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How Did 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 quality.
"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 questions.
"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 concern."
"If you pull a positive, it could mean holding product on the farm," he added.
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 and regulators.
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 these points:
"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 into commerce.
"2. FSIS is asleep at the wheel at the large slaughter plants, by intentional agency design, providing a "comfortable" agency non-presence.
"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 decisions."
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 "'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
Safety Zone
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 inspected.

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 be encouraged.

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.

Method found to stop E. coli in cattle

Published: May 18, 2010 at 11:02 AM
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.

Food safety 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 process.
What should a company do if its product is clearly linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.
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 suppliers.
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 and media.
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 plaintiff.
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 crisis scenarios
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.

Does 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.

Wisconsin 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 reason.
"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 public health.
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 thing.
"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 raw milk.
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 state lines.

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 Services programs.
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." Oops.
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 just April.
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 reports.
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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