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Questions Hang Over Safety Of Nation's Food Supply
Source :
By Joanne Silberner (24, Feb, 2011)

Just when you thought it was safe to pull up to a table to eat, infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota says think again.
Sure, the FDA Food Safety Mobilization Act was signed into law in early January. And double-sure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this winter came out with lower estimates of how many people wind up in the hospital - or dead - because of food they ate.
But there's a story behind those stories, Osterholm argues in a piece just published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
First, the food safety legislation. After a tortuous, years-long ride through Congress, interest groups ranging from food manufacturers to consumer advocates finally cheered its passage.
But Osterholm - and others - point out that while the stars may seem aligned, there's something missing: enough money for more inspections of food processing plants and check-ups of food manufacturers' safety plans. The Food and Drug Administration asked for $326 million for new food safety activities in its next budget. But Republican leaders have been expressing great reluctance about coming up with the dough.
And then there's the issue of how many people actually get sick. In 1999, the CDC estimated 76 million illnesses a year, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths. In the CDC's latest estimate published last month, all the numbers are down: 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths.
Hooray hooray? Nope, says Osterholm. Different methods and underlying assumptions were used to come up with each set of numbers, and so "we cannot draw inferences," he writes. And the CDC acknowledges the different estimates can't be used to call a trend..
So with the FDA maybe not getting enough money to pay for the enforcement of new food rules, and with food-borne illnesses maybe not down quite as much as you might have first thought, what's an eater to do?
Same as it ever was - clean, separate, cook, and chill. That is, make sure your food is prepared in a clean environment, don't use the same tools to work with raw and cooked foods, cook to proper temperature, and refrigerate promptly.

FDA greenlights test for "cruise ship" virus
Source : (with video)
By Deborah Kotz February (23, Feb, 2011)

The Food and Drug Administration today announced that it was allowing widespread marketing for a new test to detect norovirus, which has been responsible for a number of gastointestinal illness outbreaks in the Boston area in recent years.
The test called Ridascreen Norovirus 3rd Generation EIA assay can't be used to identify, say, that nasty stomach bug you picked up from who knows where. That's because it's "not sensitive enough for use when only a single person has symptoms," according to a statement from the FDA. The rapid test only detects the virus in an individual stool sample about two-thirds of the time when it's actually present.
Where it could prove useful, however, is to quickly identify whether norovirus is to blame for an illness outbreak on a cruise ship that has sickened hundreds -- or in daycare centers or hospitals where norovirus spreads on land. A test that can quickly detect about two-thirds of the cases among a large group of people is still pretty good.
Norovirus can easily spread from person to person due to poor hygiene like not washing hands properly -- including under fingernails -- after using the bathroom and then preparing food. What's more, people remain contagious for up to three days after their symptoms disappear, which means they can still spread the virus through food preparation or coming in close contact with others.

Warming may lead to spurt in water-borne diseases
Source :
By (21, Feb, 2011)

WASHINGTON: Global warming could spur the growth of toxic algae and bacteria in the world's seas and lakes, with an impact that could be felt in 10 years, US scientists said on Saturday. Studies have shown that shifts brought about by climate change make ocean and freshwater environments more susceptible to toxic algae blooms and allow harmful microbes and bacteria to proliferate, according to researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In one study, NOAA scientists modeled future ocean and weather patterns to predict the effect on blooms of Alexandrium catenella, or the toxic "red tide," which can accumulate in shellfish and cause severe symptoms, including paralysis, in humans who eat the contaminated seafood.
"Our projections indicate that by the end of the 21st century, blooms may begin up to two months earlier in the year and persist for one month later compared to the present-day time period of July to October," said Stephanie Moore, one of the scientists who worked on the study. But the impact could be felt well before the end of this century - as early as 2040, she said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"Changes in the harmful algal bloom season appear to be imminent. We expect a significant increase in Puget Sound (off the coast of Washington state where the study was conducted ) and similar at-risk environments within 30 years, possibly by the next decade," said Moore. In another study, NOAA scientists found that desert dust, which contains iron, deposited into the ocean from the atmosphere could lead to increases of harmful bacteria in the seawater.
Researchers from the University of Georgia found that adding desert dust to seawater significantly stimulated the growth of Vibrios, a group of ocean bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis and infectious diseases in humans.

Study vindicates tomatoes in 2008 salmonella outbreak
Source :
By the United Fresh Produce Association (24, Feb, 2011)

In a study released in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided detailed evidence linking a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul in 2008 to jalape?o and serrano peppers, and explained how tomatoes were mistakenly implicated in the early stages of the investigation.
United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel provides the following statement on the study:
"Members of the produce industry and consumers alike should be both relieved and encouraged to see this information confirming the source of the outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul in 2008. The study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine underscores the fact that temporal associations based on memories of what someone has eaten weeks earlier can be useful, but not definitive, in these investigations.
"It's clear from the study that many sick individuals recalled eating a salsa product, but failed to recognize the peppers that were contained as an ingredient. By prematurely jumping to the conclusion that tomatoes were causing the outbreak, officials may have unwittingly allowed the outbreak to continue.
"We credit the CDC and Food and Drug Administration now for reporting these findings, as an important lesson to be learned in outbreak investigations.
"The fresh produce industry is 100 percent committed to doing all we can to prevent any contamination of any commodity from ever occurring. But these are natural products grown outside in nature, often eaten without cooking. In the rare case in which a problem does occur, we stand ready to work with local, state and federal officials to bring the most rapid identification, traceback and removal of a product from the marketplace.
"We are committed to bringing our very best scientific knowledge and detailed understanding of growing areas, production processes and distribution to help government officials quickly identify and remove the real cause of any problem."

UK's E. coli Safety Guidance Called 'Draconian'
Source :
By News Desk (18, Feb, 2011)

After the UK's Food Standards Agency issued an official guidance this week, detailing the steps food handlers need to prevent cross-contamination by E. coli O157 and other bacteria, the head of a meat trade group called the standards "draconian."
The guidance was developed in the aftermath of lethal outbreaks of E. coli O157 in Scotland in 1996, when 400 fell ill and 21 people died, and in Wales in 2005, which sickened 157, most of them children, and led to the death of 5-year-old Mason Jones. Both outbreaks were attributed to cross-contamination from a lack of hygiene and improper food handling.
Professor Hugh Pennington's report into the 2005 E.coli outbreak and public consultation were taken into consideration in developing the new guidance.
However, Roger Kelsey, chief executive of the National Federation of Meat & Food Traders said his organization had been disappointed with the consultation process. ??Kelsey told Meat Trades Journal: "The actual report and the implications of the recommendations are draconian. It covers areas that can be addressed by adequate HACCP procedures."?
Some of the key measures highlighted in the guidance to control E.coli are:
o Identification of separate work areas, surfaces and equipment for raw and ready-to-eat food.
o Use of separate complex equipment, such as vacuum-packing machines, slicers, and mincers for raw and ready-to-eat food.
o Handwashing should be carried out using a recognised technique. Anti-bacterial gels must not be used instead of thorough handwashing.
o Disinfectants and sanitisers must meet officially recognised standards and should be used as instructed by the manufacturer.
Although E. coli contamination was the key focus of the guidance, FSA noted that the measures will help to control other bacteria, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella. The FSA said the guidance will also be used by local authority food safety officers when inspecting food establishments.

Scientists developing 'rechargeable' antimicrobial layer for food processing surfaces
Source :
By Rory Harrington (24, Feb, 2011)

The germ-killing properties of a prototype nano-scale antimicrobial layer for food handling surfaces can be chemically 'recharged' every time it is rinsed with household bleach, said US scientists.
A team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst is developing a new method for modifying polymer and stainless steel processing surfaces by adding a nano-scale layer of antimicrobial compound to common surface in food processing plants - such as gaskets, conveyor belts and work tables.
"This layer replenishes its anti-microbial qualities with each repeated bleach rinse," head researcher Julie Goddard the researcher told "So at the end of the day in a meat-packing plant, for example, when employees clean their equipment, the regular bleach rinse will re-charge the surface's anti-microbial activity. They will not need to add any more steps."
Preliminary research had shown the technology realises a greater than 5-log reduction in gram positive and negative organisms such as Listeria monocytogenes and E.coli, she added.
The team is seeking to incorporate unique chemical structures called N-halamines onto a wide range of plastics and stainless steel surfaces. These can complex with chlorine after being rinsed in bleach and are able to regain antimicrobial activity repeatedly after subsequent rinsing. The treatment does not affect the strength of tables or trays.
Goddard recently received a four-year, US$488,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to develop the technology.
The scientist said they are attempting to maximise the layer's durability by using covalent linkages to ensure the bonds holding the antimicrobial agent on the surface of the food contact material are strong.
"As part of this project, we will demonstrate stability using a number of rigorous tests including stability against mechanical abrasion, like scrubbing with a cleaning brush, and chemical extractions like cleaning solutions," said Goddard.
She added the goal of the project was to demonstrate the applicability and robustness of the technique so that equipment and materials manufacturers could use their results to design and sell new materials. In this way the team believes the new method would cost industry less than incorporating anti-microbial into equipment, such as an entire conveyor belt construction.
At present the technique is effective at the square-inch scale in the laboratory with the major challenge to scale up the technology for commercial food processing applications. The technology is already being applied in hospital textiles whose anti-microbial properties are replenished each time they're laundered in bleach, said the group.
Goddard stressed it was not a panacea for in-plant cleaning, but rather another hygiene tool that could be both affordable and effective.
"It's not meant to replace thorough cleaning, which should always be in place, but it's meant to add power to the process and a further layer of low-cost protection against contamination," she said.

Senator Leahy calls for Peanut Corp. investigation update
Source :
By Caroline Scott-Thomas (24, Feb, 2011)
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has written to the Department of Justice to demand an update on its investigation of former Peanut Corporation of America president Stewart Parnell.
The Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) was the company linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009 in which more than 700 people became ill and nine died. The outbreak also led to a massive recall of peanut products - one of the largest food product recalls in US history - and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigators claimed that the company knowingly shipped tainted products.
The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 2009, and Parnell cited his Fifth Amendment right not to testify at a Congressional hearing regarding the contamination that same month.
The US Attorney's Office says it has been investigating the company's former CEO Parnell and other former executives at PCA for the past two years, but no criminal charges have been brought to date.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Leahy wrote: "Two years ago, I wrote to the Department urging a full criminal investigation into this matterˇ¦At the time, the Department was unable to comment with specificity but confirmed that an investigation was ongoing and that it was uncertain whether additional legal authorities were needed.
"ˇ¦My concerns remain that wrongdoers are disregarding the health and safety of American consumers by choosing to sell contaminated products. I hope that there has been a thorough criminal investigation into PCA's conduct at the least, and that if appropriate, criminal charges are aggressively pursued. To the extent possible consistent with ongoing investigations, I request an update on the Department's investigation into the PCA matter."
Leahy's letter comes on the heels of a demand from victims of the salmonella outbreak and their families earlier this month that criminal charges should be brought against Parnell.

So, What the Heck is Botulism?
Source :
By Botulism Attorney (05, Feb, 2011)

Q: I read that there have been cases of botulism in Pennsylvania. Isn't this a third world disease?
A: Although botulism is a rare condition in the United States -- with about 110 cases reported annually -- it can and does occur worldwide.
Botulism is caused by a toxin made by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which is common and may be found in soil and untreated water throughout the world. The bacteria make spores which can survive for long periods of time, however, if the spores are heated to 250 degrees for at least five minutes they are destroyed, so proper food preparation (for example, for home canning) is important.
People get sick from botulism toxin in one of three ways:
* Infants may ingest the bacteria, most commonly from being given honey or corn syrup (sometimes on their pacifier). The bacteria may then take up residence in the intestines and produce toxin. Almost three quarters of the cases of botulism in the U.S. are in infants, with the highest incidence in Utah, Pennsylvania and California, where Clostridium botulinum spore counts in the soil are high. It is very unlikely for adults to get botulism in this way since most normal adults' intestines are resistant to colonization with this bacterium.
* The botulism toxin can be directly ingested from improperly prepared foods. In fact, there are occasional outbreaks of botulism from poorly prepared home-canned foods, improperly cured meats, smoked or raw fish, honey or corn syrup. About a quarter of the botulism cases in the U.S. are from this type of food poisoning. Although the toxin itself has no taste or smell, some (but not all) strains of Clostridium botulinum "spoil" the food, making it smell and/or taste bad and even causing the can it is stored in to bulge.
* A small number of cases of wound botulism -- where the toxin enters the body through a break in the skin -- are reported every year in the U.S. Once inside the body, the toxin enters the bloodstream and then binds to part of a specific type of nerve (the presynaptic terminal in cholinergic nerves). This binding permanently disrupts the function of these nerves; it takes months for them to produce new normally functioning synapses.
Since this is a poisoning and not an infection, there is no fever with this condition. If it occurs from ingestion of the toxin or the bacteria, gastrointestinal symptoms can occur.
The nerves affected can be those responsible for making the eyes move and the pupils dilate or constrict, so vision problems are common.
Other nerves -- such as those responsible for speech, swallowing or making the facial muscles move -- may be affected. As the toxin begins to involve the nerves going to the muscles, the patient develops paralysis.
This is a descending paralysis with the arms affected before the legs. When the muscles that allow the patient to breathe are affected, respiratory failure can occur.
Depending on the amount of toxin present in the patient's system, symptoms may progress from mild to severe (and life-threatening) over hours, days or even weeks.
The first step in diagnosing botulism is considering the possibility; a descending paralysis raises suspicion of this condition, as does respiratory failure in an otherwise healthy infant. The diagnosis is confirmed by demonstration of the toxin in the patient's blood. Even if this test is negative in infants, finding spores in their stool confirms the diagnosis. Finding the bacteria in a wound confirms the diagnosis in patients with wound botulism.
Since the disease can progress rapidly, treatment for botulism is initiated even without confirmatory tests when the suspicion is high.
* The first step is supportive care; patients with respiratory failure require intubation (a tube placed in their airway and a machine used to breathe for them).
* Although wound botulism may benefit from antibiotics, the other types do not and antibiotics are not indicated.
* Human antibody antitoxin is recommended for infants, and horse serum antitoxin for those over age 1. The antitoxins may prevent more nerves from being affected, but since the nerve damage is irreversible once it has occurred, the patient will need supportive care until the nerves repair themselves, often for months.
Less than 10 percent of treated adults die. The prognosis is even better in appropriately treated infants, with less than a 1 percent mortality rate. The milder the disease, the more likely the patient will completely recover back to their baseline.
In order to prevent botulism, do not give honey or corn syrup to infants. Be sure to prepare home-canned foods and home-cured meats correctly. Throw away spoiled foods. Seek emergency treatment if you develop symptoms suggestive of botulism poisoning.

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