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Safer Produce - Part 2 - Existing Regulations and Legal Requirements

E. coli found on 50 percent of shopping carts

Source :
By Linda Carroll (1, Mar, 2011)

Every day, parents blithely drop their toddlers into the baskets of shopping carts, never giving a moment's thought to who might have had their hands on the handle last. Preliminary results from a new study show that may be a mistake.
Researchers from the University of Arizona swabbed shopping cart handles in four states looking for bacterial contamination. Of the 85 carts examined, 72 percent turned out to have a marker for fecal bacteria.
The researchers took a closer look at the samples from 36 carts and discovered Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, on 50 percent of them - along with a host of other types of bacteria.
"That's more than you find in a supermarket's restroom," said Charles Gerba, the lead researcher on the study and a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona. "That's because they use disinfecting cleaners in the restrooms. Nobody routinely cleans and disinfects shopping carts."
The study's results may explain earlier research that found that kids who rode in shopping carts were more likely than others to develop infections caused by bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter, Gerba said.
Shopping cart handles aren't the only thing you need to worry about when you go to the local supermarket, Gerba added. In other research, he's found that reusable shopping bags that aren't regularly washed turn into bacterial swamps. "It's like wearing the same underwear every day," Gerba said.
The best way to keep kids safe, Gerba said, is to swipe the shopping cart handle with a disinfecting wipe before you pop your kid into the basket.
That's exactly the option some supermarkets were offering even before the study was done.
"We saw that this was something our customers were concerned about," said Libba Letton, a spokesperson for Whole Foods Market stores. "So we make disposable wipes available for customers coming into the store with shopping carts."
Letton said the company doesn't routinely wash down carts themselves unless something has been obviously spilled on them.
Risk to kids?
One thing Gerba couldn't say was how likely it was that a child would get sick from touching - or even sucking on - a contaminated handle.
As far as Dr. Neil Fishman is concerned, that risk isn't very big. "I'd be worried if there was any evidence of any disease outbreaks related to shopping cart use," said Fishman, an infectious disease expert and director of health care epidemiology and infection prevention at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. "There isn't - and we've been using them for a long time."
While there may, indeed, be bacteria on shopping cart handles, they can also be found on doorknobs, countertops and a host of other items we touch every day, Fishman said. "My guess is that there are more bacteria on a car seat than on a shopping cart," he added.
Ultimately, your only defense against germs is to keep your hands - and your kids' hands - squeaky clean, Fishman said.
"While you can't sterilize your environment, you can limit exposure by practicing good hand hygiene," he added. "For most cases, alcohol hand rubs are the best for every day use."

Food safety fears halt sale of breast milk ice cream
Source :
By Becky Paskin (01, Mar, 2011)

The IceCreamists in Covent Garden has removed its Baby Gaga breast milk ice cream from sale over fears the product could transmit viruses.
Breast milk ice cream could potentially harbour illness-causing viruses
After receiving several complaints from members of the public, Westminster City Council launched an investigation into whether the ice cream, made from donated breast milk, is safe for human consumption.
A sample of the ice cream is being tested by the Health Protection Agency for a number of viruses, including hepatitis, which can be transmitted through the ingestion of the product.
Richard Block, operations manager for food health and safety at Westminster City Council, said the investigation was being made with the full cooperation of the IceCreamists.
"We haven't banned the IcCreamists from selling the breast milk ice cream; they've voluntarily agreed not to sell it while we carry out some tests at a laboratory to see if the ice cream is free from any viruses that would cause people illness if they were to consume it.
"With cow's milk there are various testing regimes right down the food chain back to the herd themselves. The same principle applies here to ensure that something consumed by humans, is in fact safe to be consumed."
The IceCreamists began selling Baby Gaga ice cream on Thursday, with milk donated from just 15 mothers, and had sold out of the product by Friday lunchtime. Owner Matt O'Connor said that over 200 mothers had now stepped forward to donate breast milk for the ice cream.
He told BigHospitality that the breast milk had been screened to hospital standards by a private clinic prior to sale, and that the business was fully compliant with all food health and safety regulations.
"Westminster has told us the Baby Gaga ice cream is not to be sold as it's potentially dangerous; they haven't checked with us whether it's been screened," he said.
"We started Baby Gaga because we wanted people to question where our milk comes from. We only posed a question.
"If we're going to live in a society that's absurd and insane enough to think it's perfectly acceptable to drink alcohol that can kill you, or smoke yourself to death or take other drugs like amyl nitrate, which is perfectly legal to buy in Westminster, yet breast milk is seen as a danger to children, I say empty your babies' bottles, fill them with Jack Daniels and give them to your kids."
Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency has also launched an investigation into whether the sale of a human by-product is legal at all.
A statement issued by the FSA said: "Food businesses are legally obliged to ensure the food they serve is safe to consume. We understand that Westminster Council are investigating the sale of this ice cream product and we are liaising with their environmental health team and the Health Protection Agency over whether the product breaches food safety regulations."

Listeria Prompts Recall of Chicken and Pork Products
Source :
By Nina Sen (3, Mar, 2011)

Listeria contamination prompted a recall of around 64,000 pounds of chicken and pork products containing broccoli.
The potential Listeria monocytogenes pathogen contamination was discovered in a routine sampling of Taylor Farms Pacific products by the Washington Department of Agriculture.
Taylor Farms Pacific announced a voluntary recall of products that were distributed in California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Many of these products were sold at Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, and Pak N' Save stores.
The products have sell by dates between February 7 and March 7. They are mainly pre-made food items such as "Raley's" rice bowls and pasta dishes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says each item bears the establishment number "P-34013" or "EST. 34013" inside the department's mark of inspection.
The agency says it has not received reports of anyone sickened as a result of the contamination.
Click to Enlarge.Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause Listeriosis, a potentially fatal foodborne illness.

Food poisoning outbreak at Merle's in Evanston, Illinois
Source :
By Drew Falkenstein (25, Feb, 2011)

Clostridium perfringens has caused an outbreak of food poisoning illnesses at Merle's BBQ in Evanston, Illinois, sickening more than 30 people. Actually, the implicated meal was catered by Merle's for the parent/teacher conferences at Haven Middle School on Feb. 16. "The outcome of the investigation revealed unsafe food handling and temperature storage at both Merle's BBQ Restaurant and Haven Middle School and it is therefore unlikely that the exact cause of the outbreak will be determined," said Evanston Health Director Evonda Thomas.
What is Clostridium perfringens?
Clostridium perfringens a bacterium that is widely distributed in the environment. Most outbreaks of this "bug"are associated with undercooked meats prepared for large groups of people. Meat products such as stews, casseroles, and gravy are the most common sources of illness from Clostridium perfringens. Most outbreaks come from food whose temperature is poorly controlled. If food is kept between 70 and 140 F, it is likely to grow Clostridium perfringens bacteria.
What is the illness caused by Clostridium perfringens typically like?
People generally experience symptoms of Clostridium perfringens infection 6 to 24 hours after consuming the bacteria or toxins. Clostridium perfringens toxins cause abdominal pain and stomach cramps, followed by diarrhea. Nausea is also a common symptom. Fever and vomiting are not normally symptoms of poisoning by Clostridium perfringens toxins.

Rapid tracing necessary to reduce foodborne illness: Study
Source :
By Caroline Scott-Thomas (28, Feb, 2011)

Speed is essential for pinpointing the source of food contamination and saving lives, according to a new study examining the 2008 salmonella outbreak caused by Mexican peppers, but first linked to US tomatoes.
Epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, said that better traceability, better understanding of how foods become contaminated on farms, and continued exploration of alternative hypotheses during an outbreak are necessary to reduce the impact of such occurrences in the future.
The 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak linked to jalape?o and Serrano peppers caused about 1,500 illnesses nationwide, and two deaths, according to CDC figures.
"Improvements in product-tracing systems and the ability of the systems to work together are needed for more rapid tracing of implicated products through the supply chain in order to maximize public health protection and minimize the economic burden to industry," the authors wrote.
Due to early implication of raw tomatoes in the outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially advised consumers not to eat tomatoes, with a devastating effect on the tomato industry. About a month after the erroneous warning about tomatoes was issued, the investigation led to the discovery of salmonella in Mexican peppers, but by that stage the tomato industry had lost an estimated $100m.
"This outbreak investigation highlights the recurring challenges of epidemiologic identification of ingredients in foods that are commonly consumed, rapid identification and investigation of local clusters, the need to continue exploring hypotheses during an ongoing outbreak, and produce tracing in the supply chain," the authors wrote.
However, an accompanying editorial in the same issue noted that increasing the speed at which investigators can discover the source of a foodborne illness outbreak requires additional resources, and these cost money. It said that although the recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act provides for "long overdue modernization" of the FDA's authorities, without the required additional resources, "requiring the FDA to carry out the law's required activities will be like trying to get blood out of a rock".
"Although all these new forms of authority will substantially enhance the FDA's ability to prevent foodborne disease and respond more effectively when an outbreak occurs, the new law has a major shortcoming: dollars," the editorial said. "There was no appropriation approved by the Congress for the act or authorization in the bill for the FDA to assess fees on the companies that it inspects."
The CDC estimates that 48m Americans become ill as a result of foodborne pathogens each year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
Source: New England Journal of Medicine
Published online ahead of print. 10.1056/nejmoa1005741
"2008 Outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul Infections Associated with Raw Produce"
Authors: Casey Barton Behravesh, Rajal K. Mody, Jessica Jungk, Linda Gaul, John T. Redd, Sanny Chen, Shaun Cosgrove, et al. for the Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak Investigation Team.

USDA Offers Food Safety Tips for Flood Season?
Source :
By Jesse Graham (26, Feb, 2011)

MUHLENBERG COUNTY, KY - The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing recommendations for residents in the South Central United States affected by recent flooding, strong winds, and tornadoes to minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses due to power outages and other problems often associated with severe weather.
"Particularly during times of emergency, food safety can be a critical public health risk," said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. "In the flooded areas, the American public should be aware that information is readily available to help them protect their food supply."
Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:
* Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
* Make sure the freezer is at 0¡ÆF or below and the refrigerator is at 40¡ÆF or below.
* Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
* Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately - this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
* Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
* Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
* Group food together in the freezer - this helps the food stay cold longer.
* Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
Steps to follow after the weather emergency:
* Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
* The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.
* Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
* Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40¡ÆF or below when checked with a food thermometer.
* Never taste a food to determine its safety!
* Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.
* If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40¡ÆF or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
* If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
* Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
* Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
* Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. Follow the Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches in the publication "Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency" at:
* Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety. For more information on drinking water safely during weather emergencies, access the FSIS publication "Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency" at:

Enzyme treatment may remove peanut allergens, suggests study
Source :
By Nathan Gray (02, Mar, 2011)

An enzymatic treatment process may effectively reduce allergens in roasted peanuts by up to 100 per cent, according to new research.
Researchers believe enzyme treatment may reduce or remove levels of allergens in peanuts.
The study, published in Food Chemistry investigated the use of enzymatic treatments to reduce the levels of allergens in peanut kernels, using two major peanut allergens (Ara h 1 and Ara h 2) as indicators of effectiveness.
The researchers found the treatment of roasted peanut kernels with alpha-chymotrypsin or trypsin enzymes for 1 to 3 hours significantly increased the solubility of peanut protein, whilst reducing Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 in kernel extracts by 100 per cent and 98 per cent respectively.
"Results from this study indicate the potential for producing peanuts with reduced allergenicity using post-harvest processing approaches such as food grade enzymatic treatment," said the authors, led by senior author Dr Soheila Maleki from the Agricultural Research Service at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Allergy issues
Consumption of peanuts or peanut containing food products can cause severe and even fatal allergenic reactions.
"While avoidance is the best way to guard against manifestation of allergy, the ubiquitous use of peanuts and peanut products by the food industry makes it very hard for allergic individuals to avoid accidental ingestion," said the researchers.
"Therefore, it would be useful to reduce the level of allergens in peanuts that are mixed with other food ingredients," they added.
Enzymatic processing is an approach that has worked to reduce or eliminate allergenicity in certain foods and ingredients, said Maleki and colleagues.
They noted examples of enzyme treatment used to remove allergens include production of hypoallergenic rice by a two-stage enzymatic proteolysis process and the development of hypoallergenic whey protein hydrolysate.
Study details
An enzymatic treatment process was reported to effectively reduce Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 in roasted peanut kernels by up to 100 per cent under optimal conditions.
Upon treatment with alpha-chymotrypsin solution, protein solubility increased, whilst detectable/extractable levels of Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 decreased in both blanched and non-blanched peanuts, said Maleki and co-workers.
They noted that the blanching of kernels enhanced the effectiveness of enzyme treatment in roasted peanuts.
Chymotrypsin treatment of blanched, roasted peanuts resulted in reduction of detectable soluble allergens by as much as 100 per cent.
"In fact, Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 levels in blanched peanut kernels were non-detectable ¡¦ at enzyme concentration of 0.1-0.15 per cent," said the authors.
Trypsin treatment of roasted peanuts also significantly reduced Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 while increasing the soluble proteins in both blanched and non-blanched soluble extracts, they added.
"The optimum enzyme treatment conditions for roasted peanut kernels consists of 5 minutes of blanching prior to incubation of peanut kernels in 0.12 per cent enzyme for 3 hours ¡¦ Under these conditions, Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 were not detectable in soluble peanut protein extracts," said Maleki.
Allergen removal
"The results confirm that our enzyme treatment process degrades the allergens into smaller peptides which may or may not retain their IgE binding and other allergenic properties in the soluble fractions of treated whole roasted peanuts," said the researchers.
However, they added that because the results presented in the current study are from in vitro tests only, the allergenic potential of the enzyme treated extracts must be further tested in vivo to confirm any reduction in allergenicity.
FoodNavigator is hosting a conference on Allergen-free Foods on 31 March 2011 in London, where issues surrounding allergen reduction, labelling, regulations and free-from foods will be discussed. For more information, visit

More Than 30 Sick After Illinois School Event
Source :
By News Desk (26, Feb, 2011)

More than 30 people were sickened by Clostridium perfringens after eating food at a parent/teacher conference event Feb. 16 at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois.
The implicated food had been catered by Merle's BBQ, an Evanston restaurant. Local health authorities say their investigation revealed unsafe food handling and temperature storage at both the restaurant and school.
According to a news release from the City of Evanston, positive laboratory tests from the food samples confirmed the bacteria came from the barbeque pulled chicken that was prepared and cooked at Merle's BBQ Restaurant and delivered to Haven Middle School where it was then served "buffet style" between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. No temperatures were taken at the time of delivery and the food was not kept heated or refrigerated during the time it was being served.
Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium that is widely distributed in the environment. Most outbreaks are associated with undercooked meats prepared for large groups of people. Meat products such as stews, casseroles, and gravy are the most common sources of illness from Clostridium perfringens. Most outbreaks come from poorly controlled food temperature. If food is kept between 70 and 140 degrees F, it is likely to grow Clostridium perfringens bacteria.
People generally experience symptoms of Clostridium perfringens infection 6 to 24 hours after consuming the bacteria or toxins, which cause abdominal pain and stomach cramps, followed by diarrhea. Nausea is also a common symptom. Fever and vomiting are not normally symptoms of poisoning by Clostridium perfringens toxins.

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