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Put Worry on the Table
Source of Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/health/11food.html
By ANDREW MARTIN and GARDINER HARRIS
Published: May 10, 2009
Every few weeks, it seems, deadly germs turn up in the food supply.
Heather Whybrew, a college student in Washington State, became gravely
ill after eating a salad in her school cafeteria. Carl Ours, of Ohio,
was temporarily paralyzed after eating chili dogs and drinking beer. Mari
Tardiff, of California, spent three months on life support after she drank
Is it becoming more dangerous
Public health experts cannot give a definitive answer, largely because
the historical figures on food-borne illness are spotty. But most of them
believe the nation¡¯s food supply is markedly safer now than it was 100
years ago, and probably safer than a decade ago.
Yet, even if fewer people over all are getting sick, the big recalls and
outbreaks of recent years, like the discoveries of the industrial chemical
melamine in infant formula and salmonella in peanut butter, are still
worrisome to many health experts and safety advocates.
While there are more recalls
and known outbreaks as a result of more sophisticated techniques for tracking
illness to its source, some incidents have revealed new problems developing
in the food supply.
New products like bagged salads
require extra handling, increasing the risk of contamination. Foods once
considered safe, like spinach and peanuts, are now seen as risky. And
more food is coming from abroad, posing unique problems.
Many safety advocates say the
recent problems highlight the inadequacy of government oversight, particularly
at the Food and Drug Administration. The agency regulates 80 percent of
the food supply, but to safety advocates the agency lacks adequate money
¡°Those are warning signs that
we need to get a better system in place rapidly,¡± said Caroline Smith
DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, an advocacy group. ¡°The trends clearly show that consumers should
be more worried about the food supply because the hazards are becoming
The Obama administration has
promised an intensive focus on food safety. On Capitol Hill, crackdowns
are under consideration. And the food industry, reeling from costly recalls,
is more open to change.
Robert E. Brackett, senior
vice president for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said major food
companies have made strides. But the recent outbreaks have shown that
a single sloppy ingredient supplier can damage large segments of the food
¡°I think we¡¯ve come to realize
that until you raise the bar for everyone, we are not going to make much
progress,¡± he said.
Food has always contained germs,
and it has always posed a risk of illness. An estimated 76 million Americans,
a quarter of the population, contract food-borne illness each year, but
the vast majority of the cases are so mild that victims do not realize
where the germs came from.
Starting in 1996, the government
started collecting better figures on these illnesses. Figures before that
are incomplete. But Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of food-borne diseases
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was no doubt
the food supply is safer now than in the days before municipal sewer systems,
refrigeration and milk pasteurization.
A century ago, it was common
for food to come into contact with human sewage, picking up germs. For
instance, in 1900, typhoid fever killed 31 people out of 100,000. As sanitation
improved and such diseases largely disappeared, new ailments, many associated
with animal waste, took their place.
Salmonella infections increased
steadily in the United States from 1942 through 1990 before beginning
a gradual decline, the C.D.C. reported. Another 13 pathogens, including
a toxic strain of the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli, have been
identified since 1976.
Since the C.D.C. began its
improved tracking in 1996, cases tied to some major germs have decreased
significantly. Authorities cite better oversight of the meat and poultry
Ailments caused by the toxic
strain of Escherichia coli have dropped 25 percent. Campylobacter cases
are down 32 percent and listeria cases, down 36 percent. A few relatively
rare diseases have increased, and rates of salmonella, a common food-borne
illness, are largely unchanged. (Most salmonella cases are mild.)
The paradox is that even as
food has grown safer, contamination scares and recalls keep coming to
light. William Marler, a lawyer in Seattle who specializes in representing
victims of food-borne illness, said that every time his business appeared
to slow from a dropoff in cases, some new type of contamination would
¡°It¡¯s like the Dutch boy putting
his finger in the dike,¡± Mr. Marler said. ¡°When you put your finger in
one hole, another emerges.¡±
Part of the explanation, public
health experts say, is that the technology for identifying multistate
outbreaks has improved greatly.
Decades ago, the burden of illness was probably higher, but foods were
not recalled as often, simply because investigators could not implicate
them in a given outbreak. Now, modern genetic techniques can often link
cases of food-borne illness, even in different parts of the country, allowing
investigators to pinpoint the tainted food.
¡°If you are half-asleep, you are going to have less outbreaks because
you don¡¯t recognize them,¡± said Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner
for foods at the Food and Drug Administration.
He cited the recent salmonella
outbreak in peanut products. Authorities tracked the salmonella to an
open jar of peanut butter in Minnesota, identified victims in 46 states
and determined that it came from a plant in Georgia with poor maintenance
The peanut case also reflected
the growing complexity of the food supply: a small Georgia plant sold
peanuts or peanut paste to several hundred customers who used them to
manufacture thousands of products. To date, 3,913 distinct types of products
related to this incident have been recalled.
Food manufacturing is also growing more complicated. Bagged salads, developed
in the 1980s, provide a convenient solution for eating leafy greens. But
where a contaminated head of lettuce might have made one family ill, bagged
salads, which combine leaves from dozens of heads, have the potential
to spread the germs.
Ms. Whybrew, the college student,
ate a salad last May in the cafeteria at Pacific Lutheran University in
Tacoma, Wash. It was tainted with E. coli. She spent a month in the hospital
with severe diarrhea and pneumonia.
¡°It was weird for me to get that sick from eating vegetables, which is
something you are supposed to eat,¡± Ms. Whybrew said.
Public health experts say the complexity of the food supply illustrates
the need for tougher government oversight, including more field inspectors.
Mr. Ours, for instance, ate a hot dog topped with chili made at a factory
in Georgia where the equipment was malfunctioning. The chili had not been
cooked well enough to kill a germ called botulinum.
Mr. Ours, a 40-year-old furniture mover, woke up the next morning with
double vision and went downhill from there. ¡°It nearly killed me, I know
that,¡± said Mr. Ours, who now has little faith in the safety of the food
supply. ¡°I was a prisoner in my own body for a month. The only thing I
could do is lay and blink.¡±
Some people are tempted to opt out of the modern industrial food system
altogether. But doing so can put them at risk of the very diseases that
were banished from the food supply decades ago.
Concerned about health, Ms. Tardiff, the California nurse, bought organic
and less processed foods whenever possible. She decided to try raw milk,
believing the unpasteurized product would supply helpful organisms.
Instead, she got a dose of an unhelpful germ: campylobacter, easily killed
by pasteurization. The ensuing intestinal illness caused a debilitating
nerve disease. Ms. Tardiff communicated by blinking for months, and still
cannot stand or use her hands.
¡°This has been life-altering,¡± she said. ¡°All I want to say is, ¡®Be careful.¡¯
Weighs in on Internet Clamor Over Food Safety Legislation and Organic
Source of Article: http://vcr.csrwire.com/node/14951
Type: news brief
Categories: Health & Wellness / Natural/Organic Products
Source: Organic Trade Association
Organic Trade Association (OTA)
Organization:Organic Trade Association
Currently, there appears to
be much concern and some misinformation circulating on the Internet about
several proposed pieces of federal legislation on food safety. The Organic
Trade Association (OTA) supports governmental action to address the safety
of the U.S. food supply.
OTA appreciates consumer concern and support for organic production and
products. OTA¡¯s mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic
trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public, and the economy.
Furthermore, its vision is to have organic products be a significant part
of everyday life, enhancing people¡¯s lives and the global environment.
Case for an International Food Safety Agency
Source of Article: http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/6105
Gerald Moy | May 8, 2009
Editor: Miriam Pemberton Foreign Policy In Focus www.fpif.org
The recent swine flu scare provided the world with another example of
the globalization of public health. The need for global institutions that
can coordinate an international response to such emergencies has never
been clearer. We also need to look more broadly at the weaknesses in the
international public health system and how to solve them, as further epidemics
are inevitable. While U.S. pork producers are hastening to get the word
out ? swine flu is not transmitted by eating pork! ? food is also becoming
increasingly globalized. And international food safety institutions aren't
currently up to the job of keeping the food supply safe.
The case of Sudan Red is illustrative. In the early 1700s, the British
East India Company began importing pepper and other spices from India.
One of the more famous "inventions" resulting from this trade
is the condiment known as Worchestershire sauce, which was based on a
recipe brought back from India. Worchestershire sauce is now consumed
worldwide and is an ingredient of many other foods. In 1995, unscrupulous
Indian producers of chili peppers illegally "enhanced" their
crops with a red dye to make them look better. Unfortunately, the perpetrators
used a dangerous textile dye called Sudan Red, a known carcinogen. These
peppers were subsequently used in the production of certain brands of
Worchestershire sauce. After this adulteration was discovered, a massive
global recall occurred of not only Worchestershire sauce but also over
250 other products that used it as an ingredient, including ketchup packets
provided at fast food outlets around the world. Unfortunately, much of
the contaminated food was already consumed before it could be recalled.
While the economic cost and health concerns of this incident were significant,
this is but one in a series of international food safety incidents that
have occurred with unsettling regularity.
International trade in food
is nearing $600 billion a year, sustaining livelihoods around the world
while making dining experiences more varied, healthy, and interesting.
In spite of its obvious benefits, our complex global food web has also
given rise to repeated incidents where outbreaks of food contaminated
by harmful chemicals or microbes in one country are spread rapidly across
the world. While a global monitoring and response network is needed, the
long-term solution to this problem is to provide sustained, internationally
coordinated support for strengthened national food safety programmes.
Unfortunately, responsibilities for food safety at the international level
remain fragmented within individual countries.
The United States is still burdened with an antiquated system that dates
back to the Pure Food Act of 1906, which led in some cases to irrational
regulation. For example, the current system has the Food and Drug Administration
regulating pizza and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulating
pepperoni on the pizza. Despite increasing consumer demands and many studies
to support a single agency, including a Government Accountability Office
report, the food industry position has been mainly to avoid government
oversight. However, in light of increasing food safety problems, including
most recently the discovery of salmonella in peanuts, even some segments
of the food industry have acknowledged the need for a restructured U.S.
food safety system. The possible creation of a single food safety agency
in the U.S. government within the Department of Health and Human Services
is currently under study by the new administration.
Similarly, at the international level, food safety is highly fragmented,
with responsibility mainly divided between the Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Just as with the USDA,
the FAO has a primary mandate to promote the food industry and thus possesses
technical knowledge and expertise about food production and distribution.
In addition, it has also taken on a mandate to develop policies and recommendations
related to food safety regulation. However, dual mandates to both promote
and regulate the same sector have raised questions about potential conflict
of interests. In some countries, this conflict has resulted in serious
regulatory lapses, such as the case of BSE or "mad cow" disease
in the United Kingdom.
By contrast, the WHO, which was established in 1948, has a broad mandate
for public health. The WHO's constitution gives it authority to establish
safety standards for food. One of the better run UN agencies, the WHO
operates through six regional offices and about 100 country offices located
in developing countries.
Given the growing public concern about the safety of food, an International
Food Safety Agency under the auspices of the WHO should be established
Be the only international agency coordinating food safety, from production
to consumption, with counterpart agencies at the national level.
Reduce the overlap, inefficiencies, and costs among the six major international
agencies currently having food safety responsibilities, namely the WHO,
FAO, Codex Alimentarius Commission, World Animal Health Organization,
International Atomic Energy Agency, and World Trade Organization.
Eliminate inherent conflicts of interest of agencies that are primarily
mandated to promote the food industry.
Provide a rapid mechanism for reporting and responding to food safety
emergencies via the WHO's legally binding International Health Regulations.
Serve as the secretariat for the Codex Alimentarius Commission, currently
administered by the FAO, to ensure that international standards for food
safety protect public health.
Establishing this new agency would be a relatively simple matter. As with
the establishment of the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer,
a simple resolution by WHO's governing body, the World Health Assembly,
can establish the new agency, which would have its own governing council
and budget. At the same time, it could still use the existing WHO infrastructure
and support network, which extends to more than 192 countries and areas
around the world. The WHO's department of food safety would form the core
of the new agency, which could also incorporate other food safety functions,
such as the Codex. Overall, the International Food Safety Agency would
result in better value for countries by reducing redundancies and improving
efficiency and effectiveness. Moreover, the new agency would reflect the
increasingly recognized need to have a single specialized food safety
body that is fully committed to public health and free from potential
conflicts of interest.
Countries that have already consolidated their food safety authorities
under one agency, including most European countries, would likely provide
strong support for this proposition. Many other countries that have taken
steps in that direction, such as China, would also likely say yes. The
main opposition would come from the agricultural sector. But current trends
suggest that consumers and their governments believe that food safety
is essentially a public health function, separate and distinct from the
production and marketing of food.
to revamp food safety
Source of Article: http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/World/Story/STIStory_373970.html
WASHINGTON - PRESIDENT Barack Obama's choice to oversee food and drug
safety pledged on Thursday to revamp protection of the nation's food supply
to help prevent future disease outbreaks.
Dr Margaret Hamburg, a bioterrorism expert who once served as New York
City health commissioner, breezed through her confirmation hearing before
the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions committee, with no senators
Dr Hamburg, 53, said she wants to restore public confidence in the Food
and Drug Administration by putting science first and running an open and
The Senate is expected to vote on her nomination within two weeks. If
confirmed, Hamburg's most immediate task will be to oversee development
of a vaccine for the new swine flu. She said food safety will be her major
The FDA oversees products ranging from peanut butter to cancer drugs to
medical imaging machines - a portfolio that represents about a quarter
of consumer products. A few years ago, it was shaken by the withdrawal
from the market of Vioxx, a painkiller that turned out to have serious
More recently, outbreaks of foodborne illness have exposed haphazard oversight
of the nation's far-flung food supply chain. Within the agency, scientists
in the medical devices centre are in revolt over what they say is management
And a federal judge recently
ruled that the FDA improperly politicized a decision on emergency birth
control during the former Bush administration.
On top of all that, the FDA
must play a critical role in developing a vaccine for the new swine flu
virus and ensuring that enough vaccine can be made to protect the public.
to increase food safety in greens
Source of Article: http://www.capitalpress.info/
Grants to improve food safety in leafy greens were awarded by the Center
for Produce Safety and the California Leafy Green Research Program.
More than $500,000 was awarded to seven scientists in the first "Partners
in Research" program. The funding is the first collaboration between
the center and the produce industry with the goal of lowering food safety
risks associated with leafy green produce.
Bob Whitaker, chief science officer for the Produce Marketing Association
and chair of the CPS technical committee, said the scientists chosen for
the grants meet standards to produce business-focused results that can
be used to produce food safety practices throughout the food chain.
An independent advisory board awarded the grants for seven projects. The
projects will evaluate how pathogens are transferred during growing and
harvesting and seek to identify factors that support the survival of E.
coli on the leaf surfaces of leafy greens throughout the growing season.
The projects and the lead scientists
- Contribution of phyllosphere microbiota to the persistence of E. coli
O157:H7 on field grown lettuce: Maria Marco, University of California-Davis.
? Fly reservoirs of E. coli O157:H7 and their role in contamination of
leafy greens: Astri Wayadande, Oklahoma State University.
? Food safety risks associated with sheep grazing in vegetable stubble
fields: Bruce Hoar, UC-Davis.
? Minimizing pathogen transference during lettuce harvesting by optimizing
design of the harvesting device and operation practices: Yaguang Lou,
? A high through-put culture-independent approach to identify index and
indicator species for E. coli O157:H& contamination: Gitta Coaker,
? Survival of attenuated E. coli O157:H7 ATCC 700728 in field inoculated
lettuce: Linda Harris, UC-Davis.
? Comparison of surrogate E. coli survival and epidemiology of the phyllosphere
of diverse leafy green crops: Trevor Suslow, UC-Davis.
Projects will be funded from April 1, 2009, to March 31, 2010.
tune, now says pork safe to eat
Source of Article: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=1576622
Industry Still Reeling
Emily Senger, National Post Published: Friday, May 08, 2009
Pork is safe to eat, the World Health Organization said yesterday, but
this reassurance did little for Canadian pork producers, who say the swine
flu virus is the latest blow to an already battered industry.
Keiji Fukuda, acting WHO assistant director-general, told reporters at
a daily news conference in Geneva yesterday that eating pork is safe.
"Eating pork does not pose a risk to people in terms getting this
infection," Mr. Fukuda said.
That statement comes the day after Jorgen Schlundt, director of the WHO
Depatment of Food Safety, Zoonoses and Food Borne Diseases, said pork
from animals infected with swine flu should not be consumed by humans.
He later clarified his statement, saying that properly processed pork
The muddled messages do not change the situation for pork producers in
Canada, which is the worst Jurgen Preugschas, 60, has seen in his lifetime
as a hog producer.
"We've had just a multitude
of shocks, one after the other," said Mr. Preugschas, who is the
chair of the Canadian Pork Council and also raises about 9,000 hogs on
his farm near Mayerthorpe, Alta., northwest of Edmonton.
In early 2000, the Canadian hog industry used to be profitable.
"With the low Canadian dollar it was easy to compete on the world
market," Mr. Preugschas said. "We sold at a low price around
the world. We ended up being a low-cost seller for a high-value product."
Then the U. S. dollar collapsed. Input costs for commodities like food
and fuel rose.
Hog producers have lost money consistently since the fall of 2006, Mr.
Currently, hog producers are selling their animals for about 40 cents
per kilogram lower than expected, which means they lose close to $40 on
each animal they sell, Mr. Preugschas said.
Many have quit altogether. The industry has lost 28% of its producers
Swine flu means even more hog producers will leave the business in the
next 12 months, said Karl Kynoch, who is the chair of the Manitoba Pork
Council and raises his own hogs near the town of Baldur, southwest of
"This will make the difference of whether some producers lose their
farms, or go into bankruptcy, or finally just give up," Mr. Kynoch
said. "We get a lot of producer calls where they just don't know
what to do."
Before swine flu sent prices plummeting, things were starting to look
up in Manitoba, where 900 hog farmers contribute about $2 billion annually
to the provincial economy. Mr. Kynoch said Manitoba producers thought
they might actually make a profit this summer for the first time in three
"Right now, what's going to happen, nobody knows," Mr. Kynoch
Ken McEwan, an agricultural economics professor at the University of Guelph
Ridgetown Campus, said the hog market actually showed signs of an upswing
in mid-April, until swine flu sent hog prices plummetting again.
While China, Russia and at least a dozen other countries have banned or
restricted pork imports, Mr. Mc-Ewan said Canadian consumers are likely
to rally around the pork industry, as they did in 2003 when bovine spongiform
encephalopathy, better know as BSE or mad cow disease, devastated Canadian
"Any time when there is a potential pandemic, and it has the swine
flu attached to it, and you're a pork producer, it raises a concern with
consumer confidence," Mr. McEwan said. "When BSE broke out in
Western Canada, there was a concerted effort and Canadians actually ate
more beef. It's hopeful that Canadians here, now, will respond in the
Rissen Spice Lawsuit Filed
Source of Article: http://www.lawyersandsettlements.com
May 8, 2009. By Ron Simon
Houston, TX: The first lawsuit has been filed in the US stemming from
a multi-state salmonella spice recall after an outbreak related to Lian
How and Uncle Chen¡¯s spices manufactured by Union International Food Company
of Union City, California. The spices contained Salmonella Rissen ? a
very rare but potent strain of salmonella.
The suit was filed in Los Angeles
County on behalf of David Navarrette, a San Pedro, California resident
who consumed food containing the contaminated spices at a buffet in Reno,
Nevada and thereafter became violently ill. DNA testing has since confirmed
that he contracted the exact strain of Salmonella Rissen isolated from
Lian How white pepper collected from the restaurant.
Five other consumers who ate at the restaurant over a three month period
also contracted this strain of salmonella.
"We are going to determine how these spices became contaminated to
make sure it does not happen again" said attorney Ron Simon, who
filed the lawsuit and represents other victims of the outbreak.
Health officials have reported 47 confirmed cases of Salmonella Rissen
in four states, including California (38), Nevada (4), Oregon (4), and
Union International Food Company has ceased the production and distribution
of the contaminated spices as the FDA and California Department of Public
Health continue to investigate the nature and full extent of the outbreak.
The contaminated spices have also been recalled.
Cause Allergies in Children
Source of Article: http://www.naturalproductsmarketplace.com
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.?A study published in the May issue of the Journal of
Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that obese children and adolescents
are at increased risk of having some kind of allergy, especially to a
food. The study (2009 May;123(5):1163-9, 1169.e1-4. Epub 2009 Feb 23)
sought to examine the association of obesity with total and allergen-specific
Immunoglobulin E (IgE), antibodies that fight allergies, levels and allergy
symptoms in 4,111 U.S. children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 by reviewing
the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2005-2006.
IgE levels were 26 percent higher among obese and overweight children
than among normal-weight children. The odds for having higher IgE levels
were increased in the obese children compared with that seen in those
of normal weight. The rate of having a food allergy was 59 percent higher
for obese children. The study concluded obesity might be a contributor
to the increased prevalence of allergic disease in children, particularly
food allergy, but the research does not prove obesity causes allergies.
The Community Summary Report on Food-Borne Outbreaks
in the European Union in 2007
Source of Article: http://www.marlerblog.com/
I am heading to London Sunday for a series of lectures on food safety
and just in time the EU put out its report on foodborne diseases for 2007.
Full report - Here.
In total, 5,609 food-borne
outbreaks were reported by MSs in 2007 that is a slight decrease of 2.2%
compared to 2006. Together 36.1% of the reported outbreaks were classified
as verified. The verified outbreaks affected 39,727 people resulting in
3,291 hospitalizations and causing 19 deaths. In addition, the two non-MSs
reported 93 food-borne outbreaks, of which 38.7% were verified and 1,475
people were affected, resulting in 55 hospitalizations and causing five
deaths. France and Spain reported most (73.0%) of the verified outbreaks
in the EU. There was a great variation between MSs in the numbers and
proportions of verified outbreaks reported, which may reflect differences
in the sensitivity and efficiency of the national systems for investigating
and reporting outbreaks in place.
Salmonella was, as in previous
years, the most commonly reported cause of food-borne outbreaks in the
EU. Twenty-two MSs reported 2,201 Salmonella outbreaks of which 26.8%
were verified. The 590 verified Salmonella outbreaks affected 8,922 people,
resulted in 1,773 hospitalizations and caused ten deaths.
Food-borne viruses, mainly
calicivirus (including norovirus), were reported as the second most common
known cause of food-borne outbreaks, and 18 MSs reported a total of 668
outbreaks of which 16.6% were verified. The 111 verified virus outbreaks
affected 3,784 people and resulted in 131 hospitalizations.
Campylobacter also remained
a common cause of food-borne outbreaks in the EU and 17 MSs reported 461
outbreaks where only 6.5% were verified. The 29 (excluding the large waterborne
outbreak) verified Campylobacter outbreaks affected 244 people and resulted
in 19 hospitalizations.
Fourteen MSs reported 65 outbreaks
caused by pathogenic E. coli, of which 44.6% were verified. The 29 verified
E. coli outbreaks affected 541 people and resulted in 24 hospitalizations.
Bacterial toxins produced by Bacillus spp., Clostridium spp. or Staphylococcus
spp. were reported by 18 MSs as the cause of 458 outbreaks, of which 93.2%
were verified. The 427 verified outbreaks caused by bacterial toxins affected
6,277 people, resulted in 345 hospitalizations and caused four deaths.
Few outbreaks caused by other
bacterial agents like Yersinia, Listeria, Shigella, Enterobacter and Citrobacter
were reported. In addition, a number of outbreaks caused by parasites
were recorded and most of them were Trichinella outbreaks related to consumption
of uninspected pig and wild boar meat.
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