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Obama administration launches food safety working group Web site

Source of Article:

5/27/2009-Responding to President Obama¡¯s directive to upgrade the nation's food safety system, the White House Food Safety Working Group, led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, launched a Web site? provide information about the group¡¯s activities and progress.

The Web site,, will be an important resource for people who want to learn about the current food safety network as well as stakeholders and organizations which are working to upgrade America's food safety system for the 21st century. The site features social bookmarking tools including an RSS feed and a widget that can be downloaded to help stay informed.

Last week, representatives from the White House Food Safety Working Group met and outlined principles to meet the President¡¯s goal. In the weeks to come, the Food Safety Working Group will provide additional opportunities to engage stakeholders in conversations and help shape these principles.

Peanut Corporation of America subsidiaries file for bankruptcy
Source of Article:
By Bryan Gentry Published: May 29, 2009
Two subsidiaries of Peanut Corporation of America filed for bankruptcy this month as part of the parent company¡¯s Chapter 7 proceedings.Meanwhile, traces of the company¡¯s peanut products still are turning up in the marketplace. Some companies have issued recalls this month, more than four months since the first PCA product recall.PCA, based in a residential neighborhood on Wiggington Road in Bedford County, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February while embroiled in a nationwide salmonella outbreak. Salmonella was found in some of PCA¡¯s products and factories, and lawsuits were stacking up against the company.

PCA president Stewart Parnell appeared before a congressional panel discussing food safety in February but refused to answer questions.On May 22, PCA subsidiaries Plainview Peanut Co. and Tidewater Blanching Co. filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This type of bankruptcy sells all the assets of a business in order to pay debts and settle lawsuits.Roy Creasy, the court trustee who is managing PCA¡¯s liquidation, prescribed the bankruptcy filings for the subsidiaries, said Mitch Garbee, a Lynchburg lawyer with Wilson, Garbee & Rosenberger. He filed Tidewater Blanching Co.¡®s bankruptcy.Creasy, ¡°as trustee, took control of all assets of PCA, this company being one of those assets,¡° Garbee said. ¡°He ... determined that it was necessary to file a Chapter 7 for this subsidiary.¡°David Cox, of Cox Law Group in Lynchburg, said declaring bankruptcy for each subsidiary is a part of the parent company¡¯s liquidation process. He handled the paperwork for Plainview Peanut Co.¡®s bankruptcy.Tidewater Blanching Co.¡®s bankruptcy papers said the company has fewer than 50 creditors, between $100,000 and $500,000 in assets and $50,001 and $100,000 in debts.

It operated PCA¡¯s blanching operation in Suffolk, which was the company¡¯s only plant in Virginia. Salmonella was not found in the Suffolk plant.The bankruptcy filing for Plainview Peanut Co. indicates it has fewer than 50 creditors and $50,000 or less of debts and assets.

Plainview Peanut Co. operated PCA¡¯s plant in Plainview, Texas. This plant operated with no inspections for years and salmonella was found in it after the company already was linked to the outbreak.Founded in Lynchburg in the 1970s, PCA provided peanut butter and peanut paste that proved to be connected to much of the U.S. food chain. Nearly 490 food products - including cookies, crackers, ice cream and brownies - that use ingredients made by PCA have been recalled.The most recent recall was issued on May 12, just over four months from the first recall, by a dairy in Lynden, Wash.The salmonella outbreak that began in 2008 eventually sickened more than 714 people, with the most recent illnesses beginning in late March, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Gentry is a staff writer for The News & Advance in Lynchburg

FDA failed over salmonella outbreak, says new chief
Source of Article:

By Rory Harrington, 27-May-2009
The recent outbreak of salmonella in the United States caused by contaminated peanut butter represented a ¡°failure¡± by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency¡¯s new commissioner said this week as she took up her post.
Margaret Hamburg said the nationwide food scare, which sickened around 700 and was linked to nine deaths, was indicative of a systemic failure in the US food safety regime rather than being merely a ¡°sanitation problem at one troubled facility¡±.

Dr Hamburg said: ¡°It reflected a failure of the FDA and its regulatory partners to identify risk and to establish and enforce basic preventive controls.¡±

The FDA head was also critical of scores of food manufacturers that failed ¡°to adequately monitor the safety of ingredients purchased from this facility¡±.

Scrutiny of nutritional claims

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine with her deputy, Joshua Sharfstein, she indicated the regime surrounding the scrutiny of nutritional claims of food products would be tightened up.

¡°The CDC and the FDA should also work closely to identify areas of potential progress in nutrition. A laissez-faire approach to nutritional claims can lead to more confusion than understanding,¡± said Dr Hamburg.

¡®Working with industry and others, the FDA can support efforts to educate the public about nutrition and promote more healthful foods.¡±

Restore credibility

She declared that under their stewardship the nation should expect a "modern food-safety system focused on prevention of contamination".

Dr Hamburg has pledged to restore the beleaguered agency¡¯s credibility following a string of food contamination scandals in the US. Underlining this commitment, she said the FDA should deliver as a public-health agency, and not only serve as a body that helps the food and drug industry bring products to market.

The FDA had ¡°struggled in recent years to handle controversies involving the safety of regulated product, opening the door to legitimate question from the media, the public, and Congress about whether the public interest is being served,¡± she said.

EFSA Results on the Monitoring of Acrylamide Levels in Food
Source of Article:
Source: European Food Safety Authority 20/05/2009
Member States were invited to sample altogether approximately 2000 foods in the following food categories: ¡®French fries¡¯, ¡®potato crisps¡¯, ¡®potato products for home cooking¡¯, ¡®bread¡¯, ¡®breakfast cereals¡¯, ¡®biscuits¡¯, ¡®roasted coffee¡¯, ¡®jarred baby foods¡¯, ¡®processed cereal-based baby foods¡¯ and ¡®other products¡¯. Results reported for foods sampled in 2007 have been collected and evaluated.

A total of 21 Member States and Norway submitted results for acrylamide content in foodstuffs. There were 2715 results reported for foods sampled in 2007, with a minimum of 76 reported for ¡®processed cereal-based baby foods¡¯ and a maximum of 854 reported for ¡®other products¡¯. The arithmetic mean acrylamide content ranged from 44 ¥ìg/kg for ¡®jarred baby foods¡¯ to 628 ¥ìg/kg for ¡®potato crisps¡¯ with the equivalent geometric mean of 31 ¥ìg/kg and 366 ¥ìg/kg. The highest 95th percentile value was reported for ¡®potato crisps¡¯ at 1690 ¥ìg/kg and the highest maximum for ¡®other products¡¯ at 4700 ¥ìg/kg.

The 2007 results were compared with results collected by the European Commission Joint Research Centre¡¯s Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements in the years 2003 to 2006. There were 9311 results reported for foods sampled in 2003-2006. There were only eight results reported for the food category ¡®jarred baby foods¡¯ and they were not included in the comparison. The arithmetic mean acrylamide content ranged from 55 ¥ìg/kg for ¡®cereal-based baby foods¡¯ to 678 ¥ìg/kg for ¡®potato crisps¡¯ with the equivalent geometric mean of 35 ¥ìg/kg and 514 ¥ìg/kg. The highest 95th percentile value was reported for ¡®potato crisps¡¯ at 1718 ¥ìg/kg and the highest maximum for ¡®other products¡¯ at 7834 ¥ìg/kg.

There were some statistically significant differences between the two sampling occasions. Thus the product categories ¡®biscuits¡¯, ¡®breakfast cereals¡¯, ¡®French fries¡¯ and ¡®potato products for home cooking¡¯ showed higher contents of acrylamide in 2007 compared to 2003-2006, while on the other hand ¡®coffee¡¯, ¡®bread¡¯, ¡®potato crisps¡¯ and ¡®other products¡¯ showed lower contents. There was no statistically significant difference in acrylamide content for ¡®cereal-based baby foods¡¯. Lower acrylamide content in the product categories ¡®bread¡¯ and ¡®coffee¡¯ contributed most to an approximately 30% decrease in acrylamide exposure based on detailed consumption data from two countries.

The food industry has developed voluntary measures, such as the so-called ¡®toolbox¡¯ approach, which provides guidance to help producers and processors identify ways to lower acrylamide in their respective products. After evaluating the data, there seems to be a trend towards lower exposure. This trend is not uniform across food groups and therefore it is not yet clear if the acrylamide toolbox had its desired effects.

However, the acrylamide levels in particular for potato crisps and bread seemed to have decreased over time from an arithmetic mean of 678 to 628 ¥ìg/kg (514 to 366 ¥ìg/kg for the geometric mean) and from 274 to 136 ¥ìg/kg (122 ¥ìg/kg to 66 ¥ìg/kg for the geometric mean), respectively. The latter decrease may in part be due to changes in crispbread processing implemented by industry. A decrease from 427 to 253 ¥ìg/kg (327 to 177 ¥ìg/kg for the geometric mean) in the acrylamide content in coffee might have been caused by an initial overestimation, because there are no suitable mitigation measures for coffee so far.

Klobuchar proposes Minnesota model to track food-borne illness
Source of Article:

Her $20 million overhaul of the nation's system for detecting foodborne illness would be modeled on Minnesota's program, which relies on DNA testing and intensive, early questioning of people sickened by food.

By DAVID SHAFFER, Star Tribune

Last update: May 28, 2009 - 12:48 PM

Sen. Amy Klobuchar today proposed a $20 million overhaul of the nation's system for detecting foodborne illness outbreaks, saying other states should model their disease-tracking efforts on Minnesota's successful program.

She proposed creating regional centers, possibly one in Minnesota, that would train and assist health officials in other states in using the advanced methods to trace illnesses to food sources. The Minnesota Health Department program relies on DNA testing and intensive, early questioning of people sickened by food.

Klobuchar, D-Minn., proposed legislation, which she said will be introduced soon, in response to the peanut butter-salmonella outbreak that sicked 714 people in 46 states and has been linked to nine deaths, three of them in Minnesota.

Minnesota investigators in January traced the salmonella to a Georgia peanut processor. More than 3,900 products containing suspect peanut ingredients from the processor have since been recalled and the company went out of business.

Klobuchar said her bill may be folded into another food safety measure she and other senators introduced earlier this year.

According to the summary of the bill, it aims to improve coordination of foodborne illness tracking, develop better tracking tools, expand the use of existing methods and promote shared registries for long-term follow-up of diseases.

She made the announcement at the University of Minnesota, flanked by Prof. Mike Osterholm, director of the university Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, Prof. Craig Hedberg of the School of Public Health, and Carlota Medus, an epidemiologist who leads outbreak investigations at the state Health Department.

¡®All Clear¡¯ Signal Still Not Given On Sprouts
Source of Article:
Our study of the salmonella outbreak on Alfalfa Sprouts brought a letter from a producer, both proud of his industry and frustrated with the lack of an ¡°all clear¡± clarion announcement from the FDA:
As a sprout grower, I am not against the FDA sending out a nationwide advisory to ¡°Not Eat Alfalfa Sprouts¡± when consumers have become ill from eating them.
I believe that whenever there is an outbreak, everyone involved in the seed supply chain and growing business should cooperate with the Food Officials, State and Federal to the fullest, helping to get to the bottom of the problem.
While the search for a source was ongoing, we were happy to have provided to our customers facts and figures showing that we do follow the FDA 1999 Growing Guidelines to a tee and are using the latest testing methods possible.

What I am a little disgruntled with is that although the FDA discovered the seed lot numbers, country of origin, the supplier and the growers using it some time ago, and the FDA has acknowledged that it has no information that any lots of seed other than the particular lots implicated are involved in this salmonellosis outbreak, and the marketer of the implicated seed has done a Market Withdrawal, the business has been severely damaged because FDA won¡¯t issue an ¡°all clear¡± press release.
We now know that not all, but only some, alfalfa sprouts were involved; the ones that were involved in states such as Michigan did a recall.
My congratulations to all in the industry, from the smallest foodservice and retail distributors, to the very largest in the nation.
As soon as we, as an industry, were alerted to the situation, without hesitation, everyone was in full agreement to discontinue the sale of alfalfa sprouts until the source of the problem was discovered. This shows that protecting the consumer is our number one priority.
It took about 4 days to find the seed source and locate who had it, and few more days to release a letter clearing the seed not involved.
Many thanks to the ¡°Pundit¡± for showing just ¡°How Professional You Are¡± in times like this, and for your patience during this time.
Alfalfa sprouts are one of the great sources for vitamins, and it would be a shame for consumers to forgo such a healthy product.

We are awaiting another ¡°Press Release¡± from the FDA with an ¡°all clear¡± so that all the consumers who want healthy, safe sprouts to eat can buy them at every local store.

Maurie Thomas
General Manager
Caldwell and Sons, Inc
Maywood, CA

We appreciate Maurie Thomas¡¯s letter and understand his pride as the industry has moved quickly to help the FDA identify a source for the outbreak. We also understand his frustration as the FDA, even after finding the source, does not seem inclined to ever give an ¡°all clear¡± to sprouts.

On the FDA¡¯s page regarding this outbreak, this is the message still being given:

The US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that consumers not eat raw alfalfa sprouts, including sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts, until further notice because of a risk of Salmonella serotype Saintpaul contamination. As soon as the source of the contamination is identified, FDA will work with the alfalfa sprout industry to help identify which alfalfa sprouts are not connected with this contamination. Other types of sprouts have not been implicated at this time.

This implies that the source has not been identified.

Yet, if one digs into the new Q&A (updated within the last 24 hours) on the FDA web site, one gets this info:

Should I stop eating alfalfa sprouts?

FDA has no evidence that alfalfa seeds from other seed lots, or sprouts grown from them, are involved in this salmonellosis outbreak. However, if you plan to buy alfalfa seeds or buy or eat products that contain raw or lightly cooked alfalfa sprouts, including sprout blends, ask your retailer to verify that the product did not originally come from a seed lot beginning with the numbers ¡°032.¡± If your retailer says that the product originated from a seed lot starting with ¡°032,¡± avoid it.

If your retailer cannot verify the source of the alfalfa seeds, alfalfa sprouts, or sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts, FDA recommends that you avoid them, at this time.

An important note: Consumers should ask their retailers about the seed lot number, rather than looking for the numbers on packages themselves. Numbers found on packages in stores do not reflect the seed lots from which the product was grown. Therefore, the absence of a number starting with ¡°032¡± on a package of alfalfa sprouts sold at the retail level is not a reliable indicator that the sprouts are not associated with the implicated seeds.

The FDA and CDC recommend that people who are especially vulnerable to infection ? very young children, elderly people, and people with diseases that weaken the immune system or who are taking medications for an over-active immune system (like some medications for rheumatoid arthritis) ? always avoid raw and lightly cooked sprouts of any kind and any products that contain them.

What this basically says is that although the FDA has no reason to think any other sprouts are involved in this matter, it is always skeptical about the food safety of sprouts, so much so that vulnerable people should never eat sprouts.

The cause of the skepticism? Past outbreaks as the Q &A explains:

Have other outbreaks occurred from sprouts?

Yes. Since 1996, there have been 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness for which contaminated sprouts were implicated as the cause. These outbreaks resulted in about 1,800 cases of illness caused by the bacterial pathogens Salmonella species and E. coli O157.

In 1999 FDA issued guidance for the sprout industry on how to reduce the risk that their products will become a vehicle for transmitting harmful bacteria and making people sick. The experience over the past decade has shown that the risk of sprouts being contaminated with Salmonella and other bacteria can be lowered if the industry follows these recommendations consistently and properly.

Following release of the sprout guidance, the number of outbreaks associated with the consumption of sprouts, and the number of illnesses in an outbreak, appeared to decline. There were no reported outbreaks associated with sprouts in 2005, 2006, or 2007. In late 2008, however, there was one Salmonella outbreak associated with sprouts.

This current outbreak is one of two outbreaks in 2009 tied to raw sprouts. The other outbreak was associated with another bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes.

If it makes Mr. Thomas feel any better, he is in good company. Back in the fall of 2006 during the spinach crisis the FDA never actually said that spinach was ¡°safe¡± ? all the industry could get, as we mentioned here, was a commitment that spinach was ¡°as safe as it has ever been.¡±

The bottom line is that all these products that are consumed raw make the FDA nervous. How can it be otherwise? The FDA has a zero-tolerance policy on pathogens, and it knows that even with a cooking kill step, consumers still get sick from hamburger and other foods.

In the case of sprouts, the fact that it is such a small and fragmented industry means that many sprouters fly under the radar and are not commonly inspected. Retailers don¡¯t bother, the FDA doesn¡¯t have the staff and so, even today, the FDA is not 100% sure all those little guys have returned their seed and are now following FDA recommended procedures.

In the absence of such confidence, we suspect that Mr. Thomas should not hold his breath waiting for some kind of ¡°all clear¡± signal.

We thank both Maurie Thomas and Caldwell Fresh Foods for helping the industry to think through such an important issue.

USDA Continues to Expose U.S. to Unnecessary Risk

Source of Article:
17th BSE-Infected Cow Is Canada's 10th Born after March 1, 1999

Protect U.S. Beef from Risky Imports

Billings, Mont. On Friday, May 15, 2009, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced yet another case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) ? this time in an 80-month-old Alberta dairy cow. This cow would have been born in 2002, making her the 10th BSE-positive cow young enough to be exported to the United States. In November 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented a rule to allow the importation of higher-risk Canadian cattle ? cattle over 30 months (OTM) of age ? into the United States, as long as they were born after March 1, 1999.

USDA's risk modeling for its November 2007 rule (OTM Rule), which allows the importation of OTM Canadian cattle into the United States, predicted that the U.S. would import as many as five BSE-infected cattle per year based on the expected importation of only 75,000 OTM Canadian cattle during the first year of the rule's implementation. However, the U.S. actually imported well over twice this number ? nearly 200,000 OTM cattle ? from Canada in 2008, the first year of the OTM Rule. Currently, the U.S. is importing OTM Canadian cattle at an even higher rate in 2009, with approximately 72,000 imports of OTM cattle imported through May 2.

"There are no restrictions on these higher-risk OTM cattle when they enter the United States," said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the group's animal health committee. "These higher-risk cattle are allowed to commingle with the U.S. herd, enter the U.S. food supply and enter the non-ruminant U.S. animal feed system. USDA has an absolute duty to protect the U.S. cattle herd as well as U.S. consumers from the introduction of BSE that is known to be occurring under the OTM Rule, and R-CALF is again calling on USDA to immediately rescind the OTM Rule."

When USDA implemented its OTM Rule, the agency stated that Canada's BSE prevalence was continuously decreasing and that Canadian cattle born after the export eligibility date of March 1, 1999, would "have an extremely low likelihood of exposure to BSE." Since that time, Canada has detected six additional BSE-positive cattle under very limited testing, and five of these cases were born ? and therefore exposed to BSE ? years after March 1, 1999.

Since 2003, there have been 17 cases of BSE detected in Canadian-born cattle. In addition to its Canadian-born cases, Canada also detected a case of BSE in 1993 in a cow imported from Great Britain.

"Since implementation of the 2007 OTM Rule, Canada has detected one positive BSE case for about every 10,000 head of cattle tested, which represents a rate of detection greater than several European countries considered to be of high risk for BSE," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

"This statistic is even more alarming when one considers that Canada tested fewer than 49,000 cattle in 2008, which is a decrease of nearly 10,000 head when compared to testing conducted in 2007," he emphasized. "Canada's 2009 testing rate is even lower, with Canada testing more than 5,000 fewer animals in the first two months of 2009 than it did in 2008."

Bullard said that Canada is the only country in the world that does not have a mandatory BSE testing program that continues to detect BSE in cattle born after the implementation of a feed ban.

"Canada's BSE testing is voluntary, and based on the significant numbers of BSE-positive cattle detected under very limited testing, Canada's BSE prevalence rate is likely well above USDA's estimate," he pointed out. "The result is that the United States is assuming a much higher risk for the introduction of BSE than the negligible risk that USDA claims."

R-CALF USA, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, five national consumer groups and several individual ranchers have a pending lawsuit against USDA's OTM Rule. As a result of this litigation, the court ordered USDA to reopen the OTM Rule and "to revise any provisions of the OTM Rule it deems necessary."

"We are counting on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to take appropriate action to protect our cattle herd and our consumers by immediately overturning the OTM Rule that is allowing the continuous introduction of BSE into the United States," Thornsberry said.

Click here to read R-CALF USA's letter to Secretary Vilsack.

R-CALFUSA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALF USA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALF USA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit or, call 406-252-2516.

Setton Pistachio Suffered from Many Food Safety Issues

Source of Article:

Date Published: Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, California, was rife with inspections problems, reported McClatchy Newspapers. The paper said federal food inspectors found a variety of problems at Setton Pistachio, which was linked to one of this year¡¯s Salmonella outbreaks.

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella is the second-largest supplier of pistachios in the country and sells its nuts to Kraft Foods Inc. and 35 other wholesalers nationwide, making it difficult to determine exactly how may products were affected in the Salmonella Montevideo outbreak. The Montevidio strain is the same strain Kraft Foods found in products supplied by Setton, according to an earlier Wall Street Journal. In late March, Setton recalled certain lots of its pistachios after Kraft Foods identified four Salmonella strains, including the Montevideo isolates, in its pistachios, said CIDRAP. The recall was expanded after federal regulators found Salmonella at Setton¡¯s California facility, resulting in many hundreds of product recalls initiated by companies supplied with Setton Farms¡¯ pistachios.

It seems, said McClatchy Newspapers, citing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that although Setton Pistachio knew of Salmonella in its roasted pistachios as far back as last October, it did not change processing procedures until March. As a matter-of-fact, in at least one situation, Setton simply re-roasted Salmonella-contaminated pistachios, mixing them with other nuts for sale. ¡°Your firm continued to distribute roasted pistachio products after the first private laboratory sample of your roasted pistachio product was reported positive for Salmonella,¡± FDA inspectors advised the company, quoted McClatchy Newspapers.

Although Setton¡¯s general manager, Lee Cohen, ¡°adamantly disagrees,¡± the agency¡¯s report discussed 17 separate inspections from the one month between March 26 and April 30 at the Terra Bella plant, said McClatchy Newspapers. Procedural flaws and flaws in the physical plant were discovered, said the paper. The flaws were cited as ¡°inspectional observations¡± and not ¡°violations¡± and included a ¡°failure to manufacture, package and store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination,¡± quoted McClatchy Newspapers. ¡°A rusty hole in the roof above one pistachio roaster, ¡®thick layers of dust and debris¡¯ in a packaging room, failure to monitor roasting temperatures, and allowing raw and roasted pistachios to potentially come into contact,¡± described some of the negligence and filth. ¡°Our investigation is still ongoing,¡± said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek, adding that, ¡°It¡¯s not complete.¡±

McClatchy Newspapers reported that the Setton Pistachio plant shut down for a time this past March and recalled over two million pounds of nuts; state and federal inspectors then reported locating Salmonella in ¡°critical areas¡± at the facility, including ¡°at least eight reported Salmonella-positive test results¡± at the Terra Bella plant, between October 2008 and March 2009. Inspectors also said that once Setton was advised of the private laboratory test results, there were no ¡°procedures in place¡± to adequately respond, reported McClatchy Newspapers.

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons 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 arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis.

New FDA chiefs stress science, better food safety

Source of Article:

By LAURAN NEERGAARD ? 1 hour ago

WASHINGTON (AP) ? The huge salmonella outbreak from peanut butter represented a failure of the Food and Drug Administration, that agency's new chiefs declared Tuesday ? one they hope to fix.

Expect a "modern food-safety system focused on prevention of contamination," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and her deputy, Joshua Sharfstein, wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Even its defenders acknowledge the FDA ? the nation's chief consumer protection agency ? is struggling, given increasing responsibilities overseeing ever-more-complex health industries, but not a budget sufficient to do the job. An independent review in 2007 concluded lives were at risk, and morale plummeted as the agency's own scientists charged their safety concerns were dismissed by leaders too cozy with industry.

Hamburg, who was just sworn in on Friday, and Sharfstein have pledged to restore the FDA's credibility. The two physicians introduced themselves to the country's doctors Tuesday in an article published online by the respected medical journal ? and they didn't underestimate the work ahead.

One priority: Working with the Agriculture Department to improve food safety, following some high-profile crises including the peanut butter outbreak earlier this year that sickened nearly 700 people and is blamed for at least nine deaths. Peanut Corp. of America is under criminal investigation for allegedly shipping peanut butter and another ingredient used in thousands of other products that it knew to be tainted.

That outbreak "represented far more than a sanitation problem at one troubled facility. It reflected a failure of the FDA and its regulatory partners to identify risk and to establish and enforce basic preventive controls," the duo wrote. "And it exposed the failures of scores of food manufacturers to adequately monitor the safety of ingredients purchased from this facility."

The FDA's success shouldn't be judged by how many factories it inspects or drugs it approves, but in its overall work to improve public health, the pair wrote. For example, FDA scientists are working behind the scenes to grow the new swine-flu virus and make the ingredients necessary to test if vaccines against it are potent enough, and eventually will oversee vaccine production quality.

"The agency's success will be determined by the nation's access to a safe and effective vaccine," the pair wrote.

And while "the FDA must make difficult decisions in the absence of ideal information," they acknowledged that recent controversies were "opening the door to legitimate questions from the media, the public and Congress about whether the public interest is being served."

To help get back on track, the new bosses promised "a culture that encourages scientific exchange" and to better explain the science behind their decisions to the public.

Despite Known Pistachio Problems, Manufacturer Continued Shipments
Source of Article:
May 26th, 2009
FDA investigators have discovered that the manufacturer of tainted pistachio nuts that were recalled earlier this year, continued shipping their nuts for several months after they first learned about potential problems with contamination that could cause consumers to suffer salmonella poisoning.

According to the Associated Press, inspectors of a California plant say that Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. continued to ship pistachios for at least six months after tests revealed evidence of salmonella bacteria.

The company only stopped shipping after the FDA issued a nationwide pistachio recall in late March 2009, and no efforts were made to address the pistachio problems after they first learned of the possible contamination in October 2008.

More than 77 products sold under 21 brand names have been recalled this year because they contained nuts manufactured by Setton Pistachio, and the pistachios could lead to food poisoning illness.

The FDA warned consumers to stop eating any products that contain pistachio because of the large number of products that could contain the tainted nuts. Products sold under brand names like Frito-Lay, Fisher, Planters and Kraft, have all been affected by the recall, including standalone pistachio nuts, mixed nuts, trail mixes and other products containing pistachio, like cakes and ice creams.

The FDA¡¯s findings are disturbingly similar to those that led to a criminal investigation after a recent peanut butter salmonella outbreak resulted in hundreds of reported cases of food poisoning and led to the recall of nearly 4,000 products that received peanut ingredients from the Peanut Corporation of America.

Subsequent investigations in that case also revealed evidence that the manufacturer endangered the lives of millions of Americans by continuing to ship large tubs of peanut butter and peanut paste from their Georgia processing plant after their own internal microbiological testing found strains of salmonella in their peanut products. They conducted ¡°lab shopping¡± to obtain subsequent negative tests that would allow them to ship the peanuts, even though no changes were made to the products or manufacturing process.

At least nine deaths were reported in association with the peanut recall issued by Peanut Corp. However, no confirmed cases of food poisoning have been linked to the pistachio recall.

Salmonella, also known as salmonellosis, is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States, producing symptoms like high fever, persistent diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, severe abdominal cramps and pain. The first symptoms usually begin to surface between 12 hours and 3 days after consuming the salmonella infected food.

For most healthy adults, salmonella symptoms pass within a few days to a week. However, in some cases severe illness can persist for longer and lead to more serious health problems. Those who are most susceptible to serious injury include the elderly, infants and those with chronic conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes or weak immune systems.

The FDA has established a website with updated information about the products involved in the recall at

Santa Cruz scientists rely on 'tea bags' to test for toxins
Source of Article:
By Michael Torrice
Mercury News
Posted: 05/27/2009 06:04:43 PM PDT
Updated: 05/28/2009 04:45:42 AM PDT

Do not confuse the plastic bags soaking in the waters around the Santa Cruz wharf for trash. They may help warn scientists about when shellfish are unsafe to eat.

University of California-Santa Cruz researchers developed the bags as a cheap and simple way to detect domoic acid, a toxin that causes brain damage in sea lions, pelicans and humans. The new method may allow public health officials and marine life experts to prepare for future blooms.

"The goal was to give us an early warning when something is going on in the ocean," said Raphael Kudela, the UC-Santa Cruz ocean scientist who is leading the project.

Along the California coast, spring is domoic acid season. Microscopic algae called phytoplankton produces the toxin. Small sea life, such as mussels and sardines, then eat the algae and the poison starts traveling through the food chain.

People that eat the creatures ingest high levels of the toxin. Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning start like normal food poisoning, but can lead to short-term memory loss as the toxin starts to burn out circuits in the brain, Kudela said.

Larger marine life, such as sea lions and brown pelicans, that feed on domoic acid-laced shellfish or fish become disoriented. Infected pelicans start flying miles away from the shore and sick sea lions become stranded on beaches.

Scientists normally monitor domoic acid levels by testing mussels and algae in coastal areas, said Gregg Langlois, a senior environmental scientist at the California Department of Public Health. When concentrations reach 20 parts per million, the federal limit, the department closes commercial fishing areas to prevent people from eating toxic seafood. Compared to these traditional tests, Kudela's testing method is more sensitive and versatile.

Instead of collecting living organisms, Kudela's team fills plastic mesh bags with a resin that absorbs domoic acid.

"We looked at the silk bags you use with high-end teas," Kudela said. "But no one wanted to sell them without tea in them."

The researchers attach their plastic tea bags to embroidery hoops and let them soak in the ocean. Every week, the researchers walk down to the wharf, collect the bags and measure how much toxin the resin absorbed.

"The more domoic acid in the water, the more toxins absorbed onto the resin," Kudela said.

This spring, Kudela detected a slight domoic acid surge with his bags a month before traditional methods. The toxin concentrations were less than half the federal limit.

"The more warning you have, the better managers can respond to an event," said Vera Trainer, a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Anticipating a domoic acid bloom would allow marine life experts to prepare how they will handle disoriented animals before they start appearing on beaches, Trainer said.

The UC-Santa Cruz scientist plans to deploy his tea bag monitors at the Cal Poly Pier in San Luis Obispo for more testing. Kudela also hopes they can use similar bags to monitor other toxins, such as microcystins that have killed sea otters.

Besides early detection, the bags can also go places mussels cannot.

For the traditional mussel monitoring system, researchers lower bags of the shellfish into the ocean to see if they ingest any domoic acid. But mussels can only survive in salty seawater and cannot be used in fresh water.

Also fishermen sometimes pilfer the bags for bait. Kudela's method would protect the data, Langlois said, because no one wants a bag filled with resin.

IFT launches food safety videos for consumers
Source of Article:
By Ann Bagel Storck on 5/28/2009

The Institute of Food Technologists has produced a series of videos, "Understanding Food Safety and Toxicology," on instructional video Web site that educates viewers about the safety of the foods they eat.

The eight video segments, each under three minutes in length, address different topics of food safety, such as "Basic Principles of Toxicology," "Chemical Risks in Food," "How Scientists Assess Food Safety Risks" and "Eating a Balanced Diet."

"The main message we want people to take away from these videos is that the levels of exposure to chemicals in food, such as pesticides, is very low," said Carl Winter, IFT spokesman and a food toxicologist on the faculty of the University of California at Davis. "We hope consumers will take this information and make good choices about food for themselves and their family."

Irish food safety system condemned after pork dioxin scandal
Source of Article:

By Rory Harrington, 29-May-2009
The current system for monitoring and tracing Irish pork is inadequate and should be overhauled urgently, a highly critical report from the country¡¯s Parliament has said.
The body¡¯s agriculture committee delivered its damning verdict on Ireland¡¯s food safety systems in the wake of the dioxin contamination of Irish pork products at the end of last year which cost the domestic industry EUR 100 million, according to the Irish Association of Pigmeat Processors.

Committee Chairman Johnny Brady TD said the Irish pigmeat industry was hugely important. In 2007, 188,000 tonnes of pigmeat were produced valued at EUR 368 million, while the industry employed 7,000 people.

¡°It is because of this significance that the Committee decided to undertake this investigation into the dioxin contamination incident, with a view to identifying lessons for the future," he said.

System ineffective

The report declared that the present traceability regime operating for Irish pork products was simply not working. It said an effective traceability system would have been able to ensure only contaminated meat was recalled after dioxin-tainted animal feed was given to pigs on just 10 of Ireland¡¯s 500 pig farms. Instead, the ¡°absence of an effective traceability scheme necessitated a 100 per cent recall of product for a 10 per cent contamination rate¡±, said the group.

A committee statement said: ¡°The present system for monitoring and tracing Irish pork products is ineffective and significant changes are required in order to avoid a repeat of the total recall of Irish pork products.¡±

Government rethink needed

In a wide-ranging review, the committee urged the government to rethink its proposal to amalgamate the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) with the Irish Medicines Board and the Office of Tobacco Control amid fears the merger ¡°could endanger the reputation and focus of the organization¡±.

The current arrangement of numerous agencies responsible for food safety operating under service level agreements with the FSAI was dismissed as ¡°not satisfactory¡± by the members, who also called for the remit of FSAI to be extended to cover both animal feed and food.

It also condemned as ¡°unacceptable¡± that the food recycling centre owned by Millstream Recycling, the firm at the centre of the contamination incident, was not inspected at all in 2008. It is believed the contamination was caused by the use of improper oil to power the drying process in production of animal feed.

However, the committee said it was particularly concerned that even if the plant had been inspected the problem would not have been discovered because HACCP programmes have not included oil contamination as a potential hazard, and there are no EU regulations requiring the sampling of oil used in feed processing.

¡°The Committee is at a loss to understand this, and would urge the rectification of the situation as a matter of urgency¡±, said the report.

Members also condemned some retailers who have attempted to seek compensation from producers for loss of profit as well as cost of products recalled.

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