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Sprouts and History's Worst E. coli Outbreak
Source :
By Ross Anderson (27, Jan, 2011)
Recent outbreaks linked to fresh sprouts remind us that toxic microbes can sometimes travel in small and seemingly healthful packages.
The Japanese need no reminder. They learned the hard way, 15 years ago, when that health-conscious society was gripped by what may be history's worst outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. The epidemic sickened thousands, most of them children, and killed at least 12.
It also showed critical weaknesses in Japan's public health system--problems that the government spent years trying to correct.
Up to that time, E. Coli O157:H7 was virtually unknown in Japan. Just six small outbreaks had been reported at childcare centers and schools in the five years from 1991 to 1995.
That all changed in mid-July 1996, when health officials in Sakai City, a major port city with a population near a million, received reports of a large number of elementary schoolchildren who had come down with severe diarrhea. The next day, hundreds more sick children and teachers were reported, still more on the next.
Within a week, thousands were ill, hundreds hospitalized, some with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), requiring kidney dialysis. And some were dying.
As doctors and hospitals dealt with the sick, health officials started searching for the source. All the Sakai City patients were students or teachers, and Sakai City shares its water system with neighboring cities where there were no illnesses, so water did not appear to be the problem. These and other circumstances pointed to school lunches, which were prepared at a central facility, then trucked to neighborhood schools across the city.
Meanwhile, the epidemic seemed to be expanding. Workers at a factory in Kyoto, about 30 miles from Sakai City, were showing up at clinics with bloody diarrhea. Several developed HUS. Officials learned that all the patients had eaten in the factory cafeteria.
Something was horribly wrong, but what?
Dr. John Kobayashi, a University of Washington professor and former chief epidemiologist for the state of Washington, was monitoring the outbreak from Seattle and wanted to help. "But the public was in something of a panic, and the Japanese government was embarrassed," he recalls. "Here they were, the world's second-richest nation, and then they had this huge outbreak."
It was terrible timing. A few years earlier, Japan's booming economy collapsed. Then, in 1995, an earthquake flattened the city of Kobe, not far from Sakai City. A few months later, terrorists released deadly sarin gas in the Tokyo subway, killing 13 people. "They were feeling snakebit," Kobayashi says.
To make matters worse, Japan's well-respected health care system was ill-equipped to respond to an outbreak of foodborne illness, Kobayashi says. Their epidemiologists do fine long-term research, but were not trained to respond quickly to an E. coli outbreak.
"Their strategy was to begin a long-term cohort study of 50,000 schoolchildren, which would take forever. They had no experience with field epidemiology."
American epidemiologists like Kobayashi are accustomed to rapid responses to outbreaks-- intensive interviews of victims in an attempt to zero in on the exact source of the illness.
By the time he was contacted by Japanese officials, the epidemic had been going on for weeks, Kobayashi says. And they still didn't know the source.
Many of the obstacles were cultural. The Sakai City outbreak was enormous because school meals are centrally prepared--an efficient way to feed people, or to distribute foodborne illness. And children are strongly encouraged to eat everything on their plates, which gave field workers few clues to a possible source.
"And the Japanese are reluctant to talk about their illnesses," Kobayashi says. "The whole idea of officials calling people and asking about their diarrhea is very difficult in Japanese society. And then it is not polite to ask people for the names of other sick people. This is important information to epidemiology, but almost inconceivable in Japanese culture."
Eventually, the outbreak sickened at least 9,441 people, most of them school children--the worst toll of any recorded outbreak.
Investigators eventually blamed a seemingly unlikely source--radish sprouts, produced by a single Japanese farm and served with school lunches along with cooked chicken and noodles. The sprouts were fingered by a process of elimination. No E. coli was found on samples, but the sprouts were served raw, while most other ingredients were cooked.
Sprouts are susceptible to contamination because they are cultivated with heat and moisture, conditions that also favor E. coli, Salmonella and other microbes, Kobayashi explains. Japanese officials suspected that the contamination originated with the radish seeds, which had been grown and shipped from Oregon.
"But it's not clear," Kobayashi adds. "Who knows? The investigation took so long that, by the time samples were taken, everything had been wiped clean."
Regardless of the source, the outbreak shed light on profound deficiencies with Japan's public health system, and Kobayashi was hired by the Japanese government to help fix the problem. Over a span of five years, he made frequent trips to Japan, helping train epidemiologists and to redesign their system for responding to foodborne illnesses.
If another major outbreak comes along, he says, the Japanese will be far better prepared.

Food-borne bacteria causes difficult-to-treat heart infections

Source :
By ANI (27, Jan, 2011)

Scientists have found that particular strains of a food-borne bacteria are able to invade the heart, leading to serious and difficult-to-treat heart infections.
The bacteria Listeria monocytogenes is commonly found in soft cheeses and chilled ready-to-eat products, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.
For healthy individuals, listeria infections are usually mild, but for susceptible individuals and the elderly, infection can result in serious illness, usually associated with the central nervous system, the placenta and the developing fetus.
About 10 percent of serious listeria infections involve a cardiac infection, according to Nancy Freitag, principle investigator on the study.
These infections are difficult to treat, with more than one-third proving fatal, but have not been widely studied and are poorly understood.
Freitag and her colleagues obtained a strain of listeria that had been isolated from a patient with endocarditis, or infection of the heart.
They found that when they infected mice with either the cardiac isolate or a lab strain, they found 10 times as much bacteria in the hearts of mice infected with the cardiac strain.
Further, the researchers found that while the lab-strain-infected group often had no heart infection at all, 90% of the mice infected with the cardiac strain had heart infections.
Freitag's team used molecular genetics and cardiac cell cultures to explore what was different about these two strains.
The results suggest that these cardiac-associated strains display modified proteins on their surface that enable the bacteria to more easily enter cardiac cells, targeting the heart and leading to bacterial infection.

Listeria Linked to Salad Mix in Rhode Island
Source :
By News Desk (24, Jan, 2011)

The Rhode Island Department of Health has advised consumers that a sample of Northeast Spring Mix salad mix sold at McQuade's Market in Jamestown has tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.
The salad mix, manufactured by Northeast Fresh in Chelsea, Massachusetts, was sold in seven-ounce bags and has a product code of Jan15/457034. The Rhode Island Health Department is working to determine if this product was distributed elsewhere in the state.
No illnesses have been reported in association with this recall.
Anyone who bought an item on the recall list should throw the product away or return it to the place of purchase for a refund, the health department said.
Symptoms of Listeria include high fever, sever headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

External poultry packaging harbours campylobacter threat - report
Source :
By Rory Harrington (25, Jan, 2011)

Campylobacter has been detected on the external packaging of 40 per cent of fresh chickens on sale in shops across one major UK city, a study has found.
The report from Birmingham City Council urged meat processors to use stronger packaging, called on supermarkets to employ better display techniques and suggested a public awareness campaign in a bid to cut the risk of cross-contamination of the foodbourne bacteria from external packing.
But it also stressed that reducing Campylobacter contamination on broiler farms was key and once achieved the benefits would be reflected throughout the food supply chain, ultimately reducing the number of food poisoning cases.
A report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last year found that around 80 per cent of chicken carcasses on the European market were infected with Campylobacter. The Europe-wide survey found that 75 per cent of fresh UK poultry were carrying the pathogen. The UK Food Standards Agency has declared Campylobacter to be its top priority given the bug sickens an estimated 300,000 people a year and causes 80 deaths.
The Birmingham's Environmental Health team reached its conclusions after undertaking a survey of 20 packaged fresh chickens taken from the shelves of major supermarkets, local convenience stores and one butcher in the city.
Swabs were also taken from the chilled display cabinet at one "well-known supermarket" after it was observed pools of juice had leaked from the poultry through the packaging onto its surface.
This was exacerbated by the retail practice of standing chickens on their ends which "makes for an attractive display but due to gravitation the natural juices are concentrated into one end of the tray and can leak out if there is a weakness in the shrink wrap and seams", cautioned the report.
Scientists from the Health Protection Agency Laboratories examined both the exterior packing and the raw meat for Campylobacter and Salmonella.
The HPA found Campylobacter on the external packaging surface of eight of the 20 samples (40 per cent), with the bacteria detected in the meat of seven of the samples (35 per cent). No trace of Salmonella was found on any exterior packaging.
Swabs taken from meat juice pooled in the display chillers also tested positive for the pathogen which, said the report, "indicated that Campylobacter was present at the point of sale".
It also found there was no link between positive results on the meat and on the external packaging.
"This indicates that cross contamination of the external packaging could be at any point: i.e. from the packaging process, distribution, food handlers to the display area itself," added the report. "This type of packaging can split thereby leaking onto other packs and surfaces."
The study concluded there are issues throughout the food chain for cross-contamination to take place. However, it states the public is largely ignorant that external packaging of poultry products is one possible source of the bacteria.
"Consumers remove chicken from the display cabinets and the potential for cross-contamination starts at this point," it said. "Any surface this subsequently becomes in contact with will be contaminated, including hands, shopping bags and other ready-to-eat foods and work surfaces."

Watchdogs: Antibiotics in farming may be harming the food supply
Source :
By Michael de Yoanna (25, Jan, 2011)

A disturbing new study concludes that pathogens, including harmful bacteria, have been popping up in the U.S. food supply since at least the 1970s thanks to the use of antibiotics, an increasingly common practice on corporate farms looking to maximize profits. The study, by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, highlights a steady increase in foodborne bacteria-related outbreaks, particularly involving raw milk, certain cheeses, and ground beef. Though the increase might be explained by the fact that people have been more likely to report problems in recent decades, the practice could become more problematic for food safety in coming years.
"Outbreaks from antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella, though rare, cannot be ignored by our food safety regulators. The problem has clearly emerged with respect to some high risk foods," said CSPI's food-safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "Both humans and animals rely on antibiotics to stay healthy. But overuse in some sectors may squander their effectiveness and leave consumer vulnerable to hard-to-treat foodborne infections."
If antibiotics are to remain effective in treating human and veterinary illnesses, experts warn they should not be over-used. The more antibiotics are used, the more bacteria will develop resistance. Patients who develop an infection from antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more likely to have longer and more expensive hospitalizations and increased chances of death, according to CSPI.

US: Houston will spotlight food safety and crisis communications

Source :

Produce industry members in the Houston area will have the chance to connect with regional buyers and suppliers and learn more about food safety and crisis communications management during Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) Fresh Connections: Houston event.With Houston Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association and Texas Produce Association as marketing partners, PMA Fresh Connections: Houston is being held Feb. 9 at the Sysco Corporate Offices in Houston, Texas, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The event is also made possible by the co-presenting sponsor Murphy Tomatoes/M&M Tomato Company and food and beverage sponsor Sysco/Fresh Point.
Fresh Connections: Houston will offer an informative and interactive one-day program with PMA's food safety and crisis communication experts. Attendees will hear from PMA's Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker on common food safety missteps and how attendees can increase their company's food safety efforts. They'll also receive the latest update on recent food safety legislation. Lorna Christie, PMA executive vice president & COO, will explain how crisis management can protect a company's reputation and bottom line during a food safety outbreak. Christie will also demonstrate how companies can make their food safety program a part of "telling your story."
The event format will include ample opportunity for attendees to ask questions and receive answers about issues they are having in their own food safety and crisis communication initiatives. Attendees will also benefit from a networking breakfast and lunch, which afford time to forge profitable connections and share insight with fellow supply-chain members from Houston and the surrounding region.
"PMA's Fresh Connections events are a great way to reach out to members in our own backyard," said Bill Kellner, vice president & COO Murphy Tomatoes/M&M Tomato Company. "These events provide timely business solutions and an opportunity for PMA staff to hear from members - what's on our minds and how the association can address our specific needs."
Fresh Connections: Houston seating is limited, and open to both PMA members and potential members. The advance registration deadline is Feb. 4. The advance registration fee for members is $150 and for potential members is $225; on-site registration will be available for members at $200 and for potential members at $300. Gold Circle contributors receive an additional 33 percent off the member rate. Learn more by visiting PMA's website or by contacting PMA's Shara Stewart at +1 (302) 738-7100 or by e-mail at

Tomato Salmonella research to study role of plastics and dry biofilms

Source :
By Rory Harrington (24, Jan, 2011)

New research on the safe handling of tomatoes will examine how plastics in food contact materials and gloves used by workers can affect the formation, transfer and survival of salmonella in the fruit.
A team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in the US, has received a US$235,000-grant from the Center for Product Safety, Davis, California, as part of a drive to improve food safety in growing and harvesting fresh produce.
The project, due to begin this month, will also seek to yield new knowledge about how and under what conditions bacteria form biofilms on different surface types and provide practical, science-based guidelines on how to prevent cross-contamination.
At the UMass Amherst food lab, the group will set up an experimental tomato-handling station modelled on those found in farm fields in California and Florida. This will allow them to compare bacterial transfer rates on smooth versus abraded plastic packaging tubs and ramps. They will also evaluate contamination rates between work gloves made of a variety of materials. In this way, they can determine where and when Salmonella most often hitches a ride onto the tomato's outer skin and into the food supply.
Brittle biofilms
"Bacterial cross-contamination from one surface to another is a more complex problem than we once believed," project leader Lynne McLandsborough told "Food scientists would like to better understand how moisture levels affect biofilms and bacteria dispersal, for example."
The researcher added that her pervious work with Listeria monocytogenes had indicated that the dryer biofilms become, the greater numbers of cells break off and are transferred to foods.
"The level of transfer is dependent upon both the biofilm substrate material and the food," she said. "Currently our working hypothesis is that the presence of water is a major component holding the biofilm cells and exopolymeric substances) together, so as the biofilm dries, it becomes less cohesive."
Plastic factors
The research project will also be looking at whether the type, and condition, of plastics used to manufacture gloves and storage tubs has a food safety implication.
A variety of glove materials, such as nitrile rubber, low density polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride vinyl will all be examined. The condition of high density polyethylene (HDPE) - used in the harvesting bins and pails - will also be considered to assess the survival, transfer and cleanability on 'new' and 'worn' surfaces, with varying amounts of organic load.
The 'worn' surfaces will be created by abrading the HDPE to varying degrees. Both the gloves and the HDPE will be treated with repeated sanitising treatments
"I believe we will find that on plastic (as with stainless steel) the abraded surfaces harbour more bacteria," forecast McLandsborough. "And it will be interesting to determine if the sanitizer changes the characteristics of the gloves surfaces and bacterial transfer to these surfaces."
She added: "While we're not sure about the cross-contamination levels we'll find with these new experiments in Salmonella and tomatoes, it's clear that growers need to know the facts and how best to carry out a safe harvest."

Introduction Safer Processing of Fresh-cut Produce Video

Foodborne Hazards of non-E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella - Report on Retail Ground Beef Sampling 2008-2010
Source :
By Bill Marler (25, Jan, 2011)
In a few moments I have the opportunity to speak at the PEW Charitable Trust and Center for Science in the Public Interest Conference on "managing the risk of foodborne hazard: STECs and antibiotic-resistance pathogens." Here is some of the data that I will present based on retail ground beef studies that we have ben doing since 2008.
Phase 1
Testing done by the same lab on retail ground beef through 2008 found a total of 1216 retail ground beef samples were tested for the presence of STECs. Twenty-three samples were positive for non-O157 STEC strains. Serotypes included O26 (n=6), O103 (n=7), O113 (n=1), O121 (n=6) and O145 (n=3). All but the STEC isolate serotype O113 were Stx and eae positive.
Phase 2 and Phase 3 Final - Preliminary Final Results
We to have continued testing through 2009 and 2010. Results on 5070 tests have shown 301 presumptive positive and 96 confirmed for non-O157 STEC and 30 for the six non-O157 E. coli of concern by the CDC. - O26 (n=10), O45 (n=0), 0103 (n=11), O111 (n=1), O121 (n=6), and O145 (n=2). In addition we also tested the same 5070 samples Salmonella. 138 were presumptive positive and 86 were confirmed. We hope to have the full test results published soon.
The prevalence of non-O157 STEC and Salmonella in the retail ground beef supply shows the need for public health agencies in the US to increase awareness regarding these pathogens. The data clearly show that clinical and public health laboratories should routinely screen human and environmental specimens for the presence non-O157 STEC.

Reportable Food Registry works to prevent illness, says FDA
Source :
By Caroline Scott-Thomas (24, Jan, 2011)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that its Reportable Food Registry (RFR) is working to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks, in its first annual report on its efficacy.
The report summarizes use of the online food safety reporting tool during its first year, from September 2009 to September 2010. There were 2,240 entries logged during the period, including 229 primary reports, with 1,872 follow-up reports and 132 amended reports, the FDA said.
FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods, Michael Taylor said: "This report is a measure of our success in receiving early warning on problems with food and feed. The data in this report represents an important tool for targeting our inspection resources, bringing high risk commodities into focus, and driving positive change in industry practices - all of which will better protect the public health."
According to the report, 37.6 percent of reported hazards were due to salmonella, 34.9 percent were due to undeclared allergens or intolerances, and Listeria monocytogenes accounted for 14.4 percent.
The agency said the Reportable Food Registry had drawn its attention to two areas of hazard in particular, spurring additional industry and government action: Salmonella in spices and seasonings, raw agricultural products, animal feed, pet food, and nuts and seeds; and allergens and intolerances in baked goods, dried fruits and vegetables, prepared foods, dairy, and candy.
The FDA said pinpointing these specific hazards would help it to better target its inspection and sampling activities.
Taylor said: "Several key US industries are already re-evaluating their hazard and preventive controls, core principles of the Food Safety Modernization Act recently passed by Congress. We also anticipate improved reporting as we continue our vigorous outreach to food facilities through federal, state, local and foreign agencies, to help us expand the positive effect of the RFR on the safety of the US food supply."

Norovirus outbreak over in Regina, Saskatoon hospitals
Source :
By CBC news (25, Jan, 2011)

Visitor restrictions have been lifted at the Regina General Hospital and St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon, following a declaration Tuesday that an outbreak of the norovirus is over.
The outbreak was detected in the Saskatoon hospital in mid-January and about a week later in Regina.
"Today, after a thorough cleaning, the entire unit has reopened and visitor and admission restrictions have been lifted," the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region said in a news release Tuesday.
During the outbreak, visits to all areas of the hospital were limited to just one hour, twice daily.
Saskatoon had also put in place measures to restrict visits.
The norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness that causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. People in weakened conditions are especially vulnerable to the virus.
With the outbreaks declared over, regular visiting hours are back at both facilities.
The Regina region said that a total of six patients were affected during the outbreak.

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