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USDA seeks comments on leafy greens safety proposal?
Source :
By Lisa Schnirring Staff Writer (27, Apr, 2011)

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday asked for public comments on a proposed voluntary measure designed to help all parts of the leafy greens industry meet food quality and safety requirements.
The USDA said in a press release that the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) was first proposed in June 2009 by a group of 14 organizations that represent producers and handlers. The marketing agreement would spell out best practices for preventing bacterial contamination of leafy greens and establish an audit-based verification program.
The USDA said that it held seven public hearings on the initial proposal, which now includes adjustments based on comments and concerns that surfaced during the hearings. In the latest version the USDA proposed eight regional zones that would be represented by a 26-member board made up of handlers, farmers, an importer, a retailer, a food-service representative, and a member of the public.
Kathleen Merrigan, USDA deputy secretary, said in the statement that the goal of the NLGMA is to allow stakeholders to work together to develop a practical program. "We are striving to create a voluntary program so that all types of farmers and handlers can more effectively comply with quality and food safety requirements," she said.
The USDA would also appoint a technical review board to help the board develop Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices, and Good Manufacturing Practices.
The USDA said the comment period for the proposal, which appears on the USDA's Web site, is open for 90 days, and comments are due by Jul 28. The USDA said a Federal Register notice will be published Apr 29 and will include instructions for submitting comments.

Outbreak of illnesses after Easter brunch investigated?
Source :
By Aaron Nicodemus TELEGRAM & GAZETTE (28, Apr, 2011)

City health inspectors are investigating an outbreak of illnesses in patrons who ate Easter brunch at Luciano's Cotton Club restaurant at Union Station. Eight people have reported becoming ill to the city's health department, according to Amanda Wilson, the city's director of housing and health inspections. One person was admitted to the hospital. As many as 35 may have been sickened, she said.
"At this point, there is no confirmed case that shows this is a food-borne illness," Ms. Wilson said yesterday. "We are treating it as some kind of communicable disease. We have not confirmed the source."
She said that none of the people who reported being ill has submitted to tests that might help narrow down the cause of their illness. Inspectors are in contact with the medical staff who treated the woman who was admitted to the hospital, she said.
The health department started receiving calls from Luciano's patrons on Tuesday, and immediately sent inspectors to the restaurant, she said. The inspectors found two violations of the city's food handling regulations. There was evidence of rodents on the premises, she said, and two reach-in coolers were not set at the correct temperature for the food they were storing.
The restaurant immediately took steps to correct the problems, and a follow-up inspection the next day found the restaurant to be in compliance, she said. The restaurant has been given full inspections three times in three days, she said.
Inspectors are also interviewing all the staff at Luciano's, she said. She said that one Luciano's staff member was apparently sick with a stomach illness in the days before the brunch. Another staff member has been sick since the brunch, according Alex Barbosa, the restaurant's general manager.
The restaurant has been allowed to remain open during the investigation, she said.
Gus Giordano, owner of Luciano's Cotton Club at Union Station as well as Maxwell Silverman's, said the restaurant is fully complying with city health inspectors. He took a reporter on a tour of the restaurant's kitchen to show off its cleanliness. As he spoke, city inspectors were interviewing the restaurant's staff.
"We're assuming it's something airborne. This is the train station, it could have been anything," he said. "I have a reputation in this business; it's on the line. I would put my life on it that it wasn't food poisoning."
Mr. Giordano said the restaurant has offered anyone who reported being sick a full refund, and has invited them to come back for brunch on Mother's Day.
Mr. Barbosa said that about 580 people were served a buffet-style brunch on Easter at Luciano's. Another 700 people were served at Maxwell Silverman's, which is owned by Mr. Giordano. No one has reported being ill from eating at Silverman's, according to Ms. Wilson.
Mr. Barbosa said people who have called have told the restaurant that they became ill between six and 15 hours after eating, which he said is not consistent with food poisoning.
He said that several parking valets working outside the restaurant were ill, but still working, on Easter. One table at Luciano's had children who did not eat the food because they were showing signs of illness, he said.
"We're working hand-in-hand with the city of Worcester," he said. "We don't want to speculate about what happened."

Smoked Salmon Recalled Due to Possible Listeria Contamination
Source :
By Claire Mitchell (25, Apr, 2011)

Last week the Food and Drug Administration posted a press release from Woodsmoke Provisions, LLC announcing that it is voluntarily recalling 160 packages (40 pounds) of the Fresh Market Signature Collection Atlantic Smoked Salmon because they may potentially be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The company said the problem was noted after routine inspection by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services of the Fresh Market Signature Collection Atlantic Smoked Salmon product.
As Food Safety News reported on April 23, 2011, the recalled smoked salmon is in 4 oz. plastic packages with lot code 1459/2 and the UPC code 737094000370. It was manufactured Jan. 15, 2010 and distributed and sold only in a limited number of The Fresh Market stores in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee.
Fortunately, no illnesses have been reported; however, consumers who have purchased the product are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 404-355-5125, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EST).

From supernova to supermarket: How NASA food science can benefit consumers
Source :
By Stephen Daniells (20, Apr, 2011)

Lessons learned improving the quality and nutritional content of food for astronauts could open up opportunities for the food industry back here on earth, says Dr Michele Perchonok, manager of NASA's shuttle food system and advanced food technology project.
In this exclusive interview, Dr Perchonok explained that the food system will have to evolve if we are to successfully send humans to the planet Mars.
Dr Perchonok, an 11 year NASA food science veteran, is part of a team examining how to provide food of sufficient quality, quantity, and variety to allow astronauts to venture out on extended missions beyond Earth's orbit.
According to a recent review in the Journal of Food Science , a mission to Mars would require two sets of food: One would be pre-packaged foods, similar to those currently used on the International Space Station (ISS), which can be consumed in transit.
The second set of food would be a store of food actually located on Mars for the crew to eat on arrival. In this case, food in the Martian larder could be between three and five years old by the time an astronaut sinks his or her teeth into it.
"I think we can get to five years of shelf life but I don't know with what variety of food," said Dr Perchonok.
"On the International Space Station we can offer about 180 foods," explained the Houston-based scientist. "After two years, the number of different foods goes down pretty fast."
Lessons for the food industry
Dr Perchonok, a proud and active member of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), is the first to admit that talk of a five-year shelf life is not of interest to the food industry. "Consumers don't want food that lasts five years," she said, "but there is a curve that begins with food of very high quality".
"As we increase the quality of foods by providing technology [like high pressure processing], this creates opportunities for the food industry for higher quality products," she added.
Dr Perchonok adds that she attends a lot of IFT meetings and meets up with a lot of food industry folks, and that the interaction is now extending to professional collaboration. "NASA is trying looking to partner more with industry, and one of them is the food industry," she said.
Defining 'shelf-life'
NASA food scientists can already employ techniques that remove microbial spoilage from their equations, unless the packaging is cracked or compromised. For astronauts, shelf life is related to nutritional content and acceptability.
Ensuring vitamin delivery over five years of space travel may not be rocket science, but it poses complicated technological challenges for NASA food scientists. Progress is being made and studies with various delivery forms, from tortillas to multivitamin tablets, have already shown that concentrations of certain vitamins decline significantly during long-term storage.
Given a choice between food and supplements, she chooses food - not because she likes to chew, but because the food matrix may offer a natural protection against the gradual degradation of nutrients, she said. Vitamin C, for instance, is better protected in acidic environments, so it's important to choose a suitably acidic carrier product if it is to last a long time.
Microencapsulation might also be a useful tool to ensure the nutrients present in foods are protected from potential degradation.
In fact, contrary to what the 1960s cartoon Space Age family The Jetsons would have us believe, taking food in the form of a cube or a pill doesn't appear to be on NASA's radar. In the real-life Gemini program (NASA's second human spaceflight program), the foods did come in the form of bite-size cubes of meat, fruit, bread and so on, but the novelty factor can only get you so far: Many cubes were apparently returned uneaten.
Packaging problems
So how do you keep food edible for half a decade? In the absence of a refrigerator or a freezer (except Skylab, no US space vehicle has ever been fitted with a fridge/freezer), NASA food scientists are thinking outside the box or at least outside.
It's pretty cold in space, but while Dr Perchonok and her team are exploring using space as a ready-made freezer, she said: "The problem with space is that it is almost too cold, and the packaging starts cracking."
According to NASA, the temperature on Mars can fluctuate between a minimum of -225 F (-153 C) and a maximum of 70 F (20 C), and that's not even counting the coldness of Space in between.
Trying to deal with this by making the packaging thicker or more resistant also has implications for storage of the foods, added weight, and what to do with the trash after consumption of the contents.
Focus on the food
If food packaging can only get you so far, attention returns to working on the food inside and the potential of emerging technologies, including high-pressure processing and microwave sterilization to provide solutions to improve the quality of the food itself.
High pressure processing involves subjecting food to pressures up to 6,000 atmospheres (with or without heat) to kill off the microbes present. This technique may also be used to "alter the food attributes to achieve qualities desired by consumers," noted Dr Perchonok and her co-authors in the Journal of Food Science.
Microwave sterilization involves cooking a food at a high temperature (129 C) for a short period of time (10 minutes), which would be a vast improvement over the current thermostabilization technique, which involves cooking at 121 C for much longer.
As with all emerging technologies, more work is going to be needed before we see a wide-scale roll-out of such techniques, but the opportunities appear promising.
Proof in the pudding
Dr Perchonok is confident that the aim of high quality, long-lasting, nutrient-rich foods is attainable, but what would these long-distance astronauts be looking at day-in, day-out for five years? The appearance of the food is not a major issue, she said, when you are eating out of a pouch. "But it is still an issue because nobody wants to look at a brown carrot."
Dr Perchonok and members of the food science team in Houston, Texas, were the subject of an award-winning video from IFT. Please click here to watch "A Day in the Life of a NASA Food Scientist ".

Dangerous toxin on rise in baby foods?
Source :
By Michael Dickison (25, Apr, 2011)

A cancer-causing toxin has been found at uncomfortable levels in common foods such as bread, baby food and fried potatoes.
A major study by the European Union found that the intake of acrylamide, a chemical already classified as being of very high concern, has grown despite food safety efforts.
The study also found that babies face as much as triple the exposure of adults.
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority says it is prepared to pressure food manufacturers to bring levels down.
"The safety margin isn't big enough for countries to feel comfortable," said Food Safety Authority principal toxicologist John Reeve.
"If we can get it down, we certainly will. We certainly want to."
The authority last year implemented a code of practice for food manufacturers to reduce acrylamide.
But safe cooking often had a trade-off in taste, Dr Reeve said.
It would be possible to avoid the toxin by eating food raw or boiling everything, but that could become very bland, he said.
"People will tend to avoid it. It's one of those vicious circles that unfortunately exist."
The authority would be testing food products in the country this year to check that manufacturers followed the code of practice.
"We will be having a look at foods again to see if the trends are in the right direction. If not, it's fair to say we will be having a chat."
Firms had an obligation under the Food Act to get toxin levels as low as possible, Dr Reeve said.
The new European study, released by the European Food Safety Authority, found that levels of acrylamide in crisp bread and instant coffee had risen and they had failed to come down in most other food products.
The highest levels of the chemical were found in samples of substitute coffee, at 3mg/kg, and potato crisps, at 4.8mg/kg.
The World Health Organisation has suggested a safe intake level of 0.5mg/kg of body weight for neuropathy, though safe levels for cancer are unknown.
The levels of acrylamide intake among Europeans was also found to have edged higher, particularly among babies and adolescents - though the study warned that it was difficult to measure exposure with certainty.
There are many ways to reduce acrylamide in cooked potatoes, including potato varieties, storage and low-temperature cooking methods.
For cereal-based foods, such as bread, a newly developed enzyme, asparaginase, breaks down precursors and is considered promising.
But there was little hope for coffee, the study said.
Experiments concluded only limited process options were available to reduce acrylamide levels without affecting product quality.

School food revolution under threat from cuts
Source :
By Kevin Morgan (28, Apr, 2011)

At a time of unprecedented economic upheaval, it is easy to forget that one of the most important social experiments of the post-war era could be coming to an end. It is no exaggeration to present the school food revolution in such grand terms because, in my view, school food is the litmus test of a society's commitment to social justice, public health and sustainable development.
The school food revolution - which aims to create a healthier diet for children, a more localised food economy and a more sustainable food system - was beginning to show some real progress, especially in deprived parts of the country where health gains are hard to secure.
However, these hard won "little victories" are under threat because severe public expenditure cuts are forcing local authorities to seriously re-consider their school food options.
In 2003, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "If we are what we eat, then public sector food purchasers help shape the lives of millions of people. In hospitals, schools, prisons, and canteens ... good food helps maintain good health, promote healing rates and improve concentration and behaviour."
It continued: "But sustainable food procurement isn't just about better nutrition. It's about where the food comes from, how it's produced and transported, and where it ends up. It's about food quality, safety and choice. Most of all, it's about defining best value in its broadest sense."
It was the birth of compulsory education in the 1880s which exposed the problem of undernourished children and their inability to learn effectively. But it was the Education Act of 1944 which laid a duty on all Local Education Authorities to provide school meals and milk in primary and secondary schools.
It took two neo-liberal pieces of legislation under Margaret Thatcher to turn it from a compulsory to discretionary service and with the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering, into a low-cost service with the loss of school kitchens and one prominent school cook characterising the food on offer as "cheap processed muck".
In its desire to make short-term public expenditure savings, the Conservative government fuelled the growth of unhealthy diets in schools, one of the primary determinants of obesity in children and young people, and the UK now has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe, with a quarter of children obese or overweight.
TV chef Jamie Oliver is credited with putting school food back on the political agenda. However, the most ambitious programme in the UK to date has been the Food for Life partnership, which champions a whole-school approach and is working with 3,600 schools in England to enable children to eat good food, learn where it comes from, how it is produced, and how to grow it and cook it themselves.
An independent evaluation of the project has shown that it has led to higher take-up rates of school meals, improved learning environments and localised food supply chains.
Yet, its programme looks likely to stop when lottery funding ends in 2012.
If it does, will we be left with the school meals service which will become the preserve of the poorest of the poor, which is the exact opposite of what it should be: a health-promoting service for all.

USDA Offers Food Safety Tips In Aftermath of Devastating Storms?
Source :
By Donna Karlsons (28, Apr, 2011)

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing recommendations for affected residents recovering from devastating storm damage throughout the nation to minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses due to power outages, flooding, and other problems associated with the powerful storm systems that moved across the southern United States yesterday.
"With hundreds of thousands without power, coupled with storm damage and flood waters from these destructive storms, food safety can be a critical public health risk," said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. "We want to ensure that food safety doesn't add to the suffering in these regions. The American public should be aware that information is readily available to help them protect their food supply before and after tragic natural events."
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 0F or below and the refrigerator is at 40F 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 40F 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 40F 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:
When in Doubt, Throw it Out!
FSIS has available a Public Service Announcement (PSA), available in 30- and 60-second versions, illustrating practical food safety recommendations for handling and consuming foods stored in refrigerators and freezers during, and after, a power outage. Consumers are encouraged to view the PSA at:
News organizations and power companies can obtain hard copy (Beta and DVD) versions of the PSA by contacting the Food Safety Education Staff in FSIS' Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education by calling (301) 344-4757.
FSIS's YouTube channel,, provides a video in English and Spanish titled "Food Safety During Power Outages." The channel also includes the SignFSIS video in American Sign Language titled "Food Safety During a Power Outage." Food Safety at Home podcasts regarding food safety during severe weather, power outages, and flooding are available on the FSIS website in English and Spanish at
Consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at "Ask Karen" live chat services are available Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. Podcasts and SignFSIS videos in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available online at

Chilled foods minus synthetic preservatives: A 'natural' disaster waiting to happen?
Source :
By Elaine Watson (28, Apr, 2011)

The relentless drive to rid chilled foods of 'unnatural' ingredients could present a serious challenge to food safety if manufacturers do not do their microbiological homework, the Refrigerated Foods Association (RFA) has warned.
Speaking to about the ongoing drive to avoid using synthetic preservatives, RFA technical director Marty Mitchell said: "Food safety is our number one priority, but couple that with demands to have low-cost product that stays fresh throughout its shelf-life and keep the ingredients list 'all-natural' and in my opinion, you've got a disaster waiting to happen."
He added: "In these circumstances, it's practically impossible to guarantee that you'll have zero listeria and zero pathogens.
"Because we have safe and reliable [synthetic] preservatives we have managed to keep products safe throughout their shelf-life. But with the demand for all-natural, minimally processed products with an extended shelf-life, the potential for low-level contamination is raised."
The low scientific literacy of food marketers and consumers and a growing distrust of 'mass-produced' food and 'chemicals' meant that an increasing number of safe and effective substances were making it onto manufacturer and retailer blacklists, he said. "There are some great natural preservatives out there from companies such as Danisco and Purac, but in general, we don't have the same knowledge about natural products. They work in some products but not others and against some organisms but not others, so firms really have to know what they are doing when they use them."
C. botulinum and listeria
In reduced oxygen packaged products in which clostridium botulinum and listeria monocytogenes were the organisms to watch, maintaining low temperatures from the factory to the consumer was also crucial, he said.
"But current distribution channels do not ensure the maintenance of the cold chain at 34-36F. Products still get terribly temperature-abused."
And while novel processing technologies such as high pressure processing (HPP) presented promising solutions to the problem by enabling firms to avoid artificial preservatives and control pathogens, the costs made them prohibitive for many high-volume, lower-priced products, he said.
"By definition, HPP is going to remain somewhat niche."
Time to bring the science back to food marketing?
Many technical managers were starting to tire of the 'no chemicals' brigade ; he said. "Just because something is 'natural' does not make it safe, just as 'local' food is not automatically safer; it's just that when people get sick at a local level, it doesn't make the national news.
"But the drive for everything natural now has such momentum that I am really whistling in the wind."
Natural solution?
The race to develop effective natural preservatives that can be used in ready-to-eat salads, fruits and cooked sliced meats - all of which are prone to the development of listeria, salmonella and E. coli - has been gathering pace in recent years.
Natural substances with antimicrobial action have been identified from a wide range of sources from oregano, rosemary, thyme, clove, cinnamon, green tea, mustard and garlic to micro-organisms from lactic acid bacteria and animal-derived substances such as lysozyme from egg white, lactoferrin in milk, chitosan from crustacean shells and pleurocidin from the skin of a fish called the winter flounder.
There has also been a lot of recent research on the ability of extracts of grape seed to tackle listeria and concentrates of wild blueberries and cranberries on a range of foodborne pathogens from E. coli and listeria to salmonella and staphylococcus aureus.
However, there were few natural antimicrobials that could be used as direct replacements for existing synthetic preservatives, said Mitchell, either because they were not as effective, were too expensive, or raised quality and regulatory issues.


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