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Insects Unlikely Vectors for E. coli in Greens
by Dan Flynn | Oct 08, 2010
What happens to lettuce leaves and other leafy greens that become contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and then suffer insect or mechanical damage?
Can the bacteria then become internalized, in other words, get inside the greens and become impossible to wash off?
That's what a dozen University of Georgia researchers tried to find out. The results of their study have been published in the current issue of the Journal of Food Protection.
"Environmental pests may serve as reservoirs and vectors of zoonotic pathogens to leafy greens," the study abstract explained, "however, it is unknown whether insect pests feeding on plant tissues could redistribute these pathogens on the surface of leaves to internal sites."
After using various means to apply E. coli to the tops and undersides of lettuce and spinach leaves, through mist, droplets and by inoculation, the researchers from UG's Department of Crop and Soil Sciences then exposed the greens to cabbage loopers, aphids, whiteflies, and thrips. They later found that:
-No internalized E. coli O157:H7 was detected in individual lettuce leaves 48 hours after being inoculated with a lower amount of pathogens per leaf.
-In contrast, pathogen internalization was observed 48 hours after leaves were spray inoculated with a much higher number of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.
The researchers concluded that while the toxic E. coli O157:H7 could get into leafy greens via insect damage, it would take such a high concentration of the bacteria for this to happen that "contamination in the field ... is unlikely."
On the "rare occasion" that a field of greens might become contaminated with a high concentration of E. coli, the researchers said internalization of the pathogen "may be minimized" by the plants' natural defenses to insects or physical injury, which can inhibit bacterial growth.
The UG team, located at Tifton, GA, included Marilyn C. Erickson, Jean Liao, Alison S. Payton, David G. Riley, Cathy C. Webb, Lindsey E. Davey, Sophia Kimbrel, Li Ma, Guodong Zhang, Ian Flitcroft, Michael P. Doyle, and Larry S. Beuchat.
The complete results can be found in the Nov. 10, 2010 Journal of Food Protection.

Gloves Alone Aren't Enough for Food Safety
by Laurel Curran | Oct 11, 2010
Gloves have become something of a symbol of food safety but, in fact, can inspire a false sense of security, conclude the authors of a series of studies published in the Journal of Food Protection.
The authors say that, contrary to common knowledge, even gloves used properly in food preparation can't by themselves adequately protect against food contamination. And gloves may actually pose a number of unforeseen risks because the confidence they provide may encourage risky behavior.
The authors suggest that even the best gloves are no substitute for regular, thorough hand washing.
They explain that the warm, moist environment inside every glove is an ideal place for microbial proliferation. Glove brands differ in quality and material--vinyl gloves are more susceptible to rips than Latex gloves, for example--and bacteria can travel though the tiniest holes or tears. Long fingernails or rings greatly increase the likelihood of glove puncture, a double threat because nails and jewelry tend to harbor higher concentrations of harmful bacteria than bare hands.
The longer gloves are worn, the more likely their effectiveness as a barrier will be breached. Numerous studies recommend that food preparers should ideally put on a new pair of gloves every two hours to guard against possible unseen punctures.
But while such "loss of integrity" in gloves can lead to contamination of foods and food-preparation surfaces, the study says that in the food-service industry the improper use of gloves is more likely to cause problems than glove leakage.
The authors note that studies in the United Kingdom have concluded that compared to bare hands, gloved hands can contribute as much if not more bacteria to foods and food-preparation surfaces, so gloves can be a cause of cross-contamination. Gloves should be changed or sanitized when cooks move from working with raw meats to preparing vegetables and other foods. The study suggests one disinfecting method to guard against cross-contamination, but it involves a time-consuming, five-step process:
1. Immerse the gloved hands in a 0.5% sodium hypochlorite solution
2. Remove gloves by turning them inside out and soak them in the same solution for 10 minutes
3. Wash gloves by hand, inside and out, in soapy water
4. Rinse thoroughly
5. Air test for leaks by inflating the hand and holding under water, look for bubbles and dispose if any appear
Even with this method, the authors of the study declare that "decontamination of gloves, however, can never be absolute." They highly recommend changing into a new pair of gloves when switching between foods.
According to the study authors, along with wearing intact gloves, the most important food safety precaution may be proper hand washing and drying. That means washing hands with hot water and soap, followed by drying with a clean towel before putting gloves on and after taking them off.
"Washing should be performed before handling clothing from a high-risk area, changing into clothing for work in a high-risk area, entering a food handling area, and handling ready-to-eat food and after using a toilet, handling raw food, handling food waste, carrying out cleaning duties, touching non-food contact surfaces (e.g., machines, power switches, buttons and cell phones), blowing noses, and touching body parts."
Once again, however, even this precaution is not foolproof. "The hands of healthy individuals may be colonized with microorganisms with the potential to cause foodborne illness even after washing," the study states. But the authors emphasize that consistent hand washing tends to produce much better results than random and sporadic washing.
Gloves are but one of many barriers recommended by the authors to prevent foodborne illness. Other barriers include hair nets, clean utensils, deli papers, food shields and appropriate clothing.
Gloves, however, tend to be one of the easiest food-safety methods to regulate, the study acknowledges. Employers can easily check to see how many gloves have been used, as well as their condition. "Glove use is easily observed to verify hygiene compliance, unlike assessing hand washing frequency and thoroughness," the study concludes.
The study also notes that most glove studies have focused on transfer of bacteria, but the ability of gloves to prevent infection from enteric viruses, such as norovirus, has not been well studied.
Editor's Note: A copy of the Journal of Food Protection series on glove use is available online.

Revealed: How Campylobacter Rely on Pseudomonas to Infect Humans
by Kathy Jones on October 09, 2010 at 9:19 PM
Campylobacter infections are extremely debilitating and have been linked with the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome, one of the leading causes of non-trauma-induced paralysis worldwide.

Campylobacter jejuni is well adapted to life in the guts of animals and birds, where it is often found in very high levels. However, to infect humans it also needs to be able to survive outside the gut, on the surface of meat that will be eaten by humans. It is known that C. jejuni cannot grow under normal atmospheric conditions ? the levels of oxygen are too high for it ? so how it survives was until recently unknown. The mystery has now been solved by Friederike Hilbert and colleagues at the Institute of Meat Hygiene, Meat Technology and Food Science of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.
The surface of meat harbours a number of species of bacteria that ? fortunately ? are rarely harmful to humans, although they are associated with spoilage. It seems possible that the various species interact and Hilbert hypothesized that such interactions might help bacteria

such as Campylobacter jejuni survive under hostile, oxygen-rich conditions. She thus tested the survival of C. jejuni in the presence of various meat-spoiling bacteria. When incubated alone or together with bacteria such as Proteus mirabilis or Enterococcus faecalis, Campylobacter survived atmospheric oxygen levels for no longer than 18 hours. However, when incubated together with various strains of Pseudomonas, Campylobacter were found to survive for much longer, in some cases over 48 hours, which would be easily long enough to cause infection.
There were differences in the extent of prolonged survival depending on the sources of the Campylobacter analysed but all isolates of all strains clearly survived significantly longer in the presence of Pseudomonas bacteria than when cultured alone. And the Campylobacter cells did not change shape when cultured together with Pseudomonas under oxygen-rich conditions, unlike when they were cultured alone, providing further indications of an interaction between the species. Interestingly, there is no evidence that the Pseudomonas benefit at all from the interaction, although they effectively save the lives of the Campylobacter.
Hilbert's findings show clearly that the presence of Pseudomonas bacteria is responsible for significantly enhanced survival of the disease-causing Campylobacter bacteria on the surface of meat. The results have implications for the control of meat, especially poultry, destined for human consumption. As Hilbert says, "On the basis of this study it should be possible to elucidate new mechanisms for limiting the level of Campylobacter on chicken meat and thus the incidence of food poisoning could be much reduced."

Oily Gulf Oysters Turn Up -- No, It Was Mud!
by Dan Flynn | Oct 12, 2010
UPDATE II: We now believe, based on Gulf oyster industry sources that have been reliable in the past, that the substance found in oysters at Vinnie's Raw Bar last June was mud, not oil. A North Carolina shellfish inspector who investigated the incident reached the conclusion that mud was pushed onto the meat of the oysters during shucking.
UPDATE I: The video in the story below was shot in June, but continues to be shared online where it continues to be viewed.
Vinnie's Raw Bar north of Charlotte, NC exists for oysters, but a YouTube video now whirling around the Internet is not doing the restaurant or the Gulf seafood industry any good.
That's because the video appears to show an oyster served by Vinnie's that originated in Gulf waters as having oil in it. "Hey, Dad look, there's oil in my oyster," says the raw bar customer Matthew Robertson as he points to a tar-like substance.
Robertson said the oily oysters showed up in a second serving, and he collected one to show a local television station that is the source of the video clip.
Ed Cake, a marine biologist who works with the Gulf oyster industry, was able to observe the video. "The oil did not kill the oysters, but may have affected their flavor," Cake said.
"The source of the oil and the oysters have not been identified," Cake added. "But this is not a good report for the oyster industry or BP."
Nor is the video good news for President Obama, who was in the Gulf area again last week to say that seafood from the region is safe to eat. In remarks delivered at Theodore, AL, Obama promised the federal government would step up monitoring and inspection of Gulf seafood to help restore public confidence.
Meanwhile, how to compensate oystermen for their losses is turning out to be a difficult problem.
When freshwater diversions at unprecedented levels were used to push oil away from Louisiana's sensate wetlands, the diversions killed more than half the oysters in the southeastern area of the state.
Rehabilitating those oyster grounds could cost millions, and the expectation is that BP will have to pay for it.
The Gulf produces about 70 percent of all U.S. oysters. Louisiana represents about half the harvest for about $34 million in 2009. The state has 400,000 acres of private oyster leases and 1.6 million acres of public oyster grounds.

Success in the War on E. coli
Safety Zone By: James Marsden
Recently, the North American Meat Processors Association and other meat trade groups sponsored a scientific meeting on E. coli O157:H7.
One of the conference speakers, Dr. Daniel Engeljohn, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Policy and Program Development - USDA-FSIS had some positive things to say about the latest foodborne disease statistics and the success the beef industry has made in addressing the problem.
Dr. EngeljohnĄ¯s statements are supported by data from FoodNet and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which show that the rate of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 infections was at the lowest level since 2004. The lower reported incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infections met the National 2010 Healthy People target in 2009.
And by the way, ground beef is no longer the leading cause of E. coli infections.
It appears that we are back on target and that there has been a reversal in the negative trends that were reported over the past four years. I donĄ¯t believe the improvement is a statistical aberration. It is a real reversal and USDA-FSIS and the beef industry both deserve credit for making it happen.
The reason for the change in my opinion is a renewed focus on interventions applied at preharvest, slaughter, and processing. Most beef plants employ multiple interventions and the technologies involved are increasingly effective.
For example, one of the largest beef processors applies a Bacteriophage to live cattle during the high risk summer months. The same company utilizes several effective interventions during the slaughter process, including an environmental control system, anti-microbial sprays, thermal pasteurization and steam vacuuming. Interventions are also applied on chilled carcasses and trimmings.
The almost universal adoption of N-60 testing provides real time feedback on the effectiveness of interventions.
These process improvements required major investments in government and industry research. They also required significant capital at a time when investment dollars have been scarce. The improvements demonstrate a commitment on the part of government public health officials, consumer advocates, technology providers and beef industry leaders to solve this problem once and for all.
Rather than go on to discuss what still needs to be done, itĄ¯s a good time to reflect on the successes that were achieved in 2009. Everyone involved deserves a lot of credit.
October 11, 2010

With companies like this, who needs enemies?
Posted on October 11, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
Clostridium botulinum is a devastating, spore forming rod shaped bacterium that, when allowed to germinate due to improper food-handling practices, produces awful, life-threatening symptoms that occur because of the toxin's ability to cause flaccid paralysis of major body systems. We have represented many people who were completely paralyzed and required a ventilator to breathe. Some died, including a middle-aged mother of two who consumed carrot juice that, during distribution, had not been held at proper temperatures.
If you're a carrot juice company, or any kind of juice company for that matter that does not completely pasteurize its products, then you have to be totally aware of the inherent risks associated with root vegetables like carrots that are in fact cultuivated in a medium (ie the dirt) where these bacteria live. That is why it's disturbing to read about companies that don't know, or more likely just don't care.
Barbara Leonard, of Courthouse News Service, today reported on a prosecution in New York of a company called Juices that allegedly was heinously indifferent to the well-being of customers it profited from. With companies like this (assuming the allegations are true), who needs enemies?
Ms. Leonard reports on some of the violations:
The government claims that beverages produced by Juices may contain other hazards besides botulism, including allergens, metals and glass, because the company does not follow Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations.
The FDA found similar violations in each of its inspections, in 2007, 2009 and 2010, and the company continues to ignore regulations and warnings, according to the complaint.
"Despite multiple inspections, numerous warnings from FDA, and defendants' promises that the violations would be remedied, defendants have failed to institute effective measures to bring their juice processing operations into compliance with the law," according to the complaint.
The FDA investigators found that Juices did not have a HACCP plan for its refrigerated, low-acid vegetable juices, and not properly heat and refrigerate its low-acid vegetable juice products to eliminate and prevent botulism spores.
"During juice production, the FDA investigators observed that the water temperature of beet and carrot juices never reached the temperature that defendants identified as critical to juice processing, yet they took no corrective action and moved the juice products to inventory for distribution," according to the complaint. "Upon monitoring the temperature of defendants' walk-in cooler over a 24-hour period, the FDA investigators also documented that the temperature in the cooler, which contained bottled carrot juice, was favorable for the rapid growth of C. bot."

FSIS Moves to Improve Ground Beef Traceback
by Helena Bottemiller | Oct 14, 2010
A former small-scale meat plant owner turned activist yesterday hailed an announcement that federal inspectors testing ground beef samples for E. coli will now try to verify where the meat came from.John Munsell, chairman of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Committee for R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, said he was "quite pleased" with the Oct. 8 notice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which moves the agency toward a better traceback system.
"Finally, after a battle for more than eight years, FSIS is requiring documentation of source information at the time of evidence gathering," Munsell said in a press release.
FSIS said its inspectors will now record information on both the source meat and its suppliers when they sample ground beef and boneless trim for E. coli O157:H7, instead of waiting to see if there is a positive E. coli result before collecting supplier information.?
Munsell, or the "meatpacking maverick," as Mother Jones once called him, has been pressing for such traceback reforms since his own small beef grinding plant was suspended for E. coli contamination in 2002, even though a USDA inspector knew the meat was from an outside plant and had likely been contaminated there.
Although Munsell asked the USDA to look up the supply chain to see where the contaminated meat was coming from so it could be recalled--he was sure it was coming from a ConAgra plant in Greeley, CO--the agency did not investigate until a few months later, after an E. coli outbreak sickened 45 people in 23 states. The meat was eventually traced to the Greeley plant.
In its notice last week, the FSIS said the new instructions will better serve the agency's "goal to respond to...positive results by identifying all affected product and all potential suppliers as quickly as possible to protect public health..."?
?Munsell said the new policy will correct the problems associated with USDA's "historical policy of focusing its enforcement actions primarily against small, victimized processors" further down the supply chain.
"The agency's insulation of the large source plants from liability has reaped predictable results: ongoing E. coli outbreaks and recurring recalls. USDA's historical policy has provided a comfort level to the agency, circumventing any need for delicate FSIS enforcement actions against the large source plants which enjoy political clout and substantial economic largesse. USDA has been paralyzed with fear of potential litigation emanating from the largest source slaughter plants," Munsell said.
??"Realizing that USDA has long favored the interests of multinational/corporate agriculture over those of consumers and producers, we are hopeful that USDA and FSIS are sincere in elevating food safety to the highest of priorities," he concluded. "USDA has long been captured by the very industry it is supposed to regulate, and we hope this step is a first step toward reversing that trend."

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