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¡®Spokesperson¡¯ Justifies Reasoning Behind Pistachio Recall
Source of Article: http://www.perishablepundit.com/
We wanted to get an update and clarification from the FDA itself on the
state of the Setton Pistachio recall, so we asked Pundit Investigator
and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more.
We run her conversation
below, but the FDA now has a policy that all its people should be anonymous
and go by the term ¡°spokesperson¡± so even though we know who we spoke
to we are told not to identify the person by name.
This is almost precisely
the opposite of the transparency and accountability President Obama promised
in his campaign so we hope the new regime at FDA will change this ridiculous
policy quickly. Spokespeople should always be identified by names so they
can be evaluated for the honesty and accuracy and completeness of their
Q: FDA said it found salmonella
in the Setton plant and problems in processing that could cause cross
contamination of raw and roasted nuts. If FDA went to other plants and
did comprehensive studies, could it find problems such as this? How unusual
is this discovery? Do you have any baseline for comparison?
A: Hopefully, you wouldn¡¯t
find salmonella in an area you wouldn¡¯t expect to ? in certain points
in the production line. The key thing is that we sent a letter on April
3 to pistachio processors about current good manufacturing practices.
FDA basically reminded processors of their legal responsibility to insure
products are safe for consumption and walked through a number of pertinent
things mentioned in the good manufacturing practices. FDA wants to work
with the industry to help understand the risks, to examine current pistachio
practices that could lead to contamination with bacteria and measures
to prevent contamination.
Q: But that still doesn¡¯t answer
the question. Setton has an excellent reputation for high food safety
standards and has been regularly audited by respected third-party auditors
and retailers. How does FDA reconcile the fact that these same problems
it points to at Setton could be just as prevalent in other facilities?
Without a baseline, how does FDA justify its sweeping recall action?
A: FDA is still doing its investigation.
I can¡¯t directly address that. We need to finish the investigation to
get an idea of the complete circumstances while these products were being
processed. It is also possible the firm is very attentive to many things
but may have missed something.
We hope to learn what went
awry so it won¡¯t occur again. There is not necessarily a sense that anyone
was intentionally doing something wrong. There are just times when something
is going on that people miss. Our focus is on what exactly went wrong.
This speaks to what I just mentioned. FDA wants to look at current practices
that could lead to bacteria and provide additional guidance of measures
that can be taken.
If we take a closer look, maybe
there is additional information that could reduce the likelihood even
further that pistachios could be the cause of a foodborne outbreak.
Q: But this recall was not
related to an outbreak, was it?
A: You¡¯re right. This is not
an outbreak because illnesses are not associated at this point. People
reported illnesses that could be related, but we don¡¯t have a confirmed
link to illness and product. There are two things that would trigger a
recall. Why would we notify people not to eat a product? Certainly if
people start getting sick from a product. Sometimes people take action
due to a test showing a positive result for a pathogen. No one has gotten
sick, but someone could.
In the case of the pistachio
recall, Kraft did tests and got salmonella results that went back to Setton
Farms. The fact there are no illnesses certainly doesn¡¯t mean there isn¡¯t
a potential problem.
Q: Actually, there¡¯s quite
a bit of confusion regarding the testing and the time line involved. Could
you clarify who did testing, when, where, in what products, and what results
were found at different time periods? For example, were all four salmonella
serotypes discovered in Setton Pistachio product simultaneously in March
at the Georgia Nut Company¡¯s facility? Was the determination that the
problem was in pistachios from Setton Farms deduced as the common link
from various tests done over an 18-month period? If testing was done over
an extended period, I presume there were many negatives. Could this indicate
A: There were four strains
that came up, and I¡¯m quite sure all were from March. Some testing I understood
to be in a Kraft trail mix product that turned out positive for several
ingredients. I can¡¯t speak to the detailed time line of testing, but the
bottom line is that somewhere along the line there¡¯s been some kind of
processing breakdown at Setton, and we can all be certain of that. Salmonella
in raw product is supposed to be eliminated in the roasting kill step.
Q: In Setton Pistachio¡¯s expanded
recall release, it says, ¡®Setton¡¯s raw in-shell pistachio shipments are
NOT affected by this recall expansion.¡¯ Why is that? Couldn¡¯t the raw
product be a likely source of the salmonella?
A: Raw agriculture product
may have some contamination. If this product is roasted, I don¡¯t know
if it¡¯s a moot point.
For Setton Pistachio, it moved
to expand its recall to all products harvested in 2008, let me reword
that, to all roasted in-shell and shelled and raw shelled pistachios not
subsequently roasted prior to retail sales. If I were selling you raw
pistachios, but the expectation was that you were going to roast them,
you would have that kill step in there, providing you roasted them at
the right temperature, etc.
Even if you go with the presumption
the raw pistachios are not salmonella-free, they¡¯re going to be roasted.
If you were going to sell pistachios to consumers raw, it wouldn¡¯t make
sense to ship them. Setton did ship raw product to certain people, but
if they weren¡¯t roasting it, the product has to come back.
Suppose you¡¯re Setton Farms
or another pistachio processor and you have some product coming in from
the field. A bird could have contaminated it. You move it through the
facility and it goes down some processing line where it gets roasted.
If the roasting process is adequate, you have a kill step and there should
be no salmonella. It¡¯s possible, but our assumption is that if some is
contaminated, you¡¯re decontaminating it as a kill step. Shipping that
raw product someplace else, you¡¯re passing it through to the next company
where someone else is roasting it and killing any contamination.
Q: Isn¡¯t there some risk that
contamination or cross-contamination could occur from the time it¡¯s shipped
until the time it¡¯s roasted at the other company?
A: Yes, that¡¯s a valid point.
How is it shipped out from Setton? My understanding is that things got
shipped in 1,000-pound and 2,000-pound containers. I imagine that raw
in-shell product that is not part of the expanded recall is shipped like
Like anything, if the raw product
is contaminated, anything it touches along the way could be cross-contaminated.
One thing that gets confusing is that people might have in mind that things
coming from the field are sterile but they aren¡¯t.
Q: Dr. Acheson says salmonella
was found in ¡°critical areas¡± of the Setton facility. Can you define those
areas specifically? Where was the salmonella found exactly? And how many
samples came back positive? Have you connected the serotypes to the positive
results found at the Georgia Nut Company?
A: We are still working on
some of the environmental samples. I can¡¯t tell you where exactly or how
many environmental samples came back positive. The results indicate the
presence of salmonella in critical areas of the processing plant and where
there is potential for cross-contamination. I can¡¯t say the positives
were from a belt or a drain. We also don¡¯t have the type of serotypes
yet. But that becomes a moot point because you don¡¯t want any type of
salmonella at the plant.
Having seen what happened with
peanuts, we certainly don¡¯t want someone to get sick and die. First we
must isolate product and give consumers advice, then we look to see if
we can isolate where the problem occurred specifically and take corrective
Q: When FDA got positive results
for salmonella at the Setton facility, why didn¡¯t it hold a press briefing
to inform the media as it regularly did during the Salmonella Saintpaul
outbreak? Why is Dr. Acheson selectively releasing information the FDA
considers important to only certain reporters?
A: I don¡¯t know the reason
for the change in policy. All I can say is that I didn¡¯t get much of a
break during the Salmonella Saintpaul investigation because of the frequently
held press briefings.
Q: This slow trickle of piecemeal
information is leading to confusing, inaccurate and often sensationalized
reporting. The Associated Press quoted Acheson on the positive findings,
but also reported inaccurate information on the extent of the expanded
A: You are correct in pointing
out that the AP and other newspapers were not right when they reported
that Setton was recalling its entire 2008 crop. I kept seeing the word
¡°entire¡±, which was never the case. .
Q: That confusion actually
began early on during the original joint FDA/California Department of
Public Health press briefing and got picked up from there in The New York
Times, among other media outlets.
Is there any real change in
the advice you¡¯re giving consumers in terms of consuming pistachios? An
article in the Sacramento Bee (April 8) gives that impression: It leads
off: ¡°Federal food safety officials have lifted last week¡¯s blanket salmonella
warning on all pistachios focusing on nuts now being recalled by a single
San Joaquin Valley processor.¡± Isn¡¯t there still a blanket warning to
consumers to avoid eating pistachio products until they can verify none
of the ingredients originate from Setton Pistachio?
A: There is no difference.
Our advice to consumers remains the same because pistachios are used as
an ingredient in a variety of foods. Consumers shouldn¡¯t eat pistachios
or food products containing them until they can determine if those products
contain recalled pistachio products. Nothing has changed. The problem
originally pointed to Setton and still does.
There is a problem or potential
problem and consumers need to be worried if they got pistachios processed
by Setton Farms. How do you know? Well you don¡¯t. We¡¯re telling consumers,
don¡¯t throw product out, just put it aside and as we get information,
we¡¯ll post the list of recalled products. Go in and check and see if your
product comes out on the list, and if it does, don¡¯t eat it and throw
Q: When will they know it¡¯s
OK to eat it? This isn¡¯t like fresh produce, where at a certain point,
all product is out of circulation due to its perishable nature.
A: Over a certain amount of
time, hopefully we¡¯ll get most products out there that contain these things,
and the consumer can say, ¡®look it¡¯s been a few weeks, and I am reasonably
confident my products aren¡¯t on that list and I¡¯m going to eat pistachios.¡¯
Advice has been the same all
along. The only difference is that at the beginning of this week, Setton
expanded its recall. Now it isn¡¯t just product after September 1, 2008.
We expect additional recalls, maybe different products, earlier code dates,
and consumers should be aware of that.
Q: What actions can FDA take
to alleviate these kinds of sweeping recalls and to improve its handling
of these investigations in the future?
A: At FDA¡¯s request, it has
a contract with the University of California Davis to research chemical
propylene oxide as a means of killing salmonella in pistachios and other
tree nuts. The method has been validated to kill salmonella in almonds.
Q: But you¡¯ve pointed out that
roasting pistachios already provides a kill step. FDA says the Setton
recall centered on the recontamination by raw pistachios, so in that case,
a pasteurization process wouldn¡¯t have changed the outcome.
A: Pasteurization could be
an alternative food safety step. There¡¯s more than one way to skin a cat.
It¡¯s about looking at what else could work. Roasting only works as a kill
step at the right temperature, for the right amount of time, and deep
enough to make sure it penetrates. You have to validate the process and
make sure it¡¯s implemented properly. Of course it¡¯s all for naught if
roasted product is then re-contaminated with raw product.
The point is that companies
can do things to minimize risk. Designing the plant properly is important,
but obviously more difficult and costly when retrofitting. There are a
lot of things involved in food safety. Over time, we try and learn. It
might be that now we think we¡¯ve addressed 90 percent of the problem,
five years later 95 percent, and five years later 98 percent. The goal
is to minimize the likelihood the best you can.
The key issue the FDA desperately
wishes to avoid any consideration of is whether its efforts actually help
public health in these types of recalls. In a situation such as this ?
where, as the FDA spokesperson says, there is no indication of maliciousness,
the vendor has a good reputation and has multiple audits ? it is highly
likely that by excluding this one shipper¡¯s product from the market, the
FDA is leaving the market to product no safer than the Setton Farms product.
Indeed, because there are sub-standard operators in the world, the remaining
product may, on average, be less safe.
What clearly has to change
is that the FDA cannot be prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. Simply
screaming ¡°public health¡± does not justify destroying Setton Farms because
the FDA wants to ¡°work with the industry to help understand the risks,
to examine current pistachio practices that could lead to contamination
with bacteria and measures to prevent contamination.¡±
This may all be some project
to the FDA, but this company is the property of real people, it provides
a livelihood for real people and it is not the FDA¡¯s right to destroy
Our friendly FDA spokesperson
speaks with certitude but is not convincing when saying:¡±... the bottom
line is that somewhere along the line there¡¯s been some kind of processing
breakdown at Setton and we can all be certain of that.¡±
Actually we don¡¯t think this
consensus is justified. As of today, without a serotype match between
the allegedly contaminated pistachios in Illinois and the plant, we don¡¯t
even know if the plant had anything to do with the contamination. After
all, product sat at Georgia Nut Company for months ? maybe it got contaminated
The FDA also just assumes it
needs to do things although the legislative justification for doing so
is dubious. For example, our spokesperson explains FDA¡¯s position well:
¡°First we must isolate product and give consumers advice.¡±
But one wonders if the FDA
has considered that in a situation such as this, the ¡°advice¡± can only
be a reflection of the risk-tolerance level of the individual giving the
advice. Unlike peanut butter, pistachios are not generally eaten by children;
they are a relatively expensive item and are not generally eaten in great
quantity. So what , exactly, does the FDA think the risk is?
Why doesn¡¯t the FDA publish
this assessment and allow citizens to make their own decisions rather
than give its advice to consumers?
We suspect it is because the
ludicrous nature of the ¡°risks¡± FDA is acting against would soon cause
people to ignore it, if not laugh at it. By the CDC¡¯s reckoning, there
are 76 million cases of foodborne illness and 5,000 deaths in the US each
year from foodborne illness. So, if we have 305 million Americans and
all Americans are equally vulnerable, there is a 24.918% chance of an
American getting a foodborne illness and .0016% chance of an American
dying from a foodborne illness during the course of a year.
Of course, these numbers are
after the FDA¡¯s vigilant market withdrawals, so the question is how much
greater would the numbers be if they let the pistachios be sold freely?
Would there be any difference? If the replacement product is less safe,
wouldn¡¯t the numbers actually be worse? Who would pay attention to such
uncertain and inconsequential risks?
We let people ski without helmets,
ski dive, hang glide, etc. ? on what basis do we deny them some ¡°risky¡±
pistachios? It is preposterous.
Put Its Reputation Above Enhanced Food Safety?
Why has the FDA chosen to act in the manner it has regarding the pistachio
industry? Gardiner Harris and Andrew Martin of The New York Times explain
the matter this way:
¡°The food industry needs to be on notice that F.D.A. is going to be much
more proactive and move things far faster,¡± said Dr. David Acheson, associate
commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration. ¡°We¡¯re going
to try to stop people from getting sick in the first place, as opposed
to waiting until we have illness and death before we take action.¡±
They also point to new management:
Agency officials said in interviews that Dr. Joshua Sharfstein ? the administration¡¯s
choice to lead the agency while Dr. Margaret Hamburg goes through the
confirmation process to become commissioner ? sought to avoid the agency¡¯s
cautious, step-by-step actions in the recent peanut recall. More than
a month passed between the initial recall of a few lots of peanut butter
and a decision to recall years of production from the Georgia and Texas
plants of the Peanut Corporation of America.
Agency officials have
long been reluctant to seek broad food recalls unless contamination has
been proved, and such gradually expanding recalls have been a common feature
of F.D.A. food actions for decades. Last week, Dr. Sharfstein told agency
officials to act boldly far earlier, officials said.
Dr. Sharfstein speeded
the agency¡¯s decision making by getting as many as 40 agency officials
to talk to one another in weekend conference calls. Dr. Sharfstein ¡°wanted
to drive it hard and drive it fast,¡± Dr. Acheson said.
So the question that
should be fairly asked is a simple one: Has the FDA¡¯s aggressive action
increased food safety? The answer is that this is unlikely. The powers
that be at FDA are either well intentioned but incorrect in their analysis,
or they are more concerned with burnishing FDA¡¯s reputation for enhancing
food safety than with actually enhancing food safety.
Here is the problem.
The particular firm implicated in this food safety investigation has a
good reputation. We quickly get calls when things like this break, from
ex-employees, competitors, etc., telling us if the management of a company
is sleazy. That is why if you check out past editions of the Pundit you
will find no pieces defending the management of Peanut Corporation of
America ? we heard from too many people of too many problematic decisions.
We are not getting that feedback
on this firm.
Now what about the FDA¡¯s
alleged finding of salmonella in the plant in California¡¦ doesn¡¯t that,
you may ask, prove that the FDA acted prudently and, in fact, enhanced
food safety by getting this product out of the system? Especially since
the FDA simultaneously identified some imperfect production practices?
No it does not. In order
to enhance food safety, the FDA would have to know that the product from
this one plant is more likely to have pathogens on it than the average
product being turned out by alternative sources.
Yet the methodology the
FDA is using is simply not designed to prove anything like that.
In this case, the FDA
dove in to the implicated plant, did hundreds of tests, a super thorough
evaluation and found some things that were problematic.
We have absolutely no
issue with its efforts and, indeed, think the plant should correct them
and produce safer food. We have no indication ? from the FDA or anyone
else ? that the company is unwilling to do so.
But if we did hundreds
of tests and super-thorough inspections of all other pistachio facilities,
how do we know all of them would be flawless in design and execution and
without a pathogen to be found? And if we don¡¯t know that, then how can
we possibly know whether we are helping or hurting food safety?
If the implicated plant
is imperfect but less imperfect than its competitors, then restricting
its sales but not those of its competitors simply makes the food supply
more dangerous ? not safer.
It is the failure of
FDA to present rational arguments for its actions or to even indicate
its awareness of these dilemmas that make us feel its executives are more
concerned with enhancing the institutional reputation of FDA than they
are with enhancing food safety.
FDA Safety Rules for Juice, Seafood Industries Don¡¯t Affect Peanuts
Source of Article: http://www.infozine.com/news/stories/op/storiesView/sid/35309/
Monday, April 13, 2009 ::
By Emily Stephenson -
Juice, seafood, meat and poultry producers must take steps to identify
and eliminate spots where salmonella and other bacteria could contaminate
Washington, D.C. - infoZine
- No such regulations govern most foods under the Food and Drug Administration's
jurisdiction, including peanuts.
Some experts say a mandatory,
industry-wide Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points safety program
- known as HACCP - could help prevent salmonella outbreaks like the one
that has sickened more than 690 people and killed nine since September.
"FDA is going to
have to implement HACCPs for high-risk products," said Martin Cole,
director of the National Center for Food Safety and Technology. He said
peanuts, also blamed for a 2007 salmonella outbreak, are high-risk.
"You've had a couple
of outbreaks in the last two years for that product, so that should be
governed by HACCP."
The seven-point system,
first used by Pillsbury in the 1960s to produce safe foods for astronauts,
requires identifying steps in the production process in which contamination
could occur and pre-empting problems.
HACCP also requires testing
to guarantee contamination points are eliminated and extensive record-keeping.
The FDA has been criticized
for failing to enact preventive measures and avert outbreaks. The agency
requires only that seafood and juice manufacturers follow HACCPs.
FDA spokeswoman Stephanie
Kwisnek said in an e-mail the agency could expand its HACCP requirements
to other industries, as the Department of Agriculture has done for meat
and poultry - the only foods under its jurisdiction.
is already a requirement for all meat and poultry plants, and it should
be a prerequisite for all food processors that want to sell food in the
U.S.," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the
Center for Science in the Public Interest, in March 11 testimony before
a House subcommittee.
The process is now standard
for large manufacturers in most industries, Cole said.
Peanut Corp. of America,
identified as the cause of the peanut-related salmonella outbreak, does
not appear to have followed an effective plan.
A 2002 Nestle audit of
the Peanut Corp.'s Blakely, Ga., plant said it had no HACCP plan. Auditors
in 2006 determined that the company's Plainview, Texas, plant's plan didn't
address all hazards. The audits were released at a March hearing held
by a House subcommittee.
In the 2006 audit, Nestle
recommended that a plant manager take a HACCP training course to better
understand hazards that could affect peanuts during treatment.
A later audit by a private
organization said the Peanut Corp. did follow a safety plan. But when
FDA inspectors entered the company's plants, they found obvious safety
violations, including dead rodents and insects, animal droppings and a
Juice is one of only
two industries under FDA with mandatory HACCPs.
A 1996 E. coli outbreak
traced to unpasteurized apple juice and two later salmonella outbreaks
caused by citrus juices resulted in more than 570 illnesses and two deaths.
The FDA required HACCP plans
and told producers beginning in 2002 to reduce pathogens by a set amount.
Kristen Gunter, executive
director of the Florida Citrus Producers Association, said the citrus
industry had little difficulty conforming to the FDA's standards.
"We'd never been
considered high-risk. We weren't, you know, the seafood industry; we weren't
the poultry industry," she explained. "Once everybody got their
heads around what HACCP principles were being applied, the juice industry
embraced the program.
of HACCP principles is a system to produce safe and sanitary product,
and you can't argue with those principles."
In the years after the
FDA issued its juice rule, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
have not listed juice as a major source of illness in annual reports.
A 2003 report cites decreases in E. coli and salmonella following reforms,
including reassessing HACCP plans, in the meat and poultry industries.
But some of those improvements
have not been sustained, according to a 2007 report, and there are other
problems with mandatory HACCPs. The FDA partners with inspectors in some
states to regulate the 44,000 producers under its jurisdiction, but the
agency is overworked and understaffed.
The FDA has said that
the Plainview, Texas, plant linked to the current salmonella outbreak
operated for years without being inspected.
And Steve Cockram, technical
director for the Growers' Cooperative Grape Juice Co., said he thinks
FDA rules leave too much room for interpretation. His company has argued
with New York inspectors about how best to address hazards.
Cole said the cost of
establishing a HACCP varies depending on plants' size and safety practices.
For small plants with no safety plan, conforming could be time-consuming.
Juice plants must typically
train an employee in HACCP procedures, and some also hire outside auditors
or inspectors, Cockram said.
Tomato growers in Florida
imposed their own food-safety program, which does not include a HACCP
and is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of FDA.
The program went into place last summer.
lack of progress in reducing food safety risks
Source of Article: http://www.thetandd.com/
By GEORGINA GUSTIN, St. Louis
Post-Dispatch Monday, April 13, 2009
Rates of food-borne illnesses
have remained roughly level since 2004, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention reported Thursday, revealing what health officials and
regulators say is an alarming lack of progress in reducing food safety
The rate of illnesses
from salmonella ? the bug that struck hundreds of Americans in recent
outbreaks involving peanut butter and hot peppers ? is twice the level
federal agencies had hoped to reach, according to the CDC. Meanwhile,
produce-related food poisonings are on the rise.
¡°We need greater efforts
along the food chain ? from farm to table,¡± said Dr. Robert Tauxe of the
Faced with bigger, more
complex food-poisoning outbreaks in recent years, government agencies
have been forced to devote the bulk of their resources to reacting only
after people became sick. Outbreaks also are becoming more difficult to
investigate as more imported food pours into the U.S. and food distribution
networks become more complex.
¡°As supply chains get
longer and longer, there¡¯s more opportunity for contaminants,¡± said Dr.
Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Food and Drug Administration¡¯s Center
for Food Safety. ¡°One single ingredient can have a very wide distribution.¡±
Investigators also have
to cope with the emergence of new forms of illness. ¡°Our pathogens have
complicated ecologies that may be changing, and we have very little information
about that,¡± Tauxe said.
The CDC report focused
on data collected from 10 states through a government surveillance network
dubbed FoodNet. The network tracked food-borne pathogens dating back to
1996. The data showed declines in cases of several food-borne illnesses
from 1996 to 2004, but those numbers have leveled off since.
In recent years, however,
several prominent outbreaks have heightened awareness of food poisoning
and triggered several bills in Congress that would overhaul the food safety
system. The Obama administration has declared food safety a priority,
and last month established a Food Safety Working Group to address what
the president called an ¡°unacceptable¡± status quo.
¡°Our system of inspection
and enforcement is spread out so widely among so many people that it¡¯s
difficult for different parts of the government to share information,
work together and solve problems,¡± the president said in March.
The agencies responsible
for food safety and responding to outbreaks are vast, unwieldy and often
fail to communicate effectively, many critics and regulators say. Last
year, when a cluster of salmonellosis cases appeared in Jefferson County,
inspectors and scientists from three federal agencies came to the area
to oversee different parts of the investigation.
¡°We¡¯ve dealt directly
with the CDC, the FDA and the Department of Agriculture on some of these
issues as most health departments have,¡± said Dennis Diehl, the county¡¯s
health director. ¡°But because of the way the responsibilities are delegated
to those different agencies, the FDA doesn¡¯t always know what Agriculture
or what CDC is doing, and sometimes it¡¯s hard to get information.¡±
Critics say the Food
and Drug Administration, which oversees 80 percent of the food in the
U.S., is overwhelmed and devotes more resources to drug oversight than
food. Last year, however, the agency hired 150 more inspectors, and plans
to hire roughly 30 more scientists and consumer safety officers. The agency
also has opened several international offices, in China, Latin America
and India. ¡°It¡¯s become very clear that preventative controls are critical,¡±
said David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug
Administration. ¡°FDA certainly needs to do more inspections.¡±
Food safety experts generally
agree that more inspections and more emphasis on prevention rather than
reaction will be key to addresses food poisoning challenges.
One bill introduced in
Congress would call for a single food safety agency to streamline the
food safety system. Another calls for preventative controls in high-risk
facilities and points along the food chain.
Michael Taylor, a professor
at the George Washington School of Public Health and former deputy commissioner
for policy at the Food and Drug Administration, agrees the country¡¯s food
safety system needs to undergo a ¡°paradigm shift.¡±
¡°It has to shift from
people getting sick to a framework of prevention where you clarify the
industry¡¯s duty to implement modern preventative controls,¡± Taylor said.
¡°Also defining through government standards what¡¯s good enough, and following
up with inspection and enforcement.¡±
Taylor, as well as other
food safety experts, say the time is ripe for substantial change, noting
the reform theme of the Obama administration.
¡°You¡¯ve got a visible
presence for reform,¡± Taylor said, ¡°and that¡¯s an important part of this.¡±
found to be unlikely E. coli culprits
Two years of testing show that wild animals are not 'Typhoid Marys,' California
By Bettina Boxall April 11, 2009
After wild pigs were linked to the deadly E. coli outbreak in California
spinach nearly three years ago, Central Coast growers started shooting
and poisoning wildlife.
Workers on one large
farm killed 33 deer in a single year. Farmers poisoned ponds to get rid
of frogs, ripped out trees and bushes and erected miles of expensive fencing.
But two years of testing
wild animals and birds in the region suggests that only a small fraction
actually carry the strain of Escherichia coli responsible for the contamination.
The results, released
by the state Department of Fish and Game this week, "show that wildlife
are not the Typhoid Marys some people think they are and some of the extreme
measures are not necessary," said state wildlife biologist Terry
As part of an ongoing
study of the pathogen, researchers collected samples from 866 animals,
including 311 black-tailed deer, 184 feral pigs, 73 birds, 61 rabbits,
58 tule elk, squirrels, mice, skunks and coyotes.
Only four -- from a pig,
a coyote and two elk -- tested positive for the lethal bacterium, E. coli
0157:H7. That is slightly less than half of 1%.
Three people, including
a toddler, died in the spinach outbreak in the late summer of 2006. Federal
authorities estimated that several thousand people were sickened across
The contamination was
traced to spinach grown on a cattle ranch east of Salinas. Although the
precise source was never determined, the virulent E. coli was found in
river water as well as in feces from cattle and wild pigs on the ranch.
The produce industry
later adopted a voluntary set of standards for growing and handling leafy
greens that amounted to a big "Keep Out" sign for any wildlife
considered potential carriers of E. coli 0157:H7.
Big produce buyers also
struck their own safety agreements with farmers, calling for even more
Requests jumped for state
depredation permits allowing farmers to shoot wildlife damaging their
crops. Growers who might otherwise have tolerated a deer browsing some
lettuce shot the animals, fearing they couldn't sell a crop if safety
auditors found droppings or tracks in a field.
"The buyers don't
want even mice getting close," Palmisano said.
Baited PVC pipes with
traps are a common sight along the edge of fields. Much of the Salinas
River has been fenced. Grass along irrigation and runoff ditches has been
dug up, leaving wide strips of bare ground.
"Folks are having
to do stuff they don't want to do in order to sell their crop," said
Paul Robins, executive director of the Monterey County Resource Conservation
In a 2007 survey by the
district, one grower reported he had lost $17,500 worth of a crop because
there were deer tracks in a field. A harvest was stopped when frogs and
tadpoles were found in a creek.
The district's program
director, Melanie Beretti, said farmers are resisting anti-erosion and
water quality projects that involve vegetation that could attract wildlife.
She cited a strawberry
grower who wanted to plant a hedgerow next to a long ditch. He dropped
the idea because another farmer sometimes grew leafy greens in the field
and couldn't plant within 50 feet of the shrubs.
Hank Giclas, vice president
of the Western Growers Assn., said farmers are caught in a bind between
satisfying wholesalers' demands and conservation practices.
"We're very supportive"
of the E. coli study, he added. "We want to fundamentally understand
where the risks are -- and are not -- and have designs that minimize the
risk with the least negative impact on the environment in which people
But he said his group,
which helped draw up the voluntary standards, would wait until the research
was finished before taking any action on the guidelines. In the meantime,
an effort is underway to expand the safety program nationally.
The E. coli testing is
part of a broader investigation by government and university scientists
that will sample livestock, water and soil. More wildlife will also be
"You can't make
the interpretation yet that there is not a problem with wildlife,"
said Robert Mandrell, the lead researcher and a microbiologist with the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. "But so far the data don't indicate
there is a major red flag here."
For the survey, fish and game
workers collected fecal samples from freshly killed deer and live animals
and birds that were trapped and released. One technique is to place birds
in a brown paper bag to collect droppings. But for the most part, fish
and game spokesman Harry Morse said, "gloves and little bitty jars"
Corporation of America Texas Plant Fined $14.6 Million Due to Salmonella
Source of Article: http://www.marlerblog.com/
According to press reports, the Texas Department of State Health Services
has levied a $14.6 million fine against the Texas plant owned by a peanut
company at the heart of a national salmonella outbreak. The Texas Department
of State Health Services said Thursday it was fining Plainview Peanut
Co. LLC over alleged violations that include unsanitary conditions, product
contamination, illnesses linked to peanuts from the plant and operating
without a food manufacturers' license. The Plainview plant has been closed
since Feb. 9. The plant's owner, Peanut Corp. of America, is blamed for
an outbreak that has sickened nearly 700 people and is said to be the
cause of at least nine deaths.
I look forward to seeing the insides of both the Texas and Georgia plants
in the coming weeks.
shows ¡®plateau¡¯ in foodborne disease prevention
Source of Article: www.meatingplace.com
By Ann Bagel Storck on 4/10/2009
The incidence of the most common foodborne illnesses has changed very
little over the past three years, according to a 10-state report released
Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings are from 2008 data reported by the Foodborne Diseases Active
Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a collaborative project of CDC, USDA's
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
and 10 state sites.
Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Listeria, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia
coli (STEC) O157, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio and Yersinia did not change
significantly when compared to the previous three years (2005-2007), the
latest data showed. Although there have been significant declines in the
incidence of some foodborne infections since surveillance began in 1996,
these declines all occurred before 2004.
"We have reached a plateau in the prevention of foodborne disease,
and there must be new efforts to develop and evaluate food safety practices
from the farm to the table," said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of
CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases
"We have worked hard to reduce contamination in FSIS-regulated products
and have seen marked success in Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes,"
said David Goldman, assistant administrator of FSIS. "We are concerned
about the lack of progress in reducing the incidence of foodborne illness
and believe this report points to the need for better information about
sources of infection."
No salmonella found in New York pistachio plant
Source of Article: http://www.google.com/
1 hour ago
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) ? New York officials say they found no traces of salmonella
in a Long Island pistachio processing plant whose sister company sparked
a nationwide recall of the nut last week.
New York State Agriculture
Commissioner Patrick Hooker said Friday that inspectors received negative
results on nine environmental swabs of Commack, N.Y.-based Setton International
Foods, Inc. and eight sample tests of company food products.
The probe was conducted
in tandem with an investigation into Setton's sister firm in California,
where federal food safety officials found traces of the bacteria inside
the plant earlier this week.
Setton Pistachio of Terra
Bella, Inc. has temporarily closed after recalling more than 2 million
pounds of potentially tainted nuts.
don¡¯t know source of rare E. coli strain
Source of Article: http://www.watertechonline.com/news.asp?N_ID=71732
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK ? An April 9 Oklahoma Health Department report leaves
open the possibility that the E. coli outbreak that killed one man and
sickened hundreds of others last August in Locust Grove, OK, may have
come from a water well, according to an April 9 Associated Press (AP)
The report said analysis
suggests there was ongoing foodborne transmission of the bacteria at the
Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove from August 15 to August 24;
however, because no specimen of the bacteria was found in the restaurant,
investigators could not determine how it was introduced or spread, AP
Dr. Kristy Bradley acknowledged that she wished the source of the rare
E. coli strain O111 had been found, adding ¡°it will have to remain a mystery.¡±
Other strains of the bacteria were found in the Country Cottage¡¯s private
Oklahoma Attorney General
Drew Edmondson previously said that the tainted well water may have been
to blame for the outbreak, and has alleged that chicken waste polluted
water supplies in the region, as WaterTech Online¢ç reported.
According to the AP report,
Edmondson has said the Health Department ¡°botched¡± the probe and he is
pursuing a lawsuit against Arkansas poultry companies.
Many consumers ignore food-product recalls: study
Source of Article: http://www.meatnews.com
(MEATPOULTRY.com, April 14, 2009) by Bryan Salvage
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. ? Many Americans do not check their homes for recalled
food products, according to a Rutgers¡¯ Food Policy Institute study released
on April 14. Approximately 60% of the studied sample reported ever having
looked for recalled food in their homes, and only 10% said they had ever
found a recalled food product.
The study was based on
a survey of 1,101 Americans interviewed by telephone from Aug. 4 to Sept.
Although most respondents
said they pay a lot of attention to food recalls and when they learn about
them tell many other people, 40% of these consumers think the foods they
purchase are less likely to be recalled than those purchased by others
? appearing to believe that food recalls just don¡¯t apply to them.
Approximately half of
Americans say that food recalls have had no impact on their lives, despite
widespread awareness of recent foodborne-illness outbreaks and a sense
that the number of food recalls is increasing, said William K. Hallman,
psychologist and professor of human ecology at Rutgers, The State University
of New Jersey, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and lead
author of the study report.
to pay attention to news about recalls isn¡¯t the hard part. It¡¯s getting
them to take the step of actually looking for recalled food products in
their homes," said Mr. Hallman, who is also the director of F.P.I.
offered suggestions on how to improve food recall communications. Approximately
75% of those surveyed said they would like to receive personalized information
about recalls on their receipt at the grocery store, and more than 60%
said they also would also like to receive such information through a letter
or an e-mail.
about food recalls may be the way to overcome the sense that the messages
are meant for someone else, Mr. Hallman said. Providing consumers with
recall information about specific products they have purchased makes it
harder for them to ignore the advice to look for the recalled items.
However, even when people
find recalled food, not all do what they are told. Approximately 12% reported
eating a food they thought had been recalled. On the other hand, more
than 25% reported that they had discarded food products after hearing
about a recall, potentially wasting safe, nutritious food. Many consumers
also avoid purchasing products not included in the recall but which are
similar or are from the same manufacturer.
"Our research also
points out that instructions to consumers must be clear and comprehensible
if you want them to act appropriately after a food recall," Mr. Hallman
Authors of the study
also include Cara L. Cuite, a researcher at F.P.I., and Neal H. Hooker,
a researcher at the Ohio State University. The U.S. Department of Agriculture
and the Grocery Manufacturers Association funded the study.
'Maple Leaf was responsible for the loss of 21 lives'
Source of Article: http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/617946
CEO Michael McCain says company not rigorous enough analyzing listeria
Apr 14, 2009 04:30 AM
Robert Cribb STAFF REPORTER
If Michael McCain had
known last year what he knows today about the deadly listeria bacteria,
21 lives could have been saved, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods
clear that Maple Leaf was responsible for the loss of 21 lives,"
McCain told a meeting of the Star's editorial board. "I felt that
While Maple Leaf conducted
its own internal listeria tests prior to the outbreak, McCain said the
company wasn't rigorous enough about analyzing the results.
"We didn't have
a sense of what was high," he said. "We weren't asking the government
for more rigorous standards. We should have been."
The Maple Leaf outbreak,
traced to cold cuts produced in the company's Bartor Rd. plant last August,
triggered a national scare and a public-relations nightmare for one of
Canada's oldest and most identifiable food companies.
With two separate federal
investigations into the outbreak underway, McCain is calling for tougher
food regulations in Canada and coming clean about an industry-wide lack
of scrutiny around the deadly pathogen.
The listeria outbreak
was caused, in part, by a "failure of expectations" in Canadian
food safety regulations that historically had no requirement for listeria
testing, he said.
Data collected at Maple
Leaf's Bartor Rd. plant in 2008 prior to the outbreak indicated 4.1 per
cent of samples were positive, a figure not previously released to the
public. Those findings were within company protocols in place at the time,
"However, we were
not as good as we thought we were then, and we now know that this positive
sample rate would be higher than compared to our current practices and
the rigour we now have in place ... We wish we knew then what we know
By the time McCain was
warned about the test results, people were already dying. "I wish
we had known earlier. But we didn't."
Since the outbreak, the
company has doubled its testing and increased analysis of the results,
he said. It also now quarantines any food that produces positive tests
until further testing can be done.
The company's new quarantining
protocol ? in which suspect meat is blocked from shipment until it is
proven to be safe ? already had an embarrassing failure in February when
26,000 packages of quarantined hot dogs were accidentally sent to distributors
The federal government
has also imposed new listeria testing rules on the industry since the
Maple Leaf outbreak.
As of April 1, companies
and Canadian Food Inspection inspectors must conduct occasional tests
on meat before it is shipped to market and all positive tests must be
reported. McCain calls the new measure a meaningful step forward.
But he is calling for
further government reforms including greater transparency around food-borne
illness trends and enforcement activities.
As it stands, detailed
inspection results from Canadian meat plants cannot be obtained under
the federal access to information act. Such records, along with an array
of other food-borne illness information, are widely available in the U.S.
While the outbreak has
been damaging for Maple Leaf, including a $27 million lawsuit it settled
with victims in December, sales have largely rebounded, McCain said.
Next Monday, McCain is
scheduled to appear before the parliamentary agriculture committee that
recently launched a public investigation into the outbreak and, more broadly,
the country's food safety system.
A separate probe, ordered
by the Prime Minister's Office, is being led by Sheila Weatherill, former
president and CEO of Edmonton's Capital Health Region. Weatherill, who
will not hold public hearings and has no authority to call witnesses,
is expected to issue her report July 20.
develops vaccine for E. coli diarrheal diseases that kill up to 3 million
Source of Article: http://news.msu.edu/story/6181/
Published: April 14,
EAST LANSING, Mich. ?
A Michigan State University researcher has developed a working vaccine
for a strain of E. coli that kills 2 million to 3 million children each
year in the developing world.
Enterotoxigenic E. Coli,
which is responsible for 60 percent to 70 percent of all E. coli diarrheal
disease, also causes health problems for U.S. troops serving overseas
and is responsible for what is commonly called traveler¡¯s diarrhea.
A. Mahdi Saeed, professor
of epidemiology and infectious disease in MSU¡¯s colleges of Veterinary
Medicine and Human Medicine, has applied for a patent for his discovery
and has made contact with pharmaceutical companies for commercial production.
Negotiations with several firms are ongoing.
¡°This strain of E. coli
is an international health challenge that has a huge impact on humanity,¡±
said Saeed, who has devoted four years to develop a working vaccine at
MSU¡¯s National Food Safety and Toxicology Center. ¡°By creating a vaccine,
we can save untold lives. The implications are massive.¡±
ETEC affects millions
of adults and children across the globe, mainly in southern hemisphere
countries throughout Africa and South America. It also poses a risk to
U.S. troops serving in southern Asia and the Middle East.
was discovering a way to overcome the miniscule molecular size of one
of the illness-inducing toxins produced by the E. coli bug. Since the
toxin was so small, it did not prompt the body¡¯s defense system to develop
immunity, allowing the same individual to repeatedly get sick, often with
more severe health implications.
Saeed created a biological
carrier to attach to the toxin that once introduced into the body induces
a strong immune response. This was done by mapping the toxin¡¯s biology
and structure during the design of the vaccine. Saeed¡¯s work was funded
in part by a $510,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
After creating the carrier
in a lab at MSU, Saeed and his team tested it on mice and found the biological
activity of the toxin was enhanced by more than 40 percent, leading to
its recognition by the body¡¯s immune system. After immunizing a group
of 10 rabbits, the vaccine led to the production of the highest neutralizing
antibody ever reported for this type of the toxin.
Saeed hopes that human
clinical trials could begin late in the year.
There also are several
other human health implications for the vaccine, besides providing immunity
against most E. coli disease, according to Saeed. Many patients who undergo
anesthesia during a medical procedure surgery suffer from post-operative
paralytic ileus, or an inability to have a bowel movement. A small oral
dosage of the vaccine could act as a laxative, which often aren¡¯t prescribed
after a surgery for fear of side effects, Saeed said. A small dose also
could help with urinary retention.
The vaccine will be available
for animals as well, Saeed added. He pointed out the E. coli bug also
is a major cause of sickness and death for newborn animals such as calves
and piglets, which in the United States alone causes $300 million in loss
of agricultural products each year.
Finds Many Consumers Ignore Food Product Recalls
Source of Article: http://news.rutgers.edu/ April 14, 2009
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. ?
Rutgers¡¯ Food Policy Institute (FPI) released a study today showing that
many Americans fail to check their homes for recalled food products. Only
about 60 percent of the studied sample reported ever having looked for
recalled food in their homes, and only 10 percent said they had ever found
a recalled food product.
The study was based on
a survey of 1,101 Americans interviewed by telephone from Aug. 4 to Sept.
24, 2008. The study can be downloaded at www.foodpolicy.rutgers.edu.
Most respondents said they
pay a great deal of attention to food recalls and, when they learn about
them, tell many other people. But 40 percent of these consumers think
that the foods they purchase are less likely to be recalled than those
purchased by others, appearing to believe that food recalls just don¡¯t
apply to them.
Despite widespread awareness
of recent foodborne illness outbreaks and a sense that the number of food
recalls is increasing, about half of Americans say that food recalls have
had no impact on their lives, said psychologist William K. Hallman, a
professor of human ecology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey,
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. ¡°Getting consumers to
pay attention to news about recalls isn¡¯t the hard part," he said.
¡°It¡¯s getting them to take the step of actually looking for recalled food
products in their homes.¡± Hallman is also the director of FPI and lead
author of the study report.
The Rutgers researchers also
offered suggestions about how to improve communications about food recalls.
Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed said they would like to receive personalized
information about recalls on their receipt at the grocery store, and more
than 60 percent said they also would also like to receive such information
through a letter or an e-mail.
Hallman said that personalizing
communications about food recalls may be the way to overcome the sense
that the messages are meant for someone else. Providing consumers with
recall information about specific products they have purchased makes it
harder for them to ignore the advice to look for the recalled items.
But even when people find recalled
food, not all do what they are told. Approximately 12 percent reported
eating a food they thought had been recalled. At the other extreme, some
consumers take a ¡°better safe than sorry¡± attitude. More than 25 percent
reported that they had simply discarded food products after hearing about
a recall, potentially wasting safe, nutritious food. Many consumers also
avoid purchasing products not included in the recall but which are similar,
or are from the same manufacturer.
¡°Our research also points
out that instructions to consumers must be clear and comprehensible if
you want them to act appropriately after a food recall,¡± Hallman said.
He cites the Food and Drug Administration¡¯s recent advice to consumers
not to eat pistachios, but to hold onto them and not throw them away as
confusing to consumers.
¡°We found that clear, direct
messages such as ¡®throw the food in the garbage¡¯ or ¡®return the food to
the store for a refund,¡¯ should motivate action. Keeping people in a holding
pattern is more likely to result in inaction, and it certainly increases
the likelihood that someone might eat the food by accident.¡±
The authors of the study are
William K. Hallman and Cara L. Cuite, researchers at FPI, and Neal H.
Hooker, a researcher at the Ohio State University. The study was funded
by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Grocery Manufacturers
An earlier report based on
data from the same survey provided insight into consumer awareness of
the Salmonella Saintpaul advisory in the summer of 2008. The report is
also available at www.foodpolicy.rutgers.edu.
FPI is a research unit of Rutgers¡¯
New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. The institute addresses important
emerging food policy issues and supports public and private decision makers
who shape aspects of the food system within which government, agriculture,
industry and the consumer interact.
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