L. monocytogenes in R-T-E foods
6/03/2003-A recent Journal of Food Protection article (J. of Food Prot., Vol. 66, No. 4, pp. 559-569) reports on a risk assessment project conducted by the National Food Processors Association Research Foundation to compile data on listeriosis to support the science-based approach on L. monocytogenes in RTE foods. There were three objectives to the study. First, to determine the levels of L. monocytogenes in certain RTE foods to know actual consumer exposure. Second, to compare the levels of L. monocytogenes with illness data related to L. monocytogenes exposure in that geographical area. And third, to identify subtypes of L. monocytogenes for the impact of those subtypes consumed and the risk of listeriosis. The study can help assess the occurrence of L. monocytogenes and determine to what extent it can be a risk to consumers. According to the study, This may alter the "zero tolerance" policy to determine the lowest concentration levels and achieve a greater risk reduction outcome. It can help better education for consumers in regards to RTE foods and the risks of contamination with L. monocytogenes.
Hand gels vs handwashing
6/03/2003-One of the most common sources of foodborne illness is improper handwashing. Questions arise as to the use of alcohol-based hand gels in food service settings as an alternative to handwashing. The current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code states they may be used after proper hand washing in retail and food service facilities. Alcohol-based hand gels are a suitable alternative to washing hands for health care personnel in health care facilities, however there are three significant differences between health care facilities and food service facilities. Current research does not show that alcohol-based hand gels can reduce pathogens when fat and protein are present. When soil is visible in either the health care facility or food service facility, washing hands with soap and water is the best method to remove the contamination. For more see: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~comm/handhyg.htmlTainted Food on the Rise In Cafeterias
source from: By Darcia Harris Bowman
Allegations that bureaucratic lapses allowed deliveries of ammonia-tainted meals to schools across Illinois last year are spurring calls for a shake-up of the complex web of agencies and rules intended to protect the nation's students from dangerous food. Outbreaks of food-borne illness are on the rise in U.S. schools increasing by 10 percent a year in the 1990s—even as recent federal health data show a significant decrease in food poisoning in the general population from dangerous bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.Reports in recent years suggest the blame for that disparity can't be easily assigned to any one public or private entity. Food poisonings in schools have been traced to poor hygiene in processing plants, improper storage and heating of food in school kitchens, and even the unwashed hands of students.But in 59 of the largest outbreaks of such illnesses in schools from 1990 through 1999, roughly two- thirds, or 40 incidents, were traced to food provided through the federal school meal programs, according to a U.S. General Accounting Office report scheduled for release this week. Those meals, served to 28 million children daily, are ultimately the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Given the USDA's prominent role in the distribution of food to schools and the upcoming reauthorization of the federal School Lunch Program, members of Congress and watchdog groups are increasingly calling on the department to account for safety gaps. "I think most parents believe the food their children are being served in school is closely watched over and that someone—the federal government, at least—would pull that food if it's not safe. That's simply not the case," U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said in a recent interview.USDA officials dispute such charges. They point, for example, to the department's decision last week to begin allowing schools to order irradiated ground beef next January for the federal meal programs, which serve both lunch and breakfast.
only motivation is ensuring that the foods supplied to everyone in the country,
most of all our children, are the safest they can be," the USDA's undersecretary
for food, nutrition, and consumer services, Eric M. Bost, said in a press conference
The attorneys filed suit against the Agriculture Department in federal court last month for "improperly withholding documents" that they believe would show whether USDA employees knowingly allowed the contaminated food to be shipped to Illinois schools.
"We don't know everything yet about who's at fault, and part of the reason for that is that not all the agencies involved are cooperating and fulfilling their responsibility to disclose information to the public," said David W. Babcock, a lawyer with the Seattle-based personal-injury firm Marler Clark.
Mr. Cohen said the USDA has a policy of not responding to requests for information that pertain to ongoing investigations.
Rep. Schakowsky and fellow Democrats Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman on April 29, requesting a meeting to discuss "an apparent failure by the USDA to adequately regulate food served in the school lunch program."
The lawmakers were still waiting for a response from the department late last week, a delay Rep. Schakowsky called "troubling."
Those reports were followed by studies from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, that showed an increase in the incidents of food poisoning in K-12 schools. The problem may be worse than the studies show, according to the GAO, because food-related illnesses, including those associated with school meals, are underreported.
The GAO's chief recommendation, opposed by the USDA and industry groups, was for Congress to streamline the patchwork system of agencies, laws, and regulations "that hampers efforts to adequately address existing and emerging food safety risks." ("Congress: Too Many Cooks Oversee Food Safety," May 8, 2002.)
Two different federal agencies track food contamination and respond to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. The Agriculture Department and various USDA branches monitor meat, poultry, and egg products, while the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for most other foods.
Neither agency has the power to recall products.
Also, while the USDA imposes strict safety requirements on the vendors it buys food from for the national school meal programs, it doesn't share those requirements with schoolseven though districts purchase 80 percent of the food for the federal programs directly from local suppliers, according to the GAO report.
The GAO has recommended that the USDA offer schools guidance for contracting with food vendors, share information about the safety-compliance records of food suppliers with school districts and states, and take a more active role in disseminating proven practices for proper handling, storage, and preparation of food in school kitchens.
Sen. Durbin and Rep. Schakowsky introduced companion bills in Congress this year that would act on many of the GAO's recommendations. Their proposed legislation, called the Safe School Lunch Act, would allow the USDA to recall contaminated food that posed a serious health risk. The bill would also require the department to notify states that they were in possession of contaminated food, and mandate that the states pass on that warning to all schools within 24 hours.
"It misses the boat entirely—this [proposal] isn't even close to solving the problem of food safety in schools," said Steve F. Krut, the executive director of the American Association of Meat Processors, based in Elizabethtown, Pa.
Poor hygiene and inadequate training are the biggest threats in school cafeterias, Mr. Krut argued. He and other industry officials, as well as the GAO report due out this week, recommend that the federal government explore ways to offer standardized food-safety training for cafeteria and kitchen employees in schools.
"The fact is that 97 percent of all foodborne illness occurs beyond the point of manufacturing," Mr. Krut said. "I'm not saying there isn't a need for legislation, but the bigger issue is that we don't have an understanding ... of how to safely handle and prepare food."
GAO investigators found that 19 of the 40 outbreaks related to the federal school meal programs that they studied were caused by "improper handling practices" in schools, while only eight of the outbreaks resulted from foods contaminated before delivery or a combination of outside contamination and in-school mishandling.
The poor practices found in schools with food-poisoning outbreaks included undercooking of food, improper storing and cooling of food, poor hygiene among food-service workers, and preparation of meals by sick workers.
Erik Peterson, the spokesman for the American School Food Service Association in Alexandria, Va., said those incidents should be "viewed in the context of 33 million meals served each day through the [national school meal programs]. Over the 10 years in question, approximately 57.75 billion school meals were served."
Mr. Bost, the head of the Agriculture Department's food, nutrition, and consumer services division, said the USDA will recommend that Congress consider requiring standardized safety plans and worker training for school food- service operations when it renews the national school meal programs. The ASFSA also supports those proposals.
In Mississippi and many other states, national certification is a requirement for school food-service managers.
"Having a trained and certified manager is absolutely essential for a school to receive an operating permit for food service," said Charlene W. Bruce, the director of food protection for the Mississippi health department.
Ms. Bruce credits the low rate of foodborne illness outbreaks in Mississippi schools to the fact that all districts abide by a single set of state regulations, which include the requirement for a certified food manager. Her division also conducts regular inspections—announced and unannounced—to make sure those rules are being followed.
From 2000 through 2002, at least 115 of 967 Mississippi school cafeterias failed state inspections whenever they didn't comply with one or more of the state's safety regulations. The biggest problems stem from aging buildings, Ms. Bruce said, where rodent and insect infestations and sewage problems are more common.
City health inspectors issue such findings for school cafeterias only when conditions pose an "imminent danger" to students' health. Mr. Vance decided last fall to take a tougher stance with his own program, called "Operation Clean Sweep," to combat problems that he said stemmed from poor sanitation and from inattention and indifference.
Wendy A. Gee, the director of management services for the 63,000-student school system, said most of the health department's citations stemmed from aging kitchens and cafeterias with outdated equipment, rodent and insect infestations, and poor sanitation.
Responsibility for some of these issues clearly rests with the school district, which has lacked the money to improve old buildings and update kitchens and cafeterias in many of the district's aging schools, Ms. Gee said.
Those problems aside, however, Ms. Gee said school staff members were at fault in roughly 20 percent of the violations. When problems persisted at one high school even after warnings from the health department, the district placed several employees on paid leave in the fall and eventually demoted one.
Still, the school system hasn't had an outbreak of food poisoning in at least three years, Ms. Gee said.
To maintain that record, school district officials allow elementary schools to serve only meals that are precooked to proper temperatures by a contractor, a practice some safety experts and food vendors say the USDA should encourage.
By eliminating the need for cooking from scratch with raw ingredients, proponents of the precooking process say schools can reduce their chances of serving contaminated food and streamline costly kitchen operations.
The Agriculture Department already purchases some precooked meat and poultry products for school meal programs. But USDA officials warn that those foods are more expensive and could reduce the overall amount of commodities the department can donate to school districts, according to the GAO's new report.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls irradiation "a promising new food safety technology that can eliminate disease-causing germs from foods" by bombarding them with gamma rays, electron beams, or X-rays.
The CDC, the American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization have all declared irradiation a safe and effective method for ridding meat and poultry of dangerous foodborne pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.
Irradiated-meat products are also sold in supermarkets across the country, but they're not yet served in schools.
That could change next year, when the USDA adds irradiated ground beef to the list of commodities schools can order for federally subsidized student meals.
Other groupsiting studies that suggest irradiation saps food of valuable nutrients and could cause cancer—argue that more investigation is needed before the federal government allows irradiated food to be served to millions of schoolchildren.
Agriculture Department officials say the technology is safe.
However, even advocates of irradiation acknowledge that the method won't counter all the food hazards in schools.
"We think [irradiation] is a good tool, but it's not a silver bullet," said Mr. Krut of the American Association of Meat Processors. "It only makes the food safer at the manufacturing end of the supply chain. Any time a packaged product is opened again, it can be recontaminated."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides resources on food poisoning and foodborne infections, including Frequently Asked Questions.
In a May 29 press release, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that irradiated ground beef would be allowed in public schools through the National School Lunch Program. Read the technical specifications on irradiation and other processes on frozen school foods. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)
FoodSafety.gov serves as a gateway to food safety information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Review an index of federal and state government resources, including materials for educators and lessons for middle and high school teachers.
National Coalition for Food Safe Schools, which includes representatives from
both government and non-government organizations concerned with foodborne illnesses,
provides information on dangerous foodborne organisms, food recalls and alerts,
common food allergies, and general school food service safety.
Current Food Safety News
FOOD SAFETY AUTHORITY INVITES COMMENTS ON NEW EU REGULATIONS
Vaccine could wipe out BSE and lead to therapy for CJD
Sample, science correspondent
E. coli cases spark nationwide response
from: By JANE LERNER
safety of our food supply is at risk as long as meat and poultry producers are
not required to implement traceability systems and maintain
The letter also was signed by U.S. Rep Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, whose district includes Orangeburg, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Schumer said he would introduce similar legislation in the Senate, possibly as soon as this week.
happened to 6-year-old Katelyn Koesterer and her 11-year-old neighbor, Christina
Graff, after a backyard barbecue last May where they
year ago this week, two young girls from Rockland County, N.Y., became severely
ill after eating ground beef contaminated with a
A system to put a bar code on every package of meat at each step of its journey could have pinpointed where the food got contaminated and allowed inspectors to prevent others from ingesting the meat, he said.
Katelyn's mother, Ann Koesterer, agreed."There is a paper trail for insurance, for cars, for real estate, for airlines," she said. "How can we put food on the table if we're not sure where it came from?"
ate at least two hamburgers over the next several days and Christina ate one at
the Koesterer's home. Both girls became ill with what
E. coli and other food-borne pathogens cause an estimated 76 million cases of human illness annually in the United States. More than 325,000 people are hospitalized each year and there are up to 5,000 deaths ?mostly children and the elderly.
The bacteria was found by health inspectors in unused meat in the Koesterers' family freezer after the girls got sick.But because the meat had been taken out of its sealed package, health officials suspected it might have been contaminated after it left the store.
Then another local family who read about what happened to the Orangeburg girls turned in a package of unopened meat bought around the same time at BJ's. It contained the same strain of E. coli that had infected Katelyn and Christina; county health officials asked BJ's to recall the meat.
illness ran the more common course: She developed bloody diarrhea, severe stomach
cramps and chills. She was treated at home and
The 6-year-old spent nearly a month at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla being treated for kidney failure, pancreatitis, a blood-clotting disorder, seizures, a stroke, abdomial pain, respiratory distress and high blood pressure, among other conditions.
now 7, still suffers from complications from the illness, according to a $30 million
lawsuit her family filed in January against BJ's. The E. coli bacteria destroyed
her pancreas, leaving her with
in our life changed," Ann Koesterer said.
The company placed blame for the girls' illnesses on Katelyn's parents, whom the company maintained had acted with "carelessness, recklessness and negligence" in handling and preparing the food.
It is common for manufacturers who sell contaminated meat to blame the victims, said Seattle lawyer William Marler, who is representing the Koesterers and Graffs.
who specializes in E. coli litigation, also is representing the parents of a 3-year-old
Bergen County, N.J., boy who developed the illness
The boy, Owen Langan, also developed hemolytic uremic syndrome and spent two weeks in the hospital, said his father, Joseph.
done on Owen showed that the strain of E. coli that made him sick was an exact
genetic match o the bacteria that sickened Katelyn and
The Langan family hired Marler to bring a lawsuit against BJ's. Marler said he would file in the next two weeks.
were not notified of any occurrence of E. coli by any member of BJ's in Paramus
last year," BJ's spokeswoman Nancy Sodano said. "Thus, we did
company "fully cooperated with the regulatory authorities, taking appropriate
action with the knowledge and approval of those authorities,"
The discovery of a third case of E. coli contamination linked to BJ's illustrates the need for a better traceability and recall system, Marler said.
He criticized county, local and federal officials for not acting more aggressively to get the BJ's meat off the shelf.
weeks after the Koesterers bought the meat, BJ's issued a voluntary recall to
131 people who had purchased the ground beef at the West Nyack
The identification of a third, genetically identical case in the New Jersey boy should have prompted a national recall at all BJ's stores, he said.
has told Marler that it ground together meat product from 12 different sources
to produce the beef that the Koesterers purchased. The
The USDA has said that it did not call for a wider recall because the source of the meat sold by BJ's could not be determined.
had no basis for requesting a recall because we had no link between illnesses
and product from a federally inspected establishment," Garry L.
outrageous that the response is, 'Oops, we don't know where the meat came from
because the system is not set up for us to find the source,' "
An industry spokesman said meat producers already were taking steps to minimize E. coli contamination and a tracing system was unnecessary.
"We all have a certain amount of financial resources, and those resources should be invested where they have the greatest effect," said Gary Weber, spokesman for the National Cattleman's Beef Association, a Denver group that represents the nation's 800,000 cattle producers. "Not one penny spent on a tracing system will stop the problem in the first place."
The industry is researching new methods of preventing cattle from shedding E. coli into their intestines, where it passes into feces, he said.
Ann Koesterer said a tracking system was necessary to prevent other families from going through what her family had experienced.
can think of no good reason why this happened to Katelyn," she said. "But
I can think of a million good reasons why it shouldn't happen to any