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E. coli O145 Contaminate Lettuce. Part III
by Zach Mallove | May 14, 2010
A look at how E. coli O145 could have contaminated romaine lettuce on
a farm in Yuma - Part III
..As state and federal public health officials continue to investigate
the E. coli O145 outbreak tied to bagged Freshway Foods romaine lettuce,
which has sickened at least 23 people in 4 states, many questions remain..
The supply chain from the field to the supermarket is a long one, with
many potential points along the way for contamination to occur. Where
did the lettuce pick up E. coli O145, a pathogen found primarily in
cattle and wildlife feces. According to the latest out of the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA), investigators are focusing on an undisclosed
farm in Yuma, Arizona which could be linked to the outbreak. If the
contamination did occur on the farm, how could it have happened..
Unlike Salinas Valley, America's salad bowl, which has been the source
of several E. coli outbreaks, including the Dole spinach outbreak in
2006, Yuma-grown leafy greens have never been implicated...
Food Safety News paid a visit to the Yuma area and talked with epidemiological
experts to explore a number of hypotheses. This series will look at
three ways the E. coli O145-contaminated lettuce--if it was grown in
Yuma--could have picked up the bug. Part I explored dust and mud as
possible modes of contamination. Yesterday, Part II looked at wildlife
intrusions, and today, Part III will discuss irrigation water...
Part III - Irrigation Water
..It takes between 40 and 50 inches of water per acre to produce a desirable
lettuce crop, according to the University of Arizona's Cooperative Extension.
The fields in Yuma depend on a network of open canals that channel water
from the Colorado River to provide adequate water for growing greens
in the desert.
As we noted yesterday, one of the largest cattle feedlots in the country
is located in Wellton, AZ, around 20 miles, as the crow flies, (and
downstream) from the heart of leafy green production in the Gila and
Naturally, the high concentration of cattle and manure produces a fecal,
muddy mix in which E. coli bacteria can thrive. As we discussed in Part
I and Part II, that mud or mud-turned-dust can travel via wind, vehicle,
person, or wild animal. It is possible that one of these modes of transmission
could contaminate irrigation water headed for a leafy green field.
Irrigation water has long been recognized by food safety scientists
as one of the most plausible and probable sources of fresh produce pathogenic
contamination, especially in states like Arizona that use irrigation
to manage essentially all crop production.
In 1996, cattle in an adjacent field were implicated as the source of
E. coli O157:H7 during a multi-state outbreak associated with the consumption
of lettuce. Investigators speculated that contaminated water was used
to irrigate the lettuce fields.
A 2002 study done by the Department of Food Sciences at Rutgers University
concluded that "E. coli can survive for extended periods in water,
and lettuce irrigated with contaminated water results in contamination
of the edible portion of the lettuce plant."
Trevor Suslow, who is an Extension Research Specialist for the Department
of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis, issued a report
for the Produce Safety Project in 2009 detailing the potential risk
of using irrigation water to treat produce fields.
For one, there are no federal standards in the United States for irrigation
"FDA provides no specifics, critical limits, or metrics based on
indicators or pathogen prevalence in a standardized sample volume of
any size," he wrote. "Producers are held to self-determination
of the broadly applicable position that water should be 'of appropriate
quality for its intended source, or treating and testing water on a
regular basis and as needed to ensure appropriate quality.'"
"In most cases," he continued, "the microbiological quality
of surface water used for irrigation is not known because it is not
tested in any meaningful frequency."
The problem, according to Suslow, is compounded by a lack of existing
research on irrigation quality. And of the existing studies on irrigation
safety, most are concerned primarily with chemical rather than microbiological
"As a result," he concluded, "the knowledge gap regarding
sanitary quality of irrigation waters is nationwide."
During the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak traced to contaminated spinach,
irrigation water was considered as a possible source of contamination.
The leafy greens industry is still feeling the repercussions of 2006
spinach outbreak, as sales of packaged salad remain impacted, hovering
around 20 percent below prior periods. The current E. coli O145 outbreak
linked to romaine lettuce is certainly not improving the industry's
prospects, and is at risk of further alienating consumers by withholding
the plant facility where the outbreak originated.
The 2006 spinach outbreak, though, accelerated efforts of produce industry
leaders to define practical and meaningful prevention practices and
standardized safety criteria.
Leafy green marketing agreements aimed at food safety have been established
in California and Arizona, and the industry is seeking to expand nationwide.
As Arnott Duncan, a grower and committee member for the Arizona Leafy
Green Marketing Agreement (AZLGMA) explained to Food Safety News in
an interview, water testing is a key ingredient in the program.
"Everyone tests their water," said Duncan. "It's a big
"If you pull a positive, it could mean holding product on the farm,"
States like California and Arizona have also begun to test more regularly
for irrigation quality. However, the overwhelming majority of this database
is privately and tightly held. Food Safety News was largely unsuccessful
in its attempts to contact water officials in the Yuma, AZ area.
"There is a need for a bit of in-depth reporting on surface irrigation
water," said Dale Hancock, an epidemiologist and field disease
investigator at Washington State University. "Irrigation water
and dust would be among the usual suspects."
Helena Bottemiller co-wrote and contributed to the research for this
article. Pictured: Top: Open irrigation canal with the feed towers for
the feedlot in Wellton in the background. Bottom: Irrigation canal in
Dome Valley. Photos by Bottemiller.
'Nature's Bar Code' Aids Traceability
by Michael Woelk | May 14, 2010
Now America's lettuce is making us sick. Last week the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration ordered a massive recall of romaine lettuce believed
to be contaminated with a toxic strain of E. coli bacteria. Previous
recalls have decimated the spinach and tomato industries, forcing hard
working farmers to destroy tens of millions of dollars worth of crops.
The outbreaks made Americans fearful of eating healthy produce. In the
most technologically advanced country on Earth, it still takes two to
three weeks for the FDA to track foodborne illnesses back to the farm
or point of origin. That's an eternity for a supply chain that distributes
food in 24 hours, and for a human body that sickens and dies from these
diseases in hours.
The yawning gap between detection of outbreak and identification of
source costs food companies billions per year as they scramble to destroy
produce, deal with abrupt order cancellations, and salvage their brand
reputations. Even for innocent farmers and food companies, the disruption
can be massive and costly. Sales of romaine lettuce were likely frozen
prior to pegging the source of the outbreak. Even after the outbreak
is contained, consumers will remember the romaine scare when they shop
and curtail purchases. That's understandable. No one likes to gamble
with foodborne illnesses.
What if the FDA could reduce this time gap from two weeks to 20 minutes.
What if a drop of water squeezed from a single leaf of lettuce was enough
to identify the farm or food processing plant that started the epidemic.
What if every food company could afford and operate this technology.
In fact, such a technology exists. It's powerful, it's here, it's affordable,
and it's easy to use. I am referring to stable isotope analysis. This
is a well-understood, scientifically credible way of analyzing molecules
in a piece of food to identify ratios of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon
isotopes. Those ratios can then be mapped back to distinct geographic
locations. In other words, Mother Nature has her own built-in bar code,
isotopes that are immutable and trackable.
Not surprisingly, Mother Nature's Bar Code is way better than anything
mankind has dreamed up thus far. Here's why. The existing mechanisms
to track produce through the food supply chain are focused on RFID tags
or bar codes on boxes. These technologies are great for televisions
and toys. Such systems fail miserably in monitoring food. A single plastic
box of lettuce may contain produce from multiple suppliers. A salad
bar can be even worse, with produce mixed and matched and reshuffled
on a daily basis. The bottom line is, you can't put a bar code on every
leaf of lettuce. This gaping hole in the security system for the food
supply chain makes it impossible to track all potential sources of contamination.
Did that tainted tomato come from Florida or California. Did that contaminated
milk come from Wisconsin or Oregon. The food companies can't tell and
it takes the authorities weeks to find out.
Such delays could quickly be reduced from weeks to hours or minutes
if stable isotope analysis was broadly deployed across the food chain.
A food service company faced with an outbreak could squeeze water out
of the produce and put a drop of that water into a stable isotope analyzer.
Then, with a press of a button, the analyzer would identify the responsible
farm or region. If it's so easy, then why has stable isotope analysis
not been used before to any great degree to safeguard the food supply.
The primary reasons are cost and complexity. In the past, scientific
instruments for stable isotope analysis cost hundreds of thousands of
dollars. Those machines required a full-time scientist or highly-trained
lab technician for ongoing operations.
Today, newer systems capable of stable isotope analysis (such as the
one manufactured by my company, Picarro) cost three times less upfront
than older measurement technologies. Better yet, these systems can be
operated by a field manager or a production line supervisor and require
minimal training. These newer systems can handle the high-throughput
required to keep up with commercial production lines and distribution
facilities. Food companies could collect samples of produce from their
suppliers every few months and use these samples to establish a library
of stable isotope fingerprints--Mother Nature's Bar Codes. Forward thinking
service providers, such as Isoforensics, are already building isotope
maps of the country that are reference guides for food company customers
For food companies large and small, setting up a stable isotope analysis
auditing regime is now an affordable and invaluable insurance policy.
For affected companies, gaining foodborne illness intelligence quickly
might prevent massive costs and even insolvency. Witness the fate of
Peanut Corp. of America, which sank into bankruptcy in Feb. 2009 less
than two months after it first reported a foodborne illness problem.
For innocent growers and produce companies, stable isotope analysis
will let them continue to sell their product and defend their brands.
Most importantly, the health care savings resulting from a robust food
origin verification system would be immeasurable. Foodborne illnesses
afflict millions of Americans each year. Thousands die horrible, preventable
deaths from these maladies. An ounce of prevention is better than a
pound of cure and Mother Nature's Bar Code is the best tool in existence
to prevent these tragedies. The clock is ticking.
Stephanie Smith Gets Her Day in Court (Almost)
by Chuck Jolley | May 17, 2010
Stephanie Smith, the subject of a Pulitzer prize-winning story published
by the New York Times after she became severely ill with an E. coli
infection from a contaminated hamburger, has reached an undisclosed
settlement with Cargill Inc.
That might be good news but the size of the settlement will never be
known. Was it a sizable chunk out of Cargill's massive bank account
or just nuisance money that will cause them little if any pain.
Indeed, it is a significant number, whatever it might be. Cargill said
the terms of the settlement will provide for Smith's care throughout
her life, a 23 year old dance instructor left paralyzed, with cognitive
problems and kidney damage. With the high cost of health care under
normal circumstances plus many more years of life for the young woman,
the dollars will mount quickly.
In an Associated Press interview, Bill Marler, her attorney and publisher
of Food Safety News, said, "Stephanie's tragedy has taken on a
life of its own, and hopefully it will continue to focus people on why
food safety is so important."
Cargill acknowledged responsibility when it first learned of her injuries
but declined to accept financial responsibility. The company has been
providing financial help to her and her family and said it "deeply
regrets" her injuries while claiming it has invested more than
$1 billion in meat science research and new food safety technologies.
The company does have an interesting track record in chasing the elusive
food safety goal. Here is how the company web site explains it:
"Food safety involves continuous improvement and Cargill innovations
have helped food safety.
"Through significant investments in science and innovation, Cargill
is working to eliminate E. coli and other naturally occurring pathogens
that can lead to food-borne illnesses. Many cattle carry E. coli 0157:H7,
which does not affect animal health. In the United States, Cargill has
joined Epitopix and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association on a cattle
vaccine project, which is aimed at reducing E. coli in cattle before
they reach Cargill processing plants. Cargill is working with about
a dozen feedlots near our packing plant in Ft. Morgan, Colorado as part
of a study in which approximately 100,000 cattle will be vaccinated
twice at the feedlots and tested for E. coli O157:H7 at several points
at the plant. The data will then be compared on a day-by-day basis with
cattle that were not vaccinated.
"We co-developed steam pasteurization to reduce E. coli in the
meat industry in the 1990s. We shared this innovation with the industry,
rather than keep it secret for our own competitive advantage. More recently,
we adopted lactic acid washes, steam vacuuming and UV scans in our meat
facilities. We also introduced a hide-on carcass wash."
The New York Times story traced the beef trimmings that went into her
hamburger to four different plants in the U.S. and Uruguay. Beef trimmings
are vulnerable to contamination but large companies including Cargill
do not normally test them prior to grinding. Neither do they customarily
test product sold to smaller plants. Small plants that grind are held
to much stricter policies and most now try to protect their business
with a rigorous testing regimen. Testing incoming product, though, was
a step that large processors long refused to allow small plants to do
under the threat of being blackballed.
In effect, the big guys were saying, "Trust our product, but don't
you dare verify."
Solving the Problem
The free ride given large plants is still a black hole that hasn't been
fully addressed since John Munsell was running a small grinding operation
in Montana in 2002, a generation ago in food safety years. His business
was hit with repeated and ultimately fatal blows delivered by FSIS when
E. coli was discovered on his ground beef product. He urged inspectors
to go after the source--he bought his beef from ConAgra, one of the
largest meat packers in North America--but FSIS removed inspectors from
his plant, effectively shutting him down.
In a recent interview conducted 8 years after his ordeal, Munsell made
"Think about it: if the agency were to successfully trace back
to the source slaughterhouse of origin of enteric bacteria like E. coli
0157:H7 and Salmonella, numerous embarrassing facts would be revealed.
"1. The behemoth slaughter plants continue to ship unsafe meat
"2. FSIS is asleep at the wheel at the large slaughter plants,
by intentional agency design, providing a "comfortable" agency
"3. HACCP has been an unmitigated disaster, with a foundation in
political science and science fiction, not pure science.
"The only way FSIS will conduct timely trace backs to the source
slaughterhouses will be via legislative mandates, not by willing agency
Standing on the other side of the argument, Scott Goltry, the American
Meat Institute's Vice President of Food Safety and Inspection Services,
thinks the procedures now in place are perfectly adequate to deliver
a safe product to the public. Speaking for the trade association, he
has encouraged FSIS to support the control of product pending lab analysis,
better known as test and hold. In other words, check a sample in and
don't ship the batch out until the sample is 'lab proven' to be safe.
There is a big hole in their position on food safety, though. AMI has
recommended that the USDA review ground beef production practices and
sample ground beef products that are routinely produced by the processing
facility. A processor grinding a primal or producing a coarse ground
product not routinely used to produce ground beef doesn't have to comply.
The catch is the phrase "routinely used."
Bernard Shire, writing for Meat&Poultry magazine, said "...it's
no secret that the people who grind trim into ground beef have no real
effective interventions at that stage of the process."
Shire pointed out that "large numbers of ground beef producers
have stopped making the product and switched to other types of beef
processing and manufacturing, including making cooked products. Why.
For many of them, being able to sleep at night beats lying in bed awake,
wondering when their first or next E. coli positive test will happen."
He's echoing Mike Mina, an FSIS official during the infamous Hudson
Beef recalls in 1997 who said in a presentation to a room full of grinders
at a National Meat Association Conference shortly afterwards, "There
are two types of businesses; those that have had a recall and those
that will have a recall."
And in the 13 years following that massive recall, things haven't changed.
Mina's comment is still uncomfortably true.
The modern food safety process can be likened to a very fine meshed
sieve designed to catch the vast majority of contaminated meat, statistically
speaking. "Routinely used" creates an unnecessarily large
hole in that sieve.
The Bottom Line
The cost of food safety to the industry can easily be measured in the
billions of dollars and that just covers research and development into
the science behind it. The cost of in-court and out-of-court settlements
to satisfy foodborne illness claims will never be known. Too many people
in the industry still seem to interpret the price paid for foodborne
illnesses as merely the cost of doing business, overlooking the larger
and unrecordable cost of human misery. Just ask Stephanie Smith.
UDSA addresses poultry safety; here are 12 tips
By: James Marsden
Last week, USDA announced new Compliance Guidelines for controlling
Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry. The guidelines are very well
written and include a number of recommended best practices to help the
poultry industry design effective food safety systems. Performance standards
are also identified which establish limits on contamination from Salmonella
and Campylobacter. There is some question about whether the poultry
industry is already in compliance with the new standards. For example,
the industry average for Salmonella is 7.1% and the new USDA standard
is 7.5%. The goal is have 90% of facilities in category 1 and 85% are
already there. While the industry has certainly made progress since
the 2006 poultry safety initiative, the new requirements are intended
to further raise the bar and make raw poultry products safer for consumers.
Most of my work on food safety interventions has been directed to the
beef industry and processed meats. However, I have worked on poultry
slaughter and processing technologies and have made observations which
I believe could help the industry meet and exceed USDA's new performance
standards. Here are a few ideas that may improve poultry safety:
1. Greater focus should be
placed on sanitation in poultry growing houses and in the transportation
of birds to processing plants.
2. The use of preharvest
interventions that reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter
should be encouraged.
3. TriSodium Phosphate may
be more effective when used earlier in the process as a treatment applied
immediately after de-feathering. This would facilitate the subsequent
removal of contaminants by downstream interventions.
4. Systems should be implemented
that provide physical separation between carcasses and viscera. This
would reduce the risk of contamination as carcasses are conveyed and
5. Line speeds in poultry
plants allow for very little time for inspection of carcasses. USDA-FSIS
should consider the use of remote cameras to indentify carcasses that
require more intense inspection. More time could then be spent on carcasses
that may pose a greater risk of contamination or disease.
6. Under the present inspection
system, USDA inspectors should continue to visually check carcasses,
but refrain from touching the body cavity. This would eliminate a significant
source of cross contamination.
7. Effective, stable antimicrobial
treatments should be employed to reduce microbiological contamination
on carcasses prior to, during and after chilling.
8. The water in carcass chillers
should be continuously filtered, treated and recirculated to provide
for a cleaner chilling process.
9. Air chilling should be
considered as alternative to water chilling (which inherently leads
to cross contamination).
10. Advanced oxidation systems
should be employed to reduce the risk of cross contamination and environmental
sources of contamination during slaughter and processing.
11. The use of improved consumer
packages that better protect the product and eliminate leakage should
12. Safe Food Handling labels
should include specific recommended cooking temperatures for poultry
products (minimum temperature = 165 degrees F).
These steps combined with
safe food handling and proper cooking by consumers would go a long way
to reducing food safety problems associated with raw poultry products.
found to stop E. coli in cattle
Published: May 18, 2010 at
DALLAS, May 18 (UPI) -- U.S. microbiologists say they have identified
a process that might be able to help prevent outbreaks of a food-borne
illness caused by E. coli in cattle.
Scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, working
with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said they interfered with a
genetic sensing mechanism that allows the E. coli strain known as enterohemorrhagic
O157:H7, or EHEC, to form colonies within cattle, causing the bacteria
to die before reaching the animals' recto-anal junction -- the primary
site of colonization. Most other strains of E. coli gather in the colon.
"We're diminishing colonization by not letting EHEC go where it
needs to go efficiently," said Dr. Vanessa Sperandio, associate
professor of microbiology and senior author of the study. "If we
can find a way to prevent these bacteria from ever colonizing in cattle,
it's possible that we can have a real impact on human disease.
Sperandio said the finding is important because an estimated 70 percent
to 80 percent of U.S. cattle herds carry EHEC. Although EHEC can be
a deadly pathogen to humans, the bacterium is part of cattle's normal
gastrointestinal flora.The findings are to be reported in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.
attorney advice for companies caught in a recall
By Rita Jane Gabbett on 5/19/2010
In the May issue of Meatingplace in Print we asked Gass Weber Mullins
LLC attorney Shawn Stevens what companies should do first if they are
implicated in a foodborne illness-related recall. Stevens has defended
some of the nation's largest meat processors in the aftermath of a recall.
He told us then that companies should first: actively engage public
health officials; learn as much as possible about the scope of the investigation;
identify the full range of potential cases and alternative sources;
challenge assumptions and hypotheses; and demonstrate, where possible,
their product is not likely involved.
In this Meatingplace interview, Stevens shares more about what a company
should do to protect itself legally and navigate the recall and litigation
What should a company do if its product is clearly linked to a foodborne
Management should immediately plan for the claims and lawsuits which
will inevitably result, as well as the regulatory issues which will
follow. Once a recall is announced, FSIS's standard practice is to conduct
a Food Safety Assessment, search for at least one problem, and if found,
issue a Notice of Intended Enforcement (NOIE). Unfortunately, this practice
is followed even if a company was operating to virtual perfection.
When responding to an NOIE, it is critical for management to consider
how each of its comments will potentially impact future litigation.
Certain regulatory "terms of art" are understood to have one
meaning by FSIS and industry, but can be easily mischaracterized by
opposing counsel or misunderstood by a jury.
For this reason, management should work closely with litigation counsel
to draft responses that: 1) put the recall into complete context; 2)
articulate clearly the company's position with respect to the alleged
problem (even if it may differ from FSIS's position); 3) detail each
positive and proactive element of the company's food safety protocols;
and 4) address FSIS's requests in a way that will ultimately be appreciated
and understood by a jury.
What are the most common legal mistakes you see meat processors make
when they are facing a food safety lawsuit.
A common mistake is a failure (in advance of a lawsuit or recall) to
have obtained robust and legally binding indemnity agreements from its
In the context of ground beef recalls, most grinders have used raw materials
from multiple establishments. Although FSIS in some instances has been
unwilling or unable to trace the underlying contamination back to the
original supplier, we have been successful in many cases by independently
identifying the most likely upstream source.
Another common mistake is to assume that outbreak litigation can be
handled effectively by lawyers with little or no food safety experience.
If counsel is unable to effectively challenge any one of the increasingly
complex epidemiological, microbiological and long-term damage issues
which are often present in these lawsuits, he or she will be unable
to create risk for plaintiffs and, in turn, resolve existing claims
at a premium.
A third mistake is failing to appreciate how aggressive plaintiffs'
lawyers like Bill Marler conduct business. Marler, for example, will
often file suit and issue a press release on behalf of a new claimant
immediately following a recall. He may also blog about the lawsuits
and use other media tactics throughout the course of any given matter.
Thus, from a brand, reputation and litigation standpoint, food companies
and their attorneys need to recognize that, when drafting pleadings
and interacting with opposing counsel, care should be exercised at all
stages to protect against potential negative impact from lawyer blogs
When you defend a meat processor opposite an attorney representing the
family of an illness victim, how do you approach the emotional edge
the plaintiff will have with a jury.
We can often temper the emotional edge by raising challenges to potential
source. If we can show significant problems with an outbreak investigation
and its conclusions, or that our client produced and distributed 10,000,000
safe and wholesome hamburgers the week it processed the product in question,
a jury will likely be more disposed to set aside emotion and focus instead
on what actually made the plaintiff ill.
Questions about source aside, most jurors will also understand and appreciate
a plaintiff's obligation to exercise reasonable care for his or her
own safety. Depending upon the circumstances, a plaintiff may have admitted
to health department investigators eating a rare or undercooked hamburger
despite the federally mandated safe handling labels warning not to.
Where a plaintiff shows no appreciation of the inherent risk, a jury
will be more disposed to set aside sympathy and attribute fault to the
Additionally, many claimants (and their attorneys) will significantly
inflate and exaggerate damage claims to maximize potential recovery
at settlement or trial. When a plaintiff's overreaching is challenged
appropriately and tactfully, however, his or her dishonesty in many
cases will significantly diminish the potential sympathy a jury might
otherwise be inclined to feel.
Finally, we can embrace emotion and use it to our advantage. Our own
mantra is "proudly defending the hard working people who feed our
families." Having worked with food companies for nearly a decade,
we have observed (first-hand) the valiant efforts of the hardworking
individuals and food companies who labor tirelessly to improve the safety
of our food. Thus, in most cases, we will also have a great story to
tell about the significant efforts our clients undertake to ensure the
food they sell . and feed to their families . is as safe as it can be.
What should all meat processors be doing right now that would make their
legal battle easier, should their product ever be involved in litigation.
A meat company should develop a comprehensive crisis management plan.
Unfortunately, many companies faced with an outbreak and recall for
the first time find themselves sacrificing valuable hours or days once
a problem is identified attempting to figure out "what to do"
as opposed to actually "doing it."
Any company at the very least should:
Identify its most likely
Appoint and empower a chain of command if a crisis is suspected
Identify and select outside legal consultants
Outline appropriate company responses to anticipated governmental, customer
and media inquiries and
Set specific executable tasks and benchmarks designed to ensure the
best possible resolution.
If a meat company is well
positioned at the outset of an emerging outbreak, it will be able to
effectively maintain a complete picture of the developing investigation,
play an active role in the investigation itself, take immediate and
productive corrective actions if needed, respond appropriately to media,
and begin to develop a defense to claims (whether meritorious or not)
which will likely later result.
Put simply, when it comes to crisis management, food companies should
be leaning forward in the foxhole rather than expecting they will be
able to hide in it.
Pre-Cut Lettuce Pose Food Poisoning Risk.
Date Published: Tuesday,
May 18th, 2010
The ongoing E. coli outbreak
linked to tainted romaine lettuce is posing questions regarding the
risks with pre-cut produce, such as lettuce, versus whole vegetables,
reports The Washington Post. This particular outbreak involved cut and
bagged romaine lettuce and is not the first such outbreak of its kind,
noted the Washington Post.
Since March 1, 23 people in four states have fallen ill as a result
of the tainted lettuce. An additional seven potential cases are being
investigated; 23 states and the District of Columbia have been impacted;
there have also been 12 hospitalizations, with three people developing
kidney failure, said The Washington Post, citing the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most of the lettuce involved in the related recalls was sold to food
service establishments; the recall does not affect bagged lettuce in
the grocery store. Meanwhile, the FDA is investigating a Yuma, Arizona
farm where the romaine lettuce was harvested and is attempting to determine
the point in the supply chain in which the contamination occurred. The
agency declined to identify the farm.
Health regulators previously confirmed that romaine lettuce is responsible
for the outbreak and that E. coli O145 is the strain involved. The contamination
was detected by the New York State Public Health Laboratory, Wadsworth
Center, in Albany, in an unopened bag of shredded romaine lettuce distributed
by Freshway Foods of Sidney, Ohio.
Because leafy greens linked to outbreaks do not always carry specifications
as to whether the produce is whole or bagged, it is challenging to determine
if pre-cut lettuce is or is not implicated in more outbreaks, said The
Washington Post. Regardless, a variety of recent and widespread outbreaks
involving a number of states do involve pre-cut lettuce, noted The Washington
Post. For instance, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in 2006 was linked
to Dole bagged spinach, said The Washington Post; 238 people fell ill
and five people died.
James Gorny, senior adviser for FDA produce safety said, ¡°When you buy
a whole head of lettuce, you have no idea what the brand name is, or
who the grower is¡¦. So tracing it back is that much harder,¡± quoted
The Washington Post. While Gorny believes that being pre-cut does not
make produce more dangerous, others disagree. ¡°I¡¯ve been avoiding bagged
lettuce for years,¡± said Michael Doyle, a nationally known microbiologist
who also directs the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia,
reported The Washington Post.
Most fresh-cut produce processors remove the lettuce¡¯s outer leaves,
coring the heads in the field, which enables cutting instruments to
come in contact with soil, causing contamination to spread from dirt
to crop, said Doyle, wrote The Washington Post, which noted that in
farming areas near cattle, soil can turn up with E. coli.
A study published in 2009 in the Journal of Food Protection, Doyle and
colleagues looked at contaminated coring devices with soil that contained
E. coli O157:H7, revealing how the pathogen spread from equipment to
produce. Washing the produce with a chlorine spray did not kill off
sufficient bacteria, noted the Washington Post. ¡°In a processing plant,
you¡¯d have to have walls and clean floors,¡± Doyle said. ¡°But here, they¡¯re
starting it right out in the dirt. It¡¯s a very hazardous practice,¡±
reported The Washington Post.
Gov Nixes Raw Milk Legislation
by Cookson Beecher | May 20, 2010
Bucking a 60-35 vote by the Wisconsin state Assembly in favor of raw
milk legislation that would allow dairy farmers to sell unpasteurized
milk directly to consumers, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle on May 19 vetoed
the legislation in its entirety, citing public health concerns as the
"I cannot ignore the potential harmful health effects of consuming
unpasteurized milk that have been raised by many groups," he said
in a press release, referring to groups that include the Wisconsin Public
Health Association and the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians.
Under the controversial bill, which attracted the interest of ardent
supporters and alarmed opponents alike, farmers who sell unpasteurized
milk would be required to test their dairy's milk monthly, and if pathogens
are found, the state's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer
Protection could suspend a farmer's registration.
But, in his press release, Doyle said that these monthly tests would
not go far enough to ensure that all of the farmer's milk is free from
harmful pathogens, which could result in serious illness or even death.
Doyle pointed to other states that allow the sale of raw milk that have
had to strengthen standards that are stricter than those in the Wisconsin
bill after outbreaks caused by raw milk occurred in those states.
He also pointed to California's approach to raw milk, which requires
more comprehensive testing than contained in the Wisconsin bill. In
addition, said Doyle, California's testing regimen quantifies coliform
bacteria--a broad group of organisms that includes some types of pathogens.
It also provides an overall indication of the hygiene level of the milk.
Bottom line, said Doyle in his press release, the Wisconsin bill doesn't
contain adequate testing requirements to make sure the public is safe
when consuming unpasteurized milk.
California raw milk producer Mark McAfee, co-owner of Organic Pastures
Dairy Company near Fresno, Calif., told Food Safety News he wasn't surprised
that the Wisconsin governor had vetoed the bill, given "the loose
standards the bill suggested."
Pointing to the regulatory environment and recent raw milk illnesses
in Utah, for example, McAfee said that if Wisconsin ever allows the
sale of raw milk, the standards need to be "close to or even better
than those of California."
"It's important for the entire raw milk industry that states get
this right," McAfee said. "They need to have good testing
and good standards. Each step they (the states) take has to be right."
Even so, McAfee doesn't see the governor's veto as the end of the line
for raw milk in Wisconsin.
"It could be the beginning," he said, referring to possible
future legislation that replicates or exceeds the requirements of California.
Gov. Doyle has similar thoughts on this issue, pointing to a recently
formed Raw Milk Working Group made up of a wide array of interested
parties and experts.
The purpose of the group is to consider whether there are legal, regulatory
means that might allow dairy farmers in Wisconsin to sell raw milk directly
to consumers. And if so, what conditions would be necessary to protect
The group met for the first time on March 15 this year and expects to
continue meeting through July.
In his press release, Doyle said that the Working Group should be allowed
to complete its analysis prior to making changes to the legal framework
surrounding unpasteurized milk.
Doyle's veto could be overridden with a vote of two-thirds of both houses
of the Legislature. But a veto override has not happened in Wisconsin
for more than 20 years.
In vetoing the legislation, Doyle is following in the steps of a previous
"revolution" over raw milk in his state.
In 1920, a Milwaukee ordinance requiring that all milk sold in the city
be pasteurized got milk dealers so angry that they blasted it as an
invalid exercise of police power because it did not promote public health,
according to a rundown on the history of pasteurization of milk in the
United States provided by food safety attorney Bill Marler.
Despite those claims on the part of the milk dealers, the Wisconsin
Supreme Court disagreed, saying that "Public health demands that
milk and all milk products should be pure and wholesome."
For Marler, who has represented children and families all over the country
sickened by E. coli and other food contaminants, Doyle did the right
"Because Wisconsin's well-known as the 'Dairy State,' it sends
the message that other states need to take a deep breath and understand
that raw milk does not come without risks," Marler said.
Not surprisingly, national dairy organizations are pleased that the
governor vetoed the bill, pointing to concerns over the negative effects
that outbreaks of illnesses linked to raw milk could have on the milk
industry as a whole.
Recognizing the pressure the governor was under, especially given the
Wisconsin lawmakers' strong support of the bill, the National Milk Producers
Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association said that his
action "demonstrates a commitment to health and safety."
Before he vetoed the bill, Doyle had been quoted in an AP article saying
that people who grew up on farms drinking raw milk seem to be "healthier
and stronger for it."
On the other side of the fence, raw milk advocates in favor of the Wisconsin
legislation saw it as an important step toward giving politicians in
other states the courage to withstand pressures against legalizing sales
of raw milk. This, in turn, they said, would provide an important toehold
in efforts to give people across the nation the right to buy and drink
The contentious issue has become entangled with consumers' right-to-choose
and the Constitutional rights of consumers, with many raw milk advocates
lauding the health benefits of raw milk.
The Weston A. Price Foundation, based in Reston, Virginia, says raw
milk boosts the immune system. It also points to all sorts of ailments
it has purportedly cured--asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, heart failure,
high blood pressure, and prostate disease, among others.
But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that the risks of illness,
and even death, that can result from consuming raw milk far outweigh
any of the purported benefits promoted by raw milk advocates.
While raw milk represents less than 1 percent of fluid milk consumption,
it causes more than 70 percent of the foodborne illness outbreaks associated
with dairy, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.
In the same vein, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says
that before pasteurization was widely instituted in the 1920s, disease
outbreaks from raw milk were the No. 1 food safety concern in the country.
Although 28 states allow the sale of raw milk, provided that the producers
meet certain standards, federal law forbids the sale of raw milk across
Government Report Finds Dangerous Residues in Meat
By Martha Rosenberg (about the author)
For OpEdNews: Martha Rosenberg . Writer
Many food consumers worry about pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella and
Listeria in their meat. But according to a new government report, they
should worry more about veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals
in their food.
A new Office of Inspector General (OIG) report released last month finds
the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) fails to test for
many drugs in cattle, inadequately tests for others and fails to recall
meat which is clearly contaminated.
"Between July 12, 2007, and March 11, 2008, FSIS found that four
carcasses were adulterated with violative levels of veterinary drugs
and that the plants involved had released the meat into the food supply.
Although the drugs involved could result in stomach, nerve, or skin
problems for consumers, FSIS requested norecall," says the report.
Drugs cached on the national dinner plate may include antibiotics like
penicillin, florfenicol, sulfamethazine and sulfadimethoxine, the anti-parasite
drug Ivermectin, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug flunixin and
heavy metals says OIG, which oversees Department of Health and Human
Of 23 pesticides designated by the EPA and FDA as high risk, FSIS only
tests for one says the report, in some case because no established action
levels are set. Nor are there action levels for Dioxin, pesticides with
cancelled registrations like lindane and fire retardants called PBDEs
(Polybrominated diphenyl ethers), some of the most worrisome endocrine
disruptors. Pesticides and endocrine disruptors are increasingly linked
to the epidemic of childhood ADHD and asthma. Livestock antibiotics,
used to produce weight in livestock with less feed, cause resistance
and allergic reactions in people and, some say, weight gain.
Unlike pathogens like E. coli, says the OIG report, residues cannot
be cooked away and are sometimes broken into even more harmful compounds
when heated. And how was your dinner.
A quick look at FDA April inspection letters suggests the OIG report
does not exaggerate.
Alan J. Svajgr of Darr Feedlots in Cozad, Nebraska is warned about the
chlortetracycline and monensin, two antibiotics, he has "adulterated"
his cattle feed with "contrary to the New Animal Drug Application
(NADA) approvals for these drugs," in one warning letter.
Shirlee and Thomas Jermin of Templeton Feed & Grain in Templeton,
California are warned that they have not disclosed the antibiotic sulfamethazine
in their Pig Starter & Grow Medicated Feed and omitted a cautionary
label statement to "withdraw 15 days prior to slaughter."
Rodney R. Land of Land Dairy in Mayo Florida sold a dairy cow for food
with 0.2 parts per million (ppm) of sulfamethazine in her liver tissue
and Michael D. Martin of Martin Feed Lot in Harrisburg, Illinois sold
a beef heifer for food with a walloping 38.855 ppm of sulfamethazine
in her liver as well as 0.1781 ppm of flunixin, say other letters.
And Hendrik G. Doelman of Elma Dairy in Rochester, Washington sold a
dairy cow for food with 0.441 ppm sulfadimethoxine in her liver and
1.04 desfuroylceftiofur, a metabolite from a cephalosporin antibiotic,
in her kidney tissue says another FDA letter.
And then there's the calves. Raymond Wright of The Wright Place dairy
in Clinton, Maine sold a bob veal calf with 10.99 ppm of the antibiotic
neomycin in his kidney tissue thanks to unapproved use of Custom Calf
White Plus NT Medicated Dairy Herd and Beef Calf Milk Replacer says
the FDA and Raymond L. Martin of Corner View Dairies in Lyons, New York
sold a bob veal calf with 1.83 ppm penicillin in his kidneys. And that's
Bob veal, calves under three days old and weighing only 70 to 100 pounds,
represent the biggest residue risk to the food supply says the OIG audit
which was sent from Gil H. Harden, Acting Assistant Inspector General
for Audit to FSIS administrator Alfred Almanza.
"Farmers are prohibited from selling milk for human consumption
from cows that have been medicated with antibiotics (as well as other
drugs) until the withdrawal period is over; so instead of just disposing
of this tainted milk, producers feed it to their calves. When the calves
are slaughtered, the drug residue from the feed or milk remains in their
meat, which is then sold toconsumers," says the report.
Whereas dairy cows end up in fast food hamburgers, bob calves are put
in "value added" veal products like veal sausages and breaded
veal patties. Heart rending descriptions of the frail animals, electric
prodded into standing at livestock auctions, have appeared in agricultural
Ninety percent of the residue violations cited in the report were found
in diary cows, veal calves and bob veal (to whom farmers feed "waste
milk" that is "unmarketable" for human consumption) says
the audit. Four plants had an astounding 211 violations which FSIS says
it cannot properly monitor without a national identification program
that is opposed by agribusiness.
Yet repeat violators -- "individuals who have a history of picking
up dairy cows with drugs in their system and dropping them off at the
plant" -- are widely tolerated by FSIS charges the report.
Two years ago, Americans became aware of cull dairy conditions when
they saw sick and crippled cull cows fork-lifted and water-boarded to
become part of the school lunch program. Where is the meat identified
by the OIG report going.
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