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FDA Heightens Focus on Retail Food Safety
10-Year Tracking Report Highlights Areas for Improvement

SILVER SPRING, Md., Oct. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Food and Drug Administration called today for stepped up efforts to improve food safety practices in retail food establishments, specifically pointing to the need for the presence of certified food safety managers to oversee safety practices. FDA pledged to work closely with state and local governments and operators of restaurants, grocery stores and other food service establishments to prevent illness from contaminated food.

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael R. Taylor cited the retail food industry's recent progress in key areas as well as room for improvement, based on the findings released today from FDA's 10-year study tracking the retail industry's efforts to reduce five key risk factors.

"In looking at the data, it is quite clear that having a certified food protection manager on the job makes a difference," Taylor said. "Some states and localities require certified food protection managers already, and many in the retail industry employ them voluntarily as a matter of good practice. We think it should become common practice."

A component of the 10-year study, the 2009 retail food report, found that the presence of a certified food protection manager in four facility types was correlated with statistically significant higher compliance levels with food safety practices and behaviors than in facilities lacking a certified manager. For instance, compliance in full service restaurants was 70 percent with a manager, versus 58 percent without a manager. In delicatessens, compliance was 79 percent with a manager, versus 64 percent without. For seafood markets, compliance with a manager was 88 percent, versus 82 percent without. And in produce markets, compliance was 86 percent with a manager, versus 79 percent without.

In addition to calling for certified food protection managers to be common practice, Taylor said the FDA initiative will include:

. Increased efforts to encourage widespread, uniform and complete adoption of the FDA Model Food Code by state, local and tribal regulatory agencies that are responsible for retail food safety standard setting and inspection. The Food Code recommends standards for management and personnel, food operations and equipment and facilities;

. Increased efforts for adoption of FDA's National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards by state, local and tribal agencies that enforce the Food Code and other measures to create an enhanced local regulatory environment for retail food operations.

"The key to food safety is prevention at every step from farm to table. Food retail managers, like growers and processors, have a responsibility to reduce the risk of foodborne illness," Taylor said. "We want to build on past progress through continued collaboration with the retail industry and strengthened partnerships with state, local and tribal agencies in their standard-setting and compliance efforts."

The 10-year study looked at more than 800 retail food establishments in 1998, 2003 and 2008 and five risk factors: food from unsafe sources, poor personal hygiene, inadequate cooking, improper holding of food (time and temperature), and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.

FDA found that overall compliance improved in all nine categories of establishments. The improvements were statistically significant in elementary schools, fast food restaurants, full-service restaurants, meat and poultry markets and departments, and produce markets and departments. Improvements, although not statistically significant, were seen in hospitals, nursing homes, deli departments/stores and seafood markets and departments.

However, according to FDA, continued improvements are needed across the board, in regard to three risk factors: poor personal hygiene, improper holding of food, and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.

More than 3,000 state, local and tribal agencies have primary responsibility to regulate the more than 1 million food establishments in the United States. FDA assists the regulatory agencies and the retail industry through the Food Code, which contains prevention-oriented and science-based food safety guidance, training, program evaluation and technical assistance.

Fresh Express makes marketing missteps
By Greg Johnson
Published on 10/22/2010 12:32PM

ORLANDO, Fla. . Criticism was swift and should not have been surprising.
At an Oct. 15 news conference, just as the Produce Marketing Association¡¯s Fresh Summit 2010 opened in Orlando, Fresh Express announced its new produce wash technology, FreshRinse, it says kills microorganisms on leafy greens using an acidic rinse better than traditional chlorine.
Cincinnati-based parent company Chiquita¡¯s chief executive officer Fernando Aguirre didn¡¯t hold back superlatives, saying, ¡°Chlorine is the abacus, and FreshRinse is the iPad. An abacus is what people use with the beads, a great thing at the time, just like chlorine rinse was. We believe FreshRinse sets a new standard in food safety.¡±

This kind of promotion violates the generally agreed upon, though nonbinding, industry standard after the 2006 E. coli spinach outbreak that the produce industry is in food safety together.

Once companies say they¡¯re safer than others, consumers can infer that some produce is less safe or worse, unsafe, and they stop buying.
That sort of thing upsets many people in the industry.
¡°It¡¯s grossly irresponsible what Aguirre said,¡± said Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative, Salinas, Calif.
York has been a point man on food safety, including being chairman of the Center for Produce Safety.
He said chlorine-based washes keep fresh produce safe.
York also said the timing was opportunistic, as it was picked up by several mainstream news groups, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today during Fresh Summit weekend.
He said it reminded him of the October 2006 USA Today story timed with Fresh Summit that year about Fresh Express ¡°leading the pack¡± on food safety.
Both produce industry trade groups were understandingly reluctant to get in the middle of this controversy, because all companies involved are members.
¡°Food safety should never be a competitive advantage,¡± said Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association. ¡°If a new product improves food safety, we should share it with the whole industry.¡±
Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO of PMA, said PMA hadn¡¯t evaluated Fresh Express¡¯ product claims, so he couldn¡¯t address them, but that ¡°Innovation to enhance produce safety is always desirable.¡±
Ed Loyd, director of corporate communications for Chiquita, said the company isn¡¯t marketing its method as safer than others because it¡¯s offering FreshRinse technology to competitors.
Let scientists verify
So about the product claims¡¦
I have no food science background, so I¡¯m not qualified to say whether FreshRinse is better than chlorine-based systems on the market.
I¡¯d like to leave that to experts and scientists to qualify. That¡¯s the problem.
Several competitors say Fresh Express¡¯ claims about its new wash are exaggerated or flat-out false, and they have not been verified by any third party.
Loyd said FreshRinse was reviewed by the National Center for Food Safety and Technology, and by the end of the year, the results should be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Todd Wichmann, president and CEO of Cincinnati-based HealthPro, which markets Fit fruit and vegetable wash, said Fresh Express¡¯ process is not new, and its performance claims do not make it statistically better than chlorine.
Chiquita officials cited research showing that in testing, FreshRinse reduced E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella on romaine lettuce and spinach by factors of nine and up compared to chlorine washes.
Wichmann said that is less than one log different than chlorine, which means it¡¯s a statistically insignificant improvement.
Another competitor, Bruce Taylor, president and CEO of Taylor Fresh Foods, Salinas, said tests have shown Smartwash, a chlorine-based wash system marketed by Taylor subsidiary New Leaf Food Safety Solutions, is very effective in killing bacteria, so Fresh Express¡¯ contention that chlorine is inferior is false.
In fact, Taylor said on its dedicated processing line in Salinas, the company¡¯s scientists tested Smartwash versus FreshRinse, and found Smartwash was superior in killing pathogens.
He said Smartwash has been third-party certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Center for Produce Safety and peer reviewed in journals.
It¡¯s true Fresh Express cited some third-party testing, with the national center, and several well-known food scientists.
So why not well-known industry partner CPS. Any why not in a peer-reviewed journal.
Going on their own
In the end, whether Fresh Express has a better food safety program than competitors isn¡¯t the big issue.
Whoever has the safest system should share it with the industry.
The fact that Fresh Express did not work with United Fresh or PMA, CPS or have its claims peer-reviewed just feeds detractors.
I have no doubt some marketers, all along the vertical produce industry, tell their customers that their product is safer than their competitors. And that¡¯s bad for the industry.
But they don¡¯t do it quite as openly and to consumers via consumer media the way Fresh Express has done.
That justifiably rubbed people the wrong way.

Research Shows Food Safety Managers Have Impact
by Helena Bottemiller | Oct 25, 2010

Having a designated food safety manager matters, according to research released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Friday. FDA called for increased efforts to improve food safety practices in retail food establishments, specifically ensuring the presence of food safety managers. The agency pledged to work closely with state and local governments and the restaurant industry as well as grocery stores and other food service establishments to improve food safety conditions and prevent illness.
"In looking at the data, it is quite clear that having a certified food protection manager on the job makes a difference," said FDA's deputy commissioner for foods Michael Taylor, citing the agency's 10-year study that tracked the retail industry. "Some states and localities require certified food protection managers already, and many in the retail industry employ them voluntarily as a matter of good practice. We think it should become common practice."
FDA found that the presence of a certified food protection manager in four types of facilities was correlated with significantly higher food safety compliance. For example, compliance in full service restaurants, was 70 percent with a manager and 58 percent without a manager. In delis, compliance was 79 percent with a manager, compared to 64 percent without. In seafood markets, compliance with a manager was 88 percent, versus 82 percent without; in produce markets, compliance was 86 percent with a manager, while 79 percent without.
The 10-year study, which looked at over 800 retail food establishments in 1998, 2003 and 2008, found that compliance improved in all nine types of establishments studied, including elementary schools, fast food restaurants, full-service restaurants, and meat and poultry departments.
In addition to pushing for designated food safety management on the retail level, Taylor said the agency would encourage uniform adoption of the FDA Model Food Code by state, local and tribal regulatory agencies that are responsible for retail food safety standard setting and inspection.
"The key to food safety is prevention at every step from farm to table. Food retail managers, like growers and processors, have a responsibility to reduce the risk of foodborne illness," Taylor said. "We want to build on past progress through continued collaboration with the retail industry and strengthened partnerships with state, local and tribal agencies in their standard-setting and compliance efforts."
FDA's Trend Analysis Report from 1998 to 2008 can be viewed online.

Recall in Ruskin

Food (Safety) Fight
By: Richard Raymond
I was doing a little research on USDA¡¯s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) web site today to get data for a presentation I will be making down the road.
Specifically, I was looking to see how many recalls had taken place from 2008 to present, and how many were linked to human illness vs. product testing. To find that information, you must click on each recall notice and read it.
This web site has links to ¡°active¡± recalls, and ¡°archived¡± recalls. To get the total picture, you need to access both locations. When you click on the link for ¡°active¡± recalls the site says: ¡°This page contains summary data on active recall cases. After a recall is completed, it will be removed from this listing.¡±
Pretty straight forward and easy to understand, I thought. Until I clicked on the active recall notice issued November 17, 2009, for ground beef produced on November 16. That one jogged the memory more than just a little bit, and it caused many questions about how FSIS conducts and processes recalls.
This recall was from Fairbury Steaks, located in Fairbury, Nebraska. Now this is a small town, and a very small plant, both located in a state with a relatively small population base, and a very small Public Health system.
The recall itself was very small. It consisted of just 90 pounds of ground beef packaged in nine 10-pound packages. It was all sold to a very, very small restaurant in the very, very small town of Ruskin, Nebraska, population 190, located about 30 miles down highway 136 from Fairbury.
The USDA home web page now describes FSIS as ¡°the public health agency in the USDA¡±. If there was a recall on November 17 of meat produced on November 16 that was endangering the public¡¯s health, shouldn¡¯t one public health agency have called another public health agency with responsibility for the health of persons living in or near Ruskin.
Instead, FSIS issued the recall notice on the web. I happen to know this because last November I called the local and state authorities in Nebraska just to check: They had no clue that lives were endangered.
Well, that was all a year ago and could be seen as water under the bridge, until I noticed something the other day while trying to compile that accurate list of recalls for my presentation..
The real surprise came when I saw the Fairbury recall was still listed as in an active phase -- eleven months later. Remember, ¡°After a recall is completed, it will be removed from this listing.¡± That¡¯s 90 pounds, nine packages, 30 miles down the road, in a very small restaurant and the only eating establishment in town. Surely that recall is not still active.
Clearly leaving it on the ¡°active¡± list was a simple mistake. But those kinds of mistakes call into question the way USDA is implementing its recall system, its effectiveness in protecting the public¡¯s health and the accuracy of the information it is presenting relative to that system..
My hope is that FSIS will always personally notify local authorities when their charges are in danger, so they can educate and act and assure that adulterated meat is being destroyed. This would not require an increase in appropriations, nor require new statutes or regs . it just requires common sense.
It¡¯s also my hope that someone at FSIS is tasked with completing the online ¡°paperwork¡± by making sure.. when a recall is complete, that recall is ¡°archived.¡±

October 25, 2010

Cholera kills E. coli, salmonella
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 | 12:44 PM ET
By Emily Chung, CBC News
A cholera outbreak in Haiti has killed almost 260 people and sickened more than 3,340. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

Cholera bacteria are deadly to other bacteria that cause gastrointestinal illness . a finding that may provide clues about how cholera survives between epidemics.

Cholera, a gastrointestinal disease transmitted through unclean water, often strikes in the wake of natural disasters.

An outbreak of cholera in Haiti had killed 259 people and sickened 3,342 people by Monday, according to the Haitian Health Ministry, although the situation appeared to be stabilizing. Worldwide, the disease kills 120,000 a year, the World Health Organization reported in 2005.

But new research by University of Alberta microbiologists shows cholerae, the bacterium that causes cholera, doesn't just kill people . it is also an effective killer of E. coli (Escherichia coli, responsible for the Walkerton, Ont., tainted water deaths in 2000), Salmonella typhimurium (which affects mice, but is related to the bacteria that cause salmonella food poisoning), and other bacteria that cause symptoms such as diarrhea.

The findings published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, help explain how outbreaks of cholera may sometimes recur six months or a year after the last reported case of the disease.

Cholera bacteria usually need a human host. But by killing other bacteria that compete with it for resources such as food, cholera may have a better chance at surviving in the harsh world outside the human body, said Dana MacIntyre, lead author of a paper.

"In areas with limited nutrient supplies, it creates a niche for itself where it's the only bacteria."

MacIntyre made the discoveries about Vibrio cholerae in collaboration with Sarah Miyata, Maya Kitaoka and Stefan Pukatzki, a microbiology professor at the University of Alberta.

In the case of E. coli, its population fell up to 100,000-fold when it was grown with cholera bacteria, the study reported.

The researchers aren't sure exactly how cholera kills the other bacteria, but they found it necessary that cholera bacteria have a functioning "secretion system."

"Basically, you can compare it to a needle to the surface of the cell that would make contact with the target cell," said MacIntyre, who conducted the research for her undergraduate thesis project.

The researchers don't know if the bacteria injects a toxic protein or just kills through the act of puncturing another cell. But they do know it's not as simple as secreting a toxic substance into the environment . killing requires contact between the cholera bacteria and their prey.
Catheter cleaning.

About 80 other bacteria have similar secretion systems, including some that aren't harmful to humans, MacIntyre added.

In the future, humans might be able to make use of this bacteria-killing method by harnessing harmless bacteria to get rid of harmful bacteria such as E. coli on medical equipment, she said.

However, this possibility is still a long way off, she cautioned.

Pukatzki, the microbiology professor, and his lab are working on research to figure out the method used by Vibrio cholerae to kill other bacteria. Meanwhile, MacIntyre has graduated and is preparing to apply for medical school next year.

The researchers began looking into whether cholera could kill other bacteria after noting that its secretion system contained proteins similar to those found in bacteriophages, viruses that attack bacteria. Bacteriophages have a tail spike that punctures bacteria and injects viral genetic material. The proteins on the tip of the spike are similar to those found in V. cholerae's secretion system.
Read more:

Listeria: New Study and Texas Celery Outbreak Highlight The Danger
Posted on October 25, 2010 by Colin Caywood

Given the recent SanGar chopped celery listeria outbreak in Texas, in which at least 4 people have died, today's report on new listeria research from a Purdue University study could not be more timely.

The study sheds light on how even low doses of listeria, once ingested by humans, can enter into a person's intestinal wall and exit out to the bloodstream, thus causing serious illness.

Arun Bhunia, a professor of food science, and Kristin Burkholder, a former Purdue graduate student who is now a postdoctoral researcher in microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School, found that listeria, even in low doses, somehow triggers intestinal cells to express a new protein, heat shock protein 60, that acts as a receptor for listeria. This may allow the bacteria to enter the cells in the intestinal wall and exit into a person's bloodstream. Bhunia and Burkholder's findings were published in the early online version of the journal Infection and Immunity.

"It's possible that host cells generate more of these proteins in order to protect themselves during a stressful event such as infection," Burkholder said. "Our data suggest that listeria may benefit from this by actually using those proteins as receptors to enhance infection."
Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne bacteria that can cause fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea, as well as headaches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions if it spreads to the nervous system. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it sickens about 2,500 and kills 500 people each year in the United States and primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults and those with weakened immune systems.

The findings suggest that listeria may pass between intestinal cells to sort of seep out of the intestines and into the bloodstream to cause infection.

"That can expedite the infection," Bhunia said.

Measurable increases of the heat shock 60 protein were detected when listeria was introduced to cultured intestinal cells.

Bhunia and Burkholder also introduced listeria to intestinal cells in the upper half of a dual-chamber container and counted the number of bacteria that passed through the cells and appeared in the lower chamber.

The bacteria moved to the lower chamber faster than it is known to do when moving through cells, and did so even when a mutant form of the bacteria that do not invade the intestinal cells was used. This suggests the bacteria are moving around the cells, Bhunia said.

"The infective dose is very low. Even 100 to 1,000 listeria cells can cause infection," Bhunia said. "We believe that these mechanisms are what allow listeria to cause infections at such low levels."

Bhunia said he next would try to understand how listeria and the heat shock 60 protein interact and work to develop methods to protect intestinal cells from the bacteria. The Center for Food Safety Engineering at Purdue funded part of the research.

Acheson: FDA Needs $5 Billion for Food Safety
by Helena Bottemiller | Oct 28, 2010

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs substantially more resources to effectively monitor the food supply, a former food safety official said Wednesday.
"I firmly believe that FDA probably needs about $5 billion dollars to do its job well, not $1 [billion]," said David Acheson, former FDA Associate Commissioner of Foods, told an audience of food safety experts at the American Conference Institute's 4th National Forum on Foodborne Illness Litigation in Chicago.
"But where's that money going to come from." lamented Acheson, well aware of the budgetary realities in the current political landscape. Although FDA won't be getting a substantial increase in funding any time soon, Acheson believes the pending food safety bill will be a boon to public health.
"I think this legislation is needed simply because it sets a bar and that way everybody can work around that bar and, as the regulations get written, engage with the regulators so that the legislation turns into good (italic) regulation," said Acheson.
"I'm a believer--I was as a regulator and now in the private sector--that our food supply is one of the safest on the planet. The safest. Maybe not, but one of the safest," he said. "[But] consumers are now at a point where they want food year round and they want every type of food to be available. They want the food to be safe. They have zero tolerance for unsafe food, and I don't think that's an unreasonable expectation."
With or without the food safety legislation, or a large increase in funding, the FDA is still improving its handle on food safety, according to Acheson.
"I think the agency believes, and I suspect probably rightly, that there's a lot of things they can do with the authority they already have and are going full speed ahead, assuming the legislation will pass. There is much greater focus on imported goods, ramping up inspections, opening up foreign offices and the use of more sophisticated information technologies," he said.
Food Safety News was a media partner for the conference, which was also sponsored by the National Meat Association and the Midwest Food Processors Association.

Disease threats from crayfish, frogs described at IDSA
Robert Roos News Editor
Oct 22, 2010 (CIDRAP News) . Reports presented at the Infectious Diseases Society of America's (IDSA's) annual conference today revealed that contaminated crayfish can cause severe illness and looked at the risk of contracting Salmonella infections from pet frogs, among other findings.
A press conference on foodborne disease included a report on four illnesses, two of them severe, caused by Vibrio mimicus infections in people who had eaten cooked crayfish. The presentation also included a report on 113 cases of salmonellosis, mostly in children, linked to pet frogs, which was described as the first multistate Salmonella outbreak linked to amphibians.
In another study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that black children were about twice as likely as white children to contract salmonellosis, including severe cases. The IDSA's 48th annual meeting is being held in Vancouver, B.C.
Crayfish-linked illnesses
Emily J.Cartwright, MD, of the CDC reported on the investigation that ensued when Spokane, Wash., health officials were notified of two people hospitalized with V mimicus infections in June of this year. The pathogen, rare in the United States, can cause a severely dehydrating diarrheal illness resembling cholera, she said.
The probe led to a cohort study of 22 people who had attended a "crayfish boil" on Jun 19, 2010, or had eaten leftover crayfish the next day. Four of eight people who ate the leftover crayfish got sick, whereas none of those who ate only the freshly cooked crayfish fell ill. No other food items or environmental exposures were linked to the illnesses.
Cartwright said an interview with the cook at the event revealed that the crayfish had been boiled for 20 minutes but then were placed in the same container where the raw crayfish had been stored. Afterward the leftovers were refrigerated for 20 hours. "We believe that it became contaminated in that container and exposed to juices from the raw crayfish," she said.
She added that the contamination in the container wasn't enough to sicken people who ate the crayfish when still hot, but the cold-tolerant pathogen became more of a threat after the leftovers were refrigerated for hours. She said the crayfish were ordered from an online seafood company, but the original source was not traced.
Two of the four ill patients required intensive care for severe dehydration and kidney failure, but they fully recovered with treatment. The other two patients had only a mild diarrheal illness and recovered without treatment, Cartwright said.
"People should be aware that improperly handled crayfish can be a source of Vibrio mimicus infection and it's important to wash hands after handling raw crayfish," she said. (Cartwright abstract)
Salmonella from pet frogs
Shauna L. Mettee, MSN, MPH, of the CDC reported on the salmonellosis outbreak traced to pet frogs. Although reptiles and amphibians are known Salmonella carriers, no multistate outbreak linked to amphibians had been reported previously, says the abstract of her report. (The outbreak was detailed in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article earlier this year.)
Investigation of the outbreak began in the fall of 2009. The CDC found 113 cases of Salmonella Typhimurium from 31 states with illness onset between Apr 1, 2009, and Mar 31, 2010, including 18 cases that required hospitalization. The median age of patients was 5 years, and 77% were younger than 10.
A CDC case-control study showed that cases were significantly associated with exposure to frogs. Only 21 case-patients knew what type of frog they'd been exposed to, and most said it was the African dwarf frog, which is sold in pet stores and marketed toward children, Mettee said. Environmental samples from aquariums in patients' homes yielded Salmonella isolates matching the outbreak strain.
A traceback investigation led to one frog breeder in California, and the outbreak strain was found at the breeder's facility, Mettee reported. There is no federal regulation of aquatic frog sales, she said, but officials advised the breeder on various steps to reduce Salmonella loads and improve monitoring and surveillance, she said. She commented that the outbreak may still be continuing.
The CDC recommends that families who have children under age 5 or elderly or immunocompromised members should not keep pet frogs, Mettee said. Also, those who have pet frogs should wash their hands thoroughly after any contact with them and should consider their habitat and water to be contaminated. (Mettee abstract)
Racial disparities in infant salmonellosis
Patricia M. Griffin, MD, a CDC expert on enteric disease epidemiology, reported that an analysis of 12 years worth of data from the CDC's FoodNet surveillance system showed a higher rate of salmonellosis in black infants than in white or Asian infants. The FoodNet surveillance system covers 10 states with about 15% of the US population.
Griffin said infants in general are about 10 times as likely as older people to have salmonellosis and are also much more likely to have severe illness.
"What we found was that black infants were about twice as likely as white infants to have Salmonella infections and to have severe Salmonella infections," she said.
The analysis included 6,179 salmonellosis cases in babies less than a year old, about 61% of whom were white, 30% black, 6% Asian, and 4% other. The CDC used census figures to calculate average annual incidence per 100,000 population and came up with 163 for black infants, 114 for Asians, and 84 for whites, according to the report abstract.
Black infants also were more likely than white infants to have invasive disease: 9% versus 4% of cases, the report says. (Report abstract)
See also:
IDSA press conference information with links to abstracts

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