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China says "most" melamine-tainted milk destroyed
Mon Feb 15, 2010 1:53pm EST
BEIJING (Reuters) - Most of the melamine-tainted dairy products which have resurfaced in China over the past few months have been destroyed, and none has hit shop shelves or been exported, state media said on Saturday.
A number of cases of melamine in milk have appeared in the past few months, some of which appear to have come from old batches of contaminated powder that was never destroyed despite a scandal that damaged the reputation of China's dairy industry.
"Due to early discovery and timely checks, as of now, most of the tainted milk products have been recalled and destroyed, and none has entered the market or been exported," Xinhua news agency cited the National Food Safety Rectification Office as saying.
There have been no reported deaths or illnesses from the latest batches of tainted milk. About 300,000 children sought medical treatment, many with kidney stones, in the 2008 scandal.
The reason melamine, an industrial chemical which can give a fake positive on protein tests, has reappeared is that some companies "didn't fulfill the responsibilities for food safety and some violators hid tainted milk products or fabricated test reports to dodge inspections", the report said.
"In the recently reported melamine-tainted milk cases, some of the tainted milk products were apparently made of old batches of tainted milk powder slated for destruction but hoarded away instead by dairy firms and later repackaged," Xinhua said.
"The office urged related departments at all levels to thoroughly investigate the new cases and severely punish violators," it added.China executed two people in November for their role in the 2008 scandal that further sullied the made-in-China brand after a string of health and product-safety scares.The government this week announced the formation of a national food safety commission, headed by a powerful vice premier. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

FSIS Curious, Not Too Curious
by Dan Flynn | Feb 15, 2010
When tests for the deadly E. coli O157:H7 pathogen come back with positive results, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) makes sure the product does not reach consumers, but that's about it.
Nobody tracks down the source of contamination or figures out if there might be additional meat that is contaminated and making its way to consumers.
"Why are they doing these investigations if they're not doing them to put their arms around all the product and finding out what went wrong?" Donna Rosenbaum asked the Chicago Tribune. She is executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority, the food safety group based in Northbrook, IL.
According to the Chicago newspaper, full-blown investigations only occur if there is an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses. Outbreaks occur only when contaminated meat has reached consumers.
When tests for E. coli O157:H7 are positive outside of an outbreak scenario, USDA does not conduct such an investigation. The contaminated product may not be shipped, but that's it.
"We're paying so much money for the (testing) program, and it's not being used to protect the public to the best of its ability," Rosenbaum added.
USDA says the reason positive test results do not trigger a full-blown investigation is that the risk is low. The number of positive test results not associated with outbreaks is also low--less than 60 a year since 2001. Food safety advocates say that would not add that much to FSIS's investigative load.
Consumer groups want Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to step-up investigations for routine tests that come back positive. The American Meat Institute, however, says a "test and hold" requirement would be more effective. That would require meat processors to have test results in hand before shipping their product.
The industry-led AMI figures "test and hold" could have prevented 80 percent of the E. coli O157:H7 recalls last year, and all 2009 recalls for Listeria.

Retail Frozen Ground Beef Patties and Risks of E. coli O157:H7
Safety Zone
By: James Marsden
It's time to recognize that retail frozen ground beef patties pose an increased risk to consumers and take steps to reduce that risk.
If you conduct a Google search using the words "frozen ground beef patties and E. coli", you will see that this product category has been implicated in an inordinate number of cases, outbreaks and recalls. The Topps recall and other highly publicized events over the past several years resulted from contaminated frozen ground beef patties. The October New York Times story that described a devastating illness that resulted from E. coli O157:H7 contamination also involved retail frozen ground beef patties.
Frozen ground beef patties were also implicated in the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box outbreak and other early public health events involving E. coli O157:H7. Fast food chains have taken steps to assure the safety of frozen beef patties, including raw material and finished product testing, the implementation of validated cooking processes that fully inactivate E. coli O157:H7 and process control measures that guarantee proper cooking every time. These systems have been effective in controlling the problem in fast food restaurants and other restaurants that use frozen beef patties.
The problem still exists when consumers prepare retail frozen ground beef patties at home. This is because frozen patties are inherently difficult to cook uniformly and sufficiently to control pathogens. If all consumers were educated about the risks associated with frozen beef patties, and took the same steps that have been successful in restaurant preparation, the problem would be solved. This would require that great care be taken when cooking frozen beef patties and the universal use of thermometers to verify that the cooked product has reached a minimum temperature of 160 degrees F. Efforts to inform and encourage consumers to adhere to these practices should continue. However, it is not realistic to expect that all consumers will apply perfect cooking methods when preparing frozen ground beef patties. The risk of E. coli contamination in these products has to be reduced upstream.
Here are 6 steps that I believe would make frozen ground beef patties safer for consumers:
1. Assure that beef carcasses are processed to minimize the risk of pathogen contamination.
2. Apply a validated intervention to chilled beef carcasses prior to fabrication.
3. Test beef trimmings for E. coli O157:H7 using N-60 sampling procedures at slaughter plant.
4. Apply at least one validated intervention to beef trimmings before grinding.
5. Adopt a test and hold policy for finished frozen ground beef patties that applies to every production lot (Microbiological testing procedures now allow for results in less than 24 hours).
6. Implement a prominent labeling statement for frozen ground beef patties with consumer information that underscores the importance of proper cooking (in addition to safe handling labels).
These steps in addition to continued efforts to identify and implement pre-harvest interventions and carcass pasteurization technologies would reduce the risk of E. coli O157:H7 in retail frozen ground patties and also help restore consumer confidence in beef products in general.

Providing Facts on Antibiotic Use in Livestock
By Kim Watson
Last week, CBS Evening News featured reports on antibiotic use in livestock and poultry but misrepresented information that the livestock industry is working to correct. The segments looked at the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production and the threat on human health. Many in the livestock industry saw the segments as one-sided and have been working to counter some of the misinformation.
Soon after the report aired, Iowa State University veterinarian H. Scott Hurd provided information on the science and safety of livestock antibiotics. Hurd, a senior epidemiologist at Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine and a former USDA deputy under secretary for food safety, prepared written report presenting the facts based on available knowledge and information regarding the use of antibiotics in livestock and how they may affect the health of animals, people and food safety.
Over the weekend, he wrote a guest column in the Des Moines Register on the topic and said, "I don't accept antibiotics in my meat! And, it is critically important to understand that meat consumed in America is to be free from antibiotic residues. The presence of residues is illegal. As a former leader in the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service, I can assure you the system checks carefully for the presence of this stuff in meat. However, today's concern is about the possibility of resistant bacteria."Follow this link to read more of the counterarguments and find links to the CBS news segments at Owned Ethnic Restaurants

Have More Food Safety Violations, Kansas Researchers Find
ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2010) - Diners who are skeptical of the food safety practices in ethnic restaurants have new research to back up some of their assumptions.
In a study of independently owned restaurants in 14 Kansas counties, Kansas State University researchers found a significantly higher number of food safety violations in ethnic restaurants than in non-ethnic restaurants. The next step for their research is to understand the reasons for these differences and to work alongside restaurant operators to remedy the problems.
Leading the study were Junehee Kwon, associate professor, and Kevin Roberts, assistant professor, both of the department of hospitality management and dietetics. They found that independently owned ethnic restaurants had significantly more violations for several food safety categories, including time and temperature control, hand washing and proper use of utensils. The independent ethnic restaurants in the study also had more inspections than their nonethnic counterparts. Kwon said many of those repeat visits were driven by customer complaints.
The research will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Food Protection Trends. Co-authors are Carol Shanklin, dean of the K-State Graduate School, and Pei Liu and Wen S.F. Yen, doctoral students in human ecology.
Because independent operations don't have the support of a corporate office that sets policies and organizes food safety training programs, the researchers would like to see their studies help independently-owned ethnic restaurants improve their food handling and, eventually, food safety records.
Underscoring the importance of this study, Kwon said U.S. census data indicate that restaurants are one of the most common businesses for immigrants to start.
"There are some challenges to ethnic restaurants," Kwon said. "We can't tell what they are yet. We don't know what operators know and think about opening a restaurant in the United States and following the regulations. It's likely they have different perceptions of the risk of inadequate food safety, as well as the language barrier."
Roberts and colleagues are pursuing funding to study the barriers that keep employees from understanding and practicing food safety techniques. His co-principal investigators are Kwon and Kevin Sauer, assistant professor in the department of hospitality management and dietetics.
"What we want to do with the new project, should it be funded, is to look at whether it is a cultural thing and learn what we can do in food training programs," Roberts said. "Now, programs only deal with knowledge, but it doesn't persuade people to change their behaviors."
Kwon said she looks forward to working with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Dallas and hopes to collaborate with Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in Kansas locations to reach more restaurant owners and employees. She said collaborating with owners on research can be difficult because of skepticism that some immigrants have about government involvement in their businesses.
To understand different food safety perceptions among foreign nationalities, Roberts and a graduate student are pursuing research that will ask international students at K-State about their countries' cultural norms and food safety attitudes.

As Daniele Inc recall expands, questions do too
Posted on February 17, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
Yesterday evening, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that Daniele Inc is expanding its January 23 2010 recall of salami products to include another 115,000 pounds of potentially contaminated salami. See list of recalled products. The expansion is yet another twist in an outbreak that has continued to evolve, and with sometimes only limited information passed to the public by investigating health officials and the companies involved.
But the recent expansion is more significant for the many questions that it creates. It is based upon the presence of salmonella in salami packages that did not contain any black pepper, which has long been thought to have been the source of contamination in the outbreak. Now, health authorities believe that crushed red pepper included in some of the Daniele Inc product may have been contaminated as well.
Here is a quick list of questions that need to be answered:
1. Who is the supplier of red pepper?
Why it matters: if tests have indicated the presence of salmonella on the crushed red pepper that Daniele Inc used, the same contaminated pepper may have been distributed to other food producers or retailers, so more foods may be, or might become, contaminated. Pepper has a long shelf life, so if this product is, indeed, elsewhere in the consumer chain of distribution, it represents an ongoing threat to human health.
2. How many strains of Salmonella are implicated in this outbreak, and what are they?
The FSIS press release about the recall expansion tells us that crushed red pepper may now be contaminated, but says nothing about the strain of salmonella that was isolated. We know Montevideo, and we know Senftenberg, It would seem unlikely, unless the supplier of the black and red pepper was the same, that both would be contaminated with the same strains of Salmonella. Maybe the red pepper was contaminated with one, and the black with the other; or maybe the black with both known strains, and the red with a totally new strain. Whatever the case, the public should have the benefit of this knowledge.
3. Have all potentially contaminated products been recalled?
Surely, the companies involved would say yes, but yesterday's announcement is, after all, effectively the third announced recall by Daniele, each one including more and different products. So, has Daniele Inc taken a conservative approach to recall? Or has it acted as broadly in scope as the ongoing risk to public health would seem to dictate.
But at least Daniele has acted. One thing causing great concern, here at least, is that there has been no recall of pepper, either the black or the red, despite tests that have confirmed the presence of salmonella in pepper from two, and maybe even three different companies. Maybe Daniele was Overseas Spice and Wholesome Spice's only customer, and those companies have accurately determined that there is no ongoing risk because Daniele's recalls encompass all the potentially contaminated product. We can only speculate at this point, but that doesn't sound like a sustainable business model.
4. Is the model currently in place for telling the public crucial information about outbreaks and recalls really the most efficient method we can think of?
The flow of information to the public about this major outbreak has been slow. Recall that the CDC announced this outbreak in January by stating that the implicated product was "a widely distributed contaminated food product." At the time of the CDC's announcement, it was certainly known by US Government that Daniele Inc's salami was the "widely distributed contaminated food product." But instead of the CDC just saying that, it fell to Bill Marler, a private citizen way out in the northwest corner of the country, to announce what the product really was.
On her blog,, Eddie Gehman Kohan asked "How is it possible that a blogger notifies the public of a new Class I (you could die) recall of 1,240,000 pounds of meat before USDA does?": She continued, "It's a grim situation when a private citizen is more on the ball than the federal agency that's supposed to be managing national food safety concerns (CDC's own e mail heads-up about the outbreak included no information, except that a product sold nationally was contaminated with Salmonella Montevideo)."
So back to the original question, is a system that is so reliant on the private sector--instead of first responders like the government, CDC, FDA, FSIS--to pass information about food outbreaks really an efficient model? There are 230 recognized illnesses in this outbreak, many of which fell ill long before the pieces to the puzzle had fallen into place, but certainly some of whom fell ill after government and certain industry members knew the most essential details. Clearly, this is not efficient from a public health standpoint, and some would certainly argue that it's not very efficient from a business standpoint either. After all, the losses generated by the publicity surrounding these outbreaks in the form of reduced sales and lawsuits certainly compound the longer the outbreak remains in the public spotlight. And one sure way of accomplishing that is to deliver information piecemeal and untimely.
Many questions yet to be answered as this outbreak continues to unfold.

Lawsuit on Behalf of California Woman Fatally Sickened by Salmonella Pepper
A Salmonella lawsuit will be filed this week on behalf of the daughter of a Huntington Beach woman who died in 2009 from a Salmonella infection contracted from tainted pepper. The lawsuit will be filed against U. F. Union International Food, which produced the spices as well as against the companies that sold and distributed them. The suit will be filed in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Alameda.
In February 2009, Donna Pierce underwent a lobectomy (lung surgery) in Hayward, CA. The surgery went well and she was released after a 10-day recovery. While at the hospital, she consumed white pepper that was manufactured, sold, and distributed by U. F. Union International Food. Days after returning home she began to experience severe abdominal pain. She returned to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a Salmonella infection, and ultimately re-admitted. She succumbed to her infection on April 9, 2009. Her Salmonella infection was serotype rissen, a genetic match to the outbreak strain found in U. F. Union International Food white pepper.
The Union International Food outbreak sickened more than 79 people in Western states between December 2008 and April 2009; the majority of the illnesses were in California. Public health officials traced the outbreak to white pepper manufactured by Union International and sold under the brand names Uncle Chen and Lian How. Ultimately the company recalled more than 50 products, including spices, oils, and sauces, due to potential contamination with Salmonella.
Posted on February 17, 2010 by Salmonella Lawyer

Reaction: The Science Behind Salad Safety
by Trevor Suslow | Feb 18, 2010
Here, Trevor Suslow, Ph.D., shares his reaction to the recent Consumer Reports article
Packaged Salad Can Contain High Levels of Bacteria. Suslow is a cooperative extension research specialist in postharvest quality and safety in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California at Davis.
Yes, once again this type of bacterial testing activity has caused a flurry of concern and confusion. I support the notion that there is always room for improvement in food safety management and that FDA should increase the specificity of their guidance and regulations, where warranted and defensible, to include science-based standards and microbiological limits for fresh produce.
However, I feel it is grossly unfair to consumers to raise a specter of fear well beyond what is supported by available science and our everyday shared experiences. What I rely on for my personal confidence in regularly consuming lettuces, spring mix, and spinach salads is that there are billions and billions of servings of these items consumed every year in the U.S. alone and the predominant experience we have is of safe consumption.
No one wishes to dismiss the fact that such consumption likely results in sporadic cases of illness that aren't known by the public health system and have caused multiple outbreaks and tragic consequences for individuals and families. Continued efforts by the industry, FDA, and consumer advocacy groups to elevate performance standards for prevention and process management along the whole food chain at a national level are certainly warranted.
Uniform and accepted microbiological standards, as stated in the Consumer Reports report (See Study Finds Bacteria in Packaged Greens, Feb. 3), are not available at this time. I believe the criteria that were chosen do not provide sufficient information, by themselves, to judge the sanitation performance or risk to consumers.
First let's take care of one issue, from my perspective; a normal head of lettuce is colonized--not contaminated--with a diversity of microbiota, including diverse types of bacteria. Only a small fraction of the total normal bacteria on lettuce can be grown or cultured in the lab. The total numbers of bacteria on a leaf far exceed the number of a single group like the total coliforms that were a prime target in the survey. A smaller subset of total coliform bacteria are the fecal coliforms. We eat lots and lots of microbes all the time.
Second, total coliforms and fecal coliforms are defined by a set of culture-dependent lab criteria. This long-standing and convenient trait-based classification includes non-harmful E. coli and other related bacteria associated with fecal origin.
An estimate of the number of total coliforms generated by the lab tests also includes many other related bacteria that are part of the normal and expected group of plant colonizers. We are all exposed to plant-associated bacteria and consume them on a regular basis, often in large numbers like those reported in the survey.
Some that are not necessarily of fecal origin are recognized to be opportunistic pathogens, as a group, but the role of environmental isolates in causing human illness, as compared to the same taxonomic species from a hospital environment, is much less certain. Even here, illness with this group is more associated with problems that arise from inhalation or injection with non-sterile medical devices and equipment and other predisposing health factors.
However, I am certainly not a medical or public health expert and I am simplifying this quite a bit just to ensure that you are aware that a total coliform or fecal coliform doesn't necessarily indicate fecal contamination in the plant world. Their numbers on a leaf or fruit do not relate well to risk of illness or true and serious pathogens being present. When one follows standard protocols, developed for dairy, meat, drinking water, and wastewater reclamation, for example, for enumerating total coliform populations from plants, one often gets high numbers of these plant colonizers. They are very tough to wash off and are not killed 100 percent even with the most elegant and sophisticated wash disinfection system.
It is certainly conceivable and has happened that contamination we should be concerned about would be present among these coliform bacteria, but it isn't automatic. The normal level of "fecal coliforms" (I prefer and always use the alternate classification Thermotolerant Coliforms; grows at 42 to 44 degrees Celsius or 107 to 111 degrees Fahrenheit) is generally a subset of this and often varies more widely from head to head and leaf to leaf; here again this is not a strong predictor of pathogen presence or risk of illness to consumers.
The suitability of enterococci as strong indicators of recent fecal contamination or pathogen presence is not well established for plant products. This group has also been shown to have an environmental phase (growth in soil and sediments) which complicates the interpretation of their presence. While enterococci are generally considered better indicators of fecal contamination, their presence is simply not a perfect associative indicator for direct environmental contact with fecal matter or gross sanitation failures.
That the survey results found higher numbers of total coliform near the end of Use By Date is not at all surprising as there will always be some at the end of the most vigorous wash and sanitizer treatment. These survivors can grow (slowly) at typical refrigeration temperatures and certainly could multiply more quickly if exposed to warmer temperatures.
Growth would be expected especially if exposed to fluctuating temperatures that go from coldest to warmer to cold. Higher numbers are also consistent with the stage of decline of freshness and natural plant senescence, the inevitable process of quality loss that goes hand in hand with an increase in spoilage organisms.
The Consumer Reports study results may be consistent with widely held concerns for better cold-chain control, especially with packaged salads and other pre-cut or ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, all the way to the home consumer. Have we seen high counts seasonally or wash procedures that aren't optimal? Sure, but there is another possible explanation. Because all the samples were taken from retail stores, the numbers of bacteria (not that fact that they were present) may tell us more about the temperature history of the product than provide clear evidence of poor sanitation.
Purchasing packaged salads or whole heads is a matter of personal choice. We do both in my family. I always wash loose leaf lettuces to remove any adhering soil. I never wash packaged salads. I do not support or believe that re-washing packaged salads should be a recommendation for the home consumer. A large and diverse panel of experts published a comprehensive article in 2007* detailing the scientific evidence for the lack of benefit and the greater risk of cross-contamination in the home.
If one chooses to take advantage of the convenience and diversity of greens available in sensible serving portions or as complete salad meals, it is always best to look at the Best if Consumed By dating and take notice of the display case arrangement. Bags should be vertical in a row, not laid one on top of the other in stacks. Clamshell containers are displayed in various stacking or slanted row patterns which allow generous space for airflow.
I always make it a habit to check the display temperature by hand. This isn't perfect or necessarily an indication of safe or unsafe product but it is at least easy to tell if the air is really cool and the bags are very cool to the touch. Maybe our cell phones and smart-phones should come with an infrared digital thermometer function.
Comments regarding cold-chain management, product temperature at point of purchase (POP), and the role of the home consumer in handling of packaged salads have prompted additional requests for information. Two main questions regarding consumer recommendations emerged:
1. Is post-purchase temperature equally relevant for quality and safety?
2. Can consumers really judge if product has been temperature-compromised at POP?
Simple answers to the theme of Question #1 are not possible because exceptions to lower risk or higher risk can always be made and are equally valid. The most responsible answer is "It depends." However, this is unsatisfactory, especially when trying to provide information consumers can use as an everyday rule of thumb. So I will make a brief general attempt and hope any backlash is not too intense. To limit the scope of the response, I will stick with packaged salads for the most part.
Is post-purchase temperature equally relevant for quality and safety?
Temperature management and cumulative cold-chain history is predominantly a quality issue and determines a product's visual, sensory, and nutritive keeping-potential. The FDA Food Code (2009) has identified Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) limits, at or below 41F (5C), for certain value-added produce that must be applied to distribution, storage, and display. This includes cut leafy greens as well as fresh cut cantaloupe, pre-sliced or diced tomatoes.
These are designated as TCS foods due to recurring outbreaks AND the known growth potential of bacterial pathogens on the product. The recognized low infectious dose of many pathogens may be sufficient to cause illness in highly susceptible individuals and growth on the product is not necessary to cause great harm. However, not all possible pathogens and variants of these pathogens, that may infrequently find their way onto or into product, are equally infectious to all individuals.
Proper post-purchase temperature management may and likely has kept a bacterial contaminant, such as Salmonella or pathogenic E. coli, below the threshold for illness for an individual consumer. Improper post-purchase temperature management may and likely has contributed to elevating these pathogens above an individual's personal threshold and, by cross-contamination in serving, increased the chance of exposure in an individual portion from the same bag.
The absence of visual signs of improper temperature exposure, such as spoilage or decay, provides no assurance that significant growth of bacterial pathogens has not occurred. Recent research evidence suggests that the pre-consumption environment may increase the aggressiveness (lowering the threshold) by activating mechanisms for human infection.
In summary, with all best efforts at prevention and control, if pathogens are present in packaged salads the consumer is at risk of illness, possible long-term health effects, or death. Keeping packaged salads cold is essential to quality and may reduce risk to individual consumers though not likely all consumers of the same lot.
Can consumers really judge if product has been temperature-compromised at the Point of Purchase?
Yes and No. I'll bet you knew that was coming. Realistically the Yes is very small and No the more sensible response. So to keep this answer simple for a change, let's stick with the No side of the equation and talk briefly about a potential consumer-oriented solution that always crops up.
Time:Temperature Indicators or Integrators (TTI) have been around for a long time and used on many perishable products. The function of a TTI is to make improper and abusive temperature exposure, linked to known quality defect-inducing conditions, readily apparent by a simply visual inspection, usually a color change, color development (invisible to highly visible), or progressive loss of color bars on a small patch or tag. No equipment is needed and no special training is required for anyone to get the information.
There are many types and have been many improvements in accuracy and readability over the past 15 years. For the consumer, TTI's affixed to a bag, clamshell, or other individualized purchase unit would be the relevant location. These have been used in the EU for many years, including on value-added produce.
There are many arguments for and against the value of TTI labeling which is beyond the details of this response; retailers in the U.S. have consistently argued against their use. Do TTI's tell the consumer anything about product safety? Not really, apart from considerations for TCS in the answer to Question #1 above.
If the TTI validations, and therefore the rate of color-change, were adjusted to pathogen growth response rather than quality loss and shelf-life parameters it could be argued that a level of consumer protection had been achieved. Under the current boundaries at the low end of cold-chain performance, would safe product be destroyed? Highly likely. Could TTI's help simplify a consumer's POP decision about quality? I think so. Would the use of TTI complicate a retailer's liability? I will let the experts answer that.
*Recommendations for Handling Fresh-cut Leafy Green Salads by Consumers and Retail Foodservice Operators. 2007. Food Protection Trends. 2: 892-898

Austrian contaminated cheese kills six
(UKPA) - 2 days ago
Austria's health ministry has said contaminated cheese has killed six people.
The ministry said the deaths - four in Austria and two in Germany - occurred last year and were caused by listeria, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems.
The ministry said the four Austrians who died were senior citizens.
The contaminated cheese was made in the southern province of Styria by Prolactal.
It issued a recall last month and said it had halted production until the case is cleared up.
In 2009, Austria recorded 45 listeria infections that led to a total of 11 deaths.

Red pepper? Black pepper? Other possibilities in the ongoing Salmonella salami outbreak?
Posted on February 18, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
In the last two days, information has continued to trickle in from several sources (primarily, and refreshingly, the company itself) about the ongoing salmonella outbreak linked to recalled salami and black pepper . . . and now red pepper. Yesterday evening, Daniele also disclosed that the supplier of the contaminated red and black pepper was the same entity, Wholesome Spice and Seasonings, who has long been associated with this outbreak. Daniele has since terminated its relationship with Wholesome Spice, and is now buying only irradiated pepper for use in its salami products.
Continuing disclosure of these bits of information is crucial to not only the epidemiological investigation into the outbreak, but also as a measure of preventing further illnesses from occurring--particularly since Daniele's most recent recall expansion included products produced as recently as February 15, 2010.
But one by-product of more information, sometimes, is more questions. First, can we assume that Wholesome Spice Company, known to have supplied Daniele with black pepper, was also the supplier of the red pepper that tested positive for Salmonella? Or did Mincing Overseas Spice Company supply Daniele with red pepper too?
Why it matters: in an outbreak with so many twists, turns, and new developments, nothing is too far-fetched to require a little investigation. And if Mincing Overseas Spice Company did supply red pepper (maybe Mincing and Wholesome received red pepper from the same grower/supplier), there may be a need to recall salami products made with red pepper from Mincing too.
Second, and most importantly considering the still-evolving nature of this outbreak, is there a need to be concerned about environmental contamination--i.e. bacterial contamination of the equipment, premises, or workers--at Daniele, Inc? There has been so much product recalled, and so many potential sources of contamination identified, that it would not be beyond reasonable possibility that the problem is now (if not since the beginning) that there is a persistent source of contamination at Daniele Inc itself.
Nor would it be the first time that such a scenario--i.e. environmental contamination in a pepper outbreak--has occurred. In March and April 2009, Union International Food Company recalled a variety of pepper products implicated in a large Salmonella serotype rissen outbreak that sickened many people in the western United States. Investigation in the Union International outbreak revealed widespread contamination at the Union Internation facility. And incidentally, we are filing a lawsuit this week on behalf of an elderly California woman who died as a result of her salmonella infection in the Union International outbreak.
Environmental contamination is, indeed, an important possibility to consider in the ongoing outbreak linked to Daniele Inc's salami product, and not just from a retrospective point of view. As noted above, Daniele's recent recall expansion included products produced as recently as February 15, making it certainly possible that the company has concerns that the salmonella is still in its facility. And if the salmonella is still there, and its there not just on red or black pepper, but also on the equipment, premises, or in infected food workers, there is also the possibility that more products than just ones containing black or red pepper are contaminated. Again, a conservative approach to this recall and outbreak by the companies involved is only going to cause more illnesses.

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