Food Safety News
Twelve of the 49 people sickened in the ongoing multistate Hepatitis A outbreak are Colorado residents, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The state announced on Tuesday that it is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate an outbreak believed to be associated with a froze berry and pomegranate mix purchased from Costco and Harris Teeter in several states.
Colorado has 12 cases under investigation from eight counties, the state agency said: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Clear Creek, Douglas, Eagle, El Paso and Jefferson. Other states reporting cases are Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah, according to the national update provided by CDC, which has not yet listed the number of cases per state.
Local press reports said Wednesday five San Diego County residents have been sickened as part of the outbreak as well. CDC is expected to report a state-by-state breakdown of the illnesses in the coming days.
Townsend Farms has issued a voluntary recall of its Organic Antioxidant Blend, 3-pound bag and UPC 0 78414 404448. This blend includes cherries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, raspberries and strawberries.
“The state health department is asking people to check their freezers. If you have the product, dispose of it. Do not eat it,” warned Coloado state officials. “Even if some of the product has been eaten without anyone in your home becoming ill, the rest of the product should be discarded.”
Colorado is advising those who have eaten the recalled product within the last two weeks to contact their medical provider or local health department for an immunization.
The hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection if given within 14 days of exposure. Some people should receive immune globulin instead of the hepatitis A vaccine. Consumers who ate recalled product more than 14 days ago and show symptoms of mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting diarrhea, dark urine and jaundice (yellow eyes or skin), should contact their health care providers.
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee said on Wednesday she is concerned about the food safety implications of the proposed acquisition of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer and processor, by Shuanghui International, the largest meat company in China.
“American consumers have long been able to trust the food they buy in the supermarket. The U.S. produces the safest, most affordable food in the world because of the high standard to which we hold our food producers,” said Stabenow, in a statement released by her office. “I am concerned about Shuanghui International’s possible purchase of Smithfield Foods and the implications it could have on food safety for American consumers.
Stabenow urged the Committee on Foreign Investment and other agencies responsible for reviewing the merger to take into account “China’s and Shuanghui’s troubling track record on food safety” and to “do everything in their power to ensure our national security and the health of our families is not jeopardized.”
The senator pointed out that two years ago, Shuanghui International admitted to putting illegal additives in its food products. Earlier this year, more than 9,000 dead hogs were found floating in a river in Shanghai after having been dumped there by farmers after the hogs contracted disease. Beyond pork, many reports of food contamination have recently plagued China’s entire food system.
If the proposed acquisition of Smithfield is approved and actualized, it would be the largest acquisition of an American company by a Chinese company in history.
Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium often associated with foodborne illness outbreaks in cheese and fresh produce, killed approximately one in five Americans it infected between 2009 and 2011, according to a new Vital Signs report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday.
Though experts called infections from Listeria rare, the pathogen still ranks as the third leading cause of death from food poisoning. The CDC cataloged more than 1,651 Listeria infections during the three-year period of 2009 to 2011.
The pathogen affects some demographics much more severely than others. People over the age of 65 were found to be four times more likely to fall ill from Listeria infection compared to the general U.S. population.
Pregnant women were 10 times more likely to fall ill. In particular, pregnant Hispanic women were 24 times more likely than the general population to contract listeriosis. While the women themselves would typically face only mild symptoms or fever, their infection increases their risk of miscarriage, premature labor or the infant’s death.
“Listeria strikes particularly hard at people who can’t fight it off,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a conference call to reporters.
The CDC’s report involved examining 12 foodborne Listeria outbreaks that sickened 224 people in 38 states. From those, six were connected to cheese, including five from soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk — particularly Mexican-style queso fresco. Another, the cantaloupe outbreak of 2011, became one of the deadliest foodborne illness outbreaks in U.S. history.
Since the 1990s, advancements in genetic fingerprinting of bacteria have allowed health investigators to uncover more Listeria outbreaks, leading to improvements in food manufacturing to reduce the risk of Listeria contamination, the report said. Those measures led to a 25 percent reduction in Listeria infections by the early 2000s, but that rate has plateaued.
Frieden said that it was the state of Colorado’s rapid response to the cantaloupe outbreak that prevented even more lives from being lost.
“They were monitoring trends and they noticed in just days that there was an increasing number of listeria cases,” he said. “They worked over a holiday weekend. They interviewed patients. They identified cantaloupe as the likely vehicle. They got it off the shelves, and they saved lives because they did that.”
The President’s fiscal year 2014 budget has proposed a $40 million investment in the CDC’s Advanced Molecular Detection Initiative, which would improve outbreak detection and the protection of public health, the report added.
Connecticut is the first U.S. state to pass a law requiring the labeling of genetically modified food. The liberal internet environmental news magazine Grist summed up the law when it was passed Tuesday: “Connecticut will label GMOs if you do too,” Grist reported.
While tied to what other states do, Connecticut did this week become the first state to adopt a law that could result in labeling genetically modified food. After the bill sailed through the Legislature with a unanimous vote in the Seante and a lopsided 134-to-3 vote in he House, Democratic Governor Danile Malloy said he’ll be signing it.
As Grist put it, “quite a crucial catch” is that the Connecticut law will not take effect until at least four other states adopt similar measures and one of those states must border the Constitution State.
After 37 labeling measures aimed at genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food were introduced in 21 states, the movement was in bad need of a win and it is loudly claiming the victory in Hartford.
“Connecticut’s victory marks an important step in the national movement for GE labeling, and signifies growing support for the consumer right-to-know,” said Scott Faber, Executive Director of Just Label It.
Since the surprising defeat of Proposition 37 in California last November, the national campaign to label foods with GMOs had won only one other victory — putting Initiative 522 on the ballot in Washington State through a so-called Initiative to the Legislature. Voters in the Evergreen State will decide on that measure in November because lawmakers in Olympia opted to do nothing with it.
The Just Label It campaign says that food with GMOs are labeled in 64 countries around the world, including the countries in the European Union. It says the campaign includes 650 diverse organizations that have come together around agreement that consumes have a “right to know” what’s in their food.
Citing the growing threat from antibiotic resistant infections, nearly 800 health care professionals signed onto a letter sent to the Obama administration on Tuesday urging more limits on antibiotics used in food animal production.
“Current patterns of antibiotic use in agriculture not only increase the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections in people but also support an agricultural system that harms public and environmental health,” said Ted Schettler, MD, the science director for the Science and Environmental Health Network and an adviser for Health Care Without Harm, one of the groups backing the letter, along with the Pew Charitable Trusts and Healthy Food Action.
In their letter addressed to 1600 Pennsyvlania Avenue, the advocates urge the president to “move forward with stalled U.S. Food and Drug Administration actions to reduce the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food animal production.”
The groups want the FDA to strengthen and finalize the voluntary guidelines the agency has been working on and also move forward on withdrawal of the “unsafe uses of antibiotics.”
“We also ask your administration to publicly report better data on livestock antibiotic sales to inform the public health community about emerging disease threats and to monitor the success of federal policies,” the letter read.
“Given the rapid rate at which many antibiotics are becoming ineffective for treating human disease and the limited number of new antibiotics in development, the FDA should take bold steps to rein in overuse and misuse,” the groups wrote.
Robert Gould, MD, President of the San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility, added: “The antibiotic resistance crisis is growing worse each day. Physicians are seeing more and more patients with antibiotic resistant infections in hospitals, and we are cleaning up our own act by curbing our own overuse of antibiotics in clinical practice. But this is not enough. We now recognize that feeding healthy animals antibiotics contributes enormously to this problem. As health professionals fundamentally concerned with the health of our patients, we urge President Obama to demonstrate his leadership on this issue by joining our demand that the livestock industry and the FDA promptly correct this serious threat to public health.”
This week, Connecticut won the honor of becoming the first state to pass a law requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled. (The governor has indicated he will sign.) It was really only a matter of time. The disappointing defeat of Prop 37 last fall in California (thanks to a massive industry disinformation campaign) sparked a national movement that has resulted in labeling bills getting introduced in about half the states.
But how did the small state of Connecticut make this happen?
She said for a long time efforts to pass labeling bills went nowhere, but things started to change two years ago once advocates formally organized themselves. While at first she and others “were dismissed as a bunch of crazy moms and environmentalists,” things started to pick up last year “when advocates were able to show themselves to be a serious movement with political power.”
What about the opposition? Cook-Littman said it was formidable, and that industry made all the same fear-mongering arguments we heard last year during Prop 37 in California about higher food prices and confusing consumers.
She and others suspect the biotech industry was funneling money through the trade group the Connecticut Food Association, which represents retailers and wholesalers. Also in opposition was the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the national trade group for food makers, which firmly stated its opposition to Prop 37 last year, calling it the organization’s “single-highest priority.”
In addition, Cook-Littman told me about the front group industry formed to oppose the bill, “Connecticut Farm to Food.” (For more about front groups, see my recent report.) This group’s home page claims boldly if inexplicably, “Forced labeling will drive business and science out of Connecticut.” Listed as sponsors are three groups: The Council for Biotechnology Information (a trade group for the biotech industry; its website is whybiotech.com), the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, and the previously mentioned Grocery Manufacturers Association. In other words, two of these three groups behind this “Connecticut” organization are based in Washington DC.
The toughest opposition though, Cook-Littman said, came from the Connecticut Farm Bureau, which claimed the bill would hurt farmers, despite the bill not even being about farming, but rather food products. “They claimed that farmers’ sales of value-added products would be destroyed if they had to be labeled,” she said. But as a strong counterweight, advocates had the support of the state’s numerous organic farmers, led by the Connecticut Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, which Cook-Littman called “our truest partner.”
Still, how did this grassroots group fight off such high-powered lobbyists representing at least three major industries – biotech, food retailers, and food manufacturers? She said, “We just got louder.”
What exactly was the turning point for the movement? Cook-Littman said face-to-face meetings with politicians were critical. “We spent a lot of time developing relationships with our representatives. Just spending that time with them was invaluable,” she said.
Also, the group’s social media presence, especially on Facebook, allowed non-paid advocates to engage in less time-consuming ways. “We told our representatives, ‘Look at what’s happening on Facebook.’”
And simply showing up in massive numbers when it counted: at two critical rallies, one before the legislative session began, another just weeks ago, along with a huge turnout for the hearing.
Cook-Littman credits the national advocacy group Food Democracy Now! for being a vital partner in the effort. “We could not have done it without them. They always believed in us, while others discounted us,” she said. “They also helped drive more than 40,000 phone calls to the governor’s office and provided strategic advice along the way.”
Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, told me that another turning point was when Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream came to the capital to testify in support of the bill.
“That gave the issue instant credibility because Ben and Jerry’s is a very successful company. There were politicians who had been against the bill standing in line for ice cream and a photo opp with Jerry.”
Also, there were several times during the process when they thought the bill was dead. But the advocates didn’t give up; another crucial lesson: to hang in there.
Of course, to get any bill difficult bill passed, compromises must be made along the way. While the labeling provisions of the bill are strong, unfortunately, legislators added a “trigger clause,” which requires that four other states in the northeast region enact similar bills before the law takes effect in Connecticut.
Cook-Littman told me that the advocates fought to keep this provision out, but at the end of day they were advised to take the compromise or else risk the bill going down to defeat, with an uncertain future. She is quite confident that the clause will actually motivate other states to get bill passed. And as a member of the Right to Know Coalition of States, she is determined to help others in doing so. She also hopes the passage helps the Washington State ballot measure coming up for vote this November.
What advice does Cook-Littman have for advocates in other states facing similar opposition from powerful lobbyists?
“I told my fellow advocates, ‘Stand in your power as a constituent and let your representatives hear you.’ Too often, we give up our power,” she said. “But once you realize that you can make a difference, that’s when change happens. Also, stay the course and keep fighting.”
Dave Murphy called the Connecticut victory “one giant step for Connecticut and one giant leap for the GMO labeling movement.” He continued: “The grassroots have won the day in Connecticut for a key victory over Monsanto and the biotech lobby. It was inspiring to watch Connecticut legislators supporting GMO labeling stand strong in the face of the biotech industry’s effort to kill the bill.”
Also feeling inspired, Cook-Littman told me, “It truly feels amazing to know that our little state of Connecticut, with its grassroots power, was able to beat back the opposition to get the bill passed. I really do think it is an important step and will encourage other states to do the same.”
I couldn’t agree more. These victories don’t come very often. Let’s savor this one.
One personal injury case has been filed on behalf of a San Diego woman who alleges she fell ill with a hepatitis A infection after eating the berries. The plaintiff developed a headache, fatigue, and pain in her right side, all of which lasted for three days before she finally sought medical treatment on May 21.
A class-action lawsuit has also been filed in California on behalf of Townsend customers who had purchased the berries and then received hepatitis A shots as a precaution upon being notified of the risk associated with the product. Those who are exposed to the hepatitis A virus may not suffer symptoms if they are vaccinated within two weeks of exposure.
Townsend Farms has recalled its products from Costco and Harris Teeter stores nationwide. Health investigators believe the hepatitis A contamination came from pomegranate seeds sourced from Turkey.
At least 49 people in seven states have fallen ill in the outbreak, with 11 of those being hospitalized.
The lawsuits have been filed by food safety law firm Marler Clark, which underwrites Food Safety News. The personal injury plaintiff is also represented by lawyers Fred Gordon of Gordon & Holmes and Rick Waite of Keeney, Waite & Stevens.
The problem was discovered when a supplier notified General Mills that an ingredient used in the Cinnamon Toast Crunch product had tested positive for the bacteria.
The cereal subject to the recall was distributed to food service such as cafeterias and restaurants, said the company in its recall announcement.
No other types of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or General Mills cereal are affected by the recall.
No illnesses have been linked to the recalled product, according to the food company.
The recalled cereal packages are marked with one of two “Better if used by” dates : either 31AUG2013 or 02SEP2013.
Food service operators who purchased the recalled product is urged to dispose of it and to call General Mills for a replacement.
The number of hepatitis A infections linked to a frozen berry mix sold nationwide has now climbed to 49, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday.
That announcement came on the heels of the first formal recall of the implicated product, which was issued by the maker of the berry mix, Oregon-based Townsend Farms, Monday — three days after the outbreak was announced by CDC. In its recall announcement, the fruit company revealed that the product had not only been sold at Costco, which removed the berries from store shelves Thursday, but also at Harris Teeter.
This means the product was not only sold in the western United States, where all of the illnesses reported to date have occurred, but also on the East Coast, where Harris Teeter stores are located.
States currently affected by the outbreak include Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Hawaii, and California. CDC has not released the number of illnesses by state.
Patients sickened in the outbreak are between the ages of 2 and 71 years old, a markedly different age range from the one reported in CDC’s last update Monday, in which no one under the age of 25 was known to have been affected.
According to CDC, 60 percent of the patients are female. Of the 25 people for whom information is available, 19 (76 percent) report eating Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend – the name under which the product was sold at Costco – in the week prior to illness.
Harris Teeter issued its own recall of the berry mix Tuesday, noting that it had removed the product from store shelves. The berry mix was sold under the name ‘Harris Teeter Organics Antioxidant Berry Blend’ from April 19 until May 7, 2013 in 10 oz. bags marked with UPC 0 72036 70463 4. Bags bear Lot Codes of T041613E or T0401613C and a “BEST BY” code of 101614.
Costco called all of its customers known to have purchased the frozen berries on Thursday of last week. Approximately 240,000 customers were notified that they had purchased the implicated product, sold at Costco stores starting in late February of this year, according to Craig Wilson, vice president of food safety at Costco.
The frozen berry mix was sold in 3 lb. bags at Costco marked with UPC 0 78414 404448. The recalled codes are located on the back of the package with the words “BEST BY,” followed by the code T012415 sequentially through T053115, followed by a letter. All of these letter designations are included in this recall for this sequence of lot codes.
Consumers who purchased the recalled product are urged to discard them or return them to their point of purchase for a full refund.
Those who consumed the recalled berry mix within the last two weeks and have not received the hepatitis A vaccine in the past should get the vaccine from their healthcare provider, or contact their local healthcare department if they do not have a healthcare provider.
People who ate the recalled product more than 14 days ago will not benefit from the vaccine, but should keep an eye out for symptoms of hepatitis A infection, which include, nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver. The strain of hepatitis A virus (HAV) implicated in this outbreak is rare in the United States, but more common in North Africa and the Middle East.
An agreement between the Canadian Pork Council and the National Animal Care Council will phase out the use of all gestation stalls for pregnant sows in Canada by the year 2024.
Animal welfare advocates have long opposed the use of gestation crates, which has been a common practice in both the U.S. and Canada. The Canadian hog housing agreement endorses blunt trauma for euthanasia including the practice know as “piglet thumping,” but bans the use of a gunshot to the head.
Under the agreement, all new barns constructed after July 1, 2014 will use open housing for gestating stalls where sows can be kept for 28 days after insemination plus up to seven more days as they are moved to open housing. All of these conditions are elements of a Canadian agreement to settle so-called hog housing issues, which is now open for public comment.
The agreement does not include any further restrictions on distances that hogs may be hauled, and tail docking and castration are still allowed with new provisions for controlling the pain those practices might cause. Tooth removal is restricted to only overly aggressive piglets that might cause damage to other animals. Finally, experts on the agreement say boars cannot be injured while stopping them from fighting during transport.
The comment period on the agreement will run for the next 60 days.
In the U.S., animal welfare activists have sought both state-by-state bans on the use of gestation crates and more recently the volunteer enlistment of restaurants and retailers in a campaign not to buy pork from farms that use the devices. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s , Applebee’s, Subway, Wienerschnitzel, Oscar Mayer, Costco, Safeway, Kroger, Chili’s and IHOP are among the businesses promising to eliminate the small cages used to confine breeding pigs from their own pork supply chains.
Canada’s agreement is betting on the phase-in period being enough to offset industry concerns about cost while satisfying consumers and animal welfare advocates. The draft code calls for housing gilts in groups prior to breeding and then housing gilts and sows by size. From weaning to mating, the draft code suggests sows can be kept in individual stalls or in groups. The changes impact barn design and how much space is dedicated to each animal.
For all housing newly built or rebuilt or brought into use for the first time after July 1, 2014, mated gilts and sows must be housed in groups, according to the draft. The public comment period extends through Aug. 3, 2013. The final pig Code of Practice is expected to be released before the end of 2013.
The sale of Smithfield Foods, the United States’ largest pork producer, to Shuanghui International, China’s largest meat company, raises new questions about the future of ractopamine, a controversial growth-promoting drug that is widely used in U.S. pork production and has long been the subject of trade disputes.
As a report by the Food & Environment Network and NBC News explained last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved ractopamine, a beta-agonist, more than a decade ago to improve the rate at which animals convert to feed to lean meat. Two dozen other countries, including Canada and Brazil, have also approved the additive for livestock production, but China, Russia, the European Union and several other countries question its safety and refuse to accept meat from animals raised on the drug.
With export sales lagging, the U.S. pork industry has started scaling back use of the drug to gain greater access to China and Russia – two major export markets that have recently demanded that incoming meat be certified ractopamine-free.
After converting its third slaughter plant to process only pigs not fed the additive, Smithfield Foods announced last month that it would be 50 percent ractopamine-free by June 1.
According to the report in NBC News, industry experts say the long-running trade fight may have been a factor in the Smithfield deal, as China seeks to gain more access to pork:
“This is probably a direct result of the ractopamine issue,” said John Saunders, CEO of Where Food Comes From, a third party auditing company that helps companies verify marketing claims.
IMI Global, Inc., a division of Where Food Comes From, has applied for a USDA verified process that would certify pork and beef as coming from animals not fed ractopamine or zilpaterol, another beta-agonist widely used in cattle. Under a similar program, the company already verifies that U.S. meat headed for the European Union meets their import requirements, which prohibit growth promoters of any kind. U.S. trade officials would not comment on when a certification program might be approved, but many in the industry expect it eventually will beview it as inevitable.
“We’ve had conversations with a majority of beef and pork packers about their path forward on this issue,” said Saunders. “They’re all engaged in conversations about this.”
David Warner a spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council would not comment on the Smithfield acquisition, but said it is not clear the deal changes the dynamics of the international dispute over the drug.
“I don’t know that it changes anything, really,” said Warner. “As far as I know China is not relaxing its restrictions on ractopamine.”
The U.S. government initially refused to meet China and Russia’s recent demands for ractopamine-free certification because trade officials believe the restrictions are unwarranted and not based on science.
Russia responded by shutting down its market to U.S. beef, pork, and turkey in February. According to the report by FERN, “While China has continued to accept U.S. pork as long as companies assure it is ractopamine-free, but the Chinese government has stepped up residue testing in recent months and recently demanded third-party certification to verify the additive is avoided. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have requested a meeting in Moscow June 17 to present Russian officials with a government-verified program to meet Russia’s demands.”
While few consumers are aware of ractopamine’s use in meat production, the additive has for years been a source of conflict between countries that ban its use it, including the EU, and those that use it, including the U.S., which is aggressively pushing for greater access to markets for agricultural products.
The EU has sharply questioned the science backing the drug. China says it’s worried about the higher levels of drug residues that can be found in pig organs, which are part of a traditional Chinese diet, and Russia claims the drug could pose health risks. U.S. trade officials say opposition to ractopamine is purely political.
“The proof that has been presented does not satisfy us,” said Gennady Onishchenko, Russia’s chief public health official, in February. “It does not stand up to criticism in terms of the methodology and the time over which the drug’s application was analyzed, and it does not answer the question regarding the drug’s accumulation in a human body.”
After several years of infighting, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a U.N. food standards setting body, last summer agreed to an international standard for the level of ractopamine residues considered safe in meat products, but trade disputes have continued.
The USDA is urging Russia and others to accept the Codex residue standard, which allows ractopamine at or below 10 parts per billion in muscle meat.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does limited testing for ractopamine residues domestically. In 2011, the most recent year data was reported, 298 samples were screened for the drug; one was positive but below FDA’s safety standard. Consumer Reports did its own testing of 240 samples last year and found 20 percent were positive for the drug, but the levels did not exceed 5 ppb, far below the Codex limit as well as the FDA’s, which is 50 ppb for pork meat.
U.S. officials say they have asked for but have not received any scientific justification from Russia or China to support their zero tolerance policies.
Colleen Parr Dekker, a spokesperson for Elanco, the manufacturer of ractopamine, said the company is concerned about the broad impact a move away from beta-agonists could have on corn demand and the environment, since livestock would need more to produce the same amount of meat.
Global AgriTrends, an industry analyst group, estimates that without the beta-agonists used by the vast majority of beef and pork producers, the meat industry would need to use 91 million more bushels of corn, worth more than $600 million.
“Trade is clearly very important to our customers globally,” said Parr Dekker. “That’s why the adoption of a global human safety standard for food from animals fed ractopamine by the United Nations food safety standards body (Codex) was so important. It is disappointing that we do see a few countries not honoring those global standards.”
With such a Codex standard in place, the United States could challenge the restrictions at the World Trade Organization.
As the report noted, in the U.S., some consumer advocates are worried that amid all the trade scuffles over the feed additive, the majority of ractopamine-free pork will be shipped abroad and not be an option for domestic consumers.
“Americans aren’t getting the ractopamine-free pork,” said Elisabeth Holmes, a staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety, which has petitioned the FDA to reevaluate the drug’s impact on human health and animal welfare and lower the trace residue levels that the agency considers safe in meat products. “Smithfield’s announcement of going 50 percent ractopamine-free was clearly to benefit its share price days before the Chinese buyout, not to protect consumers.”
In their petition to FDA, the Center for Food Safety and the Animal Legal Defense Fund cited a 2012 report by The Food & Environment Reporting Network/NBC News report that found ractopamine had been linked to more reported adverse drug experiences in more pigs than any other veterinary drug. Reports from producers commonly cited hyperactivity, trouble walking, and death. The FDA said the reports do not establish the drug caused the adverse health effects and maintains ractopamine is a safe and effective compound for food animal protection.
According to Jim Herlihy, a spokesperson for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, much of the ractopamine-free pork now produced is actually sold domestically because the U.S. does not export whole hog carcasses, but instead just ships certain cuts that can be sold at a higher price abroad, like organ meats, feet, ears, and tails.
“The majority of muscle cuts remain in the U.S., while more than 90 percent of certain cuts, primarily variety meat, go to export markets,” said Herlihy. “As the percentage of U.S. pork production that is ractopamine-free changes, so does the availability of that product to the U.S. market. This doesn’t address the scientific fact of whether ractopamine is safe when properly used in animal agriculture, which the FDA and Codex say it is, just the question of the availability of product.”
On a recent trip to our favorite Peruvian restaurant in New York City, my wife and I could not help but notice the large “C” letter grade from the Department of Health posted on the front door. The last time we were there, they had an “A.” When I inquired with the hostess about the change, her noticeably prepared robotic response was, “Oh it was no big deal, and we took care of all the issues.” Was it really no big deal?
Upon further investigation, here are some of the specifics about New York City’s letter grading system for restaurants. The letter grades are based on point values and condition levels. 0-13 points is an A, 14-27 points a B and 28 or more points is a C. There are five different condition levels based on severity and point value, so “Level 1″ would have the fewest points whereas “Level 5″ would have the most points. A public health hazard, like an improper cold holding temperature, would be a 7 point minimum, if the situation cannot be rectified before the inspection ends, the restaurant can be closed by the Health Department. A critical violation, such as not washing produce before preparation, will be worth 5 points. A general violation, like improperly sanitized cooking utensils, holds a minimum point value of 2 points. I found it interesting that some cited violations may result in “Notice of Violation” but are not actually counted towards the inspection.
Fines for food safety citations can get juicy in the Big Apple. They range from $200 to $2,000 or higher for repeated issues. I once saw a private school in Manhattan get nailed with a $900 fine following a health inspection…for three fruit flies. Is that excessive or justifiable? You be the judge. Either way, money talks and it makes people listen, especially if the food service operator truly deserves it. If a restaurant operator settles his violations online, the fines will be assessed lower than the minimum recommendation found by the inspector and they do not have to be present at a tribunal hearing before a judge. To me, the Health Department is acting just like a restaurant in this case; let’s just turn the tables quickly to increase the volume, offer a deal, not pay for any extra labor and make that money.
Here is another “incentive” – get a letter grade of A (less than 14 points) and you will not have to pay for any fines related to food safety. However, restaurants will not be let off the hook for legal obligations to New York City, such as not having a valid permit, smoking or not posting calorie counts. If any of those things are observed, you still will have to open up the check book.
As it turns out, the Peruvian restaurant in question was cited for a cold holding violation for not having a food product be held at or under 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The exact temperature was not disclosed on the report. This would confuse some individuals because the cold holding temperature for the state of New York at this time is 45 degrees F and is due to change on January 1 2014 to 41 degrees F. I guess NYC is a little bit different when it comes to internal temperature. Ground meat products in NYC should be cooked to 158 degrees F for 15 seconds (disregarding any posted consumer advisory); unlike the FDA Food Code that suggests 155 degrees F for 15 seconds. The restaurant was also cited for fruit flies (which may have broken the bank), improper sanitizer concentration and some food products stored uncovered.
As someone who audits, consults and teaches food safety, having a program in place that improves and discloses health issues is important to me. This process is by no means flawless and has an air of profitability. But…that letter C on the front door did not stop me or the few hundred other people that day from enjoying some Lomo Saltado or Causa. The food was excellent as always, cooked to the proper temperature, and we did not suffer any symptoms of illness. Maybe the C on the front door did have a positive effect on the kitchen staff in regards to food preparation.
I think it takes a more personal negative experience for consumers to stop patronizing certain restaurants, but the awareness and opportunity the letter system offers to research a particular eatery is revealing enough for people to make their own informed decisions if they choose.
For more information visit New York City’s restaurant inspection page.
The case count stood at 30 at the end of last week, with illnesses in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. Then over the weekend, Hawaii’s department of health reported two victims in that state, a number it raised to three Monday, according to Hawaii News Now. And while the Hawaiian cases were being added to the tally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported four more cases on the mainland, for a total of 37 ill.
Of the 34 cases reported by CDC, 11 have resulted in hospitalization. No illnesses have been reported among children to date.
The CDC has obtained illness information for 25 patients, of which 19 report eating the organic ‘Anti-Oxidant Blend’ from Townsend Farms of Oregon, which has been named as the suspected source of the virus.
The berries were sold at Costco stores in the western United States. Costco has removed the product from its shelves and notified all customers who bought the berries via its automated voicemail system, but Townsend has yet to issue a recall of the berry mix.
The strain of hepatitis A implicated in the outbreak is rarely seen in the United States, but is more common in northern Africa and the Middle East. However, the same strain was associated with an outbreak also linked to frozen berries in Europe earlier this year, and with an outbreak linked to pomegranates in British Columbia in 2012. Pomegranate seeds are also present in the organic mix linked to this ongoing outbreak.
The pomegranate seeds and other ingredients in the mix were sourced from countries around the world, including the U.S., Argentina, Chile and Turkey.
According to the farm’s website, they are certified organic by Oregon Tilth and the Washington State Department of Agriculture, as they own 44 acres of raspberry and blackberry farm in Washington’s Clark County. Because organic certification is standardizes throughout the world, the imported berries can be certified organic in Oregon and Washington as long as the conditions under which they were grown meet the certification standards.
Consumers who have eaten the implicated berries within the past 14 days are urged to get the hepatitis A vaccine from their healthcare providers. Those without healthcare providers should contact their local health departments. The vaccine will not be effective for people who were exposed to the virus more than two weeks ago, but these people should watch for symptoms of a hepatitis A infection, which include nausea, cramping in the upper right abdomen, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fatigue, dark urine and jaundice. Symptoms usually appear between two and six weeks after exposure.
Those who think they may have contracted a hepatitis A infection should contact their health care provider right away, advises CDC.
New York-based Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese is recalling 12 wheels of gouda cheese manufactured on December 20, 2012, due to contamination of Listeria monocytogenes.
This production batch has been labeled both “Schuyler” and “Bier Meck” gouda. The product was distributed in New York State, predominantly in the Albany region, and was distributed to retail stores and restaurants.
The label on the product will clearly state the product name and the company name. These products were sold to the distributor Adventure in Food Trading on March 26, 2013.
No illnesses have been reported to date. However, due to the time involved in tracing illnesses back to specific products, it is impossible to say whether anyone has fallen ill from this food.
The contamination was found during sampling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Consumers who have purchased Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company’s Schuyler Gouda or Bier Meck Gouda with a production date of 12-20-12 are urged to return the product for a full refund.
Another Western state was touched by the outbreak of a rare strain of hepatitis A, adding two more individuals to the list of those sickened nationwide. Hawaii is the sixth state to be added to the growing outbreak.
State health officials in Hawaii say two adults, one from the island of Oahu and the other from Kauai, are among those sickened with the liver disease. Like at least another 30 victims on the mainland, the Hawaii residents are believed to have consumed a frozen organic berry mix purchased at local Costco outlets.
The national warehouse outlet based in Seattle has removed the product from its shelves, and contacted it members who purchased the mixed berry product. But the weekend passed without any official recall by manufacturer of the suspect product, Townsend Farms, based in Oregon.
Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend contains berries from multiple locations (Argentina, Chile and Turkey) and a pomegranate seed mix from Egypt, according to health officials.
On Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said the outbreak strain (genotype 1B,) usually isn’t seen in the Western Hemisphere, but is more common to the Middle East and Northern Africa.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded its ongoing investigation over the weekend to include Hawaii in addition to the original five sticker states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.
Anyone who ate the Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries in the last 14 days should contact their personal physician or public health department about getting a vaccine or immune globulin injections, which are administered prophylactically.
Individuals requiring those treatments can become part of a class action lawsuit being filed against Townsend Farms today by the national food borne illness law firm of Marler Clark.
“Consumers of organic frozen berries should not have to worry about their safety,” said William Marler, attorney for the plaintiffs. Marler is also publisher of Food Safety News.
Antibiotic resistance among species of Salmonella remains an extremely rare phenomenon in Canadian health, but it’s a “growing concern” worth monitoring, according to a new study led by researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada published in the June 2013 edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases. The resistant strains also do not appear to be coming from food sold in Canada, but are instead brought back with Canadians who travel to Africa.
Between 2003 and 2009, Canadian health agencies collected a total of 76 samples of a Salmonella serotype known as Salmonella Kentucky from people who had fallen ill and sought medical attention. Out of those samples, 23 (or 30 percent) were resistant to ciprofloxacin, a fluoroquinoline antibiotic and the fifth most commonly prescribed antibiotic for humans in the United States.
Those 23 Salmonella Kentucky isolates, as it turned out, made up 66 percent of the 35 ciprofloxacin-resistant strains of Salmonella analyzed during that time period. Worth noting, however, is that health labs performed susceptibility testing on 21,426 nontyphoidal Salmonella isolates during the six-year period, meaning ciprofloxacin resistance was present in 0.16 percent of samples.
On a positive note, no ciprofloxacin-resistant strains have been found in Canadian retail meat samples, and no cases of ciprofloxacin-resistant Salmonella infections have yet been reported in the U.S.
Ciprofloxacin resistance in Salmonella does not touch on the issue of non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed, either, as veterinary fluoroquinolines are only legally prescribed to treat respiratory infections in cattle and swine. The study’s lead author, Dr. Michael Mulvey, told Food Safety News that his agency has seen no evidence that ciprofloxacins are being used for non-therapeutic purposes in agriculture animals.
So, where are these resistant cases coming from?
Of the 23 cases of resistant Salmonella infection monitored, researchers were able to track down the travel histories of 11 patients. Each patient, as it turned out, had traveled to an African country within a week of developing symptoms.
Similar ciprofloxacin-resistant cases have cropped up across Europe after travel to countries such as Morocco, Egypt and Libya.
The Canadian study did not look into the use of ciprofloxacins in African agriculture.
Many of the ciprofloxacin-resistant strains were also resistant to other classes of antibiotics, further complicating treatment options, Mulvey said.
Though the issue of ciprofloxacin-resistant Salmonella appears to be more of an African problem for the time being, Canada has had experience with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella getting into food in the past.
In 2003, Quebec began seeing a resistance to cephalosporin develop in strains of Salmonella Heidelberg in humans linked to poultry and retail chicken meat. The Quebec broiler industry decided to voluntarily cease use of cephalosporins on chickens in 2005, which led to a “dramatic decrease” in rates of resistance, the study said.
“Once bacteria become resistant, the drugs used to cure the bacterial infection no longer work or are less effective,” Mulvey said. “In addition, the lack of new antibiotics in development is of serious concern.”
When an expert like James Marsden, Distinguished Regents Professor of Food Science at Kansas State University, starts talking about processing aids, it’s as if a menu of choices pops up in his head. The professor is best known for his work on reducing Shiga Toxin-producing Escherichia coli in beef, so he’s very familiar with the intervention methods that achieve this.
But in going down the list of processing aids that might be used to eliminate E. coli before it can reach consumers, it’s clear there are some choices that would be wiser for producers than others.
“While the very definition of a processing aid is a substance used in food production that are not present in any concerning amount in the end product, they are not always without controversy. Two that come to mind are the industrial-like ammonia process used by Beef Products Inc. to make its lean finely textured beef that the public came to know as ‘pink slime’ and the transglutaminase powder known as ‘meat glue.’”
The USDA has a zero-tolerance policy for seven strains of E. coli.
“It’s very hard to achieve that,” says Marsden.
But one thing that helps producers in this effort is processing aids.
Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture approve processing aids for foods ranging from meat and poultry to other food products. They are not supposed to change the appearance or taste of the product in any way and, more importantly, they cannot negatively impact food safety or public health.
Anything added to food, including processing agents, is regulated as a food additive. That means the processing agent must be “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, in order to be approved for use in foods. Food additives and processing agents are either on the GRAS list because of their history of safety, or because companies who use them have gone though scientific processes to prove their safety.
Processing aids are not considered ingredients, however, and therefore are not required to be listed on ingredient lists on nutrition labels.
Both agencies recognize three types of processing aids: those that are used and removed, those that are converted into components that naturally occur at insignificant levels without changing the finished product, and some that remain in food at low levels without any technical or functional effect.
Not all processing aids are as complicated as BPI’s ammonia process or transglutaminase. Take hot water and steam, for example. Thermal processing of beef carcasses using hot water and/or steam is a processing aid that’s been highly effective in reducing E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens, according to Janet Riley at the American Meat Institute. Hot water and steam leave no residues and have no lasting effect on the product.
Marsden says the use of high-pressure washes in ready-to-eat lunchmeats and hot dogs have virtually eliminated Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium that causes the infection listeriosis, in these products. As recently as the late 1980s, Listeria contamination seemed to some to be an insolvable problem for the ready-to-eat products.
Killing antimicrobials is just one of the functions processing aids play during the food production process. Others include removing impurities, preventing crystallization, controlling pH levels, controlling bacteria in chill water, scalding agents that remove feathers, and others.
Not every solution can be applied to every product, however. For example, restrictions on Kosher and Halal meats dictate that thermal processes cannot be used. And processing aids that are effective on one pathogen strain might not work on another. That’s something Marsden is dealing with now, as there are six strains of E. coli that have recently been banned from beef, in addition to E. coli O157:H7, which has been banned since 1993.
Only insignificant amounts at safe levels should remain in the food once a processing agent is used, but Marsden says food companies must be aware of how the consumers view chemicals.
Some the public accept without a second thought, such as using lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid, which have not raised consumer concern.
Fruit and vegetable washes, which are often comprised of organic acids or chlorine, have also raised little concern. The addition of ammonia to lean finely textured beef , on the other hand, became so controversial that almost all beef companies stopped using product processed this way when it gained national attention in the spring of 2012. Transglutaminase powder, or ‘meat glue,’ as mentioned above, has also raised consuer concern over the past couple years.
Vernon Hershberger was not the first and won’t be the last of the raw milk outlaws to get off or get mostly off by a jury — his recent trial did give an economic development boost to tiny Baraboo, WI.
The town was filled with food freedom celebrities and raw milk adherents for the weeklong event that ended with Hershberger being found not guilty on three of the four charges. While Hershberger still faces a year in jail and up to a $10,000 fine, the food freedom movement declared the outcome a big win.
They also said it has some kind of larger significance, suggesting that in the future prosecutors will shy away from taking these Forrest Gump-like characters to trial. I agree there is a lesson in the Baraboo trial for state and local prosecutors when it comes to these raw milk outlaws. The lesson is not to shy away from jury trials, but to re-think the charges that are brought.
The charges upon which the jury found Hershberger not guilty involved his going without certain licenses and operating a so-called “buyers club” that state saw as a retail business. It came across as bureaucratic stuff; just the kind the jury could come to see as unfair just before it fell asleep.
The one count upon which Hershberger was found guilty was violating the state’s hold order on his milk and food that was placed under police tape on June 2, 2010. His supporters say he admitted it, but it is also the only one of the four counts the jury could easily visualize. Everybody knows its illegal to cut those police seals, it’s even taught on NCIS.
No, the problem is not bringing Vernon Hershberger or Alvin Schlangen, who is another who got off in neighboring Minnesota, to jury trials. No, the trouble is bringing charges that do not deliver the injured into the courtroom.
As I’ve said before, everybody in America can drink raw milk if they so desire. Get a cow and have at it. As we learn in Economics 101, if someone thinks they wants to drink raw milk but ends up not doing so, they’ve given up raw milk due solely to their own peculiar economic desires, not the law.
Pasteurization, one of the greatest food safety advances of modern society was embraced after massive killing outbreaks early in the 20ths century in cities like Boston and Portland. In researching those historic events, one finds the dairies that were responsible were not the schlock operations. Instead, they were heralded for their food safety records up until the time of their disasters.
Then, time, temperature and distance caught up with them. Those are the Achilles heels of raw milk. Next time some Forrest Gump is bought into court, let’s have the charges be for criminal negligence for the injury or injuries to people sickened by raw milk.
Let’s put those victims and their relatives in the courtroom and let them hang around the town square for the time of the trial, doing media interviews. Let the folks hear from mothers like Mary McGonigle-Martin, who nearly lost her son Christopher Martin to raw milk. Then we will see just how popular raw milk is with a jury.
Unfair you say? I don’t think so. We are not talking about the right to drink raw milk here. We covered that already. See the part about the cow.
We are talking about the organization and structure of commercial enterprises to sell raw milk at retail prices to the public. So when that delivery to the last few “private food club” members in the city ends up being a bridge too far, and toxin growth permanently injures an innocent child, somebody should be held criminally responsible.
Unsuspecting children are the victims of these enterprises, and prosecutors need to focus on those stories and not let them get bogged down on license cases.
Indeed we are either going to see stepped up prosecution of these criminal enterprises or wait for the inevitable return of the Boston or Portland size outbreak of early 20th Century. The cure-all claims and other medicine show-like promotions of raw milk to city dwellers is not going to end well.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on May 31, 2013, 30 people ill with acute hepatitis A may be linked with consumption of Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, a frozen berry and pomegranate seed mix. Illnesses thus far have been reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California. These numbers are expected to change (increase) as the investigation continues. This weekend thousands of people are receiving hepatitis A vaccinations or Ig shots to prevent the hepatitis A infection. Many are worried if they are too late for treatment and are awaiting symptoms.
According to the CDC, preliminary laboratory studies of specimens from two cases suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus (HAV) is genotype 1B. This strain is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in the North Africa and Middle East regions. This genotype was identified in a 2013 outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries and another 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt.
In April 2012, eight cases of hepatitis A were reported in British Columbia possibly linked to frozen berries according to the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). The BCCDC warned consumers not to eat Pomeberry Blend frozen berries manufactured by Western Family. The blend, which was distributed through Save-On-Foods and Overwaitea, contained frozen pomegranate seeds, blueberries, strawberries and cherries. Although there is no direct link, the BCCDC suggested that as a precaution, individuals who had the Pomeberry Blend product in their refrigerator or freezer should not to consume it.
In early May 2013, Eurosurveillance reported at least 71 people in Europe sickened with Hepatitis A in an outbreak believed to be linked to frozen berries served in smoothies. The hepatitis A outbreak was first announced in Denmark on March 1, 2013. A case–control study identified frozen berries eaten in smoothies as the potential vehicle for the illnesses. In the following weeks, Finland, Norway and Sweden also identified an increased number of hepatitis A patients. Most cases reported having eaten frozen berries at the time of exposure. By April 17, 71 cases were noted in the four countries. There were 35 people sickened in Denmark and another 36 sickened between Finland, Norway and Sweden. Illnesses began as early as October 1, 2012.
No specific type of berry, brand or origin of berries has been identified.
On May 29 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced that it was working closely with the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) to help identify the origin of another recent outbreak of hepatitis A virus infection in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. All 15 infected people had traveled to Trento and Bolzano, in Italy.
The joint report noted that preliminary investigations have identified frozen berries as the most likely source of infection. According to the ECDC, Since January 1, 2013, 15 laboratory-confirmed cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. A large number of cases reported consumption of berries prior to disease onset. In addition, hepatitis A was isolated from a pack of mixed frozen berries at the residence of one of the cases.
It will be interesting in the post-mortem if United States health officials, Townsend Farms and retailers missed the warnings of this frozen berry treat.
This case count includes 7 more illnesses than the 11 reported on May 21.
BBQ Shack restaurant in Toccoa, GA is the suspected source of the E. coli bacteria, which was confirmed as the source of 11 of the 18 cases through lab analysis. The other 7 cases are suspected, reported OnlineAthens.
Several of the victims were hospitalized as a result of their infections, and five developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli infection that leads to kidney failure.
These five patients are recovering, a press officer for the local health department told OnlineAthens.
The outbreak appears to be over, and to have lasted only a short time, according to health officials. Patients fell ill between May 4 and May 8, 2013. No cases with onset dates after May 8 have been reported.
“The risk is gone,” said Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Among the potential vehicles of the bacteria identified by investigators is iced tea served at the restaurant.
“We’re looking at everything on the Menu,” Nydam told OnlineAthens Friday.