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U.S. needs ranking of riskiest food products: USDA
(Reuters, DC) By Christopher Doering
The United States needs a ranking of the riskiest products to help inspectors, lawmakers and food safety officials determine where to focus their attention, a top Agriculture Department official said.
"In order to have a uniform system for inspection I would say that there has to be a risk ranking," said Alfred Almanza, administrator for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
"When you look at product risk and you look at the risk ranking of where different products stand ... I think that's probably the key for the level of inspection, the amount of inspection, the intensity of the inspection," he told a House Agriculture subcommittee.
The U.S. food supply system has been hit by a series of big food recalls since 2006, leading to vociferous calls by lawmakers, consumer groups and most recently the Obama administration for reform. Several bills have been introduced in Congress to modernize the system.
Last month, President Barack Obama announced a White House panel -- headed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius -- to find ways to improve food safety.
Almanza said a high-risk ranking should factor in the type of food, the risk of producing and manufacturing the product and how it is handled, especially once it leaves federally inspected or regulated establishments.
"I think that's certainly something that perhaps this food safety working group could do," he suggested.
USDA's FSIS oversees about 20 percent of the food supply -- covering eggs, meat and poultry. The agency has about 7,800 federal inspectors, responsible for about 6,200 slaughter and processing plants in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration covers most of the remainder.
Much of the call for change has been focused on the FDA, which has been impacted by most of the major recalls, including the recent peanut scare, while at the same time being dogged by limited funding, personnel and regulatory oversight.

In an effort to beef-up oversight, USDA has embraced a risk-based inspection system of its own. It still inspects plants under its purview once a day, but now directs more resources depending on the inherent risk of the product produced and how effectively each facility controls risk.
In some cases, the FDA can go several years without inspecting a facility. 4-23-09

USDA has answers on swine relationship to hybrid influenza
Source of Article:
By Janie Gabbett on 4/27/2009
USDA on Monday answered frequently asked questions on the relationship between swine and the hybrid swine, avian and human influenza virus that has killed more than 100 people in Mexico and infected some people in the United States and in other countries.
Although being called "swine flu" the new strain is actually a hybrid and the outbreak has not been linked to swine at this point.
"To date, there have been no reports that in influenza virus currently causing illness in humans is circulating anywhere in the U.S. swine herd," USDA stated.
To guard against herd infection, USDA has put commercial pork producers "on a high alert for safety," warning them to intensify bio-security practices already in place.

Chinese food companies should step up safety
Source of Article:
By Dominique Patton, 30-Apr-2009
Many Chinese food companies lag behind foreign firms in ensuring food safety, partly because consumers do not trust safety certification, said experts yesterday.
China has thousands of small-scale food manufacturers and many do not invest in food safety certification, said Huang Dejun, director of Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultancy (BOABC). ¡°Domestic food companies don¡¯t pay so much attention to food safety. The difference between foreign and domestic food firms is quite clear,¡± he said.
Huang was speaking at a meeting of food and agribusiness leaders outside Beijing to promote quality in the global food chain. Much of the discussion at the closing press conference focused on China. The country is now the third largest supplier of food and agricultural products to the US but has been racked by food safety incidents in recent years, including last year¡¯s melamine scandal that left at least six infants dead and thousands of others ill.
Conference participants stressed that China is not alone in facing food safety incidents but they recognized that the huge nation faces sizeable obstacles in improving standards.

Safe food

¡°The Chinese consumer is going to have to realize the value of safe food. Larger companies putting [food safety and quality] programmes in place are having difficulties convincing consumers to pay more for those products,¡± said Vincent Paez, director of food safety business development at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Thad Simons, chief executive of animal nutrition firm Novus, pointed out that ¡°there are companies in China following excellent processes¡±. But frequent faking of labels and certificates means Chinese consumers have no reason to believe this is the case. ¡°The consumer doesn¡¯t know who to trust right now.¡± Simons said retailers could play a role in building consumer trust in safe brands.
Also, the government needs to back intellectual property, said Brady Sidwell, head of advisory at Rabobank¡¯s north-east Asia office. ¡°Companies would be willing to invest in food safety if the consumer is prepared to pay more, which they will. But, if there¡¯s no brand protection and the company can¡¯t protect its premium, then there¡¯s no incentive for them to invest,¡± he said.


Despite such issues, participants said interest in investing in China remains strong. Yangjun Lu, senior financial analyst at GIC, said foreign firms see ¡°only the opportunities¡± in the Chinese market.
China has few nationwide food brands but market consolidation will force companies to pay greater attention to brand development and food safety, said Huang. The country¡¯s food and agriculture sector could be worth $1.5 trillion but two-thirds of the market has not yet been explored, he added.
Small and medium-sized firms need more training on food safety, said Huang. ¡°We hope we can learn from these foreign companies and draw on experience from abroad.¡± The US Food and Drug Administration opened offices in China earlier this year, which is expected to help Chinese firms improve standards for the export market. Participants at the meeting, organised by US-based consulting and investment firm GIC group and BOABC, proposed to establish a global food safety forum to improve industry collaboration on the issue.

FDA warns of salmonella in sprouts
Source of Article:
Sun Apr 26, 2009 6:16pm EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told people on Sunday not to eat raw alfalfa sprouts, saying they may be contaminated with salmonella.
The contamination appears to be in seeds so washing the sprouts may not help, the FDA said in a statement.
"Other types of sprouts have not been implicated at this time," the agency said.
"FDA will work with the alfalfa sprout industry to help identify which seeds and alfalfa sprouts are not connected with this contamination, so that this advisory can be changed as quickly as possible."
The FDA said 31 Salmonella Saintpaul infections have been seen in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia.
"Some reported eating raw sprouts at restaurants; others reported purchasing the raw sprouts at the retail level," the FDA said.
"This outbreak appears to be an extension of an earlier outbreak in 2009. In February and March, an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul infections occurred in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota," the FDA added.
The FDA has been struggling with several high-profile outbreaks of food poisoning, including salmonella linked to peanut products. Congress is discussing the possibility of setting up a new food safety agency with more resources than the FDA has.

Vaccine could prevent traveller's diarrhea
Source of Article:
Updated Fri. Apr. 24 2009 4:35 PM ET News Staff
An Ontario research group has teamed up with the U.S. Navy to come up with a vaccine that could prevent a common and unpleasant affliction for tourists.
A team from the University of Guelph announced on Tuesday they have come up with a sugar-based vaccination that may prevent "traveller's diarrhea," also known as TD.
TD is caused by the campylobacter jejuni bacteria and is usually caught by eating uncooked food, especially chicken and beef, or by drinking water contaminated by feces.
"Usually 50 people out of 100,000 obtain food poisoning from campylobacter on a regular basis, especially in developing countries," said Mario Monteiro, a researcher at the University of Guelph, to CTV Southwestern Ontario.
Monteiro has researched a vaccine for the bacteria for almost two decades and his work is partly inspired by personal experience. Four years ago, Monteiro contracted TD on a trip to Mexico.
In an email to, Monteiro said he chose to create a vaccine for C. jejuni because "it is a major source of food poisoning in the developing world and the U.S. military... the recent appearance of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains has now created a need for this type of research."
He added he was approached by the U.S. Navy to collaborate on the vaccine because of his experience of working with vaccines.
American tests of the vaccine on monkeys showed a 100 per cent success rate, meaning no monkeys fell ill. While this research clears the way for human trials, the vaccine is about 10 years away from public use.
In the email, Monteiro explained that the vaccine works by increasing the amount of antibodies that attack the bacteria by targeting the sugar it produces.
While C. jejuni is commonly acquired by tourists in tropical countries such as Mexico or Thailand, it can also strike closer to home. In 2008, the bacteria caused more than 200 cases of food poisoning at a B.C. bike race.
The FDA reports that C. jejuni is the largest cause of food poisoning in the U.S., more then salmonella and shigella (the cause of dysentery) combined. It reports that C. jejuni causes two to four million infections a year in the U.S. alone. It also plays a role in triggering Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease where the body attacks its nervous system.
Monteiro thinks that the vaccine would indirectly prevent that syndrome.
While there is currently no vaccine for TD, there are several treatments for it. Over the counter medications such as Pepto-Bismol and Imodium both lessen its effects. But the U.S.-based Center for Disease Control reports that TD doesn't last very long, with most cases over in a couple days, even without treatment.
TD isn't the only ailment that Monteiro is interested in fighting. He's also working on a vaccine for C. difficile, the diarrhea-causing bacterium that's killed over 2,000 people in Quebec since 2003.

Ritz to meet with head of government probe into listeriosis outbreak
Source of Article:
Last Updated: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | 8:21 PM ET
The Canadian Press
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 23. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz will meet with the head of a government probe into the listeriosis outbreak, he confirmed Wednesday.
Investigator Sheila Weatherill will question Ritz about his role in the outbreak last summer of the food-borne illness that caused the deaths of 22 people who ate deli meat tainted with the listeria bacteria. The bacteria was traced to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.
The Edmonton health care executive appointed by the prime minister to head the listeriois investigation raised eyebrows last week when she conceded she had not formally spoken to Ritz since being hired in January.
Ritz, who oversees the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the country's food safety watchdog, seemed a rather glaring omission on Weatherill's witness list ? and Weatherill refused to say whether the minister would be interviewed.
But Ritz told a special parliamentary panel on food safety Wednesday he will meet Weatherill for questioning "in the coming days."
Ritz's appearance at the food safety panel will be his first real grilling over the listeriosis outbreak.
He apologized last fall after The Canadian Press reported that he unnerved some public servants by cracking tasteless jokes during a conference call about the outbreak last August.
Ritz quipped: "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts."
Weatherill must report to Ritz by July 20, which is four months past the original March 15 due date set when Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised an "arm's-length" investigation last September.
Secrecy shrouds Weatherill's work. It's not known exactly who she has questioned, and she isn't speaking to reporters until she hands in her report.
Maple Leaf Foods apologized for the contamination at its plant and agreed to pay up to $27 million to settle class-action lawsuits with the hundreds of people who fell ill and relatives of those who died.

Inspection report of Maple Leaf meat plant not altered: food agency
Source of Article:
Last Updated: Thursday, April 30, 2009 | 12:42 PM ET
CBC News
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has denied altering a report that questions whether Maple Leaf Foods cleaned all of its equipment at a Toronto meat processing plant six months before last summer's deadly listeriosis outbreak.
The report in question is from an inspection of the Toronto plant on Feb. 11, 2008.

In August 2008, the agency told the inspector to add a note indicating the company cleaned all the slicing machines and, as a result, there was no "food safety risk."
The agency's top officials faced questions on Parliament Hill about the report on Wednesday before a committee of MPs examining the listeriosis crisis.
Cameron Prince, the CFIA's vice-president of operations, told the committee the purpose of the note was not to alter or change the report in any way.
When the agency learned about the listeriosis problem, Prince said, CFIA officials reviewed all the inspection reports at the plant for the year 2008.
Prince said the food safety auditors spoke to the inspectors, got a full picture of what happened at that time and believed that the records did not indicate the full recollection of the inspectors.
"And in the course of that work, they came across some records, they interviewed the inspectors involved," Prince told MPs. "And in this very small percentage, there was additional information put on the record to clarify."
The Aug. 26, 2008, clarification on the inspection report reads, in part: "It was identified that all slicing equipment was being sanitized in the operator's frequency, however, the operator was not recording for all the lines. As the lines were being cleaned, no food safety risk was identified."
During an interview with reporters after his testimony, Prince said it didn't appear to him that the amended inspection reports looked suspicious.
"It's not uncommon for inspection records to be adjusted," he said.
But Bob Kingston, a former food safety inspector who is now president of the inspector's union, said it was wrong for the agency to ask the inspector to change the report.
"It was asinine for them to even ask. It was asinine for it to happen," Kingston said. "But there's an environment in the public service where people do what they're told."
In two previous appearances before the parliamentary committee, food inspection agency officials have insisted they handled the food crisis responsibly.
Twenty-two people across Canada died after eating Maple Leaf deli meats contaminated with listeria ? products that were traced back to the Toronto processing plant.
Maple Leaf Foods has said the most likely explanation for the listeria contamination was an accumulation of bacteria deep within its meat slicing equipment.
The company has apologized and agreed to pay up to $27 million to settle class-action lawsuits. It has since instituted more rigorous testing for listeria in plants producing ready-to-eat meat.With files from The Canadian Press

Iowa food-poisoning victim pushes FDA overhaul
Source of Article:
By Philip Brasher April 30, 2009
Iowa lawmakers have been hearing from a Waterloo food-poisoning victim about the need for Congress to give the Food and Drug Administration more authority over growers and processors.
Karen Hibben-Levi, 67, nearly died in 2006 from E. coli poisoning after eating a burrito that was made with tainted lettuce.
She met with Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Bruce Braley and aides to Sen. Charles Grassley. All told her that Congress is on track to pass a major overhaul of FDA. It was her first trip ever to the nation¡¯s capitol.
She says she had been naive before her illness about the safety of the food she bought at the supermarket or at a restaurant. ¡°I assumed that our food was safe to eat.¡±
Now, she¡¯s says she¡¯s a believer in the need for more regulation. Bills in the House and Senate would give FDA new power to set and enforce safety measures and to review company records.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today recommended that consumers not eat raw alfalfa sprouts, including sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts, until further notice because the product has been linked to Salmonella serotype Saintpaul contamination. Other types of sprouts have not been implicated at this time.

The investigation indicates that the problem may be linked to contamination of seeds for alfalfa sprouts. Because suspect lots of seeds may be sold around the country and may account for a large proportion of the alfalfa seeds currently being used by sprout growers, and cases of illness are spread across multiple states, FDA and CDC are issuing this general advisory.
FDA will work with the alfalfa sprout industry to help identify which seeds and alfalfa sprouts are not connected with this contamination, so that this advisory can be changed as quickly as possible.
CDC, FDA and six State and local authorities have associated this outbreak with eating raw alfalfa sprouts. Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia have reported 31 cases of illness with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul to CDC. Most of those who became ill reported eating raw alfalfa sprouts. Some reported eating raw sprouts at restaurants; others reported purchasing the raw sprouts at the retail level.

The illnesses began in mid-March. Cases are still being reported, and possible cases are in various stages of laboratory testing, so illnesses may appear in other states. No deaths have been reported. The number of infected people may be higher than currently reported because some illnesses have not yet been confirmed with laboratory testing.
The CDC and FDA recommend at all times that persons at high risk for complications, such as the elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems, not eat raw sprouts because of the risk of contamination with Salmonella or other bacteria. Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses, such as meningitis and bone infections.

Initial investigation results trace the contaminated raw alfalfa sprouts to multiple sprout growers in multiple states. This suggests a potential problem with the seeds used, as well as the possible failure of the sprout growers involved to appropriately and consistently follow the FDA Sprout Guidance issued in 1999 The guidance recommends an effective seed disinfection treatment immediately before the start of sprouting (such as treating seed in 20,000 parts per million Calcium hypochlorite solution with agitation for 15 minutes) and regularly testing the water used for every batch of sprouts for Salmonella and E coli O157:H7 contamination.
This outbreak appears to be an extension of an earlier outbreak in 2009. In February and March, an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul infections occurred in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota. This outbreak was linked to raw alfalfa sprouts, and the outbreak strain was indistinguishable from that of these recently reported cases. A separate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections was also linked to sprouts in 2009. In the 1990s, a number of outbreaks related to sprouts led FDA to issue its guidance. Experience over the past decade has shown that the likelihood of Salmonella in sprouts can be minimized when recommendations from FDA¡¯s Sprout Guidance are followed.
Preventive controls are very important in the growing of all raw sprouts. FDA reminds sprout growers to be vigilant in their food safety practices and strongly encourages sprout growers to follow the Agency¡¯s Sprout Guidance. Additionally, the United Fresh Produce Association has advised all of its members to follow FDA¡¯s guidance on sprouts. FDA appreciates that the produce industry has reinforced this message and reminds retailers that it is prudent to sell sprouts from growers who follow FDA's recommendations.
For persons who continue to eat sprouts, visit (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2002 consumer advisory, available at
Woman lobbies for safe food
Source of Article:

Bend mother goes to nation¡¯s capitol to urge lawmakers for better oversight
By Keith Chu / The Bulletin
Published: April 30. 2009 4:00AM PST
WASHINGTON ? Her day job is running a Bend children¡¯s store, but Chrissy Christoferson played a lobbyist on Wednesday, when she stumped for beefed-up food safety laws on Capitol Hill.
Christoferson joined the food safety debate after her son, Beck, contracted salmonella in 2007 from a tainted batch of Veggie Booty, a health food snack made from rice, corn and other vegetables. He was 10 months old.
¡°You think you¡¯re buying your child a healthy, wholesome snack,¡± Christoferson said.
On Wednesday, Christoferson, of Bend, and about a dozen other relatives of people who died or were sickened by contaminated food stumped for tighter regulations on food producers in the U.S. and food imported from abroad. The campaign, which is supported by a coalition of consumer advocacy groups, comes in the wake of a nationwide salmonella outbreak linked to contaminated peanuts and an FDA warning this month that raw alfalfa sprouts could carry salmonella.
When Beck first complained of an upset stomach, Christoferson thought he had the flu.
But when his symptoms got worse, including a fever and bloody diarrhea, Christoferson decided it was time to take Beck to the doctor.
After tests, the doctor determined it was salmonella poisoning.
¡°Diaper changing was excruciating for us for about a week,¡± she said.
But it took several weeks after that for state health officials to track the strain of salmonella to the Veggie Booty.
¡°I spent hours and hours reading labels in my pantry (and) talking on the phone,¡± Christoferson said.
Beck, now nearly 3 years old, shows no ill effects from the salmonella, Christoferson said.
But some children do suffer lasting damage from food-borne illnesses.
¡°Every time he¡¯s got a stomachache, I¡¯ve got to wonder,¡± she said.
Christoferson contacted food safety groups to make Beck available for any studies about the long-term effects of childhood salmonella exposure. But instead, they asked her if she wanted to tell her story to lawmakers.
¡°My initial thought was they would call me in 10 years, and he¡¯d be part of a long-term study,¡± she said.
She was shocked when she learned about the U.S. food safety system. Perhaps most upsetting to her is the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn¡¯t have the power to force recalls of tainted food.
¡°That just floored me when I found that out,¡± Christoferson said. ¡°That¡¯s amazing to me.¡±
On Wednesday, she appeared at a news conference with Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., promoting DeLauro¡¯s bill to overhaul U.S. food safety regulations, including creating a new agency to oversee food safety.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, drew attention in February for grilling the CEO of a firm responsible for releasing salmonella-contaminated peanuts that were traced to hundreds of illnesses. In an interview on Wednesday, Walden said food safety rules need to be strengthened, but he thinks the DeLauro bill may be too onerous to implement.
Walden has signed on to a similar, but more conservative, bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Adam Putnam, R-Fla. That bill also would give the FDA power to enforce mandatory recalls of tainted food and allow inspectors to demand testing records.
¡°It probably represents a more practical approach,¡± Walden said.
But he agrees that now is the time to push reforms.
¡°The timing is pretty good to come up with a better system,¡± he said.
Christoferson said she can sympathize with the harm that poorly written rules can do to businesses. Her Bend store, Stone Soup, was doing big business reselling children¡¯s toys and clothing before the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act went into effect this year. The law created tough new rules requiring testing for lead in products for kids, she said.
But Christoferson said food is different than clothes.
¡°You don¡¯t have a choice about eating,¡± she said.

Broken links in food-safety chain hid peanut plants' risks
Source of Article:
By Julie Schmit, USA TODAY
BLAKELY, Ga. When Food and Drug Administration inspectors visited Peanut Corp. of America's plant here in late 2001, they noticed peanut-processing equipment had been improperly repaired with duct or cellophane tape.
The "widespread" use of tape ? some torn ? concerned the inspectors because it could harbor insects, was hard to sanitize and could lead to adulterated food.
PCA President Stewart Parnell, who had taken over the plant in February, said it was a good thing they hadn't come a couple months earlier, because they would have seen even more tape then, according to the inspectors' report. Parnell promised to fix the equipment.
But last year ? months before a salmonella outbreak was linked to PCA's products from the plant ? a private audit found tape still used on equipment and to cover wall seams.
Details matter in food safety, and the story of how PCA came to be held responsible for one of the nation's largest and most costly salmonella outbreaks is all about details ? lots of them ? unseen or unreported or not acted upon until it was too late.
Federal authorities have begun a criminal investigation of PCA, and the company is bankrupt. Records produced in the FDA's investigation of PCA and in congressional hearings on the outbreak portray a company that not only failed to heed warnings about its deficiencies, but allegedly shipped products that had tested positive for salmonella after retests were negative.
More important, the case reveals a food-safety system in which every key link in the chain of protection failed, food-safety officials and lawmakers say. The outbreak "is a poster child for everything that went wrong" with the USA's food-safety system, says William Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner. "Down the line, you can find flaws and failures."
The U.S. food-safety net relies heavily on companies to be good operators. Yet PCA repeatedly failed to fix problems that were brought to its attention, according to regulatory records and documents made public in congressional hearings. Nestle, for example, twice inspected PCA plants and chose not to take on PCA as a supplier because it didn't meet Nestle's food-safety standards, according to Nestle's audit reports in 2002 and 2006.
Regulators never found anything major wrong with PCA's Blakely plant until after the outbreak. Then, the FDA found major problems in sanitation, manufacturing and even plant design.
Unlike Nestle, other PCA customers, including Kellogg, never audited the Blakely plant themselves. Instead, they selected PCA as a supplier based in part on an inspection by an auditing firm that was paid by PCA and that rates almost every client "excellent" or "superior," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., citing his committee's investigation.
The outbreak resulted in 700 reported illnesses and may have contributed to nine deaths. More than 3,600 products were recalled, costing the food industry hundreds of millions of dollars and signaling to parents that many of their children's favorites ? peanut crackers, cookies, ice cream ? could be dangerous.
The outbreak also caused heartbreak. One family alleges it stole a mother and a Christmas from them. Shirley Almer, a 72-year-old cancer survivor, died Dec. 21 after eating salmonella-tainted PCA peanut butter in an elder-care facility, her son Jeffrey testified to Congress.
"Shirley Almer loved this country but was terribly let down by a broken and ineffective food system," he said at the congressional hearing.

The industry watchers
PCA got more than one warning from other companies that its Blakely plant had problems.
Deibel Labs, which ran more than 1,600 salmonella tests for PCA's Blakely plant from 2004 through 2008, found almost 6% positive. It was so many that Deibel sent PCA's samples to a separate part of its Chicago lab to lessen chances that they'd contaminate other products, Charles Deibel, the firm's president, said in an interview.
For roasted products such as peanuts, a positive rate above 1 in 10,000 would be high, Deibel said. Proper roasting kills salmonella with heat. PCA never asked Deibel to look into the issue, Deibel said.
?Another lab hired by PCA, JLA, based in Georgia, told PCA in 2006 that the Blakely plant hadn't adequately documented that its roasting killed salmonella, according to a letter from JLA to PCA that congressional investigators released. After the outbreak, the FDA noted the same deficiency in its 2009 report.
?Nestle audited the Blakely plant in 2002 and rejected it as a supplier. Nestle's audit report said the plant needed a "better understanding of the concept of deep cleaning" and failed to adequately separate unroasted raw peanuts from roasted ones. Having them in the same area could allow bacteria on raw nuts to contaminate roasted ones, a risk known as cross-contamination.
The plant wasn't even close to Nestle's standards, auditor Richard Hutson said in an interview. Hutson, who now heads quality assurance for several Nestle divisions, said he shared his concerns with PCA officials at the time, but "they didn't pursue it" further with Nestle, he says.
After the outbreak, the FDA found problems at the Blakely plant that were similar to those found by Nestle, including inadequate cleaning and storing of raw and roasted peanuts too close together.

Nestle also rejected PCA's Texas plant in 2006.
Neither Deibel, JLA nor Nestle shared their findings with anyone other than PCA, which is common industry practice. Congressional lawmakers don't fault companies for not sharing proprietary data, but some now say that foodmakers' microbiological test results should be reported to regulators.
Had the FDA seen PCA's salmonella test results, it might have detected a problem sooner, said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's head of its food-safety center, at a congressional hearing in February.
That a lab detected salmonella in PCA products but reported it only to PCA is a practice that "we can't afford to have in our food-safety system," said Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, at the same hearing.

The regulators
The issues noted by Nestle and JLA, and the frequent salmonella positives found by Deibel, went undetected by regulators. That's part of what Stupak calls a "total systemic breakdown" of the U.S. food-safety system.
The FDA didn't inspect the Blakely plant itself, after its 2001 check, until the outbreak. That's not unusual. The agency's inspection staff is so strapped, it inspects food facilities an average of once every five to 10 years unless they're deemed high risk, which peanut processors were not.
About half the FDA's food inspections are done by state inspectors, whose departments are paid by the FDA to do that work.
After the outbreak, and a 13-day inspection of the Blakely plant in January, the FDA delivered a scathing report. It said the plant didn't clean up after finding salmonella, had poor controls to prevent contamination and had poor design to prevent roof leaks.
Most important, the FDA discovered that PCA shipped products that had tested positive for salmonella, then negative on a retest. Shipping such product is "universally condemned," the FDA's Sundlof testified to Congress, because salmonella can be missed in tests. Products should be destroyed after one positive result, regulators say.
But nine inspections of the Blakely plant ? by Georgia agricultural inspectors in 2006, 2007 and 2008 ? found only minor issues, many of which were quickly fixed, said Oscar Garrison, Georgia assistant Agriculture commissioner. Two of the checks were done for the FDA.
Garrison defends the state inspections as a "snapshot in time." Even rigorous inspections wouldn't always detect problems if a processor is intent on "breaking the law," he said.
But Stupak, who held two hearings on the outbreak, said the FDA's 2009 inspection report notes numerous violations of good manufacturing practices that weren't found by the state and which FDA officials later testified should have been caught.

The PCA case has cast a spotlight on the rigor of state inspections done for the FDA. Some states do a good job; some don't, Hubbard said. The FDA knows it needs to raise standards, said Michael Taylor, food-safety expert at George Washington University.
"There's a basic breakdown when an FDA-contracted inspection doesn't detect problems that seem so obvious," Taylor said.
PCA, which closed its three plants after the outbreak, has disputed some of the FDA's assertions. Parnell, who shares PCA's ownership with an investor group, worked at its Virginia headquarters. He and other former PCA managers refused to comment.
The plant in Blakely used to employ 50 but now sits deserted. Its paint is faded and chipped, as if a symbol of the deficiencies the FDA said were inside.

The customers
When the outbreak hit, PCA supplied 2.5% of the nation's peanut products, including peanut butter sold to institutions and paste and meal used in foods made by hundreds of companies.
To win customers, Parnell "extolled" the fact that an auditor, AIB International, had rated the plant as "superior," said King Nut CEO Martin Kanan at a congressional hearing. King Nut sold peanut butter under its name that was made by PCA.
That rating also satisfied Kellogg, which began buying PCA's peanut paste for sandwich crackers in 2007. Kellogg CEO David Mackay testified at a congressional hearing in March that PCA was a "dishonest supplier" and that Kellogg had done "everything we could" to ensure safety.
PCA had been audited by AIB, "the most commonly used auditor in the U.S.," Mackay said. PCA had verified that it had fixed issues raised in the first audit in 2006, Kellogg says. Kellogg visited the plant but didn't audit. Kellogg also got certificates from PCA ? issued by private labs paid by PCA ? saying the product was salmonella-free, Kellogg says.
But AIB's rating of PCA has since come under attack, along with the common practice of foodmakers paying for their own audits.
Stupak said congressional investigators found that AIB gives 98% of companies a "superior" or "excellent" rating. He also said that e-mails between AIB and PCA point to a relationship that's too cozy to ensure a tough audit.
"You lucky guy. I am your AIB auditor," AIB's Eugene Hatfield wrote PCA on Dec. 22, says an e-mail released by Stupak's committee.
In 2008, PCA had more than a month's warning before its AIB audit. Former PCA employees, sanitation director Anne Bristow and Bobby Mallard, said in interviews that the plant was deep-cleaned beforehand.
"Five days later, it would be back to normal," said Mallard, who ran a peanut-roasting line. "It was dirty."
The last AIB audit, done on one day in March 2008, found few problems. "Excellent cooperation was received by the writer," wrote Hatfield in the report. "On some occasions, the items were immediately corrected."
AIB refused an interview request but defends its audits on its website. It says Hatfield had inspected 200 peanut facilities in his career and did a PCA check that was so detailed he found beetles behind duct tape.
AIB also says the Blakely plant ran for months without a manager in mid-2008, providing ample time for it to deteriorate between AIB's audit and the FDA's January 2009 inspection.
AIB also draws criticism from a former food-industry official. Its audit of PCA was "superficial," said Jim Lugg, former food-safety chief for bagged salad maker Fresh Express, who reviewed AIB's audit of PCA at USA TODAY's request.
One example of "shallow treatment of a big issue," Lugg says, is that the audit notes that PCA had a written program to evaluate suppliers and had an approved list. But AIB did no further checking of the suppliers. Years ago, Fresh Express stopped using AIB audits because it found them inadequate, he adds.
Lugg also questions why another audit firm ranked the PCA plant so high even though the auditor noted many problems.
In April 2008, NSF Cook & Thurber inspected the Blakely plant for a client, which it says wasn't PCA. The audit found so many "minor" deficiencies at the plant ? including use of tape ? that the plant ranked in the bottom 6% of audits done by NSF last year, NSF said in a statement, adding that it stood "100% behind" the audit.
Still, NSF gave the plant an "opportunity for improvement" rating on food safety and quality, just below the "acceptable-excellent" rating. Lugg says that rating appears too high, given the concerns noted in the audit, including criticisms of the plant's condition, sanitation and pest control.
"The whole idea (of third-party audits) isn't working," says former FDA official Hubbard. "The inspectors are either telling the client what they want to hear, or they're doing a perfunctory audit, or they're poorly trained."
Kellogg, while defending its oversight of PCA, now says it will do its own inspections of high-risk suppliers. It spent less than $20 million on PCA products. Its cracker recall will cost up to $70 million, Mackay testified.
Many companies need to do more due diligence on suppliers, food-safety experts say. "There needs to be a revolution in the supply chain," says Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety.

The end result
Since the recall, Parnell has been portrayed by congressional lawmakers as a man most concerned with getting product out the door.
Former employees also say too little was spent on the Blakely plant. "It was production, production, production," says Mallard. "Then clean for 15 minutes."
"I'd tell Stewart that this needs to be changed right away," Bristow says. "He'd say, 'We'll get on it.' It wasn't done."
The plant's roof leaked so badly, "It rained in the plant," says Teresa Spencer. Rainwater can carry salmonella from bird droppings. The roof leaked even after PCA fixed it, Mallard says.
PCA also left key jobs open. In addition to losing its plant manager in 2008, it lacked a quality manager for at least four months, NSF's audit says.
Parnell's side remains untold. At a congressional hearing in February, he invoked his constitutional right not to testify. His lawyer also refused comment for this story, citing the criminal probe, as did Parnell's daughter, who did PCA's books.
Jeffrey Almer and his sisters sat behind Parnell in the hearing room.
Their mother, Shirley, a woman who dragged her grown sons onto the dance floor, had entered a Minnesota rest home after Thanksgiving to recover from a urinary tract infection. The day before her expected release, her family was told she had hours to live. Her mother had lived to be 101.
When Parnell refused to testify, Jeffrey, 46, a finance employee for Best Buy, says he felt rage. It was directed at Parnell but also at the food-safety system that he says failed his mother.
"My mom should be here today," he testified.

Severe illness gets U-M senior to lobby for food-safety bill
Source of Article:
Student's E. coli infection could have been deadly
Thursday, April 30, 2009
The Ann Arbor News
Lindsey Jennings woke up last Sept. 18 feeling a bit under the weather, as though she had a touch of the flu. By the end of the day, the University of Michigan senior had been in two hospitals. She was doubled over with abdominal cramps so bad she couldn't move, and she was suffering violent vomiting and bloody diarrhea. In the end, the E. coli she ingested, apparently from lettuce on a sandwich, kept her in the hospital for two weeks with a potentially deadly condition called pancolitis, or inflammation of the entire colon. Jennings was lucky; she recovered and has her health back, though she is still anemic. But she should never have gotten so ill, she said, and tainted food should never have entered the food supply chain.
That's why she joined a group of other food-borne illness victims who traveled to Washington this week to lobby Congress to reform the nation's food safety laws. "Not many people think about it,'' said Jennings, whose family lives in Rochester. "You get food poisoning, you get sick for a day and then you are fine. But I was in the hospital for two weeks, and it's something that is for the most part preventable. No one should have to go through that.''
The group of about two dozen people from all over the United States will be accompanied by officials from the Make Our Food Safe coalition, a conglomerate of organizations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and Consumer's Union.
The point, said Erik Olsen, director of food and consumer product safety for Pew, is to show lawmakers the faces behind the 76 million Americans who suffer food poisoning every year, 5,000 of whom die. The trip coincides with the U.S. House committee's consideration of bill 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act. In overhauling current laws, created in 1906, it would step up inspections, enforcement and government authority. And it comes after a series of food-borne illness outbreaks, from salmonella in peanut products and sprouts to E. coli in sprouts and on lettuce and tomatoes.
"These are not just numbers, these are families,'' Olsen said.
"Unfortunately, we are still operating under horse-and-buggy statutes,'' he said. "It really needs to be modernized.''


Make announced inspections illegal, demands E. coli group
Source of Article:
Apr 28 2009 By Abby Alford
William Tudor
FOOD hygiene officers should be legally prevented from warning businesses that they are coming to carry out an inspection, according to a campaign group set up following Wales¡¯ largest E.coli outbreak. While currently considered best practice, unannounced inspections do not happen every time, with some food businesses receiving prior notification of spot checks.
In his report into the 2005 epidemic that struck down more than 150 people, most of them children, across the South Wales Valleys and claimed the life of Mason Jones, aged five, Professor Hugh Pennington found that all of the inspections made at the premises of the butcher responsible in the months before people became ill had been pre-arranged.
This allowed Bridgend-based William Tudor time to clean up and to doctor cleaning records to mislead Bridgend Council¡¯s inspectors.
Prof Pennington has now recommended all inspections, primary and secondary, must be unannounced unless ¡°there are specific and justifiable circumstances or reasons why a pre-arranged visit is necessary¡±.
But the parents of four of the victims want to go further and Julie Price, Jeanette Thomas and Mason¡¯s mother Sharon Mills, are re-forming an action group in a bid to achieve their aim.
¡°We want to make it illegal for hygiene inspectors to carry out announced visits of butchers and other places where food is prepared,¡± said Mrs Price, mother of 13-year-old Garyn (corr), who was left fighting for his life after contracting the food poisoning bug which spread through school dinners.

¡°We want that set in stone.¡±
Unannounced inspections are recommended in The Food Law Practice Guidance (Wales). But announced inspections remain lawful and continue to happen.
Prof Pennington¡¯s long-awaited report into the outbreak that affected more than 40 schools in the counties of Caerphilly, Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend, found serious flaws in inspections at every step in the food chain, including the announced visits, contributed to the outbreak.
In making a total of 24 recommendations, he said: ¡°Authorities must come down hard on businesses that present serious risks to health and those that persistently fail to comply with food hygiene and food safety requirements.
¡°We owe it to the memory of Mason Jones to learn the lessons from this outbreak and to remember them.¡±
Following the outbreak, the parents and the families of those affected formed a campaign group known as WAGE, Wales Against E.coli.
But its campaign was overtaken by events over the past four years, including the prosecution of Tudor for breaking food hygiene laws and the public inquiry and subsequent report that was published last month.
The new group, which has not yet been named, will be chaired by Mrs Price, of Alexander Court, Caerphilly.
Following an initial meeting with Ms Mills and her family and Mrs Thomas, from Mountain Ash, whose two sons had E.coli, she said: ¡°Actions speak louder than words. A lot of people have made a lot of promises since 2005, but they need to act on them.
¡°I am not being pessimistic, I am being realistic when I say it will happen again unless there is change.
¡°There will always be rogue traders who think they can cut corners to save money and by doing so risk people¡¯s health.
¡°The public is generally very complacent, but we want to keep the E.coli outbreak in people¡¯s minds.¡±

Food Safety Legislation Could Be Next
Source of Article:

Climate change is the current hot issue on Capitol Hill. But, according to produce industry lobbyists and other Capitol Hill sources, food safety legislation could be up for debate as early as this summer. Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, says headlines make a case for food safety reform.
Lobbyists say the two food safety bills getting the most attention are the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act from Representative John Dingell, and The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, co-sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin. A similar bill, HR 875, is from Representative Rosa DeLauro. Guenther calls these ? major legislative proposals ? that are on the table.
Guenther said the challenge for lawmakers is that climate change and energy policy will grab the spotlight before Memorial Day. After that, Guenther said the health care debate may heat up. It is believed that some members of Congress would like to address food safety by the end of May, if possible.

Safe to eat pork

Source of Article:
By Ang Yiying
CONSUMERS should not be put off eating pork because of the swine flu.
Despite its name, there is no evidence that the disease came from pork, said the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) on Wednesday.
Set up in 1998, it aims to be a resource for science-based information on food safety, health and nutrition.
The Singapore-registered and Bangkok-based organisation was holding a half-day symposium on food safety initiatives in Asia Pacific at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel here.
'Just because there's an outbreak of influenza called swine flu doesn't mean that pork is unsafe,' said the centre's executive director George Fuller.
He reiterated that consumption of properly handled and cooked pork and pork products remain relatively safe as long as it has been cooked to an internal temperature of 70 degrees and above.
This echoes what the advice from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority earlier this week.
Commenting on the rojak food poisoning incident in early April, AFIC said that Singapore has high standards of food hygiene but both food providers and consumers should be mindful of the greatest food risk: cross-contamination of raw and cooked food.
Said Dr Fuller: 'Some obvious danger signs pointing towards possible food poisoning would include food that should be cold but is in fact lukewarm when served, or food that has been left standing for a long time.'

Insights On The Alfalfa Sprout Advisory
April 28, 2009
Source of Article:
The FDA has issued a consumer advisory not to eat alfalfa sprouts. United Fresh also issued a statement urging sprout growers to follow good food safety practices. We turned to frequent Pundit correspondent Bob Sanderson to see if we can find a solution to this long running food safety issue with sprouts.

We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see what we could learn:

Bob Sanderson
Jonathan Sprout¡¯s
Rochester, Massachusetts

Mira touched base with Bob Sanderson en route from a meeting in College Park, Maryland, between sprout growers and FDA officials¡¦

Q: How did the meeting go?

A: The meeting included Dr. Stephen Sundlof, Director of Center for Food Safety and Nutrition (CFSAN), FDA, Dr. David Acheson, Assistant Commissioner for Food Safety at CFSAN and Jack Guzewich, [RS, MPH] Sanitarian/Epidemiologist at CFSAN. It was an extremely cordial meeting. The fact is that the cat is out of the bag, and while some retailers are continuing to order as usual, many retailers won¡¯t accept products.

There is a question of what might signal an ¡°all clear.¡± The details are that there were a few outbreaks in the Midwest, but the critical turning point was when an outbreak that started in Omaha was linked to a later outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul in Michigan with the same fingerprint. The epidemiology implicated sprouts, but no pathogen has been found in any seed or sprouts. Jack Guzewich explained that a disproportionate amount of sprouts were found in the epidemiology, leading to the consumer advisory not to eat alfalfa sprouts. But this is not a recall.

Q: Are you satisfied with the information FDA provided to justify a consumer warning not to eat any alfalfa sprouts? Is there a reason FDA is unable to give a more targeted advisory?

A: Recent events have shown that epidemiology can be very tricky. While the "no smoking gun" (the Salmonella Saintpaul has, to-date, not been isolated from any seed or sprout samples) seems to put a big question there, it isn't necessarily good evidence that it wasn't sprouts. Contamination in seed lots can be very sporadic; a needle in a haystack. But on the other hand...? It is very tricky.

The other side of the question is, what's FDA going to do when epidemiology, based on statistical analysis rather than direct detection, indicates huge probabilities of a particular disease vector?

This is further complicated by the fact that statistical analysis involves mathematics that can be very counter-intuitive. Like, if 20 people got sick, and 10 remember eating the food in question, and 7 don't think they did, and 3 are sure they didn't, and in a random survey, 1 person in 20 says they ate that kind of food....

The other issue is that these Saintpaul positives were associated with different seed lot numbers. That¡¯s unusual. It suggests blending or mixing of lots, and that makes it very difficult to trace. The CFSAN folks didn¡¯t know where the problem begins and ends. There is certain reasonableness to this, but realistically it probably could be handled better.

If FDA could trace to the source seed ? and it has sort of implied it is getting close, but no names have been mentioned ? then there could be an announcement, the mother load of seed found. What follows is that if a company is not using that seed, it is probably not in trouble. But FDA said, and repeated, that there won¡¯t end up being an announcement to consumers that it is OK to buy sprouts. FDA has been squeamish about the safety of sprouts all along.

Q: I thought the sprouts industry had some of the strictest food safety measures in place. Why are these outbreaks occurring?

A: The guidance and recommendations are just that; compliance is not monitored with any consistency. The FDA very rarely inspects with its own people, while it does join with state boards. There are two main recommendations; one is very high levels of chlorine, and the other is high amounts of testing, hold product and don¡¯t ship until results come back negative. We take samples of water running off sprouts, and 48 hours later we get the report from the lab. If it¡¯s negative, we can ship.

Q: Are all industry producers operating under such stringent standards as your company ? Triple testing procedures starting with the seed?

A: No one seems to know who¡¯s doing exactly what. That¡¯s part of the problem. There is no compliance-monitoring. Guidance is a recommendation. That was repeated over and over again today.

Q: What is the solution? Did you discuss this with FDA?

A: What¡¯s needed is a way for industry to police itself better because FDA clearly isn¡¯t going to, but if there are more problems, it will issue very severe warnings.

Q: What impact do these warnings have on consumers?

A: FDA didn¡¯t blanket all sprouts, just alfalfa sprouts specifically. Sprout growers are dealing with concerned supermarket customers. How the public is responding we don¡¯t know yet. People who like sprouts say, ¡®What else is new?¡¯ and eat them anyway.

The industry is really in a panic and that¡¯s where my lack of sleep comes in. We need to make some kind of plan. I think it will be pretty much on our own. In terms of public reassurance, we have to generate it because it¡¯s not going to come from FDA. If the retailers are scared off, they say they don¡¯t want to buy.

Q: Could you share more information about the FDA investigation. Why are there so many lot numbers involved?

A: The tracing it to different seed lot numbers has raised questions. If people think FDA is hasty, they probably think CFSAN was not doing the epidemiology right, and it¡¯s probably not sprouts.

Q: How are lot numbers determined? Could the lots be adjacent on the same farm, for example? Do producers mix different lots together, and if so, do they re-number them for traceability?

A: What determines what number gets put on an amount of seed? It varies. You could have lot 69432 and mix 50 tons with lot 78653, and the new lot mix is called 89245. That¡¯s the mess. To the FDA, the outbreak indicates blending, which is common practice, not necessarily devious, but probably not a good idea because it becomes next to impossible to trace back. The bottom line is that blending of lots of seeds used for sprouting is not advisable.

Q: Are there lots of seeds that are specifically designated for sprouting?

A: Seeds don¡¯t become sprouting seeds until someone determines this. I doubt if any alfalfa farmer says, ¡®I¡¯m going to plant for human consumption.¡¯ They grow to sell into the raw seed market, and some of that becomes human food. And that¡¯s a problem, because it¡¯s treated like it¡¯s not for human food, and then changes later on.

Q: There must be significant differences from a food safety perspective in the farming process for seeds grown for human food.

A: Food for animals doesn¡¯t need to be grown using Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). The main differences is that on an ag field you may have livestock to help fertilize the field and help maintain it and save money, but the seeds can get contamination in the field.

Technically speaking, that seed in the bag coming to Jonathan Sprouts is not food for human consumption until it just enters the door. It¡¯s a line that¡¯s drawn.

Q: Why not just require sprout growers to use seed that¡¯s grown with GAPs for human consumption?

A: If you did that, suddenly a big proportion of sprout crop would disappear if it were only allowed to be produced with GAPs. Maybe if there was a way to introduce the requirement incrementally. It¡¯s much more expensive to grow seed using GAPs.

In the seed business, yields can change tremendously year-to-year, season-to-season. For a seed grower, this year Iowa will be good and Arizona won¡¯t be good, for example; that¡¯s why companies mix seeds in the raw seed business.

If a seed grower took a few acres and said he was going to grow this using GAP, he would have to be much more careful with intrusion of animals, water sources, how seed was handled and bagged. It should be the way starting seed is grown for human food. These issues are not just domestic.

Q: Has FDA determined that the seed source is domestic?

A: There has been mumbling that it might have come from another country. But I haven¡¯t had it confirmed, and there are plenty of rumors going around. If someone goes to a field outside of the country and finds the same strain of Salmonella, that would be pretty big news, but so far we don¡¯t know anything.

Q: Do you believe that FDA is being forthright with the industry regarding the information they¡¯ve learned so far?

A: They clobbered us beforehand with the press release advisory but were thoughtful to bring all the sprout growers together for this meeting in College Park. We had a conference call, actually a couple; on Friday they made the announcement that they were going to issue a general advisory, not a recall, on all alfalfa sprouts.

Q: What actions did FDA want the sprouts industry to take following the advisory, if not a recall? Doesn¡¯t an advisory to consumers not to eat any alfalfa sprouts put retailers in a precarious position about stocking the product anyway?

A: FDA leaves it up to us. One of our big customers is taking all of our product off the shelves. FDA says it¡¯s not a recall, it¡¯s just an advisory. This customer may not buy from us, maybe they¡¯ll charge us a lot of money for this recall. This isn¡¯t a recall, but you¡¯ve got a potentially dangerous food on the shelves. FDA is bound by legal, and they can¡¯t be mandating certain actions.

My own point of view: I¡¯ve been in this business 30 years, involved with the FDA the last 10, but it¡¯s really only in the last three that I understand how they work. Solutions will have to come from the industry. FDA may provide huge problems and the most they can do is say the Salmonella Saintpaul strain has been isolated to seed lot such and such. We need to talk to the customers and say this is the problem and convince them it¡¯s OK to start buying our product again. FDA doesn¡¯t say it¡¯s safe to start eating alfalfa sprouts.

Q: Will the industry start partnering with seed companies to grow with GAPs?

A: It needs to happen ? people with courage and vision to take a risk and limit purchases to companies that only use seeds grown with GAPs. It also could be good public relations to say, ¡®my seeds were grown using GAPs.¡¯

Q: You¡¯ve been progressive in food safety. Are you looking to start the process?

A: We¡¯ve never gotten close to seed production before. Seeds come in bags or trucks and we take it from there. We are looking more to partner with seed farmers. What would it cost you to commit to GAPs? We must talk to the farmers about costs. They might get a failed crop. In the scheme of things, I doubt the cost will be beyond what the industry can handle. But it is a paradigm shift.

The industry is not even as big as it was 10 years ago because of all these food safety problems. I had a feeling from talking with people that the industry had lots of potential, but somehow we¡¯re all stuck in first gear. We don¡¯t have outbreaks for a year or two and everyone is holding their breadth. That is not the kind of investment most people would be attracted to. We could put in controls.

If the seed is an unknown quantity, we can do a lot of testing, and if the testing shows a problem, we have to throw it all out and it¡¯s a big loss. Farmers would like the food safety mechanisms to move upstream and for processors to have better controls.

This is what concerns me about irradiation becoming widely accepted. Would there be a tendency to get lax before the finished product processing? I see the same issue with the pistachio recall, where FDA saw no need for going back to the orchards because of the kill step in the processing plant. Food safety must be applied across the entire supply chain.

Bob is a real insider with deep knowledge of the business, and he has given us two very simple changes that could make a world of difference. The FDA¡¯s approach has been premised on the idea that the sprouter of the seeds will put them through a disinfectant procedure.

That is a good policy, but why not back it up and insist on seed more likely to be safe and traceable?

Most alfalfa is raised for animal feed, so they make no effort to avoid animals or animal excrement in the growing fields. Later on, when a sprouting facility buys the seed it suddenly becomes food for human consumption. Yet it was not grown under any procedures designed to keep it clean and free of pathogens.

Any buyers out there who want to make a productive contribution, here is an opportunity: Make a policy that next year you will only buy alfalfa sprouts that are grown from seed certified to have been raised on a third-party audited, GAP-compliant farm. This should also be added to the FDA¡¯s Guidance Document.

Blending of seed lots makes traceability almost impossible, so the practice should be halted. Part of the GAPS for raising alfalfa seed to be used as human food should require its segmentation into traceable lots ? no blending allowed.

Finally, buyers need to treat sprouts as one of the high-risk produce items. That means insisting on third-party audited product.

We still find that issuing these broad recommendations not to consume really makes no sense. The risk is still very small, and the FDA would gain credibility by releasing information ? what the FDA believes the risk to be ? rather than a recommendation.

Bob alludes to a sense of consumer complacency that sprout eaters have developed over these FDA advisories. Like the boy who cried wolf, consumers who kept eating spinach and then tomatoes and then jalapenos and then pistachios and now sprouts and never got sick start to turn a deaf ear to FDA advice. That could be deadly one day, and the food industry needs a credible FDA to give an ¡°all clear.¡± The way to maintain credibility is by allowing people to take reasonable risks after they are informed with information.

Many thanks to Bob Sanderson for taking time out of a most hectic day to keep the industry informed.

Inspector amended notes after Listeriosis deaths: Documents
Source of Article:
By Sarah Schmidt, Canwest News ServiceApril 28, 2009
A government food inspector stationed at the Maple Leaf plant that produced contaminated meat last year amended some of his records at the height of the media coverage on the outbreak to minimize concerns and highlight there was "no food safety risk," say internal documents.
Hundreds of inspection worksheets from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency released under Access to Information show that, overall, the company met an acceptable level of compliance -- the monitoring and verification records related to pre-operational sanitation were complete, even though some "deviations were identified, food safety was assessed and corrective actions were initiated" in some instances.
The documents also show the CFIA inspector added hand-written notes to select verification worksheets on Aug. 26, 2008 -- after the death toll from the listeriosis outbreak linked to the Toronto plant had risen to 12 confirmed cases and while the outbreak was dominating the news.
The CFIA was not available on Monday to comment on why the amendments were made, including one pertaining to how plant staff cleaned slicing equipment.
After the August outbreak, which resulted in the death of 21 Canadians, the company determined listeria bacteria found deep inside two meat slicers at the Toronto plant was likely the cause of the contamination. The company discovered the accumulation after the machines were fully dismantled, a step beyond the equipment's normal cleaning procedures.
On Feb. 2, 2008, the inspector compared Maple Leaf's sanitation manual and the operator's plan for the sanitation of slicing equipment to company records from the previous month. The inspector found that the "monitoring frequency . . . is not always adhered to" and records for the previous month show "only the clean up" of four production lines were recorded.
"The deviation was not identified during the verification," the worksheet originally stated.
On Aug. 26, the inspector added a handwritten note to the file, stating that after interviewing company officials, "it was identified that all slicing equipment was being sanitized in the operator's frequency. However, the operator was not recording for all lines. As the lines were being cleaned, no food safety risk was identified."
In another instance, the inspector reviewed company paperwork and conducted an on-site review of cleanup verification on March 13, 2008, as part of a prescribed task to verify the sanitation practices at the plant.
Five months after the incident, the inspector qualified that food had come into contact with the water and the "production supervisor took immediate action when advised," state the handwritten notes dated Aug. 26.

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