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Obama nominates Hagen as food safety undersecretary
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

The White House announced Monday a nominee for undersecretary for Food Safety at the Department of Agriculture. The position has been vacant for almost a year.
The nominee is Elisabeth Hagen, who currently holds the position of USDA chief medical officer, where she serves as an advisor to USDA on human health issues. Prior to that she was with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service where she worked on public health. Hagen was a practicing physician before coming to the USDA. She is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and a board certified expert in infectious disease.
Also announced was the nominee for administrator of drug enforcement, Michele Leonhart.
In a statement, President Obama said, "The skill and dedication of these individuals will make them valued additions to my administration, and I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years."
Hagen will serve with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said in a statement "There is no more fundamental function of government than protecting consumers from harm, which is why food safety is one of USDA's top priorities. We can and must do a better job of ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products regulated by USDA, and Dr. Hagen brings the background, skills, and vision to lead USDA's efforts to make sure that Americans have access to a safe and healthy food supply."
Carol Tucker-Foreman, a food safety advocate with the Consumer Federation of America, says Hagen "brings impressive education credentials to the position of under secretary for food safety."
"Her rise through the ranks at USDA has been meteoric. She joined the department four years ago as deputy assistant administrator for public health, was appointed Food Safety Inspection Service chief medical officer four months ago, and now has been named to the highest ranking food safety position in the U.S. government."
While she has limited direct experience with Hagen, Tucker-Foreman says she's been told the new undersecretary "has been a strong advocate for improved food safety policies and has urged the agency to be more aggressive in asking companies to initiate recalls."
One example she gave was that Hagen has urged USDA to consider steaks and chops with detectable surface levels of E. coli O157:H7 to be adulterated.
Currently E. coli O157:H7 is an adulterant only in ground beef.
Richard Raymond, who held the post until last year, said it was "high time" someone filled this position, the highest ranking food safety official in the U.S. government. "It is a tough job, and I know Elisabeth has the passion and toughness that is necessary to move food safety forward in a very tough environment."

More Tainted-Milk Cases are Highlighted in China
SHANGHAI?Chinese state-run media said the industrial chemical melamine was found again in milk products early last year, the latest report to suggest the government's crackdown on potentially dangerous practices in the dairy industry after a major 2008 food-safety
scandal didn't fully solve the problem.
Milk products made by three companies, Shandong Zibo Lusaier Dairy Co., Liaoning Tieling Wuzhou Food Co. and Laoting Kaida Refrigeration Plant, were found to have included excessive melamine and removed from store shelves in the southwestern province of Guizhou, according to a Jan. 19 news report in the province. The article, which indicated the action took place in early 2009, was reported Monday by the English-language China Daily newspaper, giving it national attention.
A Guizhou government spokeswoman declined to comment. A spokesman for the provincial health bureau didn't return a telephone call and a person answering his phone denied knowledge of a problem. The companies couldn't be reached.
Chinese state media have reported two other times in recent weeks cases of tainted milk discovered elsewhere in the country last year, including in Shanghai. In some of the cases now coming to light, including the latest revelations from Guizhou, authorities appear to have removed the tainted product from store shelves in early 2009, just months after Beijing vowed a vast restructuring of its dairy industry to protect the public. It isn't clear why the incidents are surfacing now.
After 300,000 people were sickened by melamine-tainted milk in 2008, including six babies who died, Beijing passed a food-safety law that included promises of stronger testing and recall regimes. The government said it wouldn't tolerate cover-ups.
Two of the dairies recently implicated in state media, including Laoting Kaida and Shanghai Panda Dairy Co., were also among the 22 companies identified by government inspectors in 2008 as producers of dairy products with melamine, which has widespread commercial applications and can improve readings for protein in tests of milk.

News reports say that among the problems now is repackaging of melamine-tainted milk removed from markets in 2008 but not destroyed.

In the Shanghai case, Chinese media reported problems with Shanghai Panda on New Year's Eve, although the problems had occurred last April.

In the Shanghai municipal government's first confirmation of the case, a spokesman on Jan. 11 conceded delays in publicly announcing the action?including a national recall of the problem milk and closure of the dairy that produced it?by saying the case was complicated because it straddled provincial borders.

Llama antibodies might help botulism testing in anti-terror fight
By Elizabeth Allen - Express-News
For centuries, llamas have been valued by South Americans as sturdy pack animals that also produce meat and fiber. In Central Texas, they're a common sight guarding livestock. Now they're being tapped for their ability to protect us in the event of a bioterror attack.
Using llama antibodies, scientists at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research have developed a way to simultaneously test for all seven types of botulinum neurotoxins, potentially providing a significant tool for testing food and water supplies if the toxins are used in a bioterror attack.
The llama antibodies also have a sturdier molecular structure than currently used antibodies, said Southwest Foundation virologist Andrew Hayhurst, and they hold up better against the extreme temperature changes that can occur during shipping to war zones.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists botulism as a potential bioterrorism weapon along with other agents including anthrax, smallpox and viral hemorrhagic fevers.
Botulism can be contracted by inhalation, which is considered one method for a possible bioterror attack, potentially affecting more people than there are available life-support systems.
Botulism most often occurs after people eat improperly canned foods, and sometimes in infants who've been fed honey that contains the spores or when the bacteria make their way into wounds.
The bacteria that produce botulism are common, even found in house dust, but botulism cases are relatively rare because the bacteria need an oxygen-free environment to produce the deadly toxins.
Rare but serious.
Once the infection travels from the bloodstream into the nervous system, paralysis sets in, and the infected person may need a ventilator for weeks or months before recovering.
Ruggedness and versatility are the most immediate advantages of the llama antibodies, said Hayhurst, noting that current technology doesn't test for all types, which require different treatments.
¡°If you've got a bioterror attack using these toxins, you've got to be absolutely sure you know what serotype is being used,¡± Hayhurst said. ¡°It's these rarer serotypes that we're really worried about with bioterrorism, actually, because there's really nothing out there to detect them or treat them.¡±
The test is designed to work with an existing system that performs multiple tests on samples using fluorescent dyes, ¡°so the technology that we use is very plug-and-play,¡± Hayhurst said. Before using it on a large scale, it would require independent testing and collaboration with other labs, he said.
Hayhurst also cites the molecule's potential for testing for botulism infection in humans, and eventually for treating it.
¡°Right now, the sensitivity is such that it's best for food levels of toxin,¡± Hayhurst said, ¡°but that's what we're working toward.¡±
To develop the antibodies, researchers immunized a llama with harmless versions of the seven types of botulinum neurotoxins and then studied the antibodies the animal produced.

Leafy Greens Reverse Toxic Effects
January 25, 2010
The age old reminder to always eat your greens isn¡¯t just for kids anymore.
Not only are the vitamins and minerals good for you, but eating greens could also save your life, according to a recent study involving scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).
LLNL researchers Graham Bench and Ken Turteltaub found that giving someone a small dose of chlorophyll (Chla) or chlorophyllin (CHL) ? found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale ? could reverse the effects of aflatoxin poisoning.
Aflatoxin is a potent, naturally occurring carcinogenic mycotoxin that is associated with the growth of two types of mold: Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Food and food crops most prone to aflatoxin contamination include corn and corn products, cottonseed, peanuts and peanut products, tree nuts and milk.
Bench and Turteltaub, working with colleagues from Oregon State Univ. and an industry partner, Cephalon Inc., found that greens have chemopreventive potential.
Aflatoxins can invade the food supply at anytime during production, processing, transport and storage. Evidence of acute aflatoxicosis in humans has been reported primarily in developing countries lacking the resources to effectively screen aflatoxin contamination from the food supply. Because aflatoxins, particularly aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), are potent carcinogens in some animals, there is interest in the effects of long-term exposure to low levels of these important mycotoxins on humans.
The study used AMS to provide aflatoxin pharmacokinetic parameters previously unavailable for humans, and suggest that chlorophyll and chlorophyllin co-consumption may limit the bioavailability of ingested aflatoxin in humans, as they do in animal models, according to Bench.
Exposure to environmental carcinogens has been estimated to contribute to a majority of human cancers, especially through lifestyle factors related to tobacco use and diet. Notable examples are the tobacco-related carcinogens; heterocyclic amines produced from sustained, high-temperature cooking of meats; and the fungal food contaminants aflatoxins.
The team initially gave each of three volunteers a small dose of carbon 14 labeled aflatoxin (less than the amount that would be found in a peanut butter sandwich.) In subsequent experiments the patients were given a small amount of Chla or CHL concomitantly with the same dose of carbon 14 labeled aflatoxin.
By using LLNL¡¯s Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, the team was able to measure the amount of aflatoxin in each volunteer after each dosing regimen and determine whether the Chla or CHL reduced the amount of aflatoxin absorbed into the volunteers.
¡°The Chla and CHL treatment each significantly reduced aflatoxin absorption and bioavailability,¡± Bench says.
¡°What makes this study unique among prevention trials is, that we were able to administer a microdose of radio-labeled aflatoxin to assess the actions of the carcinogen directly in people. There was no extrapolation from animal models which often are wrong,¡± Turteltaub says.
The research, which is co-funded by the National Institutes of Health¡¯s National Resource for Biomedical Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, appeared in the December issue of the journal, Cancer Prevention Research.
Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Canadians¡¯ food supply unsafe, CMAJ report says
Current food-safety systems are seen as less proactive than reactive, professor argues
Carly Weeks
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 7:54PM EST Last updated on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010 10:37AM EST
Canada¡¯s food-safety system is broken, despite a massive independent investigation launched by the federal government in the wake of a deadly listeriosis outbreak, warns a new analysis in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
And Canadian lives continue to be put at risk by an inadequate system, said the author of the report, Rick Holley, professor of food safety and food microbiology in the department of food science at the University of Manitoba.
¡°If politicians want to stand up and say we have the safest food supply in the world, they¡¯ve got to come clean and do something to make it that way, because right now it¡¯s certainly not,¡± Prof. Holley said in an interview.
The federal government launched an independent investigation after a major outbreak of listeriosis linked to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in 2008 killed 22 Canadians and caused many illnesses. It wrapped up last summer with dozens of recommendations that the government has pledged to adopt, such as requiring manufacturers to inform authorities of potential health threats and beefing up emergency preparedness.
Various government departments have also issued reports on the listeriosis outbreak, and a Parliamentary committee has studied the issue and issued two reports.
But the problem is the investigations asked the wrong questions, Prof. Holley said. Officials looked only at the systems in place and how they could be improved, instead of examining the foundation of Canada¡¯s food-safety system and asking whether it works.
¡°They were directed toward determining who was doing things right and we should have really been asking, ¡®Are we doing the right things?¡¯ ¡± Prof. Holley said.
For example, the report from the independent inquiry focused on improvements to meat plant inspections instead of the need to identify trends in food-borne illness before an outbreak occurs, Prof. Holley said.
One of the biggest weaknesses Prof. Holley identified is Canada¡¯s inadequate surveillance of food-borne illness. Although the government tracks reported cases of food- and water-borne illnesses, the data is basically collected in a large file folder ? it¡¯s there, but it¡¯s difficult to make much sense of it, Prof. Holley said.
¡°There is no intelligent compilation of that data into a form that will allow us to draw conclusions about what kinds of foods are more risky than others and what organisms are more important,¡± he said.
It¡¯s a key problem because the lack of surveillance means health officials are always in the position of reacting to an outbreak, rather than identifying potential problems in advance by monitoring cases that pop up across the country, Prof. Holley said. The problem is compounded by the fact that each province is in charge of food surveillance, which has created a fragmented system.
Sheila Weatherill, who led the government¡¯s independent investigation, declined a request for comment.
However, in an article recently published in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency¡¯s magazine, Liaison, the agency¡¯s vice-president said the country is embarking on a new era in food safety as globalization, an aging population and rising food allergies, among other issues, create new challenges.
¡°We must constantly strive to improve our ability to manage risks at all stages of food production and distribution, prevent problems before they arise, and respond quickly when problems occur,¡± wrote Brian Evans. ¡°These are the expectations that society has of us and they are the expectations that we must have of ourselves.¡±
But Michael McBane, national co-ordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition, said the design of the independent investigation highlights deep flaws in the government¡¯s approach to the issue. The inquiry was conducted almost entirely in private and seemed to have an extremely narrow, restrictive focus, he said.
¡°It¡¯s giving the public false assurances,¡± Mr. McBane said.
He said he believes Canada¡¯s food-safety system has eroded in the past few years as services were deregulated and safety officials moved toward reacting rather than proactively identifying issues.
¡°I think we¡¯ve gone down a really dangerous route,¡± Mr. McBane said. ¡°We¡¯ve replaced a culture of safety with a culture of risk. We¡¯ve replaced proactive regulation with industrial self-regulation. We¡¯ve replaced active inspections with paper inspections.¡±
Prof. Holley said that countries that have invested in advanced surveillance systems, such as Denmark, are able to track cases of food-borne illness and the foods they¡¯re associated with, allowing them to approach manufacturers to make improvements before a full-blown outbreak occurs.
But food surveillance is a complicated science that would require a significant amount of field work to collect samples from peoples¡¯ homes as well as an expensive new computer system, Prof. Holley said. The government has to be willing to make the investment needed in order for any real improvements to be made, he said.
¡°I don¡¯t want them to spend another penny on food safety in Canada until we figure out what it is that¡¯s making us sick so they can manage it properly,¡± Prof. Holley said. ¡°Otherwise, it¡¯s a big waste of money and we can¡¯t afford that.¡±

New Tainted Milk Cases Add to China's Safety Woes
Updated: 3 days 6 hours ago
Dave Thier Contributor

(Jan. 25) ? In the most recent of a string of scandals related to contamination in consumer goods in China, milk products tainted with toxic melamine have been pulled from store shelves, The Associated Press reports.
Melamine can cause kidney stones and renal failure -- investigators found that companies were adding it to their milk products as a cheap way of giving the appearance of appropriate protein levels. The dairies implicated in this most recent scandal were Shandong Zibo Lusaier Dairy, Liaoning Tieling Wuzhou Food and Laoting Kaida Refrigeration.
Laoting Kaida Refrigeration was also implicated in the original melamine scandal in 2008, in which six children were killed and some 300,000 sickened by tainted milk products.
The Chinese government has made a number of high-profile arrests and promises of regulation in the ongoing melamine case, even going as far as sentencing two people to death for selling melamine-tainted milk. A comprehensive food-safety bill that went into effect last June was meant to put into place a more effective regulatory and risk-monitoring system.
This most recent episode, however, coupled with the discovery of cadmium- and lead-tainted children's toys earlier in the year, is further proof of the difficulty of policing China's sprawling consumer-goods industry. Other products that have previously come under investigation include pet food, farmed fish and toothpaste.
Concerns surrounding contamination of Chinese products appeared to be reaching a fever pitch as early as 2007: "This is beyond concern," an anonymous U.S. food industry official told the New York Times in May of that year. "All the major food manufacturers are terrified. They're worried this could lead to the cutting off of imports from China. And where do you think we get 80 percent of our apple juice concentrate?"
More than two years later, however, news stories about consumer-goods contamination continue. The government shut down a Shanghai dairy earlier this month and arrested three dairy executives in December. This new scandal is likely to reignite the debate surrounding toxicity in Chinese imports.
"We just make what our clients order. If they pay more, we use the better raw material, and vice-versa. From a few cents to a few dollars, we can make the same style of jewelry product with a different raw material," jewelry maker He Hijuan told the AP two weeks ago. He was referring to the carcinogenic cadmium he was using to make jewelry, but that get-what-you-pay-for attitude could be applied to a wide range of low-cost imports.
Trade from China to the United States has continued to balloon despite the scandal: from 1999 to 2008, U.S. imports from China grew from $13.1 billion to $71.5 billion.

Food inspection agency gets an 'F' for progress on reforms
By Sarah Schmidt, Canwest News Service

January 27, 2010
OTTAWA ? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Wednesday received a failing grade from its own meat inspectors for not moving quickly enough on the "vast majority" of recommendations made six months ago to improve food safety.
The midterm report on the agency's response to a special investigator's recommendations comes after Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz vowed to implement each of Sheila Weatherill's 57 proposals.
The government appointed Weatherill to probe how meat contaminated with listeria produced at a Maple Leaf plant in Toronto led to the death of 22 Canadians in the summer of 2008.
Weatherill, who zeroed in on a "vacuum in senior leadership" among government officials, directed almost half of her recommendations on preventing another outbreak toward CFIA.
They included making changes to the agency's new meat-inspection system, known as the Compliance Verification System, and conducting an audit to determine the number of inspectors required to ensure food companies comply with food-safety requirements.
Last fall, Ritz said he expected to have the result of the audit by early this year.
"An audit has not even begun, and the CVS remains unevaluated. The inspector shortage is as acute as ever, and we continue to be hobbled by an inspection system that is deeply flawed," said Bob Kingston, president of the public service's agriculture union representing meat inspectors.
Weatherill found that federal inspectors assigned to the Toronto facility "appear to have been stressed," in part because they were responsible for as many as six other facilities at the time while working with a new inspection system that had been "implemented without a detailed assessment of the resources available to take on these new tasks" and "without a detailed business case."
The meat inspectors graded CFIA with an F for the intended changes to the inspection system and for the audit, with an overall midterm grade of D-. The report card is peppered with 13 other F's, compared to just one B.
And the only praise in the report card ? CFIA implemented Weatherill's proposal to beef up testing of control measures for listeria in ready-to-eat meat ? is followed by a qualification. "But with no additional resources, other aspects of food inspection have suffered," the report card states.
In an interview, Brian Evans, the agency's executive vice-president, said the report card misses the mark.
"I don't believe that the assessments that were put forward in any way reflect the level of investment and achievements that have been made in food safety over the past period of time. I believe that we all recognize going back to the summer of 2008 that the motivation to ensure that such events never happen again remains at the forefront of everything that we are doing."
Evans also said "more than just groundwork" has been done on the resource audit.
"I recognize their frustrations that it hasn't proceeded as quickly as possible, but it's equally important that we've got an appropriate level of expertise for it to be a credible audit that gives us meaningful results."
Evans added CFIA is on track to meet the commitment to hire 30 new inspectors at plants for ready-to-eat meat by the end of the fiscal year in March; 13 have already been hired and training is ramping up to make sure the new hires can "execute their jobs effectively," he said.
In a statement, Ritz emphasized this point.

"This government has given more resources to CFIA and put more inspectors on the ground than ever before."
The report, co-written by Canada's largest consumer group, Option consommateurs, also notes that while there have been changes to the reporting structure at CFIA's office of food safety and recall, its head still does not report directly to CFIA president Carole Swan as recommended by Weatherill.

Kingston blamed lack of political will for the pace of implementation.
"CFIA efforts to improve have been hamstrung by the absence of political will and commitment to improve on the part of the government," he said. "If it's not on the front pages, the political will goes away."
Added Option consommateurs spokeswoman Anu Bose: "Consumer confidence in food safety has been shaken to the core. The absence of any visible action six months after the Weatherill report will do nothing to repair this."
In her case, Bose said she doesn't eat any processed meat anymore, "as much as I love my prosciutto."
Bose added: "I think people have become food safety skeptics."

Obama's pick for food safety chief surprises consumer advocates
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Soon after taking office, President Obama highlighted food safety as a domestic priority. A string of national outbreaks of food illnesses were a "troubling trend," the president said. He called the problems "critical" and said they presented a "risk to public health."
But the Obama administration has had a difficult time filling the post of chief food safety official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it wasn't until this week -- one year into his term -- that the president nominated someone to assume that role. The choice of Elisabeth Hagen, 40, a physician with four years' experience in food safety, surprised food safety advocates, who said they knew little about her.
"Consumer advocates who work closely with [the Department of Agriculture] on policy issues have had limited direct experience with Dr. Hagen," said the Consumer Federation of America, which is part of a group known as the Safe Food Coalition.
A spokesman at the USDA said Hagen is declining interview requests as she awaits confirmation by the Senate. Her nomination does not appear to face strong opposition.
The meat industry applauded the selection. "Hagen brings the background, skills and vision to lead USDA's efforts to make sure that Americans have access to a safe and healthy food supply," said Patrick J. Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute.
It is difficult to assess Hagen's positions on policy or the politics of food safety; she hasn't published any papers, articles or books on the topic. Most of her career has been spent teaching and practicing medicine as an infectious disease specialist. She left medicine in 2006 and went to the USDA, where she was quickly promoted through the ranks of the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service to become the chief medical officer last year.
If confirmed as undersecretary of agriculture for food safety, Hagen will face complex challenges. She would oversee the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, which is responsible for safe meat, poultry and eggs, which make up 20 percent of the food supply. It employs 7,300 inspectors who perform daily and continuous checks inside 6,200 food processing facilities.
The number of recalls, illnesses and deaths associated with contaminated meats and poultry has remained steady since 2004, despite government and industry pledges to make food safer. This month, Russia banned U.S. imports of chicken out of concern about a chlorine wash American producers are using to disinfect poultry.
Hagen was not the first choice for the job at the USDA.
Last February, the administration approached Mike Doyle, a nationally known microbiologist who directs the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. Doyle said he was offered the job and was vetted, but the day before the announcement was to be made in May, his nomination collapsed. The White House wanted Doyle to divest his financial interest in a patented microbial wash for meat that he had developed. Doyle offered to defer his interests until his government service was completed but the administration refused, he said. "It's just an awful lot to ask for," Doyle said. "I would have taken a more than 50 percent pay cut to go to Washington, and this would have been a very big financial hit."
The administration also sought out Caroline Smith Dewaal, the director of food safety at Center for Science in the Public Interest, a lawyer and nationally known food safety expert who has spent 20 years working on policy and trade issues. But Dewaal's nomination came to a halt in August because she was a registered lobbyist, which violated the administration's policy against hiring lobbyists.
Meanwhile, problems with foods regulated by the USDA continued unabated. In 2009, there were 13 recalls of beef products contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 that were linked with three deaths and dozens of illnesses. In the first three weeks of 2010, there have been six recalls of tainted meats. The most recent recall, which is ongoing, involves salami contaminated with Salmonella that has sickened 189 people in 40 states.
"I don't know of her personally," Doyle said of Hagen. "She's got a steep learning curve."

Food safety rules could dry up irrigation for local farms
Jim Matheny

For the last seven years, David Cantrell has operated an extremely popular pick-your-own strawberry patch at Black Oak Farms in Corryton. Cantrell uses his irrigation pond to water livestock, irrigate his strawberries, and coat the berries with water for frost protection in the spring.
"This is the first time for as long as I can remember that these ponds are completely full," said Cantrell. "Even with all of the rain we had in the last year, they did not finally fill up until the heavy rain this weekend."
Water may be everywhere on Black Oak Farms, but right now there is not a drop in the ponds that Cantrell can confidently depend on for future crop irrigation. Proposed food safety guidelines set to go before the U.S. Senate are causing enough confusion and uncertainty among East Tennessee farmers that some are afraid to use their own ponds.
This year Cantrell decided planting the berries was too risky because of a vague proposal regarding irrigation ponds in the Food Safety Modernization Act working its way through Congress.
"I just hope I still have a house when my neighbors find out [I did not plant strawberries]. I hope they let me live in the community," joked Cantrell. "The folks are really going to be disturbed because there are not a lot of places you can go pick fresh strawberries from the farm and have a good afternoon with the family."
The U.S. House passed its version of the Food Safety Enhancement Act last summer and it now waits for a vote from the Senate. The bill aims to prevent e. coli outbreaks such as the one that resulted from contaminated spinach in 2006.
"I think the bill was done with good intentions to try to make food safer. The problem is I have not seen any clearly defined rule saying what kind of surface water can be used for irrigation. I don't know if I can use it if I have it tested. There is some livestock in the general area of the pond and also on my neighbor's property and I know they are concerned about runoff. If we used the water for frost protection, we need to know if we could use the berries," said Cantrell. "I did not want to risk investing in a full strawberry crop only to find out in the spring that my pond's water cannot be used to protect the berries from the frost."
Clearly defining what constitutes a harmful level of contaminants in standing water is paramount among farmers. The ambiguity of the current bill has some agriculture experts asking whether exposure to wildlife such as deer or bird droppings would constitute contamination.
"We are done with strawberries until we find out where we are with this legislation," said Cantrell.
"In Tennessee, most of our irrigators are going to pull out of a standing water source such as a pond, lake, or river," said John Buchanan, associate professor with the University of Tennessee's Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science program. "If at the last minute farmers need to use the water and find out they cannot, they are really hurting."
Buchanan said the risk of e. coli contamination can be measured in a variety of ways. There is some concern among farmers that if the testing requirements are expensive, it could place a larger relative burden on small farms.
"There is always risk. The issue is finding balance to ensure food is safe without calling for unnecessarily strict measures that make it impossible for farmers to stay in business," said Buchanan. "E. coli is spread when it is sprayed directly on the plants. It is not absorbed through the root system. For a situation where the water is being used for frost protection, bacteria are less likely to be active in freezing conditions. There are several factors and it comes back to what kind of test you use to determine if water is safe."
Buchanan said regardless of whatever measures the government requires to ensure produce safety, the consumer is the last line of defense and should act accordingly.
"The best way to make sure your food is safe is to wash it yourself. Wash your hands, wash your vegetables, and use common sense sanitation practices," said Buchanan.

Pepper Tests Positive, FSIS Names Retailers
by Dan Flynn | Jan 28, 2010

The black pepper used to coat the salami products on the 1.24 million pound recall list put out by Rhode Island's Daniele Inc. have now tested positive for Salmonella, the company says.
The specialty meat company declines to say whom in the wide, wide world of spice supplies its pepper.
The recalled meat is associated with an outbreak involving at least 189 victims of multiple strains of Salmonella in 40 states. The Jan. 23 recall is now spreading around the world.
Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety on Jan. 26th ordered stores to stop selling Daniele brand Italian sausage products containing black pepper. It warned consumers to stop eating the ready-to-eat sausage products. Canada already took similar action and other countries are sure to follow.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, where the outbreak investigation is headquartered, multiple strains of the Salmonella have been connected to the recall.
"This recall," CDC explained, "followed isolation of Salmonella in a private laboratory from a retail sample of a salami product produced by Daniele International; this product was different than the sliced salami variety pack purchased at different grocery store locations by the 13 ill persons.
"FSIS (the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service) reviewed and affirmed these private laboratory results. The Salmonella strain initially found by the private laboratory was different from the strains causing the outbreak.
"However, the Washington State Department of Health subsequently tested the bacterial culture provided by the private laboratory (the salami was not provided) and identified two different Salmonella serotypes, the strain found by the private lab and Salmonella Montevideo indistinguishable from the outbreak strain.
"In addition, the Iowa Department of Public Health and public health officials in Plymouth County, Iowa investigated a patient with Salmonella Montevideo infection indistinguishable from the outbreak strain and discovered an open sliced salami variety pack frozen at the patient's home.
"The patient had eaten this product before becoming ill. This sliced salami variety pack was the same as that purchased by 13 other ill persons.
"Using DNA analysis, the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory (Iowa's public health laboratory) confirmed that the Salmonella isolated from this leftover salami was indistinguishable from the outbreak strain of Salmonella Montevideo.
"CDC and its public health partners are continuing the epidemiologic investigation to verify that the outbreak is controlled; to identify the specific products or ingredients that became contaminated and how the contamination occurred; and to identify any other food vehicles that may be involved.
"It is possible that more than one food product may be causing illnesses. The investigation is ongoing," the latest CDC report adds.
Meanwhile, FSIS, which has jurisdiction for meat products, issued a list of retailers that carried the Daniele brand ready-to-eat meats. Costco, Sam's Club, and Wal-Mart stores throughout the nation top the list.
Others who sold the recalled meat brands include: Fred Meyer (AK, ID, OR, & WA); Fry's Food and Drug (AZ); Haggen (OR & WA); Hilander (IL); Kroger (AL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MI, MO, NC, OH, SC, TN, TX, VA, & WV); and Market Basket (MA & NH).
Also retailing the brands were: Quality Food Center-Fresh Fare (OR & WA); Ralph's-Ralph's Fresh Fare (CA); Scott's (IN); Smith's-Smith's Marketplace (AZ, ID, MT, NM, NV, UT, & WV); Stop and Shop (NJ & NY); Top Foods (WA); Waldbaums (NY) and Weis (MD, NJ, NY, & PA).

FSIS Should Require Labeling for Tenderized Steaks
by Bill Marler | Jan 29, 2010

On Christmas Eve 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that National Steak and Poultry was recalling 248,000 pounds of mechanically tenderized beef products contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
Within days of the recall announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that 21 people from 16 states had become infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 after eating the mechanically tenderized steaks. Public health agencies in Calif., Colo., Fla., Hawaii, Iowa, Ind., Kan., Mich., Minn., Nev., Ohio, Okla., S.D., Tenn., Utah, and Wash. reported that residents of their states had become ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating the recalled steaks.
Last week, Marler Clark, filed a lawsuit against National Steak and Poultry in Utah on behalf of a 14-year-old boy who became infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 in October 2009. He was sick for weeks and hospitalized for several days.
Generally, it has been believed that steaks are not considered a high-risk source of E. coli O157: H7. However, when steaks are mechanically tenderized (also, blade-or needle-tenderized), that process introduces the possibility that bacteria from the surface of the meat can be transferred to the inside of the product. The mechanical tenderization of meat products like steaks and roasts involves a process of repeatedly inserting small needles or blades into the product. These needles or blades pierce the surface of the product, increasing the risk that any pathogens located on the surface of the product can be transferred to the interior of the product.
Since steaks are cooked to a wide range of internal temperatures, the insides of steaks often do not reach a temperature hot enough to kill E. coli bacteria. In essence, an undercooked mechanically tenderized steak poses a risk for E. coli O157:H7 contamination similar to that of an undercooked hamburger. That's why the USDA recommends cooking a mechanically tenderized steak to an internal temperature of 160 degrees--the same recommended internal temperature for a cooked hamburger.
Last June, food safety advocates from the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, the Center for Science and the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, and Food & Water Watch, all key members of the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, outlining the specific risks presented by "non-intact" or mechanically tenderized steaks.
The coalition urged USDA to require labeling on non-intact meat cuts and to educate consumers about the risks of under-cooking such meat products to minimize the risk to public health. They have not yet received a formal response from Vilsack or the USDA.
Advice from the Make Our Food Safe Coalition included the following, which FSIS should implement immediately:

Issue a press release as soon as possible indicating that the current cooking guidelines and temperatures for intact beef products are not safe for all beef products that look intact. [Specifically, that mechanically tenderized steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, just like hamburgers.]
Take immediate steps to develop regulation that will require labeling to clearly identify mechanically tenderized, non-intact beef and pork products for all processing facilities, retail purchasers, and consumers.
Initiate a FSIS program to assess the effectiveness of public health messaging, so that effective food safety messages can be delivered to all food safety stakeholders.
As the USDA is aware, the outbreak traced to National Steak and Poultry products is not the only E. coli outbreak traced to mechanically tenderized steaks in the last decade. There have been several others. It is time for USDA to implement steps to prevent more outbreaks like the following:
In Mar. 2003 six people developed E. coli O157:H7 infections after consuming steaks produced by Stampede Meat, Inc., of Chicago, Illinois. The steaks, which were later recalled, had been blade-tenderized and injected with marinade.
In Aug. 2004 patrons of a Colorado Applebee's restaurant became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating beef products produced by Quantum Foods of Bolingbrook, Ill. The firm recalled approximately 406,000 pounds of frozen beef products for potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
In May 2007 Davis Creek Meats and Seafood of Kalamazoo Michigan recalled nearly 130,000 pounds of beef products in 15 states because of possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination. The recalled boxes of mechanically tenderized steaks and ground beef were linked to E. coli O157:H7 illnesses.
In May 2007, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak investigation by the Fresno County Department of Community Health revealed that tenderized, cooked tri-tip sold by The Grill at the Meat Market and served at several catered functions was the source of the outbreak.
In Sept. 2008 at least 24 attendees of a Forest Ranch, Calif. Fire Department fundraiser became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating tenderized tri-tip beef served at the event.
Several studies [as recently as 2009] have been undertaken to determine if the mechanical tenderization process transfers pathogens from the surface to the interior of beef products. A study by Luchansky et al., found that depending on the level of surface contamination, mechanical tenderization of beef products transferred E. coli O157:H7 into the topmost 1 cm of product in 90% to 100% of samples and into the topmost 2 cm of product in 55% to 98% of samples.
FSIS knows the risks and must act now to prevent future illnesses from tenderized steaks.

New work offers hope for effective salmonella vaccine
by Tina Redlup on January 29, 2010
Research from Malawi, Birmingham and Liverpool has renewed hope that an effective vaccine could be developed against nontyphoidal strains of salmonella.
The work, funded by the Wellcome Trust and GlaxoSmithKline, suggests that the body's immune system could be primed to tackle even the most resilient of strains, ScienceDaily reported Jan. 26.
In developed countries, nontyphoidal salmonella strains are mainly food-borne and usually cause gastroenteritis. In rare cases, they can lead to bacterial infections of the blood. However, in the developing world, bacteraemia is far more common and serious: fatality rates can be as high as almost one in four among children younger than 2 years old and HIV-infected adults.
In previous research led by Dr. Calman MacLennan, scientists based at the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Program in Blantyre, Malawi, showed that disease-causing strains of NTS were able to survive outside cells in the blood of children. This survival mechanism enables the bacteria to replicate unchecked, possibly leading to high levels of mortality associated with bacteraemia.
MacLennan and colleagues also identified protective salmonella-specific antibodies that develop in African children within the first two years of life, the period in which the majority of NTS-related cases of bacteraemia occur.
These particular antibodies recognize the bacteria in the blood and then kill the bacteria without the help of immune cells. It is possible that these antibodies develop in response to a relatively mild infection by NTS or similar bacteria. Young children who have yet to encounter these bacteria lack the antibodies and are at greatest risk from infection.
However, the salmonella bacteria can evade the antibodies by hiding away within phagocytes, another group of cells involved in the body's immune reaction. Phagocytes ordinarily ¡°eat¡± invasive bacteria before destroying them, but the salmonella bacteria have adapted to avoid being destroyed once inside the phagocytes.
In addition, some strains have become resistant to the killing effect of antibodies even when they are outside these cells. If the bacteria are not completely cleared from the body, then it is possible for infection to recur if a patient's immune system is compromised, for example through HIV infection.
"Nontyphoidal salmonella is a very serious problem in Africa and we urgently need a vaccine," MacLennan said. "Our previous work gave some hope that a vaccine could be developed that produces antibodies to protect against fatal salmonella infections. But unless we can develop a vaccine that completely clears the body of bacteria, including resistant strains, such a vaccine could quickly become redundant."
The researchers from the University of Malawi College of Medicine, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the University of Birmingham, published their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It demonstrates a second way that the immune system uses antibodies to kill the bacteria.
The results are encouraging for the prospects of developing a vaccine, suggesting that a vaccine against NTS could be more effective than previously thought.
The research, carried out by Esther Gondwe, a Malawian doctoral student at MLW in MacLennan's group, found that the bacteria could be tagged by the antibodies before being ¡°eaten¡± by the phagocytes. This made it more likely that the phagocytes would consume them, but would also flag them as unwanted guests, enabling the phagocytes to recognize and destroy them.
This two-pronged approach enables the immune system to kill salmonella bacteria both within and outside of the blood cells, enabling the body to rid itself of the bacteria including strains that are resistant to killing outside of cells. It further highlights the role that antibodies play in protecting people from Salmonella infection.
"Antibodies clearly play a very important role in protecting people from salmonella infection," MacLennan said. "This makes even stronger the case for developing a vaccine which can stimulate antibody production. Such a vaccine could potentially save the lives of thousands of African children who would otherwise die."
MacLennan and colleagues will now look for the most effective antibodies for attacking the bacteria in the blood and for activating phagocytes to kill. Finding the best antibodies will be key to developing a much-needed vaccine.

We have a candidate for under secretary with a pulse?she will also need a spine
Food (Safety) Fight
By: Richard Raymond
(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

Monday evening my blackberry received an email notifying me that Dr. Elisabeth Hagen was about to be nominated to become the fourth Senate confirmed under secretary for food safety at the USDA. Subsequent press releases and's Tuesday AM news report proved my informant was absolutely correct. The irony of the timing is that I was with Mike Doyle and Cathie Woteki that day at a meeting discussing food safety and the empty position of under secretary.
But maybe the bigger irony, or statement of why an under secretary is so badly needed, is the next story that immediately followed the announcement of a nominee in Tuesday AM. This second story reported that the USDA had just told NAMP (North American Meat Processors) that whole carcass, low dose irradiation (carcass pasteurization as Dr. Marsden likes to call it) was off the table and going nowhere because the "petitioner has several concerns that need to be addressed." Maybe they could have addressed these concerns somewhere during the five years AMI's petition has been at the USDA?
More telling, the story went on to say that they were denying the petition "because of other recent events, processing aids in general are under greater scrutiny right now." Now I get it. People are freaking out over the recent revelation that some beef products were being treated with ammonia as a processing aid to help reduce E coli counts. So now the USDA does not have the spine to take on the consumer groups over another processing aid that would save lives.
This huge policy decision was made just prior to the announcement of the Administration's nominee for under secretary. Was her opinion as chief medical officer at USDA even sought? Was Secretary Vilsack provided with the science behind the request? Most importantly, can it be retracted by a strong willed, Senate confirmed, under secretary who will place the public's health first, using science to back her decision?
Industry, Dr. Hagen needs to hear from you on this issue, and hopefully this blog will restart the conversations based on the science that Dr. Marsden and I have been trying to stimulate on this subject. We need this processing aid added to the tools that industry currently utilizes.

January 29, 2010

CDC - Salmonella Montevideo Outbreak Update - 187 Ill in 39 States
Posted on January 25, 2010 by Bill Marler
Investigation Announcement: Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Montevideo Infections
Persons Infected with the Outbreak Strain of Salmonella Montevideo, United States, by State, as of January 25, 2010:
Atotal of 187 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Montevideo have been reported from 39 states since July 1, 2009. The number of ill persons identified in each state with this strain is as follows: AL (2), AZ (5), CA (30), CO (3), CT (4), DE (2), FL (2), GA (3), IA (1), IL (11), IN (3), KS (3), LA (1), MA (12), MD (1), ME (1), MI (1), MN (4), MO (1), NC (9), ND (1), NE (1), NH (1), NJ (7), NY (15), OH (9), OK (1), OR (8), PA (3), RI (2), SC (1), SD (3), TN (4), TX (7), UT (7), VA (1), WA (14), WV (1), and WY (2). Because this is a commonly occurring strain, public health investigators may determine that some of the illnesses are not part of this outbreak.
Among the persons with reported dates available, illnesses began between July 2, 2009 and January 7, 2010. Infected individuals range in age from <1 year old to 88 years old and the median age is 36 years. Fifty-two percent of patients are male. Among the 133 patients with available information, 37 (28%) were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Black Pepper Positive for Salmonella
by Dan Flynn | Jan 29, 2010

Black pepper supplied by New York's Wholesome Spice to Daniele Inc. to coat its salami products was found by Rhode Island public health officials to contain the Salmonella Montevideo outbreak strain responsible for making at least 189 people sick in 40 states.
Brooklyn-based Wholesome Spice produces and supplies meat packers and processors throughout the country with seasonings, spices, glazes, dips, and other key ingredients. It no longer supplies Daniele Inc, which had to recall 1.24 million pounds of its ready-to-eat meat products due to the outbreak.
Daniele says it now plans to use a pepper supplier that irradiates its spices, a process that kills deadly bacteria.
However, Food Safety News has learned one of America's best-known spice companies does not--as we previously reported--use irradiation.
"McCormick & Company, Inc. treats its black pepper to control pathogens using a proprietary steam sterilization system and other common treatment techniques," says John. G. McCormick.
"The McCormick US Consumer Products Division does not irradiate any of its consumer products at present and has no plans to do so in the future," McCormick, vice president for corporate communications and community relations, adds. "Furthermore, product produced for our Industrial food customers is treated by the processes described above. We will only send product out for irradiation if specifically directed to do so by that Industrial food customer (it is not a common request)."
Rhode Island's Daniele Inc. found Salmonella in black pepper it was using, but the company did not specify whether it matched the Salmonella Montevideo strain associated with the outbreak.
"We got positive results for Salmonella, and the strain did match the national outbreak," said Annemarie Beardsworth, Rhode Island Department of Health spokeswoman. "The one caveat is the sample was from an opened container of ground pepper. That means it's the probable source of the outbreak. We do have samples from closed containers that are in the process of being tested."
The fact that the sample came from a previously opened container means the pepper could have been contaminated at Daniele rather than at the facility where it was produced, she noted. "We're pretty sure that it didn't get contaminated at Daniele, but we need a positive sample from a closed container to be absolutely 100 percent sure," she added.
A spokesman for Wholesome Spice said several days of tests have all proved negative there. The company is waiting on other results.
The recall originally came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) because it involved ready-to eat meats. Now that the investigation is focused on the pepper, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the case, testing and tracing black pepper used in Daniele products.
"FDA is investigating the supply chain of the black pepper used in the recalled product and has collected and is currently analyzing black pepper samples as part of the joint investigation into the source of the outbreak," said FDA's Sebastian Cianci.
"To date all of the samples collected and analyzed by FDA have tested negative for Salmonella; however, sample collection and analysis continues," he said.
Cianci said there have been no recent reports of illness associated with black pepper used in other products in the United States.

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