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30 sick, 12 confirmed; New Brunswick investigators continue search for causes of E. coli outbreaks
Source : http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/blog/154748/12/05/09/30-sick-12-confirmed-new-brunswick-investigators-continue-search-causes-e-coli-
By Doug Powell (May 09, 2012)
New Brunswick media are reporting public health officials continue to seek the causes of two sets of
E. coli outbreaks in New Brunswick - one in Miramichi and the other in the Saint John area.
Speaking in the legislature Tuesday, Minister of Health Madeleine Dubé said authorities
have investigated 30 cases involving people of various ages - between their teens and middle age
- who reported symptoms of the infection, which can be fatal.
"The source itself, they're still investigating and water was ruled out," she said, referring specifically
to the Miramichi outbreak. "They're looking in food and we're still doing our work," Dubé said.
The 12 cases of E. coli that have been confirmed in Miramichi and two others in Bathurst are linked, she said.
The cases in Miramichi and Bathurst have been diagnosed as E. coli O157:H7.
Dubé said authorities are also investigating an outbreak of a different strain of E. coli that affected two other people in Saint John and is not linked to the Miramichi outbreak.
Over the weekend, it was determined through stool samples that the Saint John E. coli cases are of a different strain than the ones afflicting patients in Miramichi and Bathurst, meaning they're not connected.

Norovirus Outbreak Traced to Reusable Grocery Bag
Source : http://www.webmd.com/news/20120508/norovirus-outbreak-traced-reusable-grocery-bag?src=RSS_PUBLIC
By Brenda Goodman (May 09, 2012)
May 9, 2012 -- A new study shows just how easy it is to catch norovirus, the fast-spreading stomach bug that's famous for causing misery on cruise ships.
The study tracked a 2010 outbreak of norovirus among young soccer players in Oregon. Seven out of 17 players who attended an out-of-state tournament fell ill with severe vomiting and diarrhea, but curiously, none of them had been in direct contact with the index case -- the first girl to get sick.
Investigators were stumped.
"We conducted a very extensive interview; it's called a shotgun interview, where we ask about every possible food exposure. There are over 800 questions on the questionnaire," says Kimberly K. Repp, PhD, an epidemiologist with the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services in Hillsboro, Ore.
That helped the researchers figure out what the sick people ate and what the healthy people didn't eat.
The common denominator? Cookies. All the girls who got sick had eaten cookies during a Sunday lunch. By Tuesday, they'd all fallen ill.
Grocery Tote Carried More Than Food
Norovirus is the leading cause food-borne illness in the U.S. But because the cases were isolated to this relatively small group, rather than widely reported by many people who ate the pre-packaged snacks, researchers didn't think the cookies themselves were the source.
"It was something about the cookies, we knew, that was associated with the source of the outbreak," Repp says.
The connection turned out to be a reusable grocery tote bag filled with the cookies and other food items like chips and grapes that had been sitting on the floor of the bathroom where the first girl had repeatedly gotten sick.
The study describes the bag as a reusable open-top grocery bag made from laminated woven polypropylene, a common type you might buy at many grocery stores these days for repeat use.
Investigators swabbed the bag two weeks after the first person fell ill. DNA tests turned up copies of the same strain of norovirus that had infected the girls.
"This is the first-ever reported case of transmitting this virus with an inanimate object, basically," Repp says.
The study is published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
The first sick girl said she never touched the bag. So how did the virus get there?
Experts say viral particles likely floated over from the toilet.
"That certainly is an area of active research, involving the dynamics of vomiting, and how are particles dispersed when somebody vomits. There is a limited range, for sure, but exactly how far it is and what the level of risk is 10 feet away or 30 feet away. Certainly, in this case, it was plenty close to allow the virus to float over onto the bag," says Aron J. Hall, DVM, MSPH, of the CDC's division of viral diseases.
In an editorial on the study, Hall says that it takes as little as 18 copies of a norovirus to make someone sick.
"It's among the most infectious viruses known to man," Hall tells WebMD.
"The amount of virus that it would take to get someone sick certainly cannot be seen with the naked eye, and definitely underscores the challenge of removing all potentially infectious virus from a grocery bag, in this case, or a bed rail in a hospital, or a doorknob in a nursing home," he says.
Researchers say the study highlights how easily the virus can travel and how long it can persist on the surfaces where it lands.
"This is a really underestimated route of transmission, and it's easy to fix," Repp says. "I don't know about you, but when I'm done with my clothes, I wash them when they're dirty. We should probably be washing our reusable bags, too."
According to the CDC, chlorine bleach is one of the few household cleaners that can kill norovirus. The agency recommends using 5 to 25 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water to clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
"When cleaning an area after someone is ill, we need to not just be thinking about wiping down the toilet area. We need to think about the virus up in the air and landing on everything in that bathroom, and either throwing away or cleaning everything that was exposed," Repp says.

Job Openings
05/14. Quality & Food Safety Auditor Port Huneme, CA
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05/10. Food Safety Specialist - USA
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Exploring the Link Between Animal Health and Food Safety

Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/05/exploring-the-link-between-animal-health-and-food-safety/
By Helena Bottemiller (May 09,2012)
There's growing pressure for animal agriculture to change its practices, whether it be utilizing gestation crates or feeding antibiotics, but a new paper cautions that these changes may negatively impact food safety.
The discussion paper released by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology -- a research group that includes the Farm Bureau and the American Veterinary Medical Association --  this week identified some of the factors now being discussed that impact animal health, including: antibiotic use, economies of scale, housing, local production and sustainability.
Scientists have long known there is a link between animal health, stress levels and pathogen shedding, but as CAST and others have noted, more research is needed.
"In addition to overtly ill animals, there is a growing body of evidence showing that chronically, previously, and not visibly ill animals are more likely to be contaminated with foodborne pathogens after processing in the abattoir (slaughterhouse)," the researchers write. "These animals, however, may go unnoticed during antemortem (live animal) inspection, and thus questions arise concerning the potential impacts of these animals entering the food supply on public health risk from foodborne pathogens."
The paper discusses past research that has found animals under stress or sick for a long period of time are more likely to carry key foodborne pathogens, especially Salmonella. Studies have also shown that animals with abscesses or "other significant lesions" that need extra trimming have a greater chance of being cross-contaminated because of the extra handling required.
Many of the buzzwords being discussed in the food movement, and by an increasing number of consumers: "organic," "all natural," "antibiotic-free," or "pastured" have direct animal health implications -- many sustainable food advocates argue that these changes lead to healthier animals. But CAST gives some examples of how these methods could have the opposite effect.
Under organic certification, for example, animals cannot be treated with antibiotics or synthetic worm drugs and if animals are based on pasture, these methods directly impact animal health and how production is managed. According to CAST researchers, "increased exposure to the soil and vermin may increase the prevalence of zoonotic diseases in livestock."
"Various policy changes may negatively impact animal health, resulting in more marginally or not visibly ill pigs, which tips the scales toward reduced public health," the authors write. "These proposed changes and their consequences need to be considered carefully."
The paper looks specifically at some research on the difference between keeping animals indoors vs. outdoors:
"Housing livestock indoors can also provide advantages in managing many foodborne organisms. Because outdoor environments cannot be cleaned or disinfected easily, pathogens can persist in the soil, standing water, outdoor structures, and other micro-environments, infecting successive generations of livestock. Other studies have shown that Campylobacter and Salmonella are more common in chickens having outdoor exposure than in birds raised in conventional indoor housing (cages). Dairy cows were shown to be at greater risk of subclinical mastitis when kept in outdoor environments compared with cows kept in barns. According to several studies, outdoor production can also promote infection of the zoonotic parasite Toxoplasma gondii in poultry and swine. This organism has been related in prenatal infections to death or severe brain and eye damage, especially where the mother has not been previously exposed and acquires an infection during her pregnancy." (Note: For research citations, see the full study).
Researchers also discuss using antibiotics in animal agriculture, a hot topic in the media:
"Antibiotics have a major, positive effect on improving animal and human health. They are used in human and veterinary medicine to treat and prevent disease. Antibiotic use in food animals is highly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The use of antibiotics in food-animal production, however, raises some concerns about antibiotic resistance in bacteria that could affect the efficacy of antibiotics in the treatment of human infections. Concern about antibiotic resistance is not equivalent to actual risk. Resistant bacteria were present long before antibiotics were discovered and found in many places without livestock exposure."
The FDA, however, has stated very clearly that certain "injudicious" antibiotic uses in agriculture are a public health risk. In its most recent guidance on the issue, the agency cited dozens of studies on antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. 
The full CAST paper, "The Direct Relationship between Animal Health and Food Safety Outcomes," can be read here.

China probing claims of toxic cabbage

Source : http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/china-probing-claims-of-toxic-cabbage
By Agence France-Presse (May 08,2012)
SHANGHAI — China is investigating claims vegetable sellers are spraying cabbage with harmful formaldehyde to keep it fresh, an official said on May 8, in yet another food safety scare to hit the country.
Dozens of vegetable dealers in the eastern province of Shandong, a major vegetable supplier, are using the chemical to keep produce fresh on the way to market, media and Internet reports said this week.
Formaldehyde — commonly used as a preservative for laboratory specimens and embalming — can be fatal if ingested and is also a cancer-causing substance.
A local government official confirmed the practice and said authorities had started an investigation.
"We are investigating this matter," an official from Dongxia town — where the practice was originally uncovered — told AFP. He declined to give details.
The practice is widespread in Shandong and neighbouring Hebei province, especially in warmer months, the official Xinhua news agency has reported.
"It's a common practice to keep the cabbage fresh. Otherwise, the vegetables stacked tightly in the trucks would rot in two to three days," a farmer in Dongxia was quoted as saying.
Cabbage is a staple of the Chinese dining table, especially in the country's north.
Chinese media say formaldehyde is used on other products, such as seafood and mushrooms. Officials say some sellers do not use costly refrigerated trucks for vegetable transport.
China's government has repeatedly vowed to improve food safety as people grow increasingly alarmed about the quality of what they eat, but scandals still occur due to weak enforcement and unscrupulous business practices.
Milk was at the center of one of China's biggest food safety scandals in 2008 when the industrial chemical melamine was found to have been illegally added to dairy products to give the appearance of higher protein content.
Last year, authorities arrested more than 30 people over the sale of cooking oil made from leftovers taken from gutters.
More recently, employees of a leading Chinese poultry company sold diseased ducks to consumers, while a major dairy producer sold milk with high levels of a cancer-causing toxin, caused by cows eating moldy feed.

Tuna Scrape: The Food Safety Risk Lurking in Supermarket Sushi

Source : http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/05/tuna-scrape-the-food-safety-risk-lurking-in-supermarket-sushi/256790/
By Marion Nestle (May 07,2012)
As sushi's gone mainstream, the supply of raw fish has expanded beyond the traditional cuts to a new product called "scrape."
Wikimedia Commons
My Q and A column in the San Francisco Chronicle appears on the first Sunday of every month. This one is about safety problems with tuna scrape.
Q: I had no idea that the tuna in my sushi roll was scraped off the bones in India, ground up, frozen, and shipped to California. Is this another "slime" product? Can I eat it raw?
A: No sooner did the furor over lean, finely textured beef (a.k.a. "pink slime") die down than we have another one over sushi tuna. On April 13, the Food and Drug Administration said Moon Marine USA, an importing company based in Cupertino, was voluntarily recalling 30 tons of frozen raw ground yellowfin tuna, packaged as Nakaochi scrape.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigations linked consumption of Nakaochi scrape sushi to about 250 diagnosed cases and an estimated 6,000 or so undiagnosed cases of illness caused by two rare strains of salmonella. Among the victims who were interviewed, more than 80 percent said they ate spicy tuna sushi rolls purchased in grocery stores or restaurants.
Scrape refers to the meat left on fish skeletons after the filets are cut off. This is perfectly good fish, but difficult to get at. I once visited an Alaskan salmon packing plant and asked what happened to the delicious looking meat between the bones. The answer: pet food. (Lucky cats.)
A hot commodity
But tuna is too valuable to leave behind, and companies in India use special devices to scoop out the meat, combine it with scrapings from many other fish, chop the mixture, freeze it in blocks, and ship it to importers in the United States. Unlike "pink slime," tuna scrape is not treated with ammonia or anything else to kill harmful bacteria.
Nevertheless, it is supposed to be safe. The FDA requires producers of imported foods to follow established safety plans. Although the United States imports about 80 percent of seafood sold domestically, the FDA only inspects 1 or 2 percent.
This means we have to rely on the diligence of international food producers in following safe-handling procedures, and of U.S. importers in verifying safety through pathogen testing. But even well-intentioned producers can make safety errors, especially when dealing with high-risk foods.
Tuna scrape is very high risk. Its supply chain is long, complicated and international, leaving many opportunities for contamination. And it is eaten raw.
This tuna scrape came from a single processing plant in India owned by Moon Marine International of Taiwan. Tuna are plentiful off the Indian coast, and the tuna processing industry is expanding rapidly. India has dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fish processing facilities, but most are relatively small and their number, size and geographical dispersion make monitoring difficult.
Safe handling issues
The frozen scrape blocks are supposed to be held at subzero temperatures throughout shipping. Even so, they pose a safety risk. They combine the scrapings from many fish. One contaminated scraping can contaminate the entire lot.
And subzero freezing may kill some salmonella, but large fractions can survive, remain viable, and multiply when the blocks are thawed.
Once the tuna scrape arrived in America, I'm guessing it was trucked to Cupertino and from there to retailers and distributors who further trucked them to restaurants and grocery stores. There, sushi chefs thawed the scrape and used it to make spicy tuna rolls.
Tuna scrape is used in supermarket-grade sushi, not the fancy stuff. Sushi used to be - and still is, in places - an art form requiring exceptional skills. In Japan, sushi chefs can train for as many as 10 years to learn how to recognize the freshest, safest and most delicious fish. Sushi served by such chefs is made to order. It is never pre-prepared. It can be breathtakingly expensive.
But in America, sushi has gone mainstream. You can find prepackaged sushi rolls at practically any supermarket or convenience store, at a cost equivalent to hamburger.
Cheap sushi is made with cheap ingredients - hence, Nakaochi scrape - by chefs with far less training. A typical certification program for sushi chefs in this country can be completed in two or three months. Some offer certification online. Although these programs address safe food-handling procedures, the training is necessarily superficial.
What are the odds?
Sushi aficionados argue that while raw fish is never perfectly safe, the safety odds are much better when the chef is well trained, and the fish are freshly caught and cut to order in front of you. By their standards, tuna scrape is suitable only for pet food, which is at least cooked to kill pathogens.
If anything, the tuna scrape outbreak teaches why it is so important to know where food comes from and how it is made. Caveat emptor.

Wild tomatillo weed compounds may help fight cancer, study finds
Source : http://www.naturalnews.com/035799_cancer_tomatillo_weeds.html
By Ethan A. Huff, staff writer (May 08, 2012)
A multidisciplinary research team from the University of Kansas (KU) has made a pioneering discovery in the realm of natural, plant-based cancer treatments. Preliminary findings published in the Journal of Natural Products (JNP) reveal that wild tomatillo (Physalis longifolia), a weed commonly found throughout the midwestern Great Plains and in other areas of North America, possesses at least 14 unique anti-cancer compounds that could one day change the way doctors approach cancer treatment.
During a bioprospecting project in South America back in the 1990s, Barbara Timmermann, a medicinal chemist and co-director of KU's Native Medicinal Plant Research Program, made an interesting discovery. A plant native to that particular region turned out to contain anti-cancer compounds, which prompted Timmermann, whose work involves identifying plants with medicinal properties, to search out ways to investigate it further.
But because of cost, distance, and other physical and financial barriers, Timmermann was never able to return to South America to perform the necessary analyses and finish her research. So she reportedly joined up with Kelly Kindscher, a senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey, to look for similar plants in the American Midwest. And much to their surprise, wild tomatillo turned out not only to contain the compound in question, but also to possess even more anti-cancer compounds than the original South American plant.
"Our research led us to Physalis longifolia, which is a fairly common plant throughout the Midwest," said Timmerman. "And from there, we discovered not only the molecule we were seeking, but also the 14 new compounds, most of which have turned out to be even more potent than the original one we were looking for. Discovery is a beautiful thing when it happens like that."
Animal trials show wild tomatillo can effectively mitigate, cure cancer
After first identifying wild tomatillo, Timmerman and Kindscher sought the help of Dr. Mark Cohen, a surgical oncologist and translational clinician scientist at the KU Medical Center, to analyze the plant. The three successfully identified the 14 compounds in question, known as withanolides, which in animal trials have already been shown to both fight and eradicate cancer cells.
According to Dr. Cohen's laboratory analysis, these 14 compounds target melanomas, thyroid cancer, head and neck squamous cell cancer, breast cancer, glioblastoma brain tumors, esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and certain leukemias. When fed wild tomatillo, test mice with these and other cancers saw their tumors shrink drastically, and in some cases even completely dissolve, without any negative side effects or noticeable toxicity.
The breakthrough findings are so significant, in fact, that Timmerman and her team's work was featured at the recent University Research & Entrepreneurship Symposium in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The event is an exclusive, invite-only showcase of the nation's most promising new university-based technologies for industry leaders, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs (http://www.universitysymposium.com/).
"We're excited by the preliminary results," added Timmermann. "While our research is still in the early stages, we're optimistic that some of these 14 molecules could lead to new plant-based drugs or dietary supplements."
Currently, wild tomatillo extracts, powders, and supplements are not widely or commercially available to the public. But as research on wild tomatillo continues to emerge, it is expected that wild tomatillo products might soon hit the market in the form of all-natural, food-based supplements.

Buncombe County Health Officials Emphasize Food Safety Measures
Source : http://foodpoisoningbulletin.com/2012/buncombe-county-health-officials-emphasize-food-safety-measures/
By Carla Gillespie (May 06, 2012)
Buncombe County, North Carolina health officials are emphasizing that strict food safety measures should be followed during the current outbreak of Salmonella Paratyphi B to prevent further person-to-person transmission.
As of May 4, 2012, 46 people in five states (Georgia, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) have been sickened, and seven of those patients have been hospitalized. Gibbie Harris, Health Director of Buncombe County, held a press conference where she announced that the recalled tempeh is connected to the infections. The outbreak is still occurring, especially since some students from University of North Carolina at Asheveille have gone home and “we’re starting to see symptoms in some of those people,” Harris stated.
She said that only about 50% of the infected patients have eaten tempeh. That means person-to-person transmission and cross-contamination of food has been occurring. All of the recalled tempeh is off the shelves and out of restaurants, but “we are still in the middle of an outbreak,” Harris added.
Cross-contamination is still possible if utensils used on the contaminated tempeh are not disinfected before touching other foods. Disinfecting kitchens, bathrooms, and other commonly touched objects is critical, as is thorough hand-washing, with warm water and soap. “It’s important to not share food, cook food, or serve food to other people if you are ill,” Harris said.
Chad Oliphant of Smiling Hara also spoke at the press conference, confirming that that company’s tempeh was the source of the outbreak, although officials do not know which specific ingredients are to blame. There are “preliminary results on individual ingredients that are pointing in that direction,” according to Oliphant. Those ingredients are currently being tested and those results won’t be back for about a week.
Oliphant explained that the ingredients used to make tempeh are vinegar, beans, and a starter culture. Tempeh is made by growing a mycelium on the beans, similar to mushroom cultivation. So it’s made of beans and a fungal product.
It’s possible that the contaminated ingredient was given to other suppliers, according to Harris. The Department of Health is exploring that possibility, she said. “At this point, it’s person-to-person contact we’re worried about,” she said.

Third-deadliest U.S. food outbreak was preventable, experts say
Source : http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/03/health/listeria-outbreak-investigation/
By Scott Bronstein and Drew Griffin (May 03, 2012)
Washington (CNN) -- On a sunny morning early last September, Susanna Gaxiola fed her husband a healthy breakfast of fresh cantaloupe in their Albuquerque, New Mexico, home. Her husband, Rene, a Pentecostal pastor and minister, had been fighting a rare blood cancer and he was eating fresh cantaloupe and other fruit daily.
Around the same time, Paul Schwarz ate fresh cantaloupe in his home in Independence, Missouri. Though 92 years old, Schwarz was still active and healthy, and ate fresh fruit often. And Dr. Mike Hauser, a podiatrist, also ate fresh cantaloupe with his family in Monument, Colorado. Hauser, 68, had been fighting myeloma, a blood cancer, but he was recovering well, even planning a bow-hunting trip in the mountains.
Within days or weeks of eating the cantaloupe, all three men became horribly sick, and all eventually died painful deaths. Their deaths were directly caused by the cantaloupe, which was contaminated with the deadly bacteria Listeria, according to health officials.
After a months-long investigation surrounding the outbreak, CNN has found serious gaps in the federal food safety net meant to protect American consumers of fresh produce, a system that results in few or no government inspections of farms and with only voluntary guidelines of how fresh produce can be kept safe.
Related: Federal rules 'holdup' puzzles food industry
Just days after Paul Schwarz, 92, ate cantaloupe he became horribly sick and eventually suffered a painful death.Gaxiola, Schwarz and Hauser were among the roughly three dozen Americans who died last winter after consuming the infected fruit. More than 110 other Americans across 28 states were sickened, many hospitalized, from eating the cantaloupe.
The 2011 listeriosis outbreak turned out to be one for the record books. It was, in fact, the most deadly food outbreak in the United States in nearly 100 years. It was the third-deadliest outbreak in U.S. history, according to health officials.
It should not have happened, and it could have been prevented, according to numerous food safety experts and federal health officials.
Among those most vulnerable to infections from Listeria are pregnant mothers, unborn fetuses, the elderly, and those ill with a compromised immune system.
Michelle Wakley was in her sixth month of pregnancy in September when she ate fresh cantaloupe in her home in Indianapolis. Within days she was rushed into a hospital emergency room, forced into premature labor from the infection ravaging her body.
"I wasn't feeling well, I had flulike symptoms," Wakley said. "I had a headache, but it was not a migraine. Every day when I woke up my head hurt. My legs were killing me. ... They ached. Kind of like when you get the flu, your body aches. It was painful! ...and I had chills. I should've gone to the hospital but knowing ... you get fluike symptoms when you're pregnant, I didn't go. and I felt awful. My teeth were chattering, I was hot and cold. I had sweats and dry heaves."
Rene Gaxiola, a Pentecostal pastor who'd been fighting a rare blood cancer, died shortly after eating tainted cantaloupe.Wakley and her husband, Dave Paciorek, were startled when their baby daughter, Kendall, pushed her way out of her mother nearly three months early.
"It hurt so bad," Wakley said. "And the reason why it hurt so bad is that the baby was trying to come, because the infection at that point was pretty far into my bloodstream. ... That's why the contractions were so bad and so painful, (because) she knew she needed to come out to live."
Baby Kendall had to be whisked immediately into a neonatal incubator and attached on all sides to tubes and machines. She remained that way for weeks, with her parents unable to hold her.
"I remember that time that the doctor came in and he told us about the problems that that could happen with a baby that was born that premature, and it was devastating," Wakley said. "She could be blind, she could be deaf. She could have heart problems, cerebral palsy, ADHD, and the list went on and on. It was -- it was just horrible.
"And you think, a day ago we thought we were fine, and and now you're having the baby and she might not even live? It was just awful."
Most of these people who died, died very, very painful deaths.
Bill Marler, nationally-known food safety lawyerToday Kendall still is on 24-hour watch and needs to be fed through a tube in her stomach. There are still larger questions about whether other physical or developmental problems occur later.
And yet, baby Kendall and her mother are today among the lucky ones. They lived.
Last fall, as people began to die and fall sick, investigators from local health departments in Colorado and other states along with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fanned out across two dozen states.
The investigators worked through the Labor Day weekend doing real scientific detective work and gumshoe reporting to find links to what was causing the sudden, deadly food outbreak. They interviewed people who were sick and relatives of those who died. The scientists collected samples of blood and samples of fruit still sitting in refrigerators. They collected fruit from stores and warehouses.
And the trail of evidence, the cantaloupes themselves, eventually led to a remote part of eastern Colorado, near the town of Holly, and a single farm known as Jensen Farms.
'Tragic alignment' of poor practices
Investigators and health experts eventually descended on Jensen Farms and would determine that the outbreak occurred because a pair of brothers who had inherited the fourth-generation farm had changed their packing procedures, substituted in some new equipment and removed an antimicrobial wash.             
"It truly was an 'Aha!' moment," said Dr. James Gorny, the FDA chief investigator who led a team to Jensen Farms.
"We had melons from the grocery stores which were positive for Listeria, with the exact same genetic fingerprint as we found in all of the ill individuals. We had ill individuals with that same genetic strain of Listeria. We had food contact surfaces at the packing house of Jensen Farms with the exact same, genetically matched strain of Listeria. So we had lots and lots of evidence that this was ... as definitively as possible, a smoking gun, that this was the source of the contamination. ... The evidence is very, very strong in this case. Some of strongest I've ever seen."
Jensen Farms has been a fixture in the dry plains of southeastern Colorado since the early 1900s, when the first Jensen arrived from Denmark. Brothers Ryan and Eric Jensen inherited what was an approximately 160-acre farm from their father after he died several years ago, and they expanded it out to about 6,000 acres, growing cantaloupes along with hay and alfalfa and other grains.
The brothers grew up cultivating cantaloupes and knew the business by heart. But last year they decided to make a few changes, and it would cost them everything, along with lives of some three dozen Americans they never met.
"What turned the operation upside-down was some significant changes they made," said Gorny. "It was a very tragic alignment of poor facility design, poor design of equipment and very unique post-harvest handling practices of those melons. If any one of those things would have been prevented, this tragedy probably wouldn't have occurred."
But the story of what happened at Jensen Farms, and why no one stopped the sale and shipments of the cantaloupes, also sheds light on serious problems in the nation's fresh produce food safety net, and a voluntary system created by businesses to ensure a quality product, known as third-party audits.
Gorny and his team of experts from the FDA, the CDC, and other food safety experts would discover a multitude of problems at Jensen Farms, all tied to a series of changes that the Jensen brothers instituted in the packing shed on their farm just before the 2011 harvest.
The investigators said they found, among other things, a dripping, potentially contaminated condensation line allowing water to get onto the floor; water was pooling on the floor; sections of the floor had cut holes and jagged sides that were difficult to clean. Samples taken from the pooled water were positive for the Listeria that sickened people. On the rolling line where the melons moved, investigators found dirty equipment used to wash and dry the melons, and it could not be easily cleaned.
The FDA report stated that "several areas on both the washing and drying equipment appeared to be un-cleanable, and dirt and product buildup was visible on some areas of the equipment, even after it had been disassembled, cleaned, and sanitized." What's more, inspectors found that an older, secondhand washing machine designed for cleaning potatoes had been substituted to clean the melons.
"Because the equipment is not easily cleanable and was previously used for handling another raw agricultural commodity with different washing and drying requirements, Listeria monocytogenes could have been introduced as a result of past use of the equipment," the FDA report stated.
The equipment on the line, including rollers and pads that touched many melons as they passed by also yielded numerous positive genetic matches of Listeria, according to Gorny.
But there was also one other significant point, Gorny and many other food safety experts said. The change in procedures and equipment had also resulted in the removal of what had been used previously to decontaminate melons of bacteria; the farmers had removed their antimicrobial wash. Without it, melons that pass along the packing equipment and are placed in pools of water to rinse can cross-contaminate one another, and an entire production line can spread dangerous bacteria.
"That water can then become a source of contamination, so that if one bad melon gets into that system, you can imagine it can contaminate the water and basically contaminate every melon that comes after it," Gorny said.
The contaminated melons were shipped out and distributed across the country through an efficient system that took them to hundreds of supermarkets and retailers, and then into people's homes. The sick, the elderly and pregnant women were the most vulnerable.
Expert calls third-party audit system worthless
Since September, at least 30 people in the United States have died, many of them after suffering excruciating pain and some having gone into comas for weeks. One died as recently as March.
And every single death has been linked genetically to Jensen Farms, according to FDA investigators.
Dr. Mike Hauser, 68, was recovering from myeloma, a blood cancer. Health officials blamed his death on listeria.Although the CDC's official death toll stands at 30, CNN has confirmed death certificates giving Listeria as the cause in at least two other deaths linked to the outbreak. CDC officials say they plan to continue tracking victims and will update records later this year.
The cantaloupes, like much of the produce Americans eat, were not inspected by any government body. The reason is that the FDA simply does not have the money or the manpower to inspect all fresh produce on all farms. The agency is responsible for watching over some 167,000 domestic food facilities or farms, and another 421,000 facilities or farms outside the United States, according to FDA officials. But there are only about 1,100 inspectors to oversee these facilities, officials said.
In the absence of FDA inspectors, food retailers and the industry have created the third-party audit system, in which auditors are hired by farms or facilities to inspect their premises and provide scores.
But many food safety experts, and some members of Congress, have assailed the audit system, saying it is unreliable and full of conflicts of interest.
Just days before the Listeria outbreak, Jensen Farms paid a private food inspection company called Primus Labs to audit their operation. Primus Labs subcontracted the job to another company, Bio Food Safety, which sent a 26-year-old with relatively little experience to inspect Jensen Farms.
The auditor was James DiIorio, and he gave Jensen Farms a 96% score, and a "superior" grade. On the front page of his audit at the farm, DiIorio wrote a note saying "no anti-microbial solution" was being used to clean the melons.
Dr. Trevor Suslow, one of the nation's top experts on growing and harvesting melons safely, was shocked to see that on the audit at Jensen Farms.
"Having antimicrobials in any wash water, particular the primary or the very first step, is absolutely essential, and therefore as soon as one hears that that's not present, that's an instant red flag," Suslow said. The removal of an antimicrobial would be cause for an auditor or inspector to shut down an entire operation, he said.
"What I would expect from an auditor," Suslow said, "is that they would walk into the facility, look at the wash and dry lines, know that they weren't using an antimicrobial, and just say: 'The audit's done. You have to stop your operation. We can't continue.'"
The auditor, James DiIorio, did not return CNN's calls. The subcontractor, Bio Food Safety, and Primus Labs, declined CNN's interview requests. Eric and Ryan Jensen, the young farmers who changed their procedures, also declined an on-the-record interview.
To some food safety experts, the third-party audit system the Jensens relied on is a joke.
These so-called food safety audits are not worth ANYTHING.
Dr. Mansour Samadpour, president and CEO of IEH Laboratories"These so-called food safety audits are not worth anything," said Dr. Mansour Samadpour, president and CEO of IEH Laboratories, one of the nation's largest food safety consulting labs for industry. "They are not food safety audits. They have nothing to do with food safety,"
Samadpour said consumers should have no faith in the current system of farm audits, because farms pay for their own inspections.
"If this industry is sincere and they want to have their products be of any use to anyone, they should be printing their audit reports on toilet paper," Samadpour said. "People who are commissioning these audits don't seem to understand that they are ... not worth the paper that they're written on."
Some industry officials have confidence in the audit system, and some of the audits are rigorous and thorough. But the entire system is a voluntary patchwork of unregulated guidelines with no national standards or actual regulations. And, however flawed, it is what most farms rely on; the auditors are often the only people who have inspected fresh fruit or produce in some fashion.
Improvements may lie ahead
Gorny and his team of experts were the first FDA inspectors ever to set foot on Jensen Farms.
Samadpour said he finds that appalling.
"Too often we are willing to send paratroopers after something goes wrong and -- you know, we kill so many people," he said. "But the question is: Where were these guys before? Why should anyone be allowed to have a processing plant without the required amount of expertise, without having the food safety systems in place, (to) produce food and send into the chain of commerce? We have had failures at multiple levels."
William Pumphrey of Springfield, Missouri, died September 24 from Listeria, officials said.Changes for the better in the food safety system and inspections may lie ahead. The federal Food Safety Moderization Act became law last year, and the FDA is currently writing new regulations to increase food inspections and push for better audits. But even under the new law, officials said, farms might only be inspected once every seven to 10 years. Consumer advocates doubt the new law is likely to solve all the problems in the system.
Back in Indiana, Michelle Wakley doesn't care much about the FDA, the private inspector or the audits. She and her baby, Kendall, got sick eating cantaloupe grown by farmers who, she says, should have known better, and who need to answer questions from victims' families.
"Why?" she asked. "They said that their facilities weren't clean. They said everything about the process was not done correctly according to the guidelines issued by the government. They they didn't use chlorine to wash the fruit with. They had dirty floors. The Listeria was found on the floors, on their equipment. There were so many things that they weren't doing correctly. Why? To save a dollar? People have died."
Bill Marler, a nationally known food safety lawyer in Seattle, represents Wakley and her husband, and many families of the victims who died from the cantaloupe who have filed multiple wrongful death lawsuits.
"Listeria is a really a nasty bug," said Marler. "Listeria gets into the bloodstream and it causes enormous problems. Most of these people who died, died very, very painful deaths. They had neurological symptoms, physiological symptoms, they suffered lots of pain, and in some cases it was like losing their minds. That just that shouldn't happen from eating fresh cantaloupe. It shouldn't happen."
Jensen Farms will likely now soon fall into bankruptcy, its assets sold to pay medical claims.
Most troubling of all, there is virtually nothing in place, no protective systems that could prevent this from happening again, someplace else.

Kentucky E.coli Outbreak Over, Officials Say
Source : http://foodpoisoningbulletin.com/2012/kentucky-e-coli-outbreak-over-officials-say/
By Carla Gillespie (May 05, 2012)
An E.coli outbreak in Kentucky that sickened three Kindergarteners, two of whom remain hospitalized, is over, heath officials have declared.
“At his point, the investigation into the outbreak has ended,” Beth Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Center For Health and Family Services (KCHFS) told Food Poisoning Bulletin this morning.
All three children attend school at Stanford Elementary in Lincoln County, where results of environmental and food sample tests this week were negative for E.coli. A source for the outbreak has not been determined, but the school has been ruled out as the origin of the outbreak, Fisher said. With classes ending next week and no new cases reported, health officials say the outbreak is over.
Symptoms of an E.coli infection include abdominal cramping and diarrhea, which is often bloody.  When dehydration is severe, hospitalization is sometimes required. In some cases, small children who contract E.coli infections can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication that can cause kidney failure, stroke or coma.
E. coli is transmitted through food or water that has been contaminated with human or animal feces. Person-to-person transmission, can also occur, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Good handwashing is the best way to prevent person-to-person transmission.
To reduce the risk of foodborne transmission, the CDC recommends: cooking meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, avoiding unpasteurized food and drinks and preventing cross-contamination by thoroughly washing food preparation areas after working with raw meat or vegetables.

Oysters At New Orleans Restaurant Cause Norovirus
Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/05/oysters-at-new-orleans-restaurant-cause-norovirus/
By Dan Flynn (May 09, 2012)
Fourteen people became ill with norovirus after eating Gulf oysters at a New Orleans area restaurant on April 28 and 29, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) announced Tuesday.
As a result, DHH has closed a key harvesting area on the Gulf coast west of the Mississippi River and recalled oysters harvested from those areas since April 26.  The recall includes all shucked, frozen, breaded, post-harvest processed oysters and oysters for the half shell market.
None of the 14 illnesses was life threatening and none required hospitalization.
Epidemiologists and sanitarians from DHH traced the outbreak to Louisiana oysters from harvest area 23 consumed at the same restaurant.
The illnesses came on during the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, annually one of the largest musical events in the U.S., which brings  thousands of visitors to the Crescent City.
Norovirus causes what many call "stomach flu," or vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus usually begins 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the fecal organisms. Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping.
Sometimes people also have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The illness is usually brief, with symptoms lasting a day or two. People can get norovirus several ways, including eating foods or drinking liquids that are contaminated by infected food handlers.
Cooking kills the virus, but outbreaks have occurred from eating undercooked oysters harvested from contaminated waters.
Louisiana State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry and DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein signed the closure order, which took effect at sundown Tuesday, May 8, 2012.  Area 23 harvesting area is expected to be closed for at least 21 days.
DHH has notified local oyster harvesters who work the affected area, as well as the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.

Tempeh outbreak link confirmed, dog food recall expands, healthcare-associated infections
Source : http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/fs/food-disease/news/may0712newsscan.html
By Gibbie Harris (May 07, 2012)
Tests confirm Salmonella outbreak strain in tempeh
Tests conducted at North Carolina's public health laboratory have confirmed that a Salmonella strain that prompted a recent tempeh recall matches a strain of Salmonella Paratyphi B that has so far sickened 46 people, according a May 4 statement from the Buncombe County Department of Health (BCDH). The BCDH said even though the food source has been identified, it is continuing to receive illness reports due to person-to-person transmission of the outbreak strain. It repeated its advice for the public to wash their hands before preparing food and to properly prepare food. Some of the patients have gotten sick by exposure to food items that were contaminated by uncooked tempeh. Lab tests have also revealed that the Salmonella Paratyphi B strain involved in the outbreak causes nontyphoidal Salmonella infection that can be severe, but not as severe as another strain that testing first indicated. So far seven hospitalizations have been reported, none of them fatal.

Steakhouse May Be Source Of Second Outbreak in North Carolina
Source : http://foodpoisoningbulletin.com/2012/steakhouse-may-be-source-of-second-outbreak-in-north-carolina/
By Carla Gillespie (May 07, 2012)
Health officials in North Carolina are investigating a potential foodborne illness outbreak that may be linked to Ribeyes Steakhouse in Nashville, located about 50 miles northeast of Raleigh, Amy Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Nash County Health department confirmed this afternoon.
State and county health officials, who are running a collaborative investigation into an outbreak that has sickened dozens of people over the last week, issued  a statement today.  So far, they have interviewed 75 people, collected food samples for testing and worked with Ribeyes on preemptive safety measures that would thwart further transmission should tests link the restaurant to the outbreak.
At this time, neither a food source nor a pathogen has been identified. Results from tests on the food samples performed by the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health are expected later this week, according to the statement.
Based on information gathered from patient interviews, those who became ill ate at the restaurant on or after Sunday, April 29. Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and last 24-48 hours.
While officials in Nashville investigate this outbreak, about 300 miles west, in the city of Asheville, public health officials are investigating a Salmonella outbreak linked to tempeh produced locally by Smiling Hara.
In both cities, health officials are reminding residents that proper hand-washing is the best way to prevent general gastrointestinal illness, especially after using the restroom, changing  a diaper or  caring for a sick person. Those who do become ill, should stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and stay home until they no longer have symptoms to prevent spreading the illness to others.

Rocker Rocked by Salmonella
Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/05/rocker-rocked-by-salmonella/
By Gretchen Goetz (May 05, 2012)
"If anyone on #TheSickTour would like to get sushi lunch with me, meet by the bus in 30 minutes!"
That's what Chris Fronzak - the frontman of the heavy metal band Attila - tweeted the morning of April 10 during the Louisiana stint of the band's "The Sick Tour." About 30 hours after Fronzak ate his sushi, The Sick Tour became just that, as the singer was hit with extreme nausea and began to vomit.    
Fronzak had become one of the many victims of a multistate Salmonella outbreak tied to contaminated sushi tuna that has now sickened at least 268 people in 24 states and the District of Columbia, landing 32 in the hospital.  
Fronzak says he became alarmed when he noticed blood in his vomit the night he became ill, but decided that the show must go on.  
"If I wasn't the lead singer of the band I would've loved to have just not played but without me they couldn't have played any shows, and it would have cost a substantial financial loss, so I had to just go up there and do it," he says.
A week later, when his symptoms had not subsided, Fronzak took advantage of a day off in Kansas City, Missouri to use his phone's GPS to locate the nearest hospital. Lacking a mode of transportation after the tour bus dropped off the band, the singer made his way on foot to seek medical attention over a mile away. 
After undergoing tests and receiving IV fluids, he was released a few hours later. While he had saved his band from profit loss, Fronzak - who is uninsured -  incurred almost $10,000 in medical bills. 
Two days later a call from the doctor confirmed that he had Salmonella poisoning.
"I was surprised when I found out I had salmonella but when I finally linked everything together - when I found out about the Moon Marine company - it made sense," says Fronzak.
Moon Marine Corporation is the company that imported and distributed the frozen "Nakaochi Scrape" ground tuna product implicated in the outbreak. 
Nearly 59,000 lbs. of the product have since been recalled, but illnesses are still being reported. While cases were originally clustered on the Eastern Seabord, and Gulf Coast, the outbreak has expanded throughout the south central U.S. and is now known to extend as far as California.  
Fronzak filed suit against the company Friday. The case is being brought by attorney Bill Marler, who is also publisher of Food Safety News.

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