at all.

One vendor told investigators that it kept no records of tomato purchases. Tomatoes have repeatedly been implicated in nationwide food contamination scares, including one last year. Fifteen facilities told investigators they mixed raw products from more than 10 farms.

¡°According to an estimate from a manager at a grain storage facility, if grain from one farm were contaminated, millions of bags of flour would be at risk and might have to be removed from retail shelves,¡± the report stated. 3-26-09

Investigators say food tracing system full of gaps

Source of Article:


WASHINGTON (AP) ? The government's system for tracing foods is riddled with holes, and that could undercut officials' ability to find the source of a disease outbreak or bioterrorism attack, according to a federal report released Thursday.

Investigators for the Health and Human Services inspector general's office conducted a test of the tracing system. The result: they were only able to follow five out of 40 foods all the way through the supply chain.

The ability to trace food is a critical part of investigations into outbreaks of food-borne illness and would be crucial in a bioterrorism attack. Food companies are required by federal law to keep records that would allow investigators to follow suspect foods one step back and one step forward in the supply chain.

But the inspector general's investigation found that the records many companies keep are not detailed enough. And one-quarter of the company managers were totally unaware of the record keeping requirements.

"The food safety regulatory structure lacks an adequate traceability system," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who requested the investigation. "Traceability is a critical tool in our ability to identify the source of a food-borne illness outbreak."

In the past, the food industry successfully lobbied against efforts to impose electronic record keeping and other requirements that may improve tracing. But the issue is sure to be revisited this year. President Barack Obama has launched a review of the government's fragmented food safety system. Several bills have been introduced on Capitol Hill.

"Trace-back will be a critical part of food safety reform in this Congress," DeLauro said.

In the test, government investigators bought 40 food items, including bottled water, eggs, oatmeal, tomatoes, fruit juice and yogurt. They then attempted to trace the items back from the retailer to the source.

They were only able to fully trace 12.5 percent of the items.

For 31 of the 40, investigators said they were able to identify the facilities that most likely handled the products.

And in the case of four items ? 10 percent of the total ? investigators were unable to identify the facilities that handled them.

Problems with tracing foods drew attention last summer after investigators from the Food and Drug Administration struggled for weeks to identify the cause of a salmonella outbreak initially blamed on tomatoes. No contaminated tomatoes were found, but the outbreak strain eventually was discovered in hot peppers from Mexico.

The inspector general's report said most facilities do not keep records with specific lot numbers that would facilitate the tracing of foods.

"For example, for one product ? a bag of flour ? the storage facility did not know the exact farms that contributed to the product and, therefore, had to give us information about every farm that provided wheat during the previous harvest season," the report said.

The report said 70 out 118 food facilities in the traceback test did not meet the FDA's record keeping requirements for information about suppliers, shippers and customers.

"In some cases, managers had to look through large numbers of records ? some of them paper based ? for contact information," the report said.

The inspector general recommended that the FDA consider seeking stronger legal powers to improve the tracing of food. The FDA said it was reviewing the recommendations.

An examination by The Associated Press last summer found that the food industry pressured the Bush administration to limit the paperwork that companies have to keep to help trace food. It was after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Congress was considering bioterrorism legislation. The bill that ultimately passed included the requirement that companies be able to trace foods one step forward and one step back in the supply chain.

The Bush White House killed a plan to require the industry to maintain electronic records. Companies complained the proposals would cost too much and could disrupt the availability of fresh produce.

Salmonella Evolves into Something More in Space
Source of Article:
Experiments in weightlessness have proven this By Tudor Vieru, Science Editor
25th of March 2009, 07:45 GMT

Research conducted on the International Space Station in 2006 and 2008 has finally revealed for certain something that virology experts have suspected for a long time, and namely that salmonella grows to be more or less dangerous depending on its environment. In the micro-gravity surroundings of the ISS, the bacteria became much more virulent than they regularly were on Earth, a find that, one day, might yield a new treatment for people who would be infected by the pathogen.

According to NASA experts, this knowledge will be used in future researches to analyze how various environments back on Earth influence the way in which salmonella manifests itself in various populations across the world. ¡°This research opens up new areas for investigations that may improve food treatment, develop new therapies and vaccines to combat food poisoning in humans here on Earth, and protect astronauts on orbit from infectious disease,¡± Julie Robinson, who is an ISS program scientist at the American space agency's Johnson Space Center, in Houston, says.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 40,000 citizens contract the dangerous bacteria each year and develop symptoms associated with food poisoning and other similar illnesses. Most infections can be avoided if people wash the fruits and vegetables they buy very well, under a powerful stream of water. Personal hygiene, such as washing one's hands, is also paramount in destroying the dangerous bacteria before they enter the human body.

¡°To our knowledge, no one had previously looked at a mechanical force like fluid shear on the disease-causing properties of a microorganism during the infection process. We can use the innovative research platform of the space station to contribute to new translational advances for the development of new strategies to globally advance human health,¡± ISS experiments principal investigator Cheryl Nickerson, from the Arizona State University in Tempe's Biodesign Institute, adds.

According to the research that was conducted on the ISS, regulating the number of ions in the atmosphere around the bacteria cultures drastically influenced their virulence. If experts can now come up with a way of reproducing ion-controlling chambers back on Earth, then salmonella could easily be eradicated from the face of the planet.

Food Traceback in USA is Worthless

Source of Article:

The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that many food companies are not complying with federal recordkeeping requirements. The requirements, encoded in a 2002 bioterrorism law, are intended to provide the basis for "traceback" upon the discovery of contaminated foods. In other words, the records are designed to enable public health and safety officials to determine the source of a contaminated food product. The WSJ reports that 60% of those facilities surveyed are not keeping the records. It also reported that a "watchdog agency also tried to trace 40 items such as fresh tomatoes, whole milk, oatmeal and yogurt from retail stores to the farm where they were grown, but could do so for only five items."

This blog regularly catalogs the negative end results for consumers when traceback cannot be quickly and successfully completed - outbreaks of foodborne illness spread and linger while thousands are sickened or killed. Ironically though, the failure of the industry to properly track the U.S. food supply also causes great damage to the industry itself.

First of all, the inability to quickly and accurately identify the true source of a foodborne outbreak can implicate corporations, or even an entire sector of the food industry, that ultimately have no connection to the culprit. Last summer's peppers/tomatoes/what-is-it-this-week Salmonella outbreak is a perfect example. Businesses lost large sums of money pulling products off the shelves in large part because grocery stores, distributors, and importers had no idea where the products they sold came from or went to.

Second, even where a business is in the chain of distribution of a defective product, its legal and economic gameplan can be crippled by an inability to identify the source of the implicated food. Being the manufacturer of a food product that ultimately causes consumer illness is a tough spot legally, but it sure helps to have company. If a manufacturer can identify a contaminated ingredient or raw material it may have contractual or tortuous claims, or both, against its supplier. Also, in some states, the law provides some legal relief for an entity that is "only" a seller of a contaminated food product, and not the manufacturer. However, those same states remove those protections where the seller cannot identify the manufacturer and provide an avenue of relief for the injured consumer.

For a manufacturer, distributor or seller, tracking the source of the food products you handle is the easiest way, if not the only way, to avoid being on the hook for someone else's food-safety shortfall. The attorneys at Marler Clark spent a great deal of time speaking with corporate representatives, sharing what we know about curtailing foodborne illness. Inevitably we are asked, "What can we do to avoid being sued by Marler Clark?" Often my first answer is to thoroughly, and accurately track the food items moving through your production lines. The best news is that if corporations do this, they will also be complying with the law, and keeping all of our food safer.


CFIA delays implementation of key food-testing requirement
Source of Article:
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | 9:55 AM ET
CBC News
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has delayed an important element of its new listeria-testing policy in meat processing plants.
In February, the CFIA announced a new policy requiring companies to report the results of internal tests directly to the agency inspectors before CFIA meat inspectors conduct their own tests for Listeria monocytogenes, the deadly strain of bacteria linked to the deaths of 21 people.
But according to an internal memo obtained by the CBC and Toronto Star, the agency has suspended its own tests until April 1.
Companies had concerns about the way the agency's inspectors conducted the tests and the techniques they were using, CFIA spokesman Paul Mayers says.
"We take account of any stakeholders expressing interest, information and guidance in terms of how the rules will be applied," Mayers says.
As a result, the agency is in the process of training inspectors, he says. That is expected to be completed by April 1, but in the meantime, companies will continue conducting their own tests and submitting positive results to the agency.
A second internal memo obtained by the CBC and Toronto Star acknowledges that inspectors haven't been doing any of their own tests for three years, which could explain the delay while training is conducted.
In a move toward deregulation of the industry in 2005, the CFIA handed companies the responsibility for testing their own products.
The new policy's testing protocols come after a joint investigation by the Star and the CBC unearthed numerous monitoring problems on meat production lines.
The joint investigation found that shortly before the listeria outbreak last summer, the CFIA dropped a requirement compelling companies to inform inspectors when they had positive test results. That oversight has since been corrected.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus-killing virus identifed
Source of Article:
CHILE Friday, March 20, 2009, 22:30 (GMT + 9)
A virus known to attack and weaken marine-borne bacteria has been responsible for fewer cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus-infected humans, a Chilean scientist discovered.
The Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacterium lives in marine waters and ¡®hides¡¯ in shellfish and fish. When these products are consumed by people, the organism travels to the colon and produces such discomforts as diarrhoea.
According to official statistics, some 8,000 people were intoxicated in the region of Los Lagos in 2005. This summer, however, the figure did not rise above 800 cases of infection.
Researcher Romilio Espejo, of the University of Chile's Nutrition and Food Technology Institute (INTA), discovered that the virus Vp58.5, when not immeditately fatal to the bacteria, mortally infects it.
Vibrio parahaemolyticus was detected in Chile in 1998, in Antofagasta, and later in the Los Lagos region. Two years before, the same strain has appeared on the coasts of Vietnam, El Mercurio reports.
"This pandemic strain is the first such pathogen to have dispersed around the world,¡± Espejo explained.
The Vp58.5 is a specific virus that does not attack any other bacterium.
The scientist confirmed that the first attack wipes out 30 per cent of the bacteria and remains latent in those that survive. Only one in 10 million is immune, he uncovered.
But those bacteria carrying the latent virus are "cursed," as the virus multiplies and kills under sun exposure.
This explains the fall in intoxication cases, Espejo explained.
Even though Vietnam and Antofagasta are already free of the strain, to soon be joined by the Los Lagos region, the INTA expert stated his research will continue given that the virus and the bacteria mutate constantly and creating new defences.
Future versions of the virus may be used to eliminate the mutated bacteria, when the latter manifests, Espejo speculated.
Consumer measures preventing Vibrio parahaemolyticus intoxication include:
Consuming only cooked shellfish and fish;
Keeping the cold chain uninterrupted before consumption, as bacteria proliferate at room temperature or under the heat of the sun.
Espejo's study was published in the March edition of Applied and Environmental Microbiology magazine. By Analia Murias

Allergic girl¡¯s dog protects her life from peanuts
Source of Article:

Portuguese water dog is specially trained to sniff out deadly allergen
By Mike Celizic contributor

updated 8:37 a.m. PT, Thurs., March. 26, 2009

The idea was born of the desperation that only parents of children with food allergies so severe they are virtual prisoners in their own homes can fully appreciate: If dogs can be trained to sniff out bombs and narcotics, why not allergens such as peanut protein?

This is the idea that came to Sherry and Brett Mers of Monument, Colo., whose daughter, Riley, is so allergic to peanuts that simply touching a bit of peanut shell can burn a hole in her skin and send her into life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

¡°I was just running through the park playing with my sister in the sand, and I thought a bee had stung me,¡± Riley said, recounting the story for TODAY correspondent Jenna Wolfe Thursday from her home. ¡°I started jumping up and down and screaming. And I jumped to my mom and dad and they took the peanut shell out, and I almost had to have a skin graft.¡±

Today, 8-year-old Riley doesn¡¯t have to fear a repeat of that frightening and painful experience. As she sat next to her mother on their couch, her arms were wrapped around the neck of a 2-year-old Portuguese water dog named Rock¡¯O. Thanks to the dog, Riley has been able to do simple things she couldn¡¯t do before, like going into a candy store and walking without fear through a mall.

Extreme allergy
Riley was born with her allergy, which was diagnosed when she was 5 months old. Peanut and other allergies run a range of severity, and Riley¡¯s doctors told her parents that the girl¡¯s allergy was as extreme as it could be. Inhaling even a minute quantity of peanut dust can be life-threatening.

¡°Anytime peanut protein gets into her bloodstream, what happens with Riley and other children that have anaphylactic allergies is, a lot of times they¡¯ll have eczema, also,¡± Sherry Mers told Wolfe. ¡°So her skin cracks, and then whenever she touches something, it gets straight into her bloodstream, and that¡¯s what causes her to go into anaphylaxis.

¡°If there¡¯s a heavy peanut protein in the air, and she breathes it in and it gets in her lungs ¡¦ it can be very serious very quickly,¡± Mers added. ¡°And there¡¯s no way for you to be able to tell all the places where a peanut might be.¡±

The Merses had peanut-proofed their home when they learned of the allergy, but Riley was a virtual prisoner there until she got Rock¡¯O. She did go to school occasionally, but had to stay in an isolation room. For the most part, she studies online from her home. But now, because of Rock¡¯O, she can finally think about going to college someday.

Special training
The idea of training a dog to sniff allergens came to Sherry Mers independently. She asked around and found out that there were at least two organizations that train dogs for that purpose. The family got their dog through one of them, Angel Service Dogs.

The training isn¡¯t cheap. The dog can¡¯t make mistakes; it has to detect allergens 100 percent of the time to protect its owner. Rock¡¯O¡¯s training cost $10,000, which was more than the Merses could afford. But family and friends donated the funds so Riley could gain some freedom and security.

Sherry Mers and her husband have gotten involved in training dogs themselves. To keep Rock¡¯O up to snuff ? and sniff ? Brett Mers has to put him through peanut-finding exercises. Sherry has gotten involved by writing a kids¡¯ book about allergen service dogs called ¡°The Allergy Friend¡± that¡¯s due to be published in the fall.

As for Riley, she¡¯s just happy to be able to go out into the world. Since getting Rock¡¯O last month, she¡¯s been saved several times from life-threatening exposure to peanuts. One time was in her own backyard, where Rock¡¯O stopped her before she got near the shells of peanuts that squirrels were eating in a tree.

Wolfe asked Riley about her first trip inside a candy store, made possible by Rock¡¯O.

¡°That was really cool, because the closest I ever get to a candy store is at the checkout place where they have those shelves that have some candy on it,¡± Riley said. Rock¡¯O, who wears a bright yellow service-dog vest, steered her away from the chocolate aisle and even detected peanut M&Ms that Sherry Mers never saw. Riley ended up in the gummy candy aisle, where she bought a big gummy butterfly.

¡°Would you say Rock¡¯O changed your life?¡± Wolfe asked Riley.

The girl hugged her pal and guardian, smiled and replied with feeling, ¡°I would say that.¡±

Kellogg CEO testifies in Salmonella hearing

Source of Article:

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation held a hearing on March 19, entitled ¡°The Salmonella Outbreak: The Role of Industry in Protecting the Nation¡¯s Food Supply.¡± David Mackay, President and CEO of Kellogg Co., was one of the people who offered testimony. Mackay expressed regret that Kellogg products were involved in the Salmonella outbreak associated with the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA). He went on to recount how the company handled news of the outbreak in Jan. 2009 by quickly recalling the food products linked with Salmonella. According to Mackay, ¡°more than seven million cases of our products were recalled due to the PCA contamination at a cost of approximately $65?70 million.¡±

In addition, Mackay explained that the company has since taken actions to make their food safety systems and principles better. The company has established new cross-functional Kellogg audit teams, including the Quality, Food Safety, and Materials Management groups, to audit suppliers of high-risk ingredients, who have already completed on-site audits of Kellogg¡¯s peanut and peanut paste ingredient suppliers. The company is requiring suppliers to conduct environmental testing and monitoring in their plants to assist in identifying, assessing, and correcting potential contamination before it becomes a food safety problem. In addition, Kellogg is strengthening its internal training and education across its supply chain.

To conclude his testimony, Mackay offered ways to enhance the safety of the nation¡¯s food supply. They include:

The formation of a single food safety authority under Health and Human Services that will give accountability to one agency leader for science, surveillance, research, and inspection, with support from a science-based Food Safety Advisory Council.
A requirement that every food company conduct a risk analysis and document their preventative controls, verification systems, and testing results in a food safety plan that is subject to regular FDA review.
Annual inspections by the FDA of facilities producing high-risk products.
Working with industry and government to align around a single food safety standard for evaluating facilities, with appropriate training and accreditation of auditors and auditing firms.
Ensuring that the FDA has the right mix of intervention and enforcement powers.
¡°The PCA situation has shown that if a company chooses to ignore even basic food safety principles, food safety systems and protections can be compromised, whether those are individual company systems or the U.S. food safety system generally,¡± said Mackay.

U.S. bill would ban BPA; Europe and Australia find no risk

Source of Article:

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have introduced H.R. 1523?the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009?to establish a federal ban on the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in all food and beverage containers. According to the lawmakers, there are scientific papers that have shown evidence of adverse health effects related to BPA. In addition, the National Toxicology Program in the Dept. of Health and Human Services has cited ¡°some concern¡± that BPA may affect neural development in fetuses, infants, and children at current human levels.

¡°There have been enough warning signs about the dangers of BPA that we cannot wait to act,¡± said Schumer. ¡°It¡¯s better safe than sorry. Many manufacturers and retailers have already recognized the danger and have taken steps to get kids' products containing BPA off store shelves.¡± In fact, according to a WebMD article, earlier in March the top six makers of U.S. baby bottles?Avent, Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex, and Evenflo?agreed to stop using the chemical in their bottles.

The bill would require that reusable beverage containers (including baby bottles and thermoses) that contain BPA not be sold, while other food and beverage containers (such as canned food or formula) containing BPA not be introduced into commerce. Under the bill, if a manufacturer can show that there is no technology available to make a particular food or beverage without the use of BPA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can issue renewable one-year waivers to the ban for that particular food or beverage. However, the food and beverage container would have to be labeled to indicate that BPA was used. If the bill, which was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on March 16, is passed, the ban would take effect 180 days from enactment.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand have gone on record in affirming the safety of bisphenol A and stating their concurrence with the findings of the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), an independent statutory agency responsible for setting food standards in the two countries, issued an unequivocal statement that BPA does not cause cancer nor do low levels of exposure to BPA pose a significant health risk.

EFSA recently completed a review of the scientific literature for BPA and determined a maximum daily ¡®safe limit¡¯ for BPA. They concluded that the estimated total daily intake of BPA by a bottle-fed baby would be less than 10% of the ¡®safe level¡¯ for babies, when the bottles were cleaned using normal domestic conditions, and about 20% of the ¡®safe limit,¡¯ when the bottles were cleaned under exaggerated conditions including the use of boiling water or strong solvents. In adults, the estimated daily intake from canned foods and beverages would be about 5% of the ¡®safe limit.¡¯ Also, a draft review by the FDA determined that intakes of BPA for the most vulnerable segments of the population were well within the safe level.

Oklahoma Restaurant Linked to Historic E. coli Outbreak is Sued

Source of Article:

Date Published: Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

What is believed to be the first such lawsuit has been filed in connection with the historic outbreak of the rare E. coli O111 strain that originated at the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove, Oklahoma, reports the Associated Press (AP). Jim and Donna Crafton filed the lawsuit against the Country Cottage. The couple said they dined at Country Cottage on August 25 and that Donna ¡°suffered severe physical harm and extreme mental suffering from eating the food, reported the AP.

The outbreak was the largest in history of E. coli strain O111 and resulted in the death of one man, 314 illness, and scores of hospitalizations.

Country Cottage, which is a buffet-style restaurant in business for over 22 years, has had 88 health department violations since 2004 that range from improper food storage to improper food temperatures. Cross contamination violations occurred in 2005 and 2006, according to health department reports. This type of contamination can take place when, for instance, a meat product is placed near a product such as eggs. Cross contamination was originally suspected; however, an OSDH (Oklahoma State Department of Health) official said that because investigators were never able to identify a specific food source, they believe a staff member who handled many foods at the restaurant might have been infected and spread the contamination. The origin of the outbreak remains unknown, said the AP.

During an August 23 surprise inspection, nine health code violations were identified. Despite this, Country Cottage remained open on August 24, the day the one related death occurred. Also, internal documents revealed that State Health Department officials allowed Country Cottage to remain open temporarily?despite confirming six of eight initial food poisoning victims had eaten its food.

The Health Department first publicly cited Country Cottage as a possible link in the outbreak on August 25, saying in a release that ¡°a large number of persons who became ill¡± had eaten there. The investigation ultimately revealed that every person who became ill in the E. coli O111 outbreak had eaten food prepared by Country Cottage.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia describes ¡°shiga-producing¡± (shiga is a type of toxin) E. coli infections?such as strain O111?as diarrheagenic bacteria termed ¡°enterohemorrhagic E. coli¡± that are similar in path to that of the better known E. coli O157:H7. This means that these serious and sometimes deadly infections can cause symptoms that range from mild diarrhea to more profound watery or bloody diarrhea with severe abdominal cramping. E. coli O111 can also result in the very serious hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). In the United States annually, these serious types of E. coli outbreaks sicken approximately 110,000 people and cause about 90 deaths, says the CDC.

Country Cottage closed for some time at the height of the outbreak. The restaurant had to take a variety of steps in order to be allowed to reopen, such as participating in food safety classes, said Channel 8 in an earlier report. The restaurant also had to replace all of its hand washing sinks and was required to disconnect a water well. The health department found bacteria in that well during its investigation, reported Channel 8.

FSIS to focus on retailers to improve meat safety
Source of Article:
By Tom Johnston on 3/31/2009

CHICAGO ? USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service will pay more attention to retail establishments that grind trim and on retailers that slice deli meat because they haven't been following proper recordkeeping and food safety procedures, an agency official told attendees of the North American Meat Processors conference here.

Dan Engeljohn, deputy assistant administrator of FSIS's Office of Policy, Program and Employment Development, said the agency has found that butchers in retail establishments are not sufficiently maintaining grinding logs, which complicates the process of pinpointing the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak during a recall. The agency is developing guidance for retailers on effective corrective steps and is pursuing rulemaking to make more explicit the types of records that should be kept, he said.

Engeljohn also said the agency has found that deli departments generally have insanitary conditions, which raises the risk that an outbreak of listeria monocytogenes would occur. The agency says a person is seven times likelier to die from listeria after eating deli meat produced by a retailer than by a federal plant.

"I do think that our focus going into the future will significantly be more at retail and in distribution than in the federal plants," Engeljohn said. "We figure that as we have fixed things or things were addressed well in the federal establishments, it's time to go where there is increased risk."

Unlike federal meat plants, retail establishments are not monitored daily by at least one FSIS inspector because current laws do not give the agency inspection authority at such outlets.

"We're showing up by chance and observing risky practices," Engeljohn explained. "We've informed industry, and the retail industry in particular, on numerous occasions of the increasing problem in this area, and it hasn't changed. In fact, it's gotten worse."

Engeljohn said the agency first would have to do some testing, such as swabbing for contaminants in deli areas, to determine which outlets are the riskiest in order to make recall investigations more efficient.

Polyphenols could lead to allergen-free peanut butter: Study
Source of Article:
By Stephen Daniells, 31-Mar-2009
Adding polyphenols compounds to liquid peanut butter may reduce the level of proteins in the product responsible for peanut allergy, suggests a new study.
Adding caffeic, chlorogenic and ferulic acids to liquid peanut butter could reduce the levels of major peanut allergens, Ara h 1 and Ara h 2, according to findings published in the journal Food Chemistry.
Si-Yin Chung and Elaine Champagne from the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service wrote that, while the binding of he major soluble peanut allergens was achieved in this study, such peanut-based products are far from hitting supermarket shelves.
¡°If proven by clinical studies, the research may lead to the development of less allergenic liquid peanut-based products,¡± they wrote. ¡°However, this would be not ready for general use for many years until the allergy problem is better understood.

¡°The mainstay of therapy for IgE-mediated peanut allergy remains avoidance of the offending foods and following the guidelines of food allergy management.¡±

Peanut allergy
Peanut allergies are rising in humans, with an estimated 2.5 million people in Europe and the US now vulnerable to the food allergy.
| There is no current cure for food allergy and vigilance by an allergic individual is the only way to prevent a reaction but a peanut allergy can be so severe that only very tiny amounts can be enough to trigger a response.
Current recommendations in many countries, such as the UK and the US, for would-be mothers are to avoid peanuts during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and infancy.
With peanut allergy potentially fatal for some people, food manufacturers are already bound by certain regulations, depending on the country, to highlight possible allergens in a food product, such as the EU¡¯s Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC.

Polyphenol potential
| The ARS scientists treated peanut protein extracts and liquid peanut butter with caffeic, chlorogenic and ferulic acids. The polyphenols irreversibly formed insoluble complexes and was linked to reduced levels of the soluble major peanut allergens. ¡°As a result of the complexation, IgE binding of the extracts and liquid peanut butter was reduced approximately 10- to 16-fold,¡± wrote Chung and Champagne. IgE (immunoglobulin E) is the predominant antibody associated with an allergic response.
¡°We concluded that reducing IgE binding by phenolics is feasible,¡± they added.
When is a peanut not a peanut?
¡°Producing an allergen-free peanut or peanut product may seem to be the best approach to treat peanut allergy,¡± said the researchers. ¡°However, such an approach may be impractical because [¡¦] altering enough of the peanut allergens to make a modified peanut (or peanut product) that is less likely to cause an allergic reaction may result in a plant or product that is no longer a peanut.¡±
They note a removal of certain proteins would have a detrimental effect on both the nutritional value and the flavour of the peanut. ¡°With a lack of peanut flavour and nutritional value, the modified (allergen-free) peanut or peanut product is unlikely to be welcome by consumers,¡± they added.

Other avenues

Recently, scientists from Addenbrooke¡¯s Hospital in Cambridge reported results from a study with four peanut-allergic children found that gradually increasing their exposure to peanut protein, the tolerance level of all the children could be increased to about 800 mg grams of protein, which is the equivalent to five peanuts, per day (Allergy, doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.01982.x).

N.C.C. critical of research linking flies to antibiotic resistance

Source of Article:
(, March 17, 2009)
by Bryan Salvage
BALTIMORE ? Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers claim to have found evidence that houseflies collected near broiler poultry operations may contribute to the dispersion of drug-resistant bacteria, increasing the potential for human exposure to drug-resistant bacteria. The findings demonstrate a potential link between industrial food animal production and exposures to antibiotic-resistant pathogens, according to the authors of the study.
Previous studies have linked antibiotic use in poultry production to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in farm workers, consumer poultry products and the environment surrounding confined poultry operations, as well as releases from poultry transport.
"Flies are well-known vectors of disease and have been implicated in the spread of various viral and bacterial infections affecting humans, including enteric fever, cholera, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and shigellosis," said Dr. Jay Graham, Ph.D., the lead author who conducted the study as a research fellow with Bloomberg School¡¯s Center for a Livable Future. "Our study found similarities in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both the flies and poultry litter we sampled. The evidence is another example of the risks associated with the inadequate treatment of animal wastes."
"Although we did not directly quantify the contribution of flies to human exposure, our results suggest that flies in intensive production areas could efficiently spread resistant organisms over large distances," said Dr. Ellen Silbergeld, Ph.D., senior author of the study and professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health¡¯s Department of Environmental Health Sciences.
At least one poultry industry insider is skeptical of this study and its results. "This is the same group that did a study of bacteria allegedly flying off chickens in transport, which could be a problem if you are in the habit of tailgating chicken trucks with your windows rolled down ? which nobody does," Richard L. Lobb, director of communications for the National Chicken Council, told "So they have gone from tailgating chicken trucks to catching flies."
It is interesting that the study apparently makes no connection between the flies and any human illness ? "We did not directly quantify the contribution of flies to human exposure," as Dr. Silbergeld put it rather delicately, Mr. Lobb said.
"A scientific study is usually done in response to some observed phenomenon," Mr. Lobb continued. "This group at Johns Hopkins seems to be determined instead to find things they can use to criticize the poultry industry. They are literally swatting at flies."

Mad cow disease suspected in Spanish doctor's death
Source of Article:
Story Highlights
Spanish pathologist was specialist in human strain of mad cow disease
Officials say they suspect the disease played a role in his death
Doctor was well known for his work on the human strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob
(CNN) -- A Spanish pathologist who specialized in a human strain of mad cow disease died Saturday, and officials suspect the disease played a role in his death, officials said.
The doctor was head of the anatomy pathology section at the University Hospital Principe de Asturias in Alcala de Henares, outside of Madrid, according to the Madrid regional government's health office. He died Saturday night, at the hospital where he worked, officials said. The doctor's name was not released at the request of his family.
Several samples have been sent off for testing, the office said, but results are expected to take a month.
The doctor was well known both in and outside Spain for his work in the pathology field. His speciality was the human strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
It is not known how the doctor might have contracted the disease, but the health office said it was not thought to be through ingestion of contaminated meat. Authorities are investigating whether the doctor had been exposed to contaminated human tissue through his work.
Since 2001, 702 Creutzfeldt-Jakob cases have been reported in Spain, of which 87 have been reported in Madrid. Five people have died.

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