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Recall from E. coli O26 illnesses reignites non-O157 debate
By Rita Jane Gabbett on 9/1/2010
Cargill¡¯s weekend recall of 8,500 pounds of ground beef over concerns about a connection between E. coli O26 and three illnesses in two states was the first recall directly relating a beef product to illnesses traced to a non-O157:H7 STEC, reigniting the debate over testing for and regulating these pathogens.
Less than two weeks ago the American Meat Institute sent a letter to Agriculture Tom Vilsack opposing declaring these pathogens adulterants, pointing out, among other things, that no reported outbreak in the United States had been directly linked to beef products. That is no longer the case.
(See AMI opposes making non-O157:H7 STECS adulterants on Meatingplace, Aug. 18, 2010.)
By Monday afternoon Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the FDA and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, pointed to Cargill¡¯s weekend recall as justification for her E. coli Traceability and Eradication Act, which would require USDA to regulate all strains of toxin-producing E. coli.
¡°It is time for USDA to acknowledge the scientific evidence and classify all toxin-producing E. coli strains as an adulterant that should be made subject to testing,¡± she said in a statement. ¡°This would close a significant gap in our food safety system and help minimize additional foodborne illnesses.¡±
DeLauro isn¡¯t the only one turning up the pressure on USDA. Bill Marler, a Seattle-based food safety attorney and advocate, renewed his call for stronger regulation of non-O157 STECs.
"The USDA and beef industry know well that there are at least six additional strains of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli: O45, O111, O121, O145, O103 and O26 that are highly dangerous to humans and should not exist in food," Marler said in his own Food Safety News online news and opinion service.
Former USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond also repeated his call for increased awareness and regulation. ¡°Secretary Vilsack and the president are going to have to decide if this is a big enough recall to act on,¡± Raymond told Meatingplace. ¡°Do we have to wait for another Jack-in-the-Box?¡± he added in a reference to the massive E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 1993 that led to that strain being declared an adulterant.
Not as easy as it seems
There are, however, a number of barriers to effectively testing for and regulating non-O157 STECs.
Experts have said only about 10 percent of laboratories are currently capable of testing for non-O157 STECs. That is because these pathogens lack a single distinctive phenotypic characteristic in common that could be reliably tested through some selective medium, biochemical test or other procedure.
USDA is still working to complete validation of laboratory methods for discerning which of six non-O157 STECs (O26, O103, O111, O121, O45, and O145) are present in samples so it can start sampling for them later this year, Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator of the Office of Field Operations for USDA¡¯s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said earlier this month at the National Meat Association¡¯s summer conference.
At the time, he added, however, ¡°Sampling and testing does not mean regulating them. No decision has been made on regulating them.¡±
The recall comes just days after Elisabeth Hagen was confirmed as USDA¡¯s new undersecretary for food safety.
As AOL News Senior Public Health Correspondent Andrew Schneider put it in a column on Monday, ¡°She may get the opportunity to work with a non-O157 outbreak sooner than she or anyone else thought.¡±

Hyperspectral Imaging Speeds Detection of Campylobacter
By Sharon Durham
August 25, 2010

A type of high-tech imaging can be used to distinguish the foodborne pathogen Campylobacter from other microorganisms as quickly as 24 hours after a sample is placed on solid media in a Petri dish, according to a study published by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.
The researchers, with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), used technology called hyperspectral imaging, which combines digital imaging with spectroscopy, to provide hundreds of individual wavelength measurements for each image pixel. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of USDA.
According to the study, microorganisms grown on solid media carry unique spectral fingerprints in the specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. A hyperspectral imager identifies these fingerprints by measuring light waves that bounce off or through these objects.
Unlike the human eye, which sees only visible light, hyperspectral imaging can detect visible light as well as light from the ultraviolet to near-infrared ranges. Hyperspectral imaging may also be applicable to other pathogen detection studies.
Campylobacter infections in humans are a major cause of bacterial foodborne illness both in the United States and other countries throughout the world. Growing Campylobacter directly on solid media has been an effective method to isolate this organism, but distinguishing Campylobacter from non-Campylobacter microorganisms is difficult because different bacteria can often look very similar.
A research team led by ARS electronics engineer Seung-Chul Yoon at the agency's Quality and Safety Assessment Research Unit in Athens, Ga., developed the imaging technique to detect Campylobacter colonies on solid media in 24 hours. Normally, isolation and detection for identification of Campylobacter from foods like raw chicken involve time-consuming or complicated laboratory tests that may take several days to a week.
This "sensing" technology, which was nearly 100 percent accurate with pure cultures of the microorganisms, could be used for early detection of presumptive Campylobacter colonies in mixed cultures. The researchers are working toward developing a presumptive screening technique to detect Salmonella and Campylobacter in food samples.
Other ARS team members included research leader Kurt Lawrence, agricultural engineer Bosoon Park, animal physiologist William Windham, and food technologists John Line and Peggy Feldner. Line is at the ARS Poultry Microbiological Safety Research Unit, also in Athens. Gregory Siragusa of Danisco, in Waukesha, Wis., also collaborated on the study.
Findings from this study were published in the journal Sensing and Instrumentation for Food Quality and Safety. This research supports the USDA priority of ensuring food safety.

Scientist devises faster test for detecting E. coli
CHICAGO | Tue Aug 31, 2010 2:38am IST
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Purdue University food scientist using infrared spectroscopy took only an hour to find harmful E. coli bacteria in ground beef, a discovery that could cut days off investigations of outbreaks, the university said in a statement on Monday.
Current detection systems take about 48 hours to identify the bacteria.
About 70,000 Americans are sickened by E. coli each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Even with all the other bacteria present in ground beef, we could still detect E. coli and recognize different strains," Lisa Mauer, an associate professor of food science, said in the statement.
The spectroscopy method can also differentiate the strains of E. coli 0157:H7, meaning outbreaks could be tracked more effectively and quickly. Current tests use multiple steps and take almost a week to get results.
Mauer's findings were reported in the August issue of the Journal of Food Science.
The infrared spectroscopy equipment is "off-the-shelf and has been around for decades," Mauer said in an e-mail. "You can find it in most forensic laboratories and many state departments of health."
Mauer said the ground beef tests show promise for using the technology to find other pathogens in additional types of foods. She had already shown that spectroscopy can detect melamine -- which sickened about 300,000 infants in China and killed at least six in 2008 -- down to one part per million in powdered baby formula.
(Reporting by Bob Burgdorfer; editing by Jim Marshall)

Salmonella Poisoning from Eggs Linked to Tainted Chicken Feed at Two Farms
Published: August 27th, 2010 Federal investigators say that tainted chicken feed may have been responsible for the nationwide outbreak of salmonella food poisoning from eggs, which has resulted in the recall of about half a billion eggs throughout the United States. |
FDA officials say that testing has revealed the presence of salmonella bacteria in feed given to chickens at two Iowa egg farms identified as sources of salmonella eggs distributed by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. The DNA of the salmonella strain found in the feed matches that of the strain that has sickened about 2,000 people across the country and led to the massive recall.
The egg recall was announced earlier this month and includes shell eggs sold to distributors by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms and then sold under a variety of labels, including Sunny Farms, Sunny Meadow, Farm Fresh, Lund, Mountain Dairy and others. About 360 million eggs from Wright County Egg and 228 million from Hillandale Farms have been recalled so far.
FDA officials say that their findings indicate the feed or ingredients in the feed are a likely source of the contamination, but that the investigation is still under way. Even if the feed is identified as a source, it may not be the only source for the salmonella contamination, investigators warned.
The recall was also expanded on Thursday to include eggs sold under the Cardenas Market label in cartons with a plant number of 1026 and Julian dates between 136 and 228. The expansion also includes Trafficanda Egg Ranch eggs with plant numbers 1026, 1413, 1720, 1942 and 1946 with Julian dates between 136 and 229.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing mild to severe food poisoning. For most healthy adults, symptoms of food poisoning from salmonella typically resolve after a few days or weeks. However, young children, the elderly, and individuals with compromised immune systems have an increased risk of suffering severe food poisoning after ingesting the bacteria. If not properly treated, some cases of salmonella food poisoning can lead to hospitalization, dehydration or death.
Consumers who have purchased eggs affected by the recall should not consume the eggs and should return them to their place of purchase for a full refund. The recall is limited to eggs sold in their shells.

Food Safety in retail stores and delis
Safety Zone
By: James Marsden
The United States is fortunate to have a variety of excellent food retailers. For the most part, retail stores and deli¡¯s keep foods clean and safe. Food safety issues can usually be traced back to problems that occurred upstream during manufacturing. Retailers are in a good position to establish performance standards and other requirements from their suppliers to enhance food safety. This is especially important as the food supply supply becomes increasing globalized. There are also steps that could be taken at stores that would further reduce the risk of contamination.
Here are some actions that could be taken by food retailers that would provide a greater margin of safety for consumers.
1. The food safety systems employed by suppliers should be fully certified through an independent third party. This should go beyond GMP (good manufacturing practices) audits, COAs (certificates of analysis) and determining whether plants are operating under a HACCP Plan. The SQF (Safe Quality Food) program is a good start, but I believe that more is needed. Certification should evaluate the effectiveness of food safety systems; including documentation of scientific validation studies for CCP¡¯s (critical control points) and regular verification audits to assure that food safety controls are operating properly during food production and processing. A comprehensive system that includes process validation and regular verification would help prevent major food safety events like the current massive recall of shell eggs.
2. Food safety validation and verification systems need to be implemented for all suppliers, including those in developing countries. The Global Food Safety Initiaive (GFSI) is well positioned to coordinate this effort. In order for it to be effective, a single certification process will be required.
3. When possible, retailers should specify that food products be processed using technologies that minimize the risk of pathogen contamination and foodborne disease. For example, the use of growth inhibitors and high pressure processing can virtually eliminate risks in many ready-to-eat food products.
4. Retailers should evaluate improved packaging systems for raw meat and poultry products. Leaky packages can cause cross-contamination.
5. Many retail stores operate a variety of food service operations, including delis, mini-restaurants, salad bars and other self- service counters. Great care should be taken to assure that foods are properly prepared and that systems are in place to prevent cross contamination. For delis, it may be necessary to operate different slicers for different types of products,
6. In stores that have meat preparation areas, care should be taken to separate meat, poultry and seafood operations. In addition, many of the technologies that are employed in meat and poultry plants to prevent contamination have applications in retail stores. 7. Fresh produce areas should be treated as ready-to-eat rooms. Care should be taken to reduce sources of environmental contamination.
8. Visual cleanliness and sanitation in retail stores is already a consumer requirement. The same attention should be given to areas of the stores that aren¡¯t seen by consumers. Warehouse and staging areas should be just as clean and sanitary.
9. Traceability systems that allow a rapid response to a food safety crisis should be in place.
These along with improved employee training, continued emphasis on temperature control and GMPs would go a long way towards making an already excellent system of food retailing even better.

New York pols push for bills requiring salmonella vaccination for hens after egg recall
By Erin Durkin
Monday, August 30th 2010, 4:00 AM
Two state pols will introduce bills requiring farmers to vaccinate hens against salmonella, they announced Sunday.
The move comes as thousands of people around the country got sick from salmonella this month, leading to a recall of half a billion eggs from Iowa farms.
The federal Food and Drug Administration responded with new egg safety rules, but they didn't require hens to get salmonella shots.
"Requiring salmonella vaccination should be a no-brainer, and if the FDA is unwilling to take the lead, we should start here in New York," said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn), who himself had a brush with salmonella in college.
"We believe it was from an undercooked omelet," said Squadron, who was hospitalized for four days. "It is a terrible, terrible disease."
Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan) is also sponsoring a bill.
The new rules would affect 5 billion eggs sold in New York State every year and cost less than a penny for every dozen eggs, the officials said. They credited a similar effort in Britain with reducing the number of salmonella cases there by 96%.
Read more:

Guest blogger: Salmonella victim Barb Pruitt urges Senate to act food safety legislation
Posted on September 2, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
Nobody can speak more authoritatively about the risks of foodpoisoning than those who have succumbed to severe illness in large outbreaks, and had there lives permanently changed as a result. Barb Pruitt will not be in Washington DC next week to speak with key senators and staffers on the importance of new food safety legislation, but hers is certainly a voice that needs to be heard as well.
A little background first. Barb was infected by Salmonella typhimurium in an 2009 outbreak ultimately linked to lettuce from Salinas valley California. Barb's illness very quickly became life-threatening because the bacteria caused the tissues in her gastrointestinal tract to die, leading to a perforation of her small intestine that allowed the bacteria to escape into her bloodstream. She ultimately had to be life-flighted to a major medical center, where she underwent emergency surgery to remove approximately four feet of her small intestine. She has spent over a month in the hospital, and has endured constant, severe gastrointesinal problems ever since as a result of her inability to properly digest foods due to the loss of her small intestine. Barb's problems, including multiple days a week where she suffers 15-20 bouts of diarrhea, are permanent.
Senator Harry Reid, who has spoken with food safety victims in the past seeking passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and every other senator and staffer who can help get the bill, S 510, to the floor for a vote, need to know about Barb. Her illness was caused by a product, lettuce, that is regulated by the FDA; and its certainly possible that earlier action on the Food Safety Modernization Act would have helped to prevent her life from being permanently changed. At the very least, action on S 510 now will help others avoid what Barb has gone through.
Barb Pruitt's Statement to the Senate:
First, let me make it clear that I have no authority or expertise in the field of foodborne illnesses, however; I am a survivor of Salmonella poisoning and can speak from experience. I speak for ALL that have experienced, could experience, or have died from food poisoning. In addition, I speak for those that are left disabled for life, such as me, due to the inadequacies and failures within our food industries. I choose to be the voice for us all.
If I were to personally stand before you today, I would implore you to please pursue the vote for the Food Safety Modernization Act. The Act will enable increased authority for the FDA and food regulations will be more effective. What I like best is that the Act would require preventative programs. It is clear that the regulations we currently have in place are not followed nor are they effective. The Food Safety Modernization Act would provide necessary modification of and improved regulations. Food poisoning is preventable, let us enforce it.
As citizens, we should not be fearful of the food that we consume. We are hard working Americans who spend our hard working money on life¡¯s necessities - FOOD. We should NOT under any circumstances fear the consumption of our food; we assume and TRUST that our food is prepared with quality and that it is SAFE. No one ever assumes that their next bite of food may sicken them or worse yet kill them, leaving families destroyed and experiencing financial devastation with medical bills.
The failure in our system is that producers focus on quantity rather than quality. They have the ability to focus on quantity rather than quality because our current structured food regulations are failing. We have the power to change that. We must stand together and apply strict regulations and by all means ENFORCE them. We have to give authority where necessary to preserve human life and quality of life.
When a food product is produced and sent to the public, when tainted, millions of unsuspecting people may be facing a death sentence or lifetime disabilities. It is not like a piece of clothing that has been sewn incorrectly so therefore it is sold at a discount store. This is food we are talking about. Our food, more often than not, is not tested for quality until it is consumed by the public. There is no taking it back once it has been eaten and someone falls prey to illness.
Every case of foodborne illness is a case of a failure in our food industry reguations and a lack of regard for human life as producers are able to ignore current regulations and push for quantity rather than quality. It is sad that we have come to the point of actually having to babysit our food supply, not only on a local level but worldwide; we must also be strict with our incoming food as well. All food must be produced with the mindset that EVERY human life is valuable.
I urgently ask you to please vote on this Act and pass it. Stronger regulations, increased involvement from authorities, and preventative programs are a necessity. I know I am but only one voice, but I hope that I am ultimately a strong, and unfortunately very experienced, voice.


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