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of Nationwide Salmonella Outbreak
by Dan Flynn | Aug 17, 2010
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said Monday that seven Salmonella
Enteritidis cases it has been investigating were linked to a multistate
egg recall announced over the weekend, and the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention has counted hundreds more since May that are likely also
linked to the consumption of contaminated recalled eggs.
That recall, by Iowa's Wright County Egg, which is located in Galt,
was for a long list of brands, including Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain
Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma's, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh,
Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms, and Kemps.
Wright distributed those egg brands to food wholesalers, distribution
centers, and food service companies in California, Illinois, Missouri,
Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. These companies
then distributed nationwide.
In an announcement yesterday, the CDC stated that it had seen a four-fold
increase in the number of Salmonella Enteritidis infections with the
same pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern, or genetic fingerprint,
reported by states through PulseNet, the national network of public
health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by the agency,
According to the CDC, "Approximately 200 isolates were uploaded
to PulseNet on a weekly basis during late June and early July compared
to an expected ~50 uploads a week on average during this same period
in the previous 5 years."
MDH said the Salmonella Enteriditis cases were identified in two restaurant
outbreaks in May and July, in which eggs were identified as the likely
source. Eggs were traced back by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture
to Wright County Egg.
Restaurant clusters with the same strain have been identified in Colorado
and California, according to the CDC.
It is estimated that for every confirmed case of Salmonella, there are
approximately 38 unconfirmed cases. Salmonella Enteriditis is one of
the most common strains of Salmonella circulating, and is often associated
The eggs affected by the Wright County Egg recall were distributed to
food wholesalers, distribution centers, and foodservice companies in
California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin
and Iowa. These companies distribute nationwide.
The recalled eggs are packed in varying sizes of cartons (6-egg cartons,
dozen egg cartons, 18-egg cartons) with Julian dates ranging from 136
to 225 and plant numbers 1026, 1413 and 1946. Dates and codes can be
found stamped on the end of the egg carton. The plant number begins
with the letter P and then the number. The Julian date follows the plant
number, for example: P-1946 223.
To prevent illness, Kirk Smith with the Minnesota Department of Health
said it's important for consumers to cook eggs thoroughly before eating
to destroy any Salmonella or other bacteria. Consumers who believe they
may have purchased these shell eggs should not eat them but should return
them to the store where they were purchased for a full refund.
Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in dishes where the eggs may
not be cooked thoroughly, such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad
dressing, Smith said.
Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal
infections, especially in young children, frail or elderly people, and
others with weakened immune systems.
Persons infected with Salmonella often experience diarrhea, fever, and
abdominal pain. Anyone who believes they may have become ill with Salmonella
should contact their health care provider.
Advantage for Grass-fed Beef
Food (Safety) Fight
By: Richard Raymond
Or at least that is the conclusion reached by researchers who conducted
a study of retail beef products comparing the levels of bacterial contamination
in grass-fed and conventionally raised beef. That really is not a big
news story to me, but some of the test results are perplexing, to say
The researchers had their study reported in Foodborne Pathogens and
Disease. A review of the study was just recently reported on July 20,
2010, in CIDRAP News (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy)
at the University of Minnesota.
Investigators participating in the study were from Purdue University
in Indiana and Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. The report says
the researchers found no significant differences in total coliform bacteria,
Escherichia coli or Enterococcus species in grass-fed vs. conventionally
raised beef products.
That will not be surprising to many despite the marketing claims often
made that grass-fed beef is safer. What may be surprising to most is
that two-thirds of the samples were from solid cuts of beef, such as
intact steaks, and only one-third were from ground beef and that there
was no difference in coliform levels between the two products.
For E coli, the contamination rates were 44% for both sample sets. The
ground beef samples that were from grass-fed cattle actually had a higher
level of E coli than the conventionally raised product. Enterococcus
species were isolated from 62% of the conventional samples and 44% of
the grass fed samples, a difference the authors say did not reach significance
(P=.07) No E coli 0157:H7 was found in any products.
Outlets where the samples were obtained included retail stores, farm
stores and farmers¡¯ markets. Samples were washed according to standard
protocols, and the rinsate was then tested for pathogens. None of the
products were labeled as being Organic.
The samples were small, only 50 apiece for grass-fed and conventionally
raised, but the percentages sure seem high to me. And even though no
0157 was found, the amount of evidence of contamination occurring somewhere
along the process is problematic. And the fact that it was so high in
solid cuts is especially bothersome to a guy who likes his steaks on
the rare side and his prime rib penetrated with garlic cloves.
Grass fed steers may be more likely to be slaughtered in smaller facilities,
with slower line speeds, but that is not always going to be the case.
And cross contamination can occur in the transportation process, in
the processing facility or in the retail shops.
My conclusion is that grass-fed, and sold in the local farmers¡¯ markets,
does not infer that I do not need to safely handle and appropriately
cook my beef, solid cut or fresh raw ground.
What is yours?
HUS, and Gastroenteritis
by Bruce Clark | Aug 16, 2010
The issue of whether antibiotics used to treat Shiga toxin-producing
E. coli increase the risk of the hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) has
been a vexing one. But beyond E. coli, antibiotic use in general for
treatment of infectious gastroenteritis poses conflicting risks and
benefits. Since it is hard for even the most diligent medical practitioner
to keep abreast of current medical research, consumers of medical services
may find it helpful to review some of these issues.
The first study that looked at whether antibiotic use increased the
risk of HUS in children was published in 2000.  The study found that
antibiotic use was a strong and independent risk for the development
of HUS regardless of the severity of the inciting infection. Two years
later, a meta-analysis of nine pooled studies found no effect in the
risk for HUS with antibiotic use.  But the analysis noted that limitations
in the studies examined limited interpretation of the data.
More recent studies indicate that the risk of HUS is increased by the
use of some antibiotics. The differing mechanisms of action in different
antibiotics impact the production of Shiga toxin (Stx) differentially.
In a study that used piglets as a model for human infection, ciprofloxacin
(Cipro) increased the production of Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2) but not the
production of Stx1. Azithromycin  caused no significant increase
in Shiga toxin production. After treatment with ciprofloxacin, infected
piglets had diarrhea and the severe fatal neurological symptoms associated
with Stx2 intoxication. "Characteristic petechial hemorrhages in
the cerebellum were more severe in ciprofloxacin-treated animals than
in control animals. In contrast, azithromycin-treated piglets survived
the infection and had little or no brain hemorrhaging." 
The study concludes that: "The increased in vitro toxin production
caused by ciprofloxacin was strongly correlated with death and an increased
rate of cerebellar hemorrhage, in contrast to the effect of azithromycin.
The piglet is a suitable model for determining the effectiveness and
safety of antibiotics available to treat patients." 
A just published study  assessed Stx production in the presence of
different types of antibiotics. The authors report that: "Sub-inhibitory
levels of antibiotics that target DNA synthesis , including ciprofloxacin
(CIP) increased Stx production, while antibiotics that target the cell
wall, transcription, or translation did not....Remarkably, very high
levels of Stx were detected even when growth of O157:H7 was completely
suppressed by CIP. In contrast, azithromycin (AZM) significantly reduced
Stx levels even when O157:H7 viability remained high." 
So the evidence mounts that the class of antibiotic that includes Cipro
(a fluoroquinolone) may drive the risk of HUS through increased Stx
production. However, it is important to note that antibiotics are clearly
indicated for some gram negative bacterial infections of the gut including
infections such as Campylobacter jejuni and Shigella, which clinically
resemble E. coli O157:H7 enteritis. Further, antibiotic use in the elderly,
immune compromised, and those with co-morbidities may be indicated even
if the face of a Shiga toxin-producing infection. Thus, wholesale avoidance
of antimicrobials for infectious diarrhea is not prudent, but identification
of the infectious agent before antibiotic administration is very helpful.
Antibiotics are often prescribed to patients who have presumed bacterial
gastroenteritis without consideration of the effects beyond the acute
illness. Because antibiotics can dramatically affect the native bacteria
in the intestines, they have the potential to increase a patient's risk
of infection. Persons who are already receiving antimicrobial treatment
are more susceptible to infection with drug-resistant pathogens. 
Few of us consider the effects of bacteria on the natural flora of our
intestinal tracts--unless one develops post-infection GI problems. But
the use of antibiotics has effects well past the time of consumption
and may leave the user vulnerable to opportunistic bacterial pathogens.
Experiments done with mice show that antibiotic treatment alters the
gut flora but does not eliminate it.  The effects of antimicrobials
on microflora vary with the type of antibiotic and the location--the
small intestine versus the beginning and end of the large intestine.
The graph below shows the recovery of aerobic bacteria after withdrawal
of antibiotics in the mice. There was a rapid overgrowth of aerobic
bacteria which steadily fell over the next three weeks.
The same study shows the relative numbers of Salmonella in the GI tract
after antibiotic treatment of the mice for one week. Three days after
Salmonella bacteria were inoculated in the gut of the mice they were
sacrificed in order to assess the extent of introduction of Salmonella
colonization. While results varied by antibiotic, all antibiotics used
increased the presence of Salmonella versus controls. 
The disruption of intestinal mucosa, among other things, appears to
increase host susceptibility to Salmonella infection. As the Discussion
section of the study emphasizes, even careful use of antibiotics poses
"Even routine and appropriate use of antibiotics may have a detrimental
impact on the host microbial ecosystem, which is important for host
mucosal protection....Oral Salmonella challenge of antibiotic-treated
mice resulted in comparable increases in intestinal Salmonella colonization,
enteritis, and invasion irrespective of the antibiotic combinations
used.... Despite the rapid recovery of several measurable parameters
of the biome, residual subtle alterations in bacterial composition can
persist and result in profoundly enhanced susceptibility to bacterial
Cirpo is a widely prescribed antibiotic for bacterial infections of
the GI tract. It is often prescribed as empirical treatment--treatment
before a diagnosis is confirmed--which can be problematic if the diagnosis
is infection with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. Presented with a patient
suffering bloody diarrhea, the clinician is probably advised to avoid
Cipro and choose an antimicrobial with a different mechanism of action
if antibiotic treatment is deemed necessary. A person suffering gastroenteritis
who is offered antibiotic treatment is well-served to ask questions
about potential deleterious effects.
And for those Cipro users who don't worry about the microbiotic flora
of their intestines, you may want to watch your joints. In July 2008,
the FDA directed the maker of Cipro to add a black box warning to the
drug's label about increased risk of developing tendinitis and tendon
rupture in patients taking fluoroquinolones.
1. Wong CS et al. The risk of the hemolytic-uremic syndrome after antibiotic
treatment of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections. N Engl J Med 2000
Jun 29 342 1930 -1936. This cohort study found a 14 fold increase in
the risk of HUS when antibiotics were used.
2. Safdar N, et al. Risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome after antibiotic
treatment of Escherichia coli O157:H7 enteritis. JAMA 2002;288(8):996-1001.
3. McGannon CM et al, Different classes of antibiotics differentially
influence Shiga toxin production Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. doi:10.1128/AAC.01783-09.
Published online ahead of print: http://aac.asm.org/cgi/content/abstract/AAC.01783-09v1.
4. Azithromycin prevents bacteria from growing by interfering with their
protein synthesis. It is a macrolide antibiotic chemically related to
erythromycin and clarithromycin. It is among the more widely prescribed
antibiotics in the US.
5. Zhang Q et al, Gnotobiotic piglet infection model for evaluating
the safe use of antibiotics against Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection.
J Infect Dis. 2009 Feb 15;199(4):486-93.
7. Supra, note 3.
8. Cipro kills bacteria by interfering with an enzyme (DNA gyrase) that
causes DNA to unwind and duplicate and thus stops cell division.
9. Supra, note 3.
10. M©ªlbak K. Human health consequences of antimicrobial drug-resistant
Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens. Clin Infect Dis. Dec 1 2005;41(11):1613-20.
11. Croswell A, et al, Prolonged Impact of Antibiotics on Intestinal
Microbial Ecology and Susceptibility to Enteric Salmonella Infection.
Infect Immun. 2009 July; 77(7): 2741-2753.
12. DSI = distal small intestine and LI = large intestine.
Small Farms Gain From Compromise on S. 510
by Helena Bottemiller | Aug 18, 2010
Though the recently-released Senate food safety bill didn't include
a controversial bisphenol-A ban or an amendment by Jon Tester (D-MT)
to exempt small producers from certain measures, the package did include
several amendments aimed at easing the regulatory burden on small-scale
farms and food facilities.
The manager's package for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S.
510), released by a bipartisan group of Senators late last week, is
the result of "a long and arduous set of negotiations," according
to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the group leading
the effort to tailor the legislation to prevent unintended harm to the
burgeoning sustainable, local, small-scale food movement.
"Most sustainable agriculture and family farm groups think the
Senate bill is a very significant improvement over the companion bill
passed by the House of Representatives (HR 2749) last year," said
the coalition in response to the latest version of the legislation.
"We've been able to help make substantial improvements in the Senate
bill through the [Committee] markup and in changes that will be adopted
as part of the manager's amendment when the bill comes to the Senate
According to the group, the new draft includes the following favorable
changes for small-scale, sustainable agriculture:
-The amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pertaining
to farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product
from several farms.
It will provide the Food and Drug Administration with the authority
to either exempt farms engaged in low or no risk processing or co-mingling
activities from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular
regulatory requirements for such farming operations. Included within
the purview of the amendment are exemptions or flexibilities with respect
to requirements within S. 510 for food safety preventative control plans
and FDA on-farm inspections.
-The amendments sponsored by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) to reduce
unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation.
The Bennet language pertains to both the preventative control plan and
the produce standards sections of the bill. FDA is instructed to provide
flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, to minimize
the burden of compliance with regulations, and to minimize the number
of different standards that apply to separate foods. FDA will also be
prohibited from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants
to write food safety plans or to identify, implement, certify or audit
those plans. With respect to produce standards, FDA will also be given
the discretion to develop rules for categories of foods or for mixtures
of foods rather than necessarily needing to have a separate rule for
each specific commodity or to regulate specific crops if the real food
safety issue involved mixtures only.
-The amendment sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide
for a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for food safety training
for farmers, small processors, and wholesalers.
The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning
and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers.
The program will be administered by USDA's National Institute for Food
and Agriculture. As is the case for all of the provisions in S. 510,
funding for the bill and for this competitive grants program will happen
through the annual agriculture appropriations bill process.
-The amendment championed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the
bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against "animal encroachment"
It will require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that
might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat on farms.
-An amendment proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to amend the
traceability and recordkeeping section of the bill that will exempt
food that is direct marketed from farmers to consumers or to grocery
stores and exempt food that has labeling that preserves the identity
of the farm that produced the food.
The amendment also prevents FDA from requiring any farm from needing
to keep records beyond the first point of sale when the product leaves
the farm, except in the case of farms that co-mingle product from multiple
farms, in which case they must also keep records one step back as well
as one step forward.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other groups continue
to push for the inclusion of the Tester amendment, which would exempt
certain food facilities with under $500,000 in gross annual sales from
preventative control plan requirements and exempt direct-market farmers
from the coming produce safety regulations. The measure, co-sponsored
by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), has been the subject of intense negotiations,
but was ultimately not included in the final manager's package.
Carol Tucker-Foreman, a fellow at the Consumer Federation of America's
Food Polity Institute, said last Thursday she was surprised that Tester's
amendment wasn't included. She believes portions of the language will
ultimately be added to the Senate bill.
"People don't want to hurt small farmers and farmers markets, but
they also don't want to keep getting sick," said Tucker-Foreman
in an interview with Food Safety News. "If you put aside the rants,
the language of the bill will be there. They are really taking the middle
If the Tester amendment is added, NSAC says they will support the Senate
bill. "However, we strongly oppose the companion House measure,
and stand ready to defend the Senate bill in conference with the House
should that prove necessary," the group said in a statement.
Senate staff are also circulating a document, the S. 510 - FDA Food
Safety Modernization Act Small Farm and Small Business Guide, which
highlights a series of points addressing concerns over burdensome one-size-fits-all
With the bipartisan package ready to go, many food safety advocates,
industry experts, and Hill staff believe the bill could come to a vote
in September when the Senate reconvenes.
on Colbert the AMI opposes making non-O157:H7 STECS adulterants
Posted by Bill Marler on August 19, 2010
I just could not stay awake late enough to watch Colbert have fun with
Pat Boyle the other night. To me it looks like Pat "meat"
his match. Interestingly, the President just made a "recess appointment"
of the person who will be part of making the adulterant decision:
Elisabeth Hagen, Nominee for Under Secretary for Food Safety, Department
Dr. Elisabeth Hagen is currently the USDA¡¯s Chief Medical Officer, serving
as an advisor to USDA mission areas on a wide range of human health
issues. Prior to her current post, she was a senior executive in the
USDA¡¯s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), where she played a
key role in developing and executing the agency¡¯s scientific and public
health agendas. She has been instrumental in building relationships
and fostering coordination with food safety and public health partners
at the federal, state, and local level. Before joining the federal government
in 2006, Hagen taught and practiced medicine in both the private and
academic sectors, most recently in Washington, DC. She holds an M.D.
from Harvard Medical School, and a B.S. from Saint Joseph¡¯s University.
Dr. Hagen completed her specialty medical training at the University
of Texas Southwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, and is board
certified in infectious disease.
Below the video is the AMI's
position on non-O157's as adulterants and mine. I would love to hear
your comments. http://www.marlerblog.com/lawyer-oped/despite-being-on-colbert-the-ami-opposes-making-non-o157h7-stecs-adulterants/
Here is the AMI's position on non-O157's
Designating non-O157:H7 shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC)
as adulterants would result in a regulatory program that will do more
harm than good, the American Meat Institute said in a letter to USDA
Secretary Tom Vilsack.
There have been discussions within USDA and pressure from some legislators
to broaden the adulterant criteria on E. coli in various ways, including
expanding the list of pathogens considered adulterants on some beef
products to include at least six of the many non-O157:H7 strains of
E. coli.¡°Non-O157:H7 STECs in beef products may be a reason forpotential
public health concern, but it is not a public health emergency,¡± AMI
said in a news release in which it outlined eight actions it suggested
USDA take to combat STECs in the beef supply.
1. Focus on Prevention: Any new regulatory programs that USDA contemplates
should be addressed within the framework of the existing Hazard Analysis
Critical Control Point regulation. USDA should commission a group of
qualified experts to review the current science related to the development
of a comprehensive farm-to-table preventative strategy for non-O157:H7
STECs in beef products and report their finding to USDA and other stakeholders.
2. Conduct a Comprehensive Public Health Risk Assessment: Conducting
a public risk assessment that is subjected to public review before regulators
embark on any regulatory program to control non-O157:H7 STECs in raw
beef products will provide a better understanding of the public health
issues association with non-O157:H7 STECs. For example, why have no
confirmed outbreaks associated with beef products occurred in the U.S.?
Why have non-O157:H7 STEC outbreaks occurred in other foods, but not
in beef products? Why have non-O157:H7 STEC outbreaks associated with
beef products occurred in other countries, but not in the U.S.?
3. Validate Analytical Laboratory Test Methods: USDA should openly share
with the meat and poultry industry, testing laboratories and test kit
manufacturers the sampling and analytical methods that the agency will
use to implement any regulatory program and ensure that the analytical
methods are peer-reviewed before any regulatory program is initiated.
An accurate, validated rapid analytical test must be available to the
industry to effectively implement any regulatory program that would
make it illegal to enter product containing non-O157:H7 STECs into commerce.
4. Conduct a Baseline Survey of Non-O157:H7 STECs on Beef Products:
It is imperative that FSIS conduct a baseline survey of beef products
to include beef carcasses, ground beef and the raw materials used to
manufacture ground beef in order to assess the impact of any new regulatory
program that the agency may be contemplating. The baseline survey design
and sampling and analytical methods should be published for public comment
to solicit the advice and counsel of scientific and technical experts
before proceeding with any such survey. A very limited amount of research
has been conducted to assess the prevalence of non-O157:H7 STECs on
5. Measure Progress Based on the Public Health Outcome: If FSIS decides
to further regulate non-O157:H7 STECs, it is prudent to evaluate the
success or failure of any such initiative by actual illness reductions.
In the case of beef, however, this is nearly impossible given that no
non-O157:H7 STECs illness outbreaks have been confirmed in the U.S.
This lack of documented outbreaks associated with beef products is remarkable
given that approximately 95 percent of the public health laboratories
reported in a recent survey that they are screening for non-O157:H7
STECs. If regulatory efforts to reduce non-O157:H7 STECs in beef products
cannot generate measurable, positive public health outcomes, the underlying
point of the exercise must be drawn into serious question.
6. Expedite Approval of New Microbial Interventions: USDA should convene
a joint task force of all federal agencies that are involved in the
approval of new microbial intervention technologies and the affected
meat and poultry industry to identify approval roadblocks and to develop
a better, expedited approval process that can rapidly move new technology
to commercialization. New preventive technologies that are effective
against all STECs are needed to control these pathogens before USDA
considers making non-O157:H7 an adulterant on beef products.
7. Determine Impact on International Trade: USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative,
and the Department of State should commission a study to determine the
impact on international beef trade that would result from declaring
non-O157:H7 STECs an adulterant on beef products. Such a policy shift
will be viewed by our trading partners as erecting a non-tariff trade
barrier to prevent entry of beef products into the U.S.
8. Provide an Open and Transparent Public Policy Process: If FSIS decides
to further regulate non-O157:H7 STECs in beef products, it should only
be done through notice and comment rulemaking. The questions surrounding
non-O157:H7 STECs demand a disciplined, open, and transparent regulatory
process. Any new regulatory program to control non-O157:H7 STECs will
likely impose significant financial and regulatory burdens on the meat
industry and these costs must be weighed against any public health benefit.
Here is my position on it:
It seems that any serious discussion of E. coli O157:H7 always has to
start with one event: the 1993 outbreak associated with the Jack in
the Box restaurant chain. This, of course, is with good reason. That
outbreak left over 700 persons ill and 4 children dead. The ¡°9/11 for
the food industry,¡± as a certain trial lawyer has occasionally referred
to the outbreak, precipitated a whirlwind of events including media
coverage, consumer outrage, lawsuits, and stricter federal regulations
regarding meat safety. Though the swell of emotion that spiraled out
of the Jack in the Box disaster dulls somewhat with each passing year,
the federal regulations that sprung up in its wake continue to generate
To understand the significance of these regulations, a little background
information is useful. The Food Safety and Inspection Service¡¯s (FSIS)
stated mission renders it ¡°responsible for ensuring that the nation's
commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome,
and correctly labeled and packaged.¡± FSIS operates as part of the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To promote its mission, FSIS
has the power?under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA)?to, among
other things, seek the recall of products that have been deemed ¡°adulterated.¡±
FSIS drastically shifted how it interpreted and enforced the FMIA in
1994 when, following the Jack in the Box outbreak, the agency declared
E. coli O157:H7 to be an adulterant. This marked a dramatic change from
its previous stance that pathogens in raw meat were not adulterants.
The declaration of E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant was met with strong
opposition from the meat industry. In a lawsuit filed soon after the
1994 declaration, the industry accused the USDA of not following proper
rulemaking procedures and of acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner
beyond its legal authority. The United States District Court held, however,
that the USDA was allowed to interpret the FMIA and that the USDA has
the power to declare substances to be adulterants with the intended
purpose of spurring the meat industry to create and implement preventative
During the early part of this decade, however, it became readily apparent
that O157:H7 was not the only deadly pathogen in E. coli family?in fact,
far from it. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognized this fact
when, in 2000, the agency made all Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)
nationally notifiable. The CDC subsequently referred to non-O157 STEC
as emerging pathogens that pose a significant health threat, with more
strains reported every year. Still, FSIS remained steadfast in its stance
that O157:H7 is the only enterohemorrhagic E. coli strain that should
be deemed to be an adulterant.
So what¡¯s wrong with FSIS¡¯s position regarding E. coli O157:H7? The
simple answer is this: the people of this nation do not deserve another
Jack in the Box-sized catastrophe as a pre-requisite for currently needed
agency action. The scientific and medical communities have recognized
the dangers of all enterohemorrhagic E. coli, not just O157:H7, again
and again. Representatives of the CDC estimate that non-O157 STEC causes
36,700 illnesses, 1,100 hospitalizations, and 30 deaths annually. Nearly
two years ago today, on October 17, 2007, the CDC and FSIS even went
so far as to hold a public meeting to consider the public health significance
of non-O157 STEC. In the Notice of the meeting, FSIS referred to the
¡°growing awareness that STECs other than E. coli O157:H7 (non-O157:H7
STECs) cause sporadic and outbreak-associated illnesses.¡± Nevertheless,
following the meeting, FSIS failed to re-interpret its policies.
This brings us to today. We¡¯re nearing the end of 2009, closing in on
seventeen years since the Jack in the Box outbreak. Millions of Americans
have suffered foodborne illnesses, injuries, and deaths in that time,
thousands of them likely due to enterohemorrhagic E. coli other than
O157:H7. It is on behalf of those persons that the law firm of Marler
Clark has authored a petition to FSIS requesting the agency to issue
an interpretive rule declaring all enterohemorrhagic STEC, including
non-O157:H7 serotypes, to be adulterants within the meaning of the Federal
Meat Inspection Act.
The petition details the scientific and legal bases for the requested
action, but perhaps more importantly it details the suffering that food
contaminated with non-O157:H7 enterohemorrhagic E. coli inflicted upon
three individuals: June Dunning, Megan Richards, and Shiloh Johnson.
Ms. Dunning, whose infection was caused by E. coli O146:H21, unfortunately
succumbed to her illness, passing in 2006. Ms. Richards and Ms. Johnson
endured lengthy hospitalizations, kidney failure, and will both endure
a lifetime of medical complications as a result of their E. coli O121:H19
and E. coli O111 infections (respectively).
It would be naive to assume that a change to FSIS policy will immediately
rid the world of all foodborne E. coli infections. It has been unequivocally
proven, however, that all enterohemorrhagic E. coli are potentially
lethal pathogens that we must fight tooth and nail to keep out of this
nation¡¯s food supply. If we trust science, and do our part to push government
agencies to enact regulations to require better monitoring, we can no
doubt begin to prevent further harm. In the end, after all, the requisite
wading through the mess of bureaucracy required to change federal regulation
is all worth it, so long as the outcome prevents at least one more case
like that of June Dunning, Megan Richards, or Shiloh Johnson.
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