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Foodborne disease threat to global health security -WHO
By Rory Harrington, 07-Jan-2010
Related topics: Quality & Safety
Foodborne diseases are a risk to global health security and any solutions to bolster food safety must be international ones, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report has said.
The paper, due to be delivered at the WHO¡¯s executive meeting later this month, has declared that recent scandals involving chemicals such as melamine and dioxins, as well as microbial contaminations of food products with traditional or new pathogens highlight the world-wide nature of the problem.
It outlines food and water-borne diarrhoeal illnesses present a ¡°growing public health problem¡± that claim 2.2m lives annually ? with 1.9m of these children. The health body said that many communicable diseases ? including emerging zoonoses ? are transmitted through food. It also cautions that many other diseases such as cancers are linked with chemicals and toxins in the food supply.
¡°The spread of pathogens and contaminants across national borders means that foodborne diseases now threaten global public health security,¡± said the report.
Climate change
Incidences of foodborne diseases are likely to be exacerbated by the effects of climate change due to the ¡°faster growth rates of micro-organisms in food and water at higher temperatures, potentially resulting in higher levels of toxins or pathogens in food¡±, said the WHO secretariat. The increased hazard posed by newly emerging zoonoses could be particularly acute, it added.
Moves towards improving food production and distribution will only benefit those lacking food security and/or suffering from malnutrition if they are accompanied by progress in the safety and quality of food, said the authors. Not only are foodborne illnesses a danger to human health but they also pose a threat to economic growth in developing countries.
The report underlines that while ¡°many or most human infectious diseases¡± in recent decades have come from animals, the transmission of these infections has ¡°often been through food and food preparation¡±. Acute respiratory syndrome, BSE and highly pathogenic avian influenza are three major examples cited.
International solutions
The report emphasises that as foodborne diseases recognise no national boundaries, efforts to combat them must be co-ordinated across governments and sectors ? since risks to food safety may originate in any link in the food production chain ? including the environment, animal feed, production and retailing, preparation practices and the consumer¡¯s kitchen.
¡°A prerequisite for food safety will be efficient multi-sectoral collaboration between all relevant partners at the international and national levels, with systematic mainstreaming of food safety into food systems and nutrition policies and interventions,¡± said the paper.
International agreements on food safety management that include general scientific principles and collaboration across sectors are vital. Such an approach in surveillance systems could prevent or facilitate early detection of diseases and may also ¡°significantly reduce their incidence in the medium to long-term¡±, predicted the WHO.
The body outlined a raft of initiatives and groups it has set up to help realise these goals ? including the International Food Safety Authorities Network and the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group.
Sound scientific risk assessment must form the basis of policy formation to manage food safety and protect consumers, the body concluded. It added it was investing in new ways of ¡°ensuring international provision of scientific advice, avoiding the waste of resources caused by repetitive assessments in countries or regions¡±.

Letter From The Editor
by Dan Flynn | Jan 03, 2010
In the eight day period from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day we have seen the worst performance out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) we can remember.
On Christmas Eve, FSIS announced that Oklahoma-based National Steak & Poultry was recalling 248,000 pounds of so-called "non-intact" steaks that were "blade tenderized." The beef was connected to illnesses of E. coli O157:H7 in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington.
There it stood over the long Christmas weekend. No list of restaurants could be obtained from FSIS, CDC, or National Steak. The long list of steak products with its various codes and letters gave clues because it included items like "Carino's Boneless" and "Moe's Beef Steak."
In the movie "Jaws" the town fathers opt not to warn the public about the mammoth shark because they do not want to ruin the tourist season. FSIS reportedly began its investigation on Dec. 11, but managed to time the recall when it would get the least attention.
Such timing is suspicious on its face. Whether FSIS and/or National Steak was motivated by wanting to not impact the holiday business of the various chain restaurants involved, I do not know.
The other possibility--sheer incompetence--is depressing. From his resume, its does not look like Jerold Mande, the acting Under Secretary for Food Safety, ever previously supervised much more than someone to make copies or get his coffee.
Making FSIS dance probably requires some considerable management skills.
The National Steak recall quickly had another hot aspect to it as we learned food safety advocates had warned the Secretary of Agriculture about how "non-intact" steaks can become contaminated through the tenderization process. Secretary Tom Vilsack never responded to the warning. (See "USDA Warned of Risky Steak Last June," Dec. 28, 2009)
At Food Safety News, we began going through those six states to get answers about how many illnesses were involved. It was the only route to information, as it seemed no one was home at CDC. State health departments were all doing business as usual.
Just when we'd concluded there were seven people in six states who had become ill with E. coli illnesses after eating steaks associated with the outbreak, CDC weighed in with a short but troubling addition to the official information.
Sixteen, not six states were involved in the outbreak, and 19 people were sickened. When did it grow to 16? "It was always 16," the CDC spokesman said.
When we asked about anything else, including how the recall announcement went out missing ten states; we were told to talk to FSIS. It was not talking and we still do not know.
At about the same time, National Steak said the recalled steaks had been primarily distributed to three chain restaurants (Moe's Southwest Grill, Carino's Italian Grill, and KRM's, which operates 54th St. Grills in Kansas City and St. Louis areas).
Neither FSIS nor CDC has provided any additional information. There is no list of the ten additional states. FSIS maintains that no retail outlets are involved even through the last time we checked by every definition restaurants are retail establishments. (See "Steak Distribution Remains A Mystery," Dec. 31, 2009)
Instead of providing someone empowered to speak with the media, National Steak provided nothing but an endless loop of recorded messages.
Olive Garden restaurants, which freely told us they had received beef from National, and Moe's, which remained available, were the only actors in this troubling little drama that remained available. Testing found no E. coli in the beef sent to either Olive Garden or Moe's.
So, it has been a frustrating eight days for us. My guess is that at both CDC and FSIS way too many people were given the same holiday time off that the President was obviously enjoying. That's a management problem.
And let's hope that's all it is. It's too freighting to think that FSIS could really be a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Meat Institute.

Food Safety News - Emerging Food Safety Issues for 2010
Posted on December 31, 2009 by Bill Marler
Over at Food Safety News, we have been working on what we think are the issues that face the Food Safety community in 2010:
The U.S. Congress and Legislatures in most of the 50 states will all be back in session as 2010 begins. In Washington D.C., work should resume on food safety reform. To get through to the President's desk, the Senate must adopt S. 510, conference with the House, and then see the compromise bill passed by both houses.
If all that takes until spring, look for the President to sign the bill in the First Lady's new White House Kitchen Garden.
State laws are always all over the map, and 2010 will be no different. Look for some agricultural states to follow Georgia in making it a felony to knowingly ship contaminated food.
Look for several states to close loopholes that are used to peddle overpriced raw milk to an unsuspecting public while advocates push for more liberal laws so raw milk can be sold with fewer restrictions.
Regulations & Enforcement
The major regulatory decision that could come down in 2010 is the one that would make all enterohemorrhagic shiga toxin-producing serotypes of Escherichia coli (E. coli), including non-O157 serotypes, adulterants within the meaning of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. ¡× 601[m][1]).
Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler and some of the victims of non-O157 E. coli infections, who he represents, petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for the regulatory change. Not since President Bill Clinton's FSIS declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant after the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box outbreak has there been such a dramatic action out of the agency that regulates big beef.
About 2,700 state and local health agencies are the foundation of the food safety regulations and enforcement system. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been tracking those agencies, and recently reported the number of outbreak investigations is falling and the number of investigations where the source is identified is dropping.
The investigative capacity of these important agencies is unlikely to increase during 2010, a year that will see state budgets more hard-pressed than at any time since the Great Depression. Most state and regional agencies count on their Legislatures for their budget support.
Meat Industry
As 2009 ended, Brazil-based JBS rescued Pilgrim's Pride from bankruptcy court, making its creditors whole. In doing so, it joined Tyson and Cargill in the top three of the U.S. meat industry. (See "JBS Takeover of Pilgrim's Pride Approved," Oct. 17, 2009).
Together the three behemoths control more than 80 percent of the U.S. meat market, and unlike times in the past, it is a nameless, faceless industry sector. Whether anyone in the Cargill, Tyson, and JBS line-up steps up in 2010 will be interesting to watch.
Since 2007, there's been an explosion in the number of pounds of beef recalled for E. coli O157:H7 contamination. The industry's only answer has been its petition for whole carcass irradiation without labeling. Antibiotic-resistant Salmonella showing up in ground beef brings more silence and kicking the dirt by big meat. And how about your odds of getting out of any grocery store in America with a chicken that is NOT contaminated by either Salmonella or Campylobacter or both?
With such a line-up of major issues negatively impacting the industry, some think 2010 will be the year big meat re-tools and steps forward with some new leadership.
This is a subject that should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to normally prescribed antibiotics, are increasingly in the news. For example, late in 2009, came the report that a new E. coli strain has "emerged with rapid global speed."
Superbugs are the flip side of the coin to the low dose use of antibiotics in animal feed to promote the growth of pigs, sheep, chickens, and cattle. As long ago as 1963, British researchers linked drug resistant strains of Salmonella to antibiotics fed to cattle.
Out West last summer, people who ate ground beef produced by Denver-based King Soopers and Fresno-based Beef Packers Inc. were infected with strains of Salmonella that did not respond to normally prescribed antibiotics.
This means treatment, if possible, starts to get very costly. Longer hospital stays were required for those Colorado victims last summer, and it will cost $150 per day, per person to treat victims of ST131 if it ends up running wild throughout the third world.
Also in 2009, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-MA, and Sen. Olympia Snow, R-ME, introduced the "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act," which in two years would end animal use of antibiotics deemed "important to human health."
FDA, which 50 years ago approved the use of antibiotics in low doses to help animals grow faster, could conceivably impose a ban on its own. That could be on the table in 2010.
Local Food
In 2009 the local food movement in the United States picked up a major benefactor, First Lady Michelle Obama. It was not long after her interest was known, that the entire U.S. Department of Agriculture joined in with its "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program.
In fact, USDA did do much more than some re-branding and re-organizing itself for a new constituency--all those small, local, and organic farmers who want to sell their goods to nearby folks.
By measures available, growth in farmers markets and in so-called Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), the local food movement is real.? In cities and suburbs, people love going to the nation's nearly 5,000 farmers markets, many held on Saturday mornings during the growing seasons.
And buying some "shares" from a CSA farmer in the winter can get you deliveries of a basket of fruits and vegetables all summer. Keeping your dollars flowing in your local community is almost always a good idea.
Under the Farm Bill, USDA is even going to allow some state-inspected slaughter houses to sell across state lines in 2010.
For sure, 2010 will be another year of growth for local food. Will it embrace its responsibility for food safety and come to understand that standards and regulations are in its best interest? This is a time of change and reform, and local food needs to be at the table, not sneaking out the back door.
Large unemployment throughout the country is also giving the local food movement an opportunity to be responsible in another way--getting leftovers to food banks. Just do it safely!
Since some states--like Texas--have made Hepatitis A vaccines mandatory for school children, there has been a dramatic disease reduction. Similar reductions might be in the offing if vaccine trials conducted in 2010 are successful.
First on the non-human front, vaccines for E. coli in cattle are going to be tested in a big way by the two companies that are out front in the research. They are Willmar, MN-based Epitopix and Canada's Bioniche Life Sciences.
The two companies should know by year-end if they have an economically viable vaccine, one that might reduce E. coli O157:H7 in cattle by 65 to 75 percent.
In human drug trials should be a vaccine against the pathogen Campylobacter jejuni, at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring and Canadian scientist Mario Monteiro. It has successfully protected against infection in monkeys and is now slated for human clinical trials.
Then there's Dr. Mahdi Saeed's vaccine for Enterotoxigenic E. coli, the bug responsible for traveler's diarrhea that has killed millions of children in the third world. The Michigan State University researcher's vaccine has such promise it was picked by Discovery Magazine as one of the top 100 stories of 2009.
If any of these vaccines are successful, it will be a top story for 2010.
Food Imports
In late 2009, the "Import Safety Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center" (CTAC) was opened by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to make sure food imported to the U.S. is safe.
Imported food and its safety are going to get a lot of attention in 2010. The Import Safety CTAC came out of the President's Food Safety Working Group, which is charged with advising on how to "modernize the beleaguered U.S. food safety system."
Food imports, especially fresh produce from outside U.S. borders, are coming in for attention after the past few years of spectacular growth.
In 2008, Chinese imports reached $5.2 billion, making China the third-largest source of U.S. food imports. About 41 percent of this import value was from fish and seafood, most of it farm-raised. Juices and pickled, dried, and canned vegetables, and fruit accounted for the other 25 percent.
According to the USDA, about 60 percent of all American apple juice, 50 percent of garlic, 10 percent of shrimp and 2 percent of catfish are imported from China.
A July 2009 report by the Economic Research Service of the USDA said it is often difficult to ensure that suppliers in far-flung locations operate according to the high U.S. safety standards and tight quality controls.
The Produce Traceability Initiative is the grower-vendor answer to events like the outbreaks involving spinach and (FDA thought) tomatoes. With bar codes and radio frequency tags and ways to link all the information in the supply chain, those behind traceability want to be able to drive to the specific field, walk down the right row, and reach over and pick up whatever the problem is.
They want a system with no fuss, no muss that will prevent financially devastating recall costs and outbreaks that make more people sick. They've been at it for a couple of years now and the next important deadline is approaching in Oct. 2010 when it is supposed to be possible to read the labeling involved.
The industry wants FDA to enforce the so-called "one up and one down" requirements of the PTI, but not impose anything that's not already in the plan. FDA opted to end 2009 without putting out its own traceability regulations on the table.
On occasion, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has been critical of volunteer food safety efforts. So the tension of birthing fresh produce traceability is sure to carry into the 2010.
It will be the subject on a Jan. 21-22 summit conference in Denver being organized by the Colorado Springs-based Traceability Institute LLC.
"The reason we set up this summit is we see a huge need by vendors of the traceability system for some kind of communication within the whole supply chain," Cristian Barcan, managing partner and founder of the Traceability Institute told the industry publication, The Packer.
American Diet
There was a lot of talk during all the health care debating about "bending the cost curve." With too many Americans unable to even bend over, it's doubtful we are going to bend that cost curve at anytime soon and what they call the "Standard American Diet (SAD)" is a major contributor to this sad reality.
In 2010, we are predicting more attention to the American diet than ever before. It will come from the food industry, consumer groups, and government. The problem is clear.
The SAD is high in animal fats, high in unhealthy fast food, high in saturated and hydrogenated fats, low in fiber, high in processed foods, low in complex carbohydrates, and low in plant-based foods.
The medical community often points out that people in countries that eat the reverse of the SAD--high in plants, high in complex carbohydrates, and high in fiber--are experiencing lower cancer and heart disease rates by far.
It could cause debate over just what is a foodborne illness?

Beef recall sparks tenderization debate
By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 04-Jan-2010
A multi-state beef recall in the US has led to renewed focus on mechanical tenderization as a possible cause of increased E. coli risk in beef and pork products.
The US Department of Agriculture¡¯s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) recalled 248,000 pounds of mechanically tenderized beef products from Oklahoma-based National Steak and Poultry on December 24 after they were linked to 21 illnesses across 16 states.
Mechanical tenderization involves inserting hundreds of tiny needles into tougher beef products to physically break up muscle fibres, and it is also used to inject marinades into pork. It is alleged that the process could transfer any E. coli bacteria that may be on the surface of meat into its core, meaning that consumers would need to heat the product to at least 160¡ÆF (71¡ÆC) to ensure the bacteria are killed.
The paths made by the needling process are imperceptible after the meat is cut, and currently the USDA does not require that products carry labels specifying that they have been mechanically tenderized.
But the recall has led to calls for labeling, including from Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who said in a statement: ¡°USDA has been aware of the E. coli risks associated with mechanically tenderized steaks as early as 1999, but has refused to act. The USDA should move immediately to require labeling that clearly identifies mechanically tenderized beef and pork products for all processing facilities, retailers and consumers.¡±
Consumer groups, including the Safe Food Coalition and the Consumer Federation of America, have also called for labelling of mechanically tenderized meat in the wake of the current outbreak.
However, the American Meat Institute (AMI) has defended industry¡¯s use of tenderizing techniques, saying that tenderized meat is ¡°comparable in safety to steaks that have not been mechanically tenderized¡±.
¡°All steaks in retail stores ? whether blade-tenderized or not ? must bear safe handling labels instructing consumers how to cook and handle them to ensure they are safe when served,¡± it said.
The AMI said that the safety of tenderized meat has been thoroughly tested, including by the FSIS, which said in 2008 that E. coli risk is not significantly increased depending on whether a beef steak is intact or not.
The AMI added: ¡°Because blade-tenderized steaks have been found to be comparable in safety, we don¡¯t believe that special labeling declaring the mechanical tenderization process will provide meaningful or actionable information to consumers.¡±
The FSIS said affected products bear an "EST. 6010T" establishment label and packaging dates "10/12/2009," "10/13/2009," "10/14/2009," or "10/21/2009."
In a statement posted on its website, National Steak and Poultry said: ¡°We take the safety and wholesomeness of our products very seriously and that¡¯s why we are working with the USDA to conduct this recall. This is the first recall in our company¡¯s nearly 30-year history.¡±
A full list of the recalled products can be found online here .

Authorities in China Likely Knew of Bad Milk
SHANGHAI -- New signs emerged that Chinese health authorities suspected a Shanghai dairy was producing milk tainted with deadly melamine well before the first public announcements last week that it had been shut.
State media announced on New Year's Eve that Shanghai Panda Dairy Co. had been closed, its milk products recalled from around the country and three top executives arrested.
Tuesday, local media reports and remarks by industry executives suggested that authorities were aware of problem milk at Shanghai Panda weeks or months before the recall.
The use of melamine, a pesticide that can mimic the properties of protein in milk, was long an open secret in China's dairy industry. But after six babies died and 300,000 were poisoned from melamine-tainted milk in 2008, authorities pledged that food safety would be a priority. Since then, Chinese courts sentenced two people involved in tainted-milk incidents to death and several others to lengthy jail terms.
Getting a clear picture about the Shanghai Panda case has proved difficult. The only public notices of a problem appeared in state media reports. On Tuesday, officials of the Shanghai Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision, the local health bureau and other Shanghai agencies all said they had no authority to comment on the case and instead directed questions toward one another.
Among the signs that authorities were probing Shanghai Panda before Thursday's announcement was news that several government agencies were involved in the extensive investigation and three company executives were being prosecuted.
Also, on Tuesday, the newspaper 21st Century Business Herald reported industry participants were aware of melamine use by Shanghai Panda as early as April 2009. The paper, which didn't identify its sources, said that in November China's minister of health, Chen Zhu, referred to melamine tainting by the company during an internal meeting of Communist Party officials. Those comments, the newspaper reported, prompted Wenzhou-based Zhejiang Panda Dairy Products Co. in early December to announce on its Web site that, while its name was similar to Shagnhai Panda, the two companies aren't related.

LSG Fires GM, Chef At Denver Airport
by Dan Flynn | Jan 06, 2010
LSG SkyChefs has fired its general manager and head chef at Denver International Airport and has torn out the pipes and drain that were contaminated with the stubborn Listeria bacteria.
The world's largest airline food service, owned by the German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG, is working against the clock to be ready for the next time the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) inspects its Denver facilities.
That's because LSG lost "approved status" for its flight kitchens at DIA after FDA found live and dead roaches and tests came back positive for Listeria bacteria.
On Dec. 23rd, Food Safety News became first in the world to report on LSG's problems at Denver. FDA reduced LSG to "provisional status" in a formal Warning Letter issued on Dec. 10th.
The airline catering company must pass the re-inspection or it could fall to "Use Prohibited" or "Not Approved" status. That would prevent LSG from selling food to airlines. It must regain its "Approved" status.
In addition to the firings, LSG decided that chemical treatments to the kitchen floor drains were not effective in eradicating Listeria. It opted for structural changes, removing old pipes and drains and installing new ones.
FDA's Denver District Director H. Thomas Warwick, Jr. told news services that his inspectors will be immediately re-inspecting the facility, and in fact, that may have begun on Monday.
Beth Van Duyne, spokesman for the international company, has insisted from the beginning the company was taking FDA's findings very seriously and would be doing whatever it takes to pass the next inspection.
The last inspections were in September and October when FDA officials visited the airline kitchen, taking samples from various locations inside the processing facility.
"Our FDA laboratory analyses of these environmental samples (FDA Sample #531908) revealed that three swab sub samples collected from floor locations in the hot kitchen area were found positive for Listeria monocytogenes," Warwick wrote.
Van Duyne said all the positive samples came from drains, and that no positive results were returned from any food or food preparation surfaces.
LSG's flight kitchen is located in a building that was constructed at about the same time the airport was built. It is located on East 75th Avenue.
It was there that FDA investigators "observed numerous live roaches, dead roaches, and other insects, as well as food, and other debris, in various locations..."
Roaches were found in places like the cart wash area, and the silverware area as well as in the hot kitchen and dish washing machine area. There were gaps under the garbage room, receiving dock, and outbound dock doors, which are openings for pests.
FDA also did not like the way LSG was stacking wet containers, as it promotes bacteria growth.
Van Duyne is confident LSG will pass the next inspection. There have been no illnesses associated with the facility.
DIA is America's fourth largest airport.

Denmark's ban holds lesson
Thursday, 07 January 2010 01:55
Feedstuffs Foodlink
December 31, 2009 Feedstuffs Foodlink
Sarah Muirhead
December 31, 2009
Denmarka?Ts ban on low-level antibiotic use for farm animals was supposed to improve the effectiveness of human drugs and lead to a healthier human population, but after a decade of data collection, the question remains whether that goal is achievable.
The findings within the Danish human health care sector are being closely monitored in the U.S. as pressure mounts to similarly limit antibiotic use in farm animals here.
Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists is among those who believe the removal of low-level antibiotics will help prevent the emergence of "superbugs" in people.
"When continually exposed to antibiotics, bacteria develop resistance to the drugs. Adding antibiotics to animal feed in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) turns these massive, overcrowded facilities into prime breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can move to humans through food, air and water. Then, when people get sick from these resistant bacteria, antibiotics are less effective," Mellon said in a statement issued last year in support of legislative efforts to withdraw antibiotics from use on the farm.
The Obama Administration also has indicated support for ending the non-therapeutic use of seven antibiotics for growth promotion and feed efficiency (Feedstuffs, July 13, 2009).
In July, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration, said FDA now believes the judicious use of antibiotics requires that "all medications for prevention and control should be under the supervision of a veterinarian."
Still, the critical question at hand is whether Denmark has seen an actual improvement in the ability to control human disease and minimize antibiotic resistance.
This past September, House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) was part of a congressional delegation that traveled to Denmark to meet with government officials, industry representatives and Danish farmers.
Upon his return, Petersen issued a statement that said, "We didn't come back with a definitive answer on this complicated issue because we found no scientific evidence that reducing antibiotic use in agriculture has resulted in public health benefits in Denmark."
Even proponents of limiting antibiotic use concede that there is no evidence, to date, that enterococci of foodborne origin pose a direct threat as a human pathogen. The Danish experience has resulted in an increase in the number of human cases of salmonellosis and campylobacter, and that pattern can be seen across Europe despite continent-wide antibiotic bans.
With campylobacter, the evidence shows that there is little connection between the use of animal drugs and resistance in people. In fact, the bacteria's rate of resistance against the human antibiotic erythromycin has gone unchanged for a decade.
A four-fold leap in the rate of resistance in people against other antibiotics that are used only sparingly in Danish food animals has left some scientists suggesting that, perhaps, something besides animal use is to blame.
Most recently, a finger was pointed at disinfectants used in hospitals as possibly being associated with rises in bacterial resistance.
No success has been reported in Europe's efforts to eliminate Enterococcus faecium that are resistant to vancomycin, the animal form of the antibiotic, which Europe banned more than a decade ago. Over the past seven years, the incidence of vancomycin-resistant bacteria in hospital patients has fallen in only three countries while increasing significantly in six others and remaining unchanged in the rest.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Denmark as being a "success" in restricting on-farm antibiotics, but in doing so, WHO has been careful to define that success by simply saying Denmark had "achieved a reduction in the reservoir of resistant microorganisms in food animals."
WHO said nothing about drug-resistant bacteria on the human side of the equation.
The level of drug resistance in strains of enterococci that are unique to animals did decline in those bacteria sampled from livestock as a result of the ban. Those findings are of little surprise to the U.S. livestock industry and scientists, who say it is normal to see a drop in resistance once the pressure from antibiotic use is removed.
From an animal welfare standpoint, some argue that the ban is a setback considering the higher incidence of sickness and mortality in some animals.
Danish officials acknowledged an increase in pig mortality and illness in the first few years following the ban on low-level antibiotic use. Health and productivity did eventually return to the Danish herds, which was attributed to better management at the farm level.
Overall, the ban prompted higher production costs for Danish pork producers. Those farmers who could afford its implementation survived the transition, but a number of small Danish farmers who raised pigs went out of business.
By 2015, it is projected that the number of Danish pork producers will be at about 5,000, down from 25,000 producers in 1995.
As the U.S. pursues efforts to counter political pressure against antibiotic use in farm animals, it must be remembered that disease and animal suffering are synonymous, said Dr. John Waddell, a veterinarian from Sutton, Neb.
Waddell said it can be argued that antibiotic use is hugely beneficial to public health.
"Since the Danish ban on antibiotics, the number of foodborne illness cases has risen. Even at best, per capita numbers have not decreased. Therefore, there's at least a 'reasonable certainty' that any public health benefit from reducing antibiotic use would be offset by eliminating production efficiencies that make protein more affordable and, thus, improve the overall quality of diets," he said.
There also is a growing body of evidence that points to the possibility that antibiotics may actually help keep consumers safe by preventing foodborne disease.
Risk assessment expert Dr. Tony Cox has mathematically modeled the human illness rates attributed to food poisoning -- both antibiotic resistance and susceptibility. He determined that for each day someone is sick because the use of antibiotics in chicken contributed to their treatment being less effective, 4,000 others are spared a day of illness because antibiotics reduce the risk of food poisoning.
At the farm level, a 2008 study at The Ohio State University found that 54% of hogs raised on antibiotic-free operations were infected with salmonella, compared to only 39% in conventional operations.
U.S. Department of Agriculture research conducted in 2002 found that cattle fed neomycin sulfate for 48 hours, held for the mandatory 24-hour pre-slaughter drug withdrawal and then shipped to market shed significantly fewer Escherichia coli O157:H7 than their pen mates that did not receive the antibiotic.
Waddell said as a veterinarian, his role -- along with his producer clients -- is to promote public health.

China¡¯s food safety policy under scrutiny again
January 8, 2010
Source: just-food
Fresh questions have been raised about China¡¯s food safety policy after it emerged that officials waited almost a year before going public with its latest probe into alleged melamine contamination in milk.
According to local reports, Chinese officials waited 11 months before revealing that they were investigating another alleged case of melamine being used in milk production.
Food safety authorities in Shanghai last week announced they had shut down the Shanghai Panda company after discovering it was selling milk included in the 2008 scandal that should have been destroyed.

China¡¯s fledgling dairy industry was brought to its knees in 2008 when 300,000 babies were taken ill and six died after drinking melamine-tainted Sanlu-brand infant formula.

Shanghai Panda was one of the nation¡¯s smaller dairies among 22 companies originally implicated in the 2008 scandal, which was briefly shut by quality inspectors.

Reports suggested that officials began investigating the company as early as February last year but was allowed to resume production after promising to improve product safety.

Investigations are understood to have started again two months later and three unnamed company executives were detained and formally arrested in June.

China Daily said it was told by a quarantine official that the case was withheld because it was under criminal investigation by police, adding that the Chinese government was informed ¡°immediately¡± after the case was found and all harmful products were seized. However, it is not clear when officials started any recalls.

just-food is the world¡¯s leading portal for the global pre-packaged food and retail industries. Its daily mix of breaking news, views, analysis and research serves over 100,000 food executives each month.

Food industry ¡®too secretive¡¯ about research into nanotechnology
By By Rick Pendrous, 08-Jan-2010
Food manufacturers¡¯ reluctance to disclose what research they are carrying out on products using nanotechnology risks a public backlash similar to that which occurred against genetically modified (GM) foods, warned the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.
In its report, Nanotechnologies and Food published today, the UK Committee is highly critical of the food industry for failing to be transparent about its research into the uses of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials.
The group also urged the government and Research Councils to adequately fund research into potential health and safety risks arising from the use of nanomaterials in the food sector. In particular, it is concerned about significant gaps in the understanding of how nanomaterials impact toxicologically on the human body and the associated risks.
Chairman of the Committee Lord Krebs said: "The use of nanotechnologies in food and food packaging is likely to grow significantly over the next decade. The technologies have the potential to deliver some significant benefits to consumers but it is important that detailed and thorough research into potential health and safety implications in this area is undertaken now to ensure that any possible risks are identified.¡±
It noted that transparency is key for ensuring public trust in both food safety and scientific developments, and argued that, although there is no evidence that the use of nanotechnologies in food currently presents a threat to consumer safety, food companies¡¯ failure to publish or discuss details of their research is likely to undermine public confidence in the technology.
"The food industry was very reluctant to put its head above the parapet and declare openly what kind of research was going on to develop the use of nanotechnologies in food,¡± said Krebs. ¡°Part of the reason for that is the food industry got its fingers burned over the last round of novel technology, namely GM technology. So their attitude is to keep a very low profile and not to talk too loudly about what they may or may not be doing.¡±
Online nano register and confidential database
Rather than seeking a legal requirement for the labelling of foods containing nanoparticles in the EU ? similar to that required for foods containing genetically modified organisms ? the Committee wants the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to supervise a publicly available online register of food and food packaging containing nanomaterials in products that are already on the market. ¡°It¡¯s not clear what value labelling would be to the consumer,¡± said Krebs.
"The public can expect to have access to information about the food they eat, but it is equally important that that information should be comprehensive and balanced,¡± he added. ¡°That is why we consider the right approach to providing information about nanomaterials in the food sector is through a public register, rather than by the blanket labelling of nanomaterials which may not be helpful in assisting consumers to make informed choices."
But this view is unlikely to find favour with consumer groups and may prove to be at odds with the outcome of the European Commission¡¯s consultation on nanotechnologies, which ends on February 19. This may well call for labelling to be required by law.

However, in addition to a voluntary publicly available register, the Committee also wants another mandatory confidential database of all research on nanotechnology in the UK to be created and managed by the FSA to inform risk assessment. This second list would be confidential to protect companies¡¯ commercial interests, said Committee chairman, Lord Krebs.
Call for clear definition
The Committee also called for nanomaterials to be defined clearly in food legislation to ensure their use in food is subject to appropriate risk assessment procedures. It recommended that regulatory definitions should use a ¡®change in functionality¡¯ ? based on how a substance interacts with the body ? as the criterion that distinguishes a nanomaterial from its larger form, to make sure that any nano-sized materials with novel properties are included, rather than the current definition of those below 100nm [nanometres] in size.
Another reason for this definition, said Krebs, was to distinguish between engineered nanoparticles and those naturally occurring in foods, such as ricotta cheese, chocolate and ice cream. ¡°We are talking about a diversity of entities, some naturally occurring, some engineered; some persistent, some degraded rapidly inside the body,¡± he added.

E. Coli O157:H7 Outbreak Results in Beef Recall for 248,000 Pounds of Meat
Published: December 29th, 2009
Following reports of E. coli food poisoning in at least six states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)¡¯s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the recall of nearly 250,000 pounds of beef on Christmas eve.
The beef recall involves a variety of products from National Steak and Poultry, of Owasso, Oklahoma. The action was taken as a result of an investigation into a cluster of food poisoning illnesses that were connected to the O157:H7 strain of E. coli and tracked back to the National Steak and Poultry beef products.
Beef product E. coli cases has been identified in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington. The number of victims affected by the food poisoning outbreak has not been released.
The recall affects 248,000 pounds of a large variety of National Steak and Poultry non-intact steak products that have been blade tenderized. Recalled products include boneless sirloin steak, boneless beef tips, sirloin tips, bacon wrapped beef fillets, beef shoulder marinated tender medallions, beef trimmings, sirloin Philly steak, beef sirloin tri tip, skirt steak and skirt steak pieces. The beef products were sold under the National Steak and Poultry, EGN, KRM, Moe¡¯s and Carino¡¯s labels. A full list of the recalled products is available on the FSIS recall notice.
All of the recalled beef has the establishment number ¡°EST. 6010T¡± inside the USDA mark of inspection on the labels and packaging dates of ¡°10/12/2009,¡± ¡°10/13/2009,¡± ¡°10/14/2009,¡± or ¡°10/21/2009.¡± The products were sold to restaurants nationwide.
E. coli O157:H7 is one of the more common causes of food poisoning in the United States. When left untreated, it can lead to dehydration and potentially life-threatening illness. While most healthy adults recover within a few week from E. coli food poisoning, young children and the elderly could be at risk for more severe illness. If the toxin enters the blood stream, E. coli could also lead to kidney failure known as Hemolytic-Uremic Syndrome (HUS).

E. coli-tainted beef infects 21 people in 16 states
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Twenty-one people in 16 states have been infected in recent days with a potentially lethal strain of E. coli bacteria, after consuming beef in restaurants supplied by the same Oklahoma meat company, federal officials said.
The outbreak spurred the company, National Steak and Poultry, to voluntarily recall 248,000 pounds of beef Dec. 24. The products, which range from steaks to sirloin tips, were packaged in October and shipped to restaurants, hotels and institutions nationwide, according to the company.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has only a partial list of restaurants that received the potentially tainted beef, including two chains, Moe's and Carino's Italian Grill, primarily in the West and Midwest.
The recall is considered a "class 1" or a "high health risk" by the USDA, which regulates the meat industry, because among the pathogens that can harm human health, E. coli O157:H7 is one of the most lethal. Even for those who survive, there can be long-term health effects.
Nine of the 21 sickened have been hospitalized, the USDA reported. The department has identified cases in six states -- Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington
The agency said the contamination appears to have begun with tainted beef used for chopped steak that was "co-mingled" with other products in the plant. Jerry Mande, the USDA's deputy undersecretary for food safety, said the investigation is continuing. A telephone message left for the company was not returned.

The outbreak is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that tracks national illness outbreaks, to be relatively small. But it is significant because it is at least the fourth associated with mechanically tenderized beef since 2000.
Mechanical tenderization softens tough cuts of beef by hammering the meat with metal needles or blades that break up muscle fibers and connective tissue. It is often used to improve the tenderness of roasts and steaks that are cooked at a processing plant before being sent to restaurants. In the meat industry, it is referred to as "needled" meat.
Consumer advocates say mechanical tenderization poses contamination risks in meats that are served rare, such as steaks, because it can bring bacteria from the surface of meat to the center of the cut. A rare steak may be cooked enough so that bacteria on the surface are killed but those inside the meat survive.
"This is something that's been coming along. It's not an overnight problem," said Carol L. Tucker-Foreman of Consumer Federation of America, part of a coalition that wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in June to express concern about mechanically tenderized meat. "The USDA has been looking at this for a long time. . . . People have proposed ways to address it and nothing was done about it in the Clinton administration, the Bush administration and now the Obama administration."
At a minimum, the government should issue guidelines to consumers and the restaurant industry that specifically address mechanically tenderized meat, and the products should be labeled because consumers cannot detect whether a cut of meat has been "needled," she said. "Retailers should have to label mechanically tenderized meat and say 'Don't eat this product rare.' "
Mande said the USDA agrees that the public needs better information about the risks of mechanically tenderized beef, and the agency is considering labeling and education efforts.
But James H. Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute, said in a statement that mechanically tenderized beef carries no greater risk than other meat and that special labels are unnecessary.

Questions Remain in Steak E. coli Outbreak
by Dan Flynn | Jan 05, 2010
A dozen days have passed since the Christmas Eve beef recall by Oklahoma-based National Steak and Poultry and still basic information has not been disclosed.
Not only has the federal government not named all of the 16 states involved, but also National Steak has not disclosed a complete list of restaurants receiving the contaminated blade-tenderized steaks.
National Steak recalled 248,000 pounds of beef on Dec. 24, and later said most of it went to Moe's and Carino's, national restaurant chains, and the owner of Missouri's 54th St. Grills, Kansas City-based KRM.
Nine people have been hospitalized in Iowa, Michigan, Kansas, South Dakota, Washington, and Colorado after being struck down with E. coli O157:H7 associated with the recall.
National Steak shipped the sirloin steaks and sirloin tips to restaurants, hotels and institutions nationwide, but has not released a complete list of those receiving the contaminated product.
The only national restaurant chain to step forward on its own to acknowledge that National Steak is one of its suppliers was Darden Restaurants, which owns the Olive Garden chain.
"None of the product supplied to Olive Garden tested positive for any contaminant, " said Mark Jaronski, director of media and communications for Darden. "In keeping with our industry-leading food safety practices, however, we removed the entire product from our restaurants immediately upon being notified by the supplier on Christmas Eve. It's important to point out that this was a regional issue for Olive Garden and not system-wide."
Applebee's, supplied by National Steak in the past, has not responded to inquiries by Food Safety News about its possible involvement in the current recall.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service originally said the recall involved six states, but that was apparently wrong from the start. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said the actual number of states involved was 16--and had been since day one.
Although most of the recalled steaks went to restaurants that are retail establishments, FSIS has said on its website that no list of retailers will be made available. Nor has CDC provided a report on the outbreak neither listing the other ten states involved nor providing any demographic information about the victims.

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