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U.S. Tells World Its Beef Supply Is Safe

Wed Dec 24,10:10 AM ET Add Health - AP to My Yahoo!
By JONATHAN D. SALANT, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - U.S. officials tried to reassure Americans and the rest of the world on Wednesday about the safety of the nation's food supply after a slaughtered cow in Washington state was believed to have had mad cow disease.

Eight nations, including Japan, South Korea (news - web sites) and Taiwan, halted U.S. beef imports just hours after the Agriculture Department announced Tuesday that a so-called downed cow, meaning it was unable to move on its own, had tested positive for the brain-wasting disease. Japan is the largest overseas market for U.S. beef.

Agriculture Department officials and cattle industry executives tried to allay fears that American beef supplies had become infected, saying the U.S. inspection system was working effectively: The farm where the cow originated has been quarantined and officials were tracing the movement of the cow from the farm to the slaughterhouse, and the flow of the meat to processing plants.

The cow, from a farm near Yakima, Wash., was slaughtered Dec. 9. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said parts of the animal went to three processing plants in Washington State. But she said there was no danger to the food supply because "muscle cuts of meat have almost no risk."

Tests of tissue samples from the cow are being conducted in Britain to confirm the mad cow finding by a U.S. lab.

"The important point is that the high-risk materials ?that is, the brain and spinal column that would cause infectivity in humans ?were removed from this cow," Veneman said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday.

She noted that the United States since the early 1990s has banned the use of cow and sheep byproducts for animal feed, which cuts off a major mode of transmission of the disease.

"We are in an abundance of caution," Veneman told NBC's "Today" show.USDA officials announced early Wednesday that Vern's Moses Lake Meat Co. in Moses Lake, Wash., is voluntarily recalling approximately 10,410 pounds of raw beef that may have been exposed to tissues containing mad cow. They said the beef was produced on Dec. 9 and shipped to several establishments for further processing and is being recalled "out of an abundance of caution" even though it "would not be expected to be infected or have an adverse public health impact."The department's Food Safety and Inspection Service said it is continuing its investigation to ensure that all the recalled beef is correctly identified and tracked, but gave no further details immediately.

There was no answer at the telephone number listed for Vern's Moses Lake Meat Co., after the recall, which was announced early Wednesday.

Veneman also assured Americans that no foul play was suspected, saying "this incident is not terrorist-related."Appearing on CBS' "The Early Show," Veneman asserted, "The risk is extremely low to human health and I would without hesitation say that no one should be afraid to eat beef."Mad cow disease eats holes in the brains of cattle. It sprang up in Britain in 1986 and spread through countries in Europe and Asia, prompting massive destruction of herds and decimating the European beef industry.People can contract a form of mad cow disease if they eat infected beef or nerve tissue, and possibly through blood transfusions. The human form of mad cow disease so far has killed 143 people in Britain and 10 elsewhere, none in the United States.

Veneman said the risk to human health in this U.S. case was "extremely low."Nonetheless, U.S. beef producers worried that they could suffer heavily from a mad cow scare. Restaurants that serve beef also could be affected.

"I think it has the potential to hurt our industry," said Jim Olson, a rancher in Stanfield, Ariz., who owns about 150 cattle.

Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, called on the government to test more cows for the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

"The U.S. needs to be far more proactive in protecting the American food supply," said Michael Hansen, a senior research associate. "We are very concerned that the diseased animal made it into the food supply and that the processing plants could be contaminated."

The disease was found in a Holstein cow, which could not move on its own, from a farm in Mabton, Wash., about 40 miles southeast of Yakima. Tissue samples were taken on Dec. 9, and eventually tested positive for BSC. Parts of the cow that would be infected ?the brain, the spinal cord and the lower part of the small intestine ?were removed before the animal went to a meat processing plant ?standard operating procedure in this country.

Samples from the cow were sent to Britain for confirmation of the preliminary mad cow finding, Veneman said. The results will be known in three to five days, she added. Consumers can get daily updates by reading the department's Web site or by calling 1-866-4USDACO.

Many residents of Mabton ?population 2,045 ?were protective of local cattle owners Tuesday and unwilling to discuss the matter with reporters, who were turned away from businesses and farms.

The apparent discovery of mad cow disease comes at a time when the U.S. beef industry is flourishing, in part because imports from Canada dried up after a single case of the disease was found there last spring and also in part because of the popularity of the Atkins high-protein diet.

A USDA Choice sirloin steak sells for more than $6 per pound, compared with about $4 per pound a year ago. The price of pound of ground beef is $2.04, up from $1.84 last year.

"The beef cattle industry has just had a resurgence of growth," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss. "This is going to be a setback."

Some American consumers said Tuesday they weren't ready to find something else for dinner.

"We're beef eaters," said Carrie Whitacre of Omaha, Neb. "Plus we're not going to get beef from Washington state here anytime soon."

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that while whole cuts of meat should be safe, there could be problems with ground meat, which can be mechanically stripped from the bone near an infected part.

"USDA needs to take swift action to insure that the meat that is found in hot dogs, hamburgers and those others doesn't pose a risk," DeWaal said.

The beef industry said there was nothing to worry about.

"The infectious agent is only found in the central nervous system tissue," said Patti Brumbach, executive director of the Washington State Beef Commission. "None of that made it into the beef supply. I think once consumers understand that the beef supply is safe, it should be a short-term concern."
With an election year approaching, the news concerned some in Congress. Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa., a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he expected lawmakers to hold hearings when they return to Washington in late January.
But another member of the Agriculture Committee rushed to support the beef industry.
Rep. Cal Dooley, D-Calif., said, "People I think should not be frightened to have their prime rib on Christmas Eve."

Democrats Criticize Bush on Beef Policy

Mon Dec 29, 3:51 AM ET Add Top Stories - Los Angeles Times to My Yahoo!
By Matea Gold and Jube Shiver Jr. Times Staff Writers
AMES, Iowa ?Democratic candidates tried to turn "mad cow" disease to political advantage Sunday, accusing the White House of lax regulatory policies, as officials announced that meat from the cow infected with the disease had been distributed to four more states than previously thought.
During a daylong swing through Iowa, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (news - web sites) hammered away at the "mad cow" issue, scolding the administration for not doing enough to trace and test the nation's cattle.

"The Bush administration had an opportunity to avoid this situation, and to save millions and millions of dollars for the beef industry in this country," he told reporters at his Des Moines headquarters.

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination urged President Bush (news - web sites) to back legislation that would prevent the slaughter of ill cattle and to establish a thorough tracking and testing system of the beef industry.

"We don't have that tracing system because the Bush administration stubbornly refuses to look more than a week and a half into the future in almost any policy area that they consider," Dean said.

Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, also campaigning in Iowa, called for similar efforts to protect public health, including a ban on selling beef brains and vertebrae and federal aid for farmers forced to slaughter their cattle.

"There are many in the cattle industry who will continue to resist much-needed changes," Kerry said in a statement. "I urge President Bush for once not to listen to the demands of corporate America and act on behalf of the health and economic needs of all Americans."

For good measure, a fellow Democratic candidate, Rep. Dick Gephardt (news - web sites) of Missouri, said in a statement that Bush "refuses to fund important country-of-origin labeling provisions for meat and has ignored the need for resources at the [Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites)] and [the U.S. Department of Agriculture (news - web sites)] to inspect the agricultural products coming across our borders."

The White House on Sunday avoided responding to the charges. "The administration is confident in the job that the Agriculture Department is doing," said Suzy DeFrancis, deputy White House communications director.

The USDA said meat from the Holstein that had tested positive for "mad cow" disease had gone to four other states and Guam, in addition to the four states officials had previously acknowledged.

Kenneth Petersen, a spokesman for the department's Food Safety Inspection Service, said beef from the infected Holstein had been sent to Alaska, Montana, Hawaii, Idaho and the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific. Earlier, the government had named California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.Agriculture Department officials have ordered a recall of about 10,000 pounds of beef sent to the four states originally identified as having received shipments that originated at Verns Moses Lake Meat Co. in Moses Lake, Wash. The infected cow was slaughtered there Dec. 9.Officials said they were contacting stores in the four additional states to track down beef that might have come from the infected cow.

But during a news conference Sunday, Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, chief veterinarian of the USDA, repeated the government's assertion that the risk of transmission of the disease to consumers was remote. DeHaven said the organs believed to harbor the agent that causes "mad cow" disease ?brain and spinal tissue ?did not enter the food chain.

"The risk related to the consumption of this muscle meat is virtually zero," he said. Muscle meat, used in steaks, hamburger and other food products, is thought to harbor little or none of the agent that causes the infection.DeHaven added that a trade team from the U.S. plans to carry that message to Japan, where it will urge officials in Tokyo to reconsider that country's ban on American beef in the wake of the USDA's preliminary determination over the weekend that the infected Holstein had originally come from Canada.Dr. Richard Breitmeyer, California's chief veterinarian, said Sunday that USDA officials had informed him that some meat targeted in the recall might have been distributed to small ethnic markets in Northern California.

USDA spokesman Julie Quick said she could not confirm that information. And because the effort to track the meat was in its early stages, neither Breitmeyer nor Quick could say what fraction of the 10,000 pounds of recalled beef was on California's grocery shelves.

"Mad cow" disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is believed to be transmitted to livestock through feed that contains the spine and other ground-up byproducts of infected cows. The U.S. enacted a ban on that type of feed in 1997. The disease has a four- to six-year incubation period in animals. Unlike most infectious bacterial or viral diseases, the agent believed to harbor the disease cannot be killed or neutralized by cooking or heat.

Dean, who munched on a cheeseburger for television cameras Saturday at a diner in Waterloo, Iowa, said he believed the risk of people contracting the human form of the disease by eating contaminated meat was small. The larger problem, he said, was the economic damage the scare would cause.

"The product is safe, I believe, but the panic has really hurt the industry," Dean said Sunday. "And this, I think, is one of the notorious features of the Bush administration: Put off any additional safety concerns, push back on them because they must be related to do-gooders and that's the attitude of the administration environmentally, financially, in terms of defense."

Restaurant closed on food safety grounds

December 24, 2003 06:30
A pub restaurant, expecting to serve Christmas lunch to around 50 customers, was yesterday ordered to close on food safety grounds.

Food safety officers discovered an "appalling" smell in the kitchen of Mister T's, in Southtown Road, Yarmouth, and out-of-date and decomposing food, including mouldy sausages.

Joy Holland, food safety team leader for Yarmouth Borough Council, issued an emergency prohibition notice - closing the restaurant - on Sunday, and the town's magistrates confirmed her decision yesterday by issuing a prohibition order.

They also ordered the destruction of unfit food seized by Mrs Holland and her team.

The restaurant, which had been planning to open for Christmas lunch, must now apply to the council to have the order lifted before it can restart trading.

Mrs Holland told the bench she had inspected Mister T's four times in December and, despite issuing advice, conditions in the kitchen appeared to get worse.

She said when she visited last Friday, on the third occasion, she found "an appalling smell in the kitchen, food remains on plates and dirty washing up piled up".

In the fridge were four pans of food, including gravy and mashed potato, two of which were labelled December 8.

Mrs Holland said the manager Adelle Boyd assured her that her chef, who had been off sick, might be back the following day to clear up, and she said they would not be opening until the Sunday.

However, she said when she and a colleague visited on Sunday, they found evidence of a buffet having been served the previous day, with chicken bones and crusts on plates.

Mrs Holland said she then inspected the kitchen and found rolls next to raw meat with a risk of cross-contamination, food being kept at a dangerously high temperature, and items including cooked joints whose labels showed some were 13 days old.

A box of cheese portions had a use-by-date of November 15, and there was food clearly decomposing - including mouldy sausages, and meat that was smelly, discoloured and slimy.

It was then she issued an emergency prohibition notice and seized certain food as being unfit for consumption.

Mrs Holland said: "There was a serious threat to public health and it was important to protect the people who had booked Christmas dinner."

Miss Boyd, who runs the pub for the firm Regal Bourne Leisure, told the bench that the kitchen was in a poor state because her chef had been off sick for more than two weeks.

With bar staff off as well, she had had no time to clean.

However, she stressed that following Mrs Holland's first visit, the restaurant had been closed since December 11 and the only food to be served after that had been Saturday's pre-booked buffet.

Miss Boyd said no meals would have been served until the kitchen had been thoroughly cleaned, and the unfit food would have been thrown away.

She said customers, who had enjoyed previous meals at Mister T's, were upset by the Christmas cancellation.

The pub itself remains open for business.

Current Food Safety Informaiton
12/29. Canadian producers regret claim that US mad cow case came fr
12/29. Officials Work to Prevent Mad Cow Outbreak ?
12/29. Poultry, Pork Industry Unhappy Over Scare
12/29. U.S. Tells World Its Beef Supply Is Safe
12/29. Democrats Criticize Bush on Beef Policy ?
12/29. Meat from U.S. Holstein with mad cow may have reached 4 more
12/29. Mad Cow Probe May Limit Economic Impact
12/28. British lab confirms first US case of mad cow disease
12/28. USDA releases food safety report
12/27. Restaurant closed on food safety grounds
12/26. Food Safety Attorney, William Marler, Speaks Out On Mad Cow
12/25. Worried about food safety ?
12/25. US Says Mad Cow Was Probably from Canada

12/24. Meat packers working on abattoir food safety
12/24. Police investigate turkey tampering threat: Safeway alerts c
12/24. Ag secretary predicts mad cow case 'isolated'
12/24. The ¡°Emperor¡¯s New Clothes¡±: Listeria, organic acids and the
12/24. Danger to the public is low, experts say
12/24. USDA BSE Response Plan summary highlights
12/24. Animal health body says U.S. madcow not a surprise
12/24. Vets, scientists expected another mad cow case: Enforcing co
12/24. Wash. state dairy farm under quarantine
12/24. Western US states react to Washington mad cow case
12/24. U.S. expert thought mad cow was unlikely in U.S
12/24. US mad cow meat may have been eaten-state official
12/24. EU Observing U.S. Mad Cow, Sees Current Ban Adequate
12/24. Beef Import Bans Could Cost U.S. Billions
12/24. Ottawa gives U.S. benefit of doubt in mad cow case before cl
12/24. Mad Cow Disease Report Roils Beef Industry
12/24. EC not planning to ban American beef
12/24. CU expert 'shocked' that meat processed
12/24. Meat-inspecting systems firm eMerge soars on mad cow
12/24. Bennington E. coli Patient Is Recovering
12/24. Mad Cow Disease Questions And Answers
12/24. Sonic Corp. Comments on Washington State BSE Issue
12/24. Inspections for Mad Cow Lag Those Done Abroad
12/24. A News Conference With the Secretary of Agriculture
12/24. Q&A: US 'mad cow' scare
12/24. After mad-cow find, concern with prevention
12/24. The presence of mad cow disease in one Holstein from a Washi
12/24. American investigators try to trace suspected case of mad co
12/24. Washington Firm Recalls Beef on Mad Cow Concerns
12/24. A comparison of BSE Status in the US and UK
12/24. Single case of BSE found in Washington state
12/24. BSE Arrives
12/24. FSIS schedules January food safety tech meeting in Omaha
12/24. Court resurrects lawsuit that seeks processing ban on downer
12/24. Government, industry react to BSE discovery in Washington st
12/24. Countries move swiftly to ban imports on American beef

12/23. Mad Cow Scare Follows Sick Animal Ruling
12/23. U.s. Tracing Meat from Mad-Cow Infected Animal
12/23. First U.S. case of mad cow disease suspected
12/23. Traceability Rules Could Be Retailers' Nightmare
12/23. Safety of food products
12/23. NFPA comments on FSIS Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) fo
12/23. Anthrax, meat import restrictions ? Russia
12/23. Downed animal case back in district court (Baur V. Veneman)
12/23. Coyote carcasses in Edmonton restaurant result in no charges
12/23. Tougher inspection of meat lauded
12/23. Meat inspection woes continue
12/23. Rodent stew still on the menu -
12/23. Egg farmers upgrading to meet food safety rules
12/23. Meat review could start next month; Probe among attorney-gen
12/23. No More Horsing Around with Salami
12/23. FSIS to hold public meeting on new, emerging food safety tec
12/23. DHS raises security advisory; asks for 'extra vigilance'
12/23. Peanut Allergies In Children Double
12/23. Wolves might take a bite out of wasting disease
12/23. Beware the city travel bugs!
12/23. Taking precautions while preparing foods can prevent illness
12/23. Food-inspector requirement for N.H. eateries being repealed

12/22. Food Safety at Christmas ? Tips on how to avoid food poisoni
12/22. Health Canada suspends scientist; Microbiologist criticized
12/22. McGuinty questions need for province to inspect meat after h
12/22. Livestock suit vs. government resurrected

12/21. Penalties rare for bad meat
12/21. Hepatitis' rarity in U.S. makes it dangerous
12/21. Real Florida: Put out to pasteurization

12/20. State may allow grocery stores to inspect themselves
12/20. Eating puffer fish a gamble: BFAR

12/19. Northwest regional meeting [IFT]
12/19. Farm Wives Unite To Fight Imports Whose Safety They Question
12/19. CHINA: Digital monitoring system will enhance food safety
12/19. WHO post report on surveillance of foodborne infections
12/19. New food safety code for Pennsylvania
12/19. Proscuitto beckons for EFSA

12/18 Cut the sugars to beat cancer-causing compound
12/18 Peanut allergy precautions taken at schools
12/18 Water pollution is a load of old crap
12/18 What dangers lurk in the fridge?

Current Recall Information

Codex Alimentarius: Meeting of the Codex Committee on Meat
Public Meeting on New Technology: The State of Food Safety Technologies
USDA Makes Preliminary Diagnosis of BSE
Washington Firm Recalls Beef Products Following Presumptive BSE Determination
FSIS To Hold Public Meeting On Food Safety Technologies
FSIS Training For Inspectors On Target

Public Meeting To Address Codex Committee On Meat Hygiene
Bulk Over-the-Road Food Tanker Transport Safety and Security Guidelines
Registration of Food Facilities Under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness
U.S. Codex Office "What's New" Page: Updated December 18, 2003
Food and Cosmetic Security Guidances; Availability

Current Outbreaks
12/24. Food poisoning sidelines NBA Brit Amaechi
12/23. Typhoid outbreak downs
12/23. Seafood seems to be culprit in illness

12/22. Cholera Outbreak Kills 106 in Mali
12/21. Maharashtra: School food puts 32 kids in hospital
12/19. Man dead, 9 hospitalized from 'butete' poisoning
12/18. Two of family die after eating contaminated food
12/17. Salmonellosis, foodborne - Serbia (Belgrade)
12/16. Our food is sickening
12/15. Reptile-associated salmonellosis --- selected states

Current New Methods
12/24. Garlic compound beats antibiotic-resistant bug
12/23. UK scientists create medical and food safety tool from virus
12/23. Scientist's vision explodes food toxins
12/23. Veridien Adds Hepatitis A, B and C Kill Claims to Its FDA Dr
12/22. The Pulsifier¢ç A New Instrument for the Preparation of
12/21. Bio-Rad Presents New User Guides for Food and Water Safety T
12/20. Using Viruses to Beat Food Poisoning Bacteria
12/20. 'It's the holy grail'
12/19. The food safety bug
12/17. The kitchen faucet is a vegetable's best friend

NFPA comments on FSIS Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Risk Analysis
December 22, 2003
National Food Processors Association
On December 22, the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the Food Safety and Inspection Service's Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Risk Analysis.
In its comments, NFPA noted "NFPA has long been an advocate of the use of sound science as the basis for setting public policy. We support risk analysis as the appropriate process for prioritizing resources and focusing attention on those areas where solid evidence of true risk exists. We applaud the Agency for developing this framework to define the roles and interactions of risk assessors, risk managers, and risk communicators within the Agency. In particular, we commend the Agency for recognizing the importance of including stakeholders such as industry in the process. Although this may indeed slow the process, as the SOP indicates, the process is incomplete without stakeholder input, and consequently it may ultimately be less effective."
NFPA also emphasized the need for transparency in the development of risk management options.

'It's the holy grail'
Louisianan seeking way to kill bacteria in oysters makes device with extra bonus: Automatic shucking

Atlanta Journal-Constitution


HOUMA, La. -- Two ways to shuck an oyster:

The centuries-old, digit-threatening way: Jab knife into shell, dig, twist, scrape. Imagination also helps after, say, the thousandth oyster shucked that day.

"I think about the man I want to cut up," said Sandra Powell, a veteran New Orleans shucker who added, eventually, that she was kidding.

Then there's the way that blows oystermen's minds: Load oysters into a steel cylinder, fill with water, place in a high-pressure gizmo and set dial to 37,000 pounds per square inch. Three minutes later, remove, shake and watch oysters slip from their shells like kids down a water slide.

"It's like a miracle," said Ernie Voisin, 76, whose decades of questing for an automated shucker ended with the roaring, million-dollar device inside Motivatit Seafoods, a Houma processing plant he founded in the bayous 50 miles southwest of New Orleans. "I still get chills when I look at one."

Oystermen around the world have felt those same chills. Many view Voisin's discovery as this throwback industry's most revolutionary development in a century, the oystering equivalent to building a better mousetrap or reinventing the wheel.

"It's the holy grail," said Michael Morrissey, seafood lab director at Oregon State University, which does oyster research. "People have been trying to invent the perfect shucking machine for a hundred years -- the idea of an oyster popping open by itself, oystermen dream about that."

But Voisin's discovery is just part of this mostly mom-and-pop industry's shifting landscape. Because of concerns over a potentially deadly bacteria to a small at-risk group, California has banned raw oysters harvested in Gulf states during the warm-weather months between April and October.

Two-thirds of the country's oysters -- about 500 million raw pounds a year -- come from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Enacted in January, the ban so far has cost those states about $40 million. Louisiana, the biggest producer, has lost as much as $20 million, according to the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.

Oystermen are adapting, if slowly. A processor in Franklin, west of Houma, put a pot of oysters on his kitchen stove and turned the heat up and down until he arrived at an acceptable pasteurization method, which university scientists then perfected. Another processor has pioneered ways to freeze raw oysters.

And Voisin, a Cajun raised in the surrounding bayous, was fooling with a high-pressure water treatment to kill bacteria when the process unexpectedly shucked an oyster. Clean. It was as if Voisin had built a better mousetrap and cured the common cold.

"He was trying to make a safer product when -- voila! -- there was this added value of shucking the oyster," said Morrissey, who performed similar tests in Oregon after hearing about the strange doings in Louisiana. "It's like killing two birds with one stone."

Bacteria causes concerns

Louisiana is virtually one big outdoor oyster bar, its annual harvest of 250 million raw pounds accounting for a third of the country's oyster production. But since the 1980s, dozens of deaths and illnesses have been traced to vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that frolics part of the year in warm-water shellfish.

Though the bacteria's at-risk group is small among raw oyster eaters -- people with weakened immune systems, including alcoholics and diabetics -- the fatalities became a public relations nightmare. The price of Gulf Coast oysters slid almost 30 percent. The Red Lobster restaurant chain erased raw oysters from its menu, before coming back with a pasteurized brand.

About half of all oysters sold nationally are raw, and vibrio became the industry's public enemy No. 1. Voisin, an oysterman's son who worked for 23 years at a California aerospace company, joined a posse of researchers hunting a way to kill the bacteria while retaining the oyster's taste. He and his son Mike, who now runs Motivatit, tried everything from quick-cooling to irradiation. By the mid-1990s, they'd run out of ideas.

But while stalking vibrio, Ernie Voison also was hunting a shucking machine. Cracking open oysters with a hammer and then deftly cutting out the meat with a flat knife, sackful after burlap sackful, is tough, labor-intensive work, and finding shuckers was increasingly difficult.

Al Sunseri, general manager of the 127-year-old P&J Oyster Co. in New Orleans, has a stack of patent papers from loomlike shucking devices that his relatives dreamed up ages ago. A team of engineers once unveiled a contraption at an industry meeting that took up the entire stage, then dripped out one measly shucked oyster at a time.

Unexpected discovery

Voisin ran into the same problem everybody runs into: Few oyster shells are shaped alike, so while his devices shucked some oysters, they didn't shuck them all.

Then, in 1997, Voisin spotted an article in a European trade magazine about high-pressure water treatments that killed food bacteria. He and his son Mike got some oil-field pipe -- there's plenty around Houma -- and blasted away at some oysters. Mike Voisin figured they'd wind up with an "oyster malt," yet the oysters came out intact. But so did the vibrio.

Voisin consulted longtime colleague Marilyn Kilgen, head of the biology department at Nicholls State University, in nearby Thibodaux. Kilgen found an Illinois research lab to test the process more precisely, and Voisin sent her off with a cooler of tainted oysters.

Kilgen soon calibrated the pressure until it reduced vibrio to undetectable levels. But more amazing, in her mind, was the discovery that the extreme pressure, rather than squishing the oysters, altered their protein structure enough to separate them from their shells in perfect, better-than-hand-shucked condition.

Kilgen's initial, scientific, seen-it-all reaction: "Whoa!" She now calls it "a highlight of my research career."

Voisin patented the process and began using it about four years ago. It has since been adopted by a handful of other oyster processors, including one in Australia. Motivatit's machine-shucked sales have doubled in the last year: California's ban does not apply to treated oysters, which now comprise 20 percent of the U.S. market -- up from virtually zero five years ago -- even though the oysters cost twice as much.

But in Louisiana, there's still resistance to any kind of raw oyster treatment. Part of it is economic: The heavy-duty, high-tech machinery needed for Voisin's process, for instance, costs about $1 million. For others, the problem is cultural: a raw oyster is raw, not frozen or pasteurized or put in a pressurized tank.

"I eat raw oysters every day of my life -- I ate six this morning," said Sunseri, inside his French Quarter office at 8:30 a.m. "I much prefer eating a traditional oyster."

But many processors are simply waiting for treatment costs to fall. They can see the growing national obsession with food safety, and many observers believe they'll adjust when they have to.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," said Karen Foote, an administrator with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "Innovators are now being rewarded for innovation."

Added Mike Voisin: "There's an awareness of change in the air. [Oystermen] know it's coming."

The food safety bug


- 19/12/2003 - An innovative new food safety technique using a virus is set to win an exclusive worldwide licence. This marks the first step towards the commercialisation of this unusual process, a technique that a UK scientist claims can explode deadly food-poisoning bacteria.

Professor Mike Gasson from the Institute of Food Research in Norwich discovered the potential of viruses while researching flavour development in cheese in the early 1990s. And with the help of Profos, an international company specialising in bacterial viruses and antimicrobial agents, and PBL, technology transfer experts on the Norwich Research Park, Gasson was able to develop a practical technique.
“Viruses can infect bacteria as well as humans. A virus invades bacterial cells, multiplies and then produces an enzyme to burst the cell wall, enabling it to escape and infect more cells,?said professor Gasson. “We targeted an enzyme with this fire-power, to develop its potential in combating pathogenic bacteria.?

Viruses that infect bacteria are called bacteriophages. The bacteria-bursting enzymes that caught Gasson's attention are called lysins. Different lysins attack specific bacteria, so could be used as a diagnostic tool as well as an antimicrobial therapy in people and animals.

The bacteriophage lysins covered in the licence can be used to detect or selectively kill Listeria and Clostridium. They could even provide an alternative to antibiotics in some applications.

Rapid detection is particularly important for some of the more virulent bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria exists naturally in the soil and general environment, but in some soft mould-ripened cheeses and p?? can be present in higher numbers.

When listeriosis takes hold, it is often severe and life-threatening. The United States government operates a zero tolerance policy of Listeria in food. But there is no other simple rapid test available for large scale use by food manufacturers.

“Listeria is the food industry1s nightmare. Professor Gasson had the vision to spot the potential of using a virus to destroy it. With the expertise at Profos we1re turning that investigative science into a significant food safety tool to benefit the public,?said PBL managing director Jan Chojecki.

The licence also covers lysins that destroy Clostridium. This bacteria forms hardy spores, resistant to heating and drying. In poultry, Clostridium perfringens causes necrotic enteritis, currently cured with antibiotics. In humans, Clostridium difficile causes diarrhoea in patients receiving antibiotic treatment the bacterium seizes the opportunity to infect provided by disruption to naturally-occurring bacteria of the bowel.

“The demand for commercial alternatives to antibiotics is growing, in response to the need to tackle bacterial antibiotic resistance. As well as providing a new tool to combat bacteria now, there is interest in developing bacteriophage lysins to replace antibiotics in some applications in the future. Unlike antibiotics, this technology provides a precision tool, designed to kill specific bacteria while leaving other micro-organisms intact,?said Gasson.

The mission of the Institute of Food Research is to carry out independent basic, and strategic research on food safety, quality, nutrition and health. It is a company limited by guarantee, with charitable status, grant aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).