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Outbreaks Put Worry on the Table
Source of Article:
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 unpasteurized milk.

Is it becoming more dangerous to eat?
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 or authority.

¡°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 more pronounced.¡±

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 industry.

¡°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 industry.

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 crop up.

¡°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 and hygiene.

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.¡¯ ¡±

OTA Weighs in on Internet Clamor Over Food Safety Legislation and Organic
Source of Article:
Date: 05-07-2009
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.

The Case for an International Food Safety Agency
Source of Article:
Gerald Moy | May 8, 2009
Editor: Miriam Pemberton Foreign Policy In Focus
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 that would:
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.

US to revamp food safety
Source of Article:
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 expressing opposition.
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 accountable operation.
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 continuing project.
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 heart risks.
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 interference.

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. -- AP

Grants aim to increase food safety in greens

Source of Article:
Cecilia Parsons
Capital Press
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 are:
- 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, USDA.
? A high through-put culture-independent approach to identify index and indicator species for E. coli O157:H& contamination: Gitta Coaker, UC-Davis.
? 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.

WHO changes tune, now says pork safe to eat
Source of Article:
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 is safe.
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. Preugschas said.
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 since 2006.
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 Winnipeg.
"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 years.

Not anymore.
"Right now, what's going to happen, nobody knows," Mr. Kynoch said.
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 beef ranchers.
"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 same way."

First Salmonella Rissen Spice Lawsuit Filed
Source of Article:
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 Washington (1).
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.

Obesity May Cause Allergies in Children
Source of Article:
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:
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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