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Frozen doesn’t mean thaw and eat; dangers lurk in the freezer

Food Safety News - 7 hours 48 min ago

New research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveals that consumers may not know how to safely cook frozen foods, which can put families at risk of getting foodborne illness in their homes.

“As consumers are preparing more meals at home, it is important that these cooks are practicing food safety in their kitchens” says Mindy Brashears, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety. “Our research shows that home cooks should read product labels to understand how to properly prepare an item, and not rely solely on appearance.”

Consumers may not know that some frozen foods are not fully cooked or ready to eat, especially if they have browned breading, grill marks or other signs that normally show that a product has been cooked. In a recent USDA study, 22 percent of participants said a not-ready-to-eat frozen chicken entrée was either cooked, partially cooked, or they weren’t sure that the product was in fact raw.

Frozen foods are convenient for busy families, because of how quickly they can be prepared. Frozen food products are also a great option because children can easily prepare frozen meals on their own. It is especially important for children to know how to practice the necessary food safety steps needed to prepare frozen meals to avoid foodborne illness, and to help them do so, parents must first understand if products are raw or ready-to-eat.

“Although some frozen products may look cooked, it is important to follow the same food safety guidelines as you would if you were cooking a fresh, raw product,” says Brashears. “Wash your hands before food preparation and after handling raw frozen products, and use a food thermometer to make sure your frozen meals reach a safe internal temperature.”

Among national survey respondents who had experience with foodborne illnesses, 61 percent reported they did not make changes to how they handled food at home after being sick, which is concerning when you consider that more than half of survey respondents reported that someone in their home was considered at-risk for foodborne illness. These individuals — children, older adults, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems — are unable to fight infection as effectively as others, so they can be susceptible to longer illness, hospitalization and even death from foodborne illness.

USDA shares the following recommendations to keep your family safe when preparing frozen meals.

  1. Inadequate handwashing is a contributing factor to all sorts of illness, including foodborne illness. It is important to follow proper handwashing steps before, during and after preparing frozen food to prevent germs from transferring from your hands to your meal.
    • In this study, 97 percent of participants did not attempt to wash their hands during meal prep to prevent cross-contamination, which is consistent with results from previous observational studies.
    • Of those who tried, 95 percent failed to wash their hands properly. There are five steps for proper handwashing: wet, lather with soap, scrub for 20 seconds, rinse and dry.
    • Most participants failed to rub their hands with soap for a full 20 seconds.
  2. Although frozen products may appear to be pre-cooked or browned, they should be handled and prepared no differently than raw products and must be cooked. Frozen products may be labeled with phrases such as “Cook and Serve,” “Ready to Cook” and “Oven Ready” to indicate they must be cooked.
  3. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your frozen meat and poultry products to determine whether they are safe to eat.
    • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a three-minute rest time.
    • Ground meats (beef, pork, lamb and veal): 160 degrees Fahrenheit
    • Poultry (whole or ground): 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Frozen and raw produce may also carry germs that can cause foodborne illness. It is important to handle produce properly to prevent the spread of germs to your food and kitchen.
    • When preparing the frozen corn for a salad, almost all participants in the study failed to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to check that it reached a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. A food thermometer is the only safe way to know if it reaches that temperature.
    • Even if you are preparing a cold salad, frozen produce must be cooked first.
    • If you are handling fresh produce, follow recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to rinse and scrub raw vegetables prior to peeling them. When preparing a cucumber for the salad, nearly half of participants rinsed and scrubbed the surface of the cucumber with their hands instead of using a vegetable brush while rinsing; FDA recommends using a brush for cucumbers and other hard vegetables.
  5. Check that frozen food in your freezer has not been recalled. You can find information about recalled items and how to handle them on the USDA and FDA websites.
    • After learning about a recalled item, 94 percent of survey respondents who had the item in their home followed the recommendations from the recall: to discard the item or return it to the store.
    • Consumers can visit FoodSafety.gov or the USDA’s FoodKeeper application to view all food recall information from USDA and the FDA.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that millions of Americans are sickened with foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Follow these food safety recommendations to decrease the risk of foodborne illness in your home.

These findings are part of a multi-year, mixed-method study that FSIS commissioned to evaluate various consumer food handling behaviors. The study uses test kitchens, focus groups and nationally representative surveys to better understand food safety practices and experiences with food recalls, foodborne illness, and FSIS food safety resources. More information about this study is available in an executive summary.

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Food standards amendment backed in UK Ag Bill

Food Safety News - 7 hours 51 min ago

An amendment to the Agriculture Bill on food import standards has been approved in the United Kingdom.

Other proposed changes include asking the government to think again on the use of pesticides, climate change targets, and the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

The votes in the House of Lords mean the bill will return to the House of Commons in October, where Members of Parliament will decide whether the amendments will be passed into law.

Members voted in favor of changes to limit the use of pesticides in certain areas to protect public health, proposals that agricultural and food imports should meet domestic standards, requirements for agriculture and associated land to contribute to climate change targets, and creation of a Trade and Agriculture Commission.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced the establishment of a Trade and Agriculture Commission in June chaired by Tim Smith, a former chief executive of the Food Standards Agency.

Positive reaction to votes
Minette Batters, National Farmer Union president, said the amendment to strengthen the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission would allow Parliament to get independent advice about the impact every trade deal will have on domestic food and farming standards.

“We believe the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission is crucial to providing proper parliamentary oversight of our future trade policy and it is encouraging to see peers support this view. They were right to strengthen the Agriculture Bill to provide better scrutiny of future trade deals. I hope MPs will not ignore this strength of feeling when the bill returns to the House of Commons,” she said.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection and food policy, at consumer watchdog Which?, said: “It is good to see that the House of Lords has recognized the need for iron-clad legislation to ensure future food imports and trade deals do not undermine decades worth of progress, or risk food produced to inferior standards ending up on the menu in schools, hospitals or on supermarket shelves.

“It is vital that the government and MPs now accept this amendment into the Agriculture Bill, so consumers have the reassurance they need that the UK’s food standards will be maintained for years to come.”

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) also welcomed the voting through of the amendment requiring food imports to meet domestic standards.

Gary McFarlane, Northern Ireland director at CIEH, said it was a victory to ensure that Britain’s food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards are not undermined in future trade agreements.

“Without legal protections, UK consumers could be exposed to cheap, low-quality imports like chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef, undermining existing standards and paving the way for the erosion of British standards in the future,” he said.

“We are delighted that the House of Lords has been able to hold the government to account on its manifesto commitment to maintain and improve existing standards post-Brexit. Voices from all corners of society have all warned that our treasured food standards should not be up for negotiation. In the interests of protecting public health, the government must now honor its commitments and not seek to overturn this amendment.”

EU-UK trade talks warning
Meanwhile, ahead of the ninth round of negotiations between the European Union and UK taking place next week, three industry groups have again warned of consequences of failing to reach a deal.

FoodDrinkEurope, Copa-Cogeca and CELCAA said no deal on future EU-UK trade relations will result in a “devastating double whammy” for farmers, agri-food businesses and traders already struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The associations called on negotiators to agree to a future trade agreement that supports business and jobs and helps protect EU and UK trade that was worth €58 billion in 2019. They added the agreement must maintain a level playing field between the two parties and protect the integrity of the single market.

The trio said where business needs predictability, all they have is uncertainty, with no clarity as to how exports will be treated beginning in January 2021.

“Less than four months before the end of the transition period, there are still many unknowns that make preparation impossible. In particular, food operators from both sides of the Channel need to know the UK’s regulatory regime on plant health, animal health, food and feed controls, and any future requirements impacting EU exports.”

Copa and Cogeca represents 23 million farmers and 22,000 agricultural cooperatives in the EU, FoodDrinkEurope is a voice for the food manufacturing industry and CELCAA represents more than 35,000 trading companies in cereals, grains, oil, sugar, animal feed, wine, meat products, dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, tobacco, spices and nuts, cut flowers and plants.

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Outbreaks down but illnesses up for Denmark

Food Safety News - September 26, 2020 - 12:03am

The number of foodborne outbreaks was down but the amount of people falling sick was up in Denmark in 2019 compared to the year before.

This past year, 51 outbreaks were reported with 1,929 patients. Eighteen of the outbreaks were national events, of which four were part of international incidents. The most frequent setting was restaurants with 15 outbreaks affecting 534 people.

In 2018, 1,600 people were affected by 64 outbreaks. Norovirus remained the most frequent cause of foodborne outbreaks.

Large outbreaks
In 2019, Clostridium perfringens was associated with 10 outbreaks affecting 551 people compared to five in 2018 affecting 107 people. Incidents involving Clostridium perfringens are usually caused by insufficient cooling of large portions of food, like meat sauces and sous vide or slow roasted meats.

The largest outbreak, involving 268 people, was caused by insufficient cooling of minced meat sauce packed with other items into chilled ready-to-heat meals and delivered to 3,500 subscribers of a meal box delivery scheme. Another outbreak of 101 people was due to a buffet meal. Sandwiches were blamed for 17 illnesses.

Norovirus saw a rise in outbreaks in 2019 compared to 2017. This past year there were 19 outbreaks with 932 people affected.

One outbreak was caused by oysters harvested in Denmark by a person in a closed zone. They were served raw at a private party. Two others affecting 64 people were linked to oysters imported from other EU countries. Two large outbreaks with 205 and 180 cases were linked to composite meals. Open sandwiches sickened 84 people in one outbreak while cakes from a retail bakery affected 14 people.

For the third year in a row, the number of Campylobacter infections increased. However in 2019 the rise was larger than previously seen, with 5,389 cases compared to 4,546 in 2018. Nine foodborne outbreaks were investigated and six had Danish produced chicken meat as the source.

Steady Salmonella
Infections with Salmonella remain comparable to previous years with 1,120 cases in 2019, and 1,168 and 1,067 in 2018 and 2017, respectively. Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium including the monophasic variant (4,[5],12:i:-) continue to be the most common serotypes with 310 and 272 cases.

Nine national Salmonella outbreaks were recorded. Three were caused by monophasic Salmonella typhimurium 4,[5],12:i:- and Danish produced pork meat was the source in two of them.

The third was the largest with 57 patients. It was related to an international investigation involving Finland and Sweden with more than 200 registered cases from 2018 to 2019 with a WGS profile similar to that of the Danish outbreak. However, the suspected food vehicle for the international cluster was pork meat products and the suspected source in the Danish outbreak was locally produced minced beef meat.

An outbreak with Salmonella Coeln from May to August involved 26 cases aged eight to 87 years old but interviews did not reveal the source. An outbreak with Salmonella Derby was investigated from April to June and involved 11 cases, aged 45 to 79 years old. The national event was probably caused by pork meat products from a Danish slaughterhouse.

Of the other outbreaks, eight fell ill in a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak, a Salmonella London outbreak sickened four, Salmonella Mikawasima affected three, and Salmonella Muenchen sickened four. The suspected source for the Salmonella Mikawasima incident was vegetables or lettuce.

Similar to previous years, the most important food source was Danish produced pork with 8 percent of cases, according to a source attribution model. It attributed 250 of 469 infections to a food source. Pork was followed by imported duck with 6.5 percent. It is the first time such a large proportion of cases has been attributed to this food. The third most common source was imported pork followed by Danish produced table eggs.

More than 40 percent of cases were related to travel. Similar to previous years, most travel-related patients went to Turkey, Thailand and Egypt.

Listeria and STEC
Sixty-two Listeria cases were recorded in 2019 compared to 47 the year before. An outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes ongoing since 2016 was solved. It included 11 cases, of which three were from 2019. Salads including hummus from a small retailer in Jutland seemed to be the common food source. Swab samples and samples of products from the shop found Listeria. These isolates clustered with those from patients in the outbreak.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) continued to rise and was behind 630 illnesses compared to 495 in 2018. The number of registered STEC cases has increased every year since 2015.

STEC O157 sickened the most with 60 people compared to 43 the year before. It was followed by O26 and O103 both with 32 infections, O146 with 31 and O63 with 26. A STEC O157 outbreak affected 13 people but the source was not found.

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CDC says salad Cyclospora outbreak over; FDA canal water investigation continues

Food Safety News - September 25, 2020 - 5:38pm

A multistate outbreak of Cyclospora infections linked to salad products that were made by Fresh Express bagged salad and is under investigation is over, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The outbreak included Fresh Express-branded products as well as products made by Fresh Express for retail store brands sold at ALDI, Giant Eagle, Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco, ShopRite, and Walmart. The FDA’s investigation is continuing, in consultation with Florida officials and a regional water board.

“FDA’s traceback investigation is complete, however, the cause or source of the outbreak has not been determined. FDA’s investigation is continuing, in consultation with the state agriculture and regional water board,” according to an update posted today by the Food and Drug Administration.

“FDA investigated multiple farms identified in the traceback, one of which led to sampling and investigation around a farm in south Florida. FDA continues to work with the state of Florida and the local water district to try to determine the source and impact of Cyclospora that was found in the regional water management canal C-23, located west of Port St. Lucie, Florida.”

The FDA reports that it has been unable to determine if the Cyclospora detected in the canal is a genetic match to the patients, therefore, there is currently not enough evidence to conclusively determine the source of this outbreak. 

However, the presence of Cyclospora in a canal that had previously supplied irrigation water in the region, and specifically to a farm identified in the traceback, suggests the need for a collaborative effort by state, federal, and industry partners to better define the scope of the contamination and identify appropriate risk mitigation measures, according to the FDA investigation update.

The CDC reports as of Sept. 23 a total of 701 people with laboratory-confirmed Cyclospora infections associated with this outbreak were reported from 14 states. Illnesses started on dates ranging from May 11 to July 24. Ill people ranged in age from 11 to 92 years old. No deaths were reported in this outbreak, but 38 people had to be hospitalized.

On June 27, 2020, Fresh Express recalled products containing either iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, or carrots and displaying the product code Z178, or a lower number. The “Best by” date on the products run through July 14, 2020.

The recalled products are now well beyond expiration and likely no longer on the market or in consumers’ homes.

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Guilty pleas lead to January 2021 sentencing date in the ‘Choice’ turned into ‘Prime’ beef scheme

Food Safety News - September 25, 2020 - 12:05am

Howard Mora and Alan Buxbaum, co-owners of Stein Meat Products Inc. in Brooklyn, NY, are scheduled to be sentenced next year after recently entering  guilty pleas for a scheme to turn “Choice” beef into “Prime.”

Mora, 68, and Buxbaum, 66, must appear for sentencing at 11 a.m., Jan. 7, 2021, in federal court in Brooklyn before Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto. The judge earlier this week accepted their guilty pleas. 

 Each entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud by using counterfeit U.S. Department of Agriculture stamps to sell misbranded lower quality beef at inflated prices to consumers. At sentencing, each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison and criminal forfeiture of $250,000.

Mora and Buxbaum were originally indicted by a grand jury in September 2019. The defendants were both released on $250,000 appearance bonds with some restrictions on their travel. Judge Matsumoto granted most of the past year for attorneys in the case to “engage in voluminous discovery” and plea negotiations, which she thought carried “a real chance of producing a resolution in the case short of trial.”

“Stein Meats, during the relevant time, was a wholesale meat processing and distribution business that purchased meat and poultry products in bulk from various distributors and processed those products to fill orders from customers, including multiple restaurants located in the New York City area,” according to court documents.

The fraudulent scheme
“Between approximately September 2011 and October 2014, the defendant(s) Howard Mora and Alan Buxbaum, together with others, agreed to execute a scheme to defraud their customers causing: Stein Meats to purchase Choice grade carcasses and sides of beef that were then processed into wholesale products that were fraudulently sold to customers as consisting of Prime grade beef,” plea documents say.

Stein customers were then charged more than the falsely labeled beef was worth. In furtherance of the fraud scheme, Mora and Buxbaum directed an employee to obtain counterfeit USDA grading stamps from a source in New Jersey.

Mora and Buxbaum also directed Stein Meat employees to shave off areas of carcasses where USDA inspectors stamped “Choice” on the products and then replace them in other locations as “Prime.”

The fraudulent activity occurred from September 2011 and October 2014, defrauding one or more customers. And it occurred within the jurisdiction of the U.S.District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

According to the charges, the scheme was accomplished utilizing wire communication. The government has also filed a notice of its intent to seek forfeiture of the proceeds from the offense.

The defendant’s sentencing submissions and motions must be served and filed by Dec. 15, with government responses due Dec. 22, and any reply by the defense due by Dec. 29.

According to USDA, beef is evaluated by highly-skilled meat graders using a subjective characteristic assessment process and electronic instruments to measure meat characteristics. When there is no cheating, quality grades are a “language” that is well understood in the beef industry, assisting in business transactions.

These characteristics follow the official grade standards developed, maintained, and interpreted by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Beef is graded in two ways: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass.

Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling   Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Finally, Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. 

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Listeria found for years at site of sandwich producer

Food Safety News - September 25, 2020 - 12:03am

The factory of a sandwich producer in England linked to an illness was contaminated by Listeria for almost three years, a report into the incident has found.

In July 2017, Listeria monocytogenes was isolated from the blood of a 53-year-old in a hospital in Yorkshire and Humberside with an underlying health condition. The man had eaten sandwiches made by the company while in the hospital at least 12 times in the three weeks prior to illness.

The isolate was genetically indistinguishable to those from sandwiches and salads produced by the company based in Bradford who supplied National Health Service (NHS) hospitals, other institutions and retailers nationwide.

Listeria monocytogenes was detected in the firm’s products between December 2016 and August 2017, at the manufacturer’s premises and from two hospitals’ in-house sampling. The business and local authority had been trying to control the bacterium at the production site since December 2016. The implicated Listeria monocytogenes strain was found at the site and in products up to July 2019.

The firm continued to supply NHS hospitals but stopped in September 2019 for commercial reasons, according to the report. Food Safety News understands the business referred to is Tiffin Sandwiches. The company has not responded to requests for comment.

In its strategic report for the year ending May 31, 2019, Tiffin Sandwiches reported that since the end of that financial year it had stopped supplying the NHS.

“The company consulted with Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency and following these consultations, proposed this change. Given all the information available to the company, a decision was made to cease the supply of products to hospitals.”

Contamination below legal requirement
An incident management team was set up in August and closed in November 2017. This group involved Public Health England, the Food Standards Agency and Bradford Council. Over the course of the investigation, recovery of Listeria monocytogenes from the company and hospitals was reduced.

All food samples tested, when placed on the market and during shelf life, had levels of Listeria monocytogenes below the legal limit of 100 colony forming units per gram.

The implicated strain was isolated after the investigation had finished in January, February, May, August, October, November and December 2018 as well as January, May and July 2019.

The company produced 40,000 sandwiches a day of which 12,000 were for the NHS. The factory made 88 different sandwiches, salad and other foods with a two-day shelf life. They supplied 213 NHS outlets across the country and 1,250 other establishments including universities, service stations and railways. The firm was a Support, Training & Services (STS) approved NHS supplier and recent audits showed it operated to a high standard.

Procedures were generally good but layout changes to expand the production area had been implemented and issues were identified such as sanitization systems for washing machines. Wheeled trolleys were not disinfected before moving from low to high risk areas. The outdoor to indoor shoe changing area bench was also a concern. One of the floors was draining from a low to high risk area.

Samples cleared by commercial lab
The company replaced the salad washing machine, improved the floor covering and drainage system with drains cleaned daily and deep cleaned at weekend. It was also told to wash the butter depositor prior to use.

Listeria monocytogenes had not been detected in any samples the company sent to a commercial UKAS accredited laboratory. After the incident, the producer changed to having testing done by the PHE Food Water & Environmental (FW&E) laboratory in York.

“The company was under the false impression that their food safety management systems were controlling the bacterium since all samples tested by the commercial laboratory were satisfactory and were reported as not containing Listeria monocytogenes,” according to the report.

Between October 2016 and June 2017, the PHE York FW&E lab tested samples of sandwiches from two hospitals in Yorkshire and Humber and isolated Listeria monocytogenes from 38 out of 297 samples of salads, sandwiches and other products. Listeria was recovered from 84 of 861 food samples made by the company and collected from hospitals including an egg mayonnaise and tuna mayo sandwich, ready-to-eat sweet corn, and washed lettuce.

Risk from hospital sandwiches
Investigations were undertaken at four hospitals. No communication was sent to other hospitals or recipients of the company’s products. Varying measures were implemented at the hospitals, which highlights the need to follow FSA guidance issued in 2016, according to the report.

A risk assessment indicated that under sub-optimal temperature storage conditions, one case of listeriosis could be expected every three years caused by consumption of these sandwiches, which was reduced to one in 20 years under optimal storage conditions.

The report found control measures to reduce or eliminate Listeria monocytogenes from factory environments and maintenance of the cold chain at hospitals are important to reduce listeriosis.

PHE said it was aware of 10 similar incidents in England and Wales of listeriosis from eating pre-prepared sandwiches served in hospitals. Infections have also occurred in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

In 2019, six people died after eating chicken sandwiches supplied to hospitals by the Good Food Chain. Meat was produced by North Country Cooked Meats and distributed by North Country Quality Foods. All three firms went into liquidation and ceased trading.

The British Sandwich and Food to Go Association updated guidance in January 2020 on controlling Listeria in ready-to-eat (RTE) chilled foods in the supply chain.

A report published in 2016 on behalf of the FSA found most outbreaks in hospitals have been linked to sandwiches, and mainly to ready-made sandwiches.

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FSIC warns of risks because of rise in food sold on social media

Food Safety News - September 25, 2020 - 12:01am

Australians have been warned about the potential risks of buying and selling food on social media websites.

The Food Safety Information Council (FSIC) said food is being prepared in unregulated home kitchens and offered on social media sites such as Facebook and WeChat.

The health promotion charity said the practice has increased significantly since the May 2020 lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic and includes a range of foods such as curries, spring rolls, dumplings, roasted meats and seafood.

Cathy Moir, chair of FSIC, said sales of unregulated food through social media sites are putting the public at risk, because it is unlikely they would meet the required food safety standards.

“We first became aware of this practice after media reports back in May 2020 and since then this practice has increased significantly with a range of high-risk foods such as curries, spring rolls, dumplings, roast meats, baked goods, pastas, seafood and even raw sausages being offered. These unregulated food sales are a considerable food safety risk. There is a real risk of food poisoning, which, in its worst form can have severe health consequences,” she said.

A growing trend
Home-based food businesses need to meet the same food safety requirements as other firms regardless of size or how often they sell food. Before starting, the business must notify the local council and some people may need formal training, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

Moir said new sellers keep popping up, which is putting a considerable strain on health services.

“Government and local council enforcement agencies are clamping down on these unregistered food businesses, as and when they become aware of them. The rules around the production and selling of food are very strict for a reason, and anyone selling food must adhere to these regulations in their state or territory. This requires specific food safety knowledge and controls that cover hygiene, safe cooking and cooling rules, correct refrigeration, safe storage and transportation,” she said.

Another reason to be wary of such sales is a risk of allergic reactions, said Moir.

“Licensed sellers must also be aware of any labelling requirements, including the allergens in their food, so they can inform consumers. It is unlikely that food prepared in a home kitchen or backyard BBQ would meet these standards. If in doubt, don’t take the risk of buying unsafe food. Support your local food businesses instead, either in store or by ordering online.”

FSIC advised people to ask themselves if the location food is being collected from is a home address, does the vendor have a website or social media page that proves it is a licensed food business and, if not, is there proof they have a food license or are a registered business, and is the food cheaper than what would be expected.

For those considering turning a hobby into a business, the charity recommends contacting the local council for help, following online food safety training courses on its website and seeking advice from local farmers’ markets on how to sell food legally.

Picture in UK
The issue of compliance of online food sales on Facebook Marketplace or supplements on platforms such as Amazon has been raised in the past with investigations in the United Kingdom by the BBC and The Grocer.

In April this year, Newcastle City Council issued a warning about the safety of homemade food sold online.

The city has seen a rise in individuals advertising homemade food on social media sites and several instances of people offering to cook and deliver food to others for money. Those advertising food prepared at home were told to register as a business and not to gamble with people’s health.

Councilor Nick Kemp said the council appreciates the situation due to pandemic with people looking to occupy themselves, trying to help out communities, and looking for opportunities.

“But standards are in place to ensure food products are safe to consume, are made following strict hygiene regulations and is prepared to a standard that does not put people’s health at risk. So please realize that selling food from your home makes you as liable as any restaurant, café or shop for the quality of your products so it is important people stick to the regulations in place,” he said.

This trend prompted the Food Standards Agency to publish guidance in August for individuals starting food businesses from home.

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CDC says recalled mushrooms linked to new Salmonella outbreak

Food Safety News - September 24, 2020 - 6:02pm

U.S. officials have linked recalled black fungus to a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened dozens of people in 10 states. The edible fungus is also known as wood ear mushrooms.

At least 41 patients are reported in the outbreak according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outbreak announcement today. Many of them reported eating wood ear mushrooms in restaurants before becoming ill, according to the Food and Drug Administration. At least four people have required hospitalization.

Wismettac Asian Foods Inc. has recalled the mushrooms. The California company reports distributing the implicated fungus to restaurants in 32 states and Canada. Federal officials in the United States and Canada, as well as state officials, are investigating to discover the source of the contamination of the Chinese mushrooms.

California health officials found the Salmonella in samples of the edible fungus, spurring the company to initiate the recall.

“Wood ear mushrooms imported by Wismettac Asian Foods Inc. were only sold to restaurants and were not available directly to consumers. Although these items have been recalled, concerned or high-risk individuals should check with their restaurant to confirm that any wood ear mushrooms that have been used or are being used are not part of this recall,” the FDA advised in an update today.

Wood ear mushrooms are also commonly referred to as Kikurage, Dried Black Fungus, Dried Fungus, or Mu’er/Mu Er/Mu-Err, according to the CDC. The public health agency is advising anyone who has such food on hand to throw it away unless they know for sure it is not subject to the recall.

The company reports that the mushrooms were distributed to restaurants in six packs of 5-pound bags labeled as Shirakiku brand Black Fungus (Kikurage) with Universal Product Code (UPC) bar code 00074410604305, item #60403, and imported from China.

Clusters of ill people have been identified in relation to several restaurants. Many of them reported eating wood ear mushrooms or ramen containing wood ear mushrooms in the week before their illnesses started. 

“FDA and states are conducting a traceback investigation to identify the source of the wood ear mushrooms eaten by ill people. Review of records collected to date identified that Wismettac Asian Foods Inc., supplied wood ear mushrooms (dried fungus) to the illness cluster restaurants,” according to the CDC’s outbreak announcement posted today.

“The California Department of Public Health collected dried fungus at one of the restaurants linked to an illness cluster for testing. Testing identified Salmonella in a sample of dried fungus distributed by Wismettac Asian Foods Inc. (Whole genome sequencing) analysis is being done to determine if the Salmonella identified in the dried fungus is the same as the Salmonella from ill people.

A wide range of people are listed as outbreak patients, with their illnesses having begun between Jan. 21 through Aug. 26, according to the CDC. 

Ill people range in age from 2 to 74 years old. Of 32 ill people with information available, four hospitalizations have been reported. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of two to four weeks.

About Salmonella infections
Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled mushrooms and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

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Water and chemicals that never go away are subjects of Consumer Reports cover story

Food Safety News - September 24, 2020 - 6:02am

The new Consumer Reports soon hitting mailboxes returns to one of CR’s old mainstays—Safe drinking water. In short order, it teaches how to check on your tap water, discloses test results for 45 bottled water brands, and runs down the facts on water filters.

It was 45 years ago that Consumer Reports (CR) helped Congress enact the “Safe Drinking Water Act,”  The new cover story finds people today still have reason to be concerned about contaminants in their water.  New tests from CR found potentially dangerous levels of chemicals in some brands of bottled waters.

But the heart of CR’s cover story is a lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania couple, Frank and Lisa Penna, who think learning delays in their children and cancers, are caused by their water.

The culprit is through to be PFAS, for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, “the chemicals in this class of approximately 5,000 substances have become notorious as much for their potential danger as for their perseverance,” according to CR. It quickly adds:

  • Because the chemical bonds that hold the compounds together don’t break down easily, they last a very long time—a reality that has led to a commonly used name for the group: “forever chemicals.” 
  • PFAS compounds are also ubiquitous, used in a range of products, from food- delivery boxes to nonstick cookware to stain-resistant clothing.
  • But one of the most troubling routes to PFAS exposure is drinking water that has been contaminated by discharges from factories and other facilities. 

Indeed, PFAS are detectable in the drinking water of more than 1,400 communities in 49 states, according to research by the PFAS Project at Northeastern University in Boston and the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy organization that estimates 110 million people may have tap water contaminated with the chemicals. 

The Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates U.S. drinking water, has been investigating PFAS since the late 1990s, but only with a voluntary guideline of 70 parts per trillion with no change over 20 years. Some scientists and environmental organizations have come down for a 1 ppt level, according to CR.

Brian Ronholm, CR’s director of food policy, says the EPA has not taken a scientific approach to the issue. Ronholm is a former deputy USDA undersecretary for food safety. He suggests its time for Congress to “pass legislation that establishes PFAS limits in drinking water.”

A national standard would presumably apply to both tap water, which EPA regulates, and bottled water, which falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

CR’s water issue reports on the testing of 47 bottled water brands, and 43 of them contained PFASs.  Carbonated waters are more likely to contain PFASs with several above the suggested 1 ppt limit.

In their lawsuit, the Penna’s, “allege one possible explanation for the EPA’s delay: The government itself is a major PFAS polluter and is avoiding substantial cleanup costs.”  In the 2016 civil action, the Penna’s allege that PFAS migrated from the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, to groundwater near their home.

Thousands of gallons of firefighting foam, which contains PFAS, had been dumped at the base during exercises over many years, they allege.  Tests of their private well found PFOA and PFOS levels of 298 ppt and 701 ppt, respectively—up to 10 times the EPA’s voluntary limit.

CR reports the Pennas’ case went to trial in August. Part of the government’s defense? It can’t be held liable because PFAS are “unregulated.”

To avoid PFAS is your water, CR reports that various checks, tests, and filters can all be part of a successful strategy.

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FDA action on ‘high risk’ foods settles lawsuit brought by Center for Food Safety

Food Safety News - September 24, 2020 - 12:05am

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this week issued a proposed rule naming certain high-risk foods, it also settled a 2018 lawsuit with the Center for Food Safety that requires FDA to meet deadlines and reporting requirements as mandated by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

FDA’s proposed rule establishing additional traceability record keeping requirements for certain high-risk foods such as leafy greens, freshcut fruits and vegetables, some types of fish, shell eggs, nut butter and others was accepted by CFS as settlement. 

“We are pleased FDA has now released this important rule, as required by the Court order and settlement in our litigation to compel compliance with FSMA,”said Ryan Talbott, CFS staff attorney. “It should not have taken litigation for FDA to publish this proposed rule but now that it is out, we will be analyzing the merits of the proposal closely and continue to ensure the agency follows the law in finalizing the rule.”

CFS originally sued FDA  in 2018 as the second act of three successful cases that the advocacy group brought against the FDA for failing to meet congressional deadlines contained in the FSMA. In the Act, Congress required FDA to name “high-risk” foods.

“As the continued foodborne illness epidemic in our country shows, there is an urgent need to designate high-risk foods and establish their reporting requirements so that our government can rapidly and effectively respond to outbreaks,” Talbott said when he filed the lawsuit in October 2018. 

“Congress required this done years ago, with good reason. As we have in the past, we will continue to hold the FDA accountable to protect public health.”

In 2012-2014, CFS successfully litigated the first-ever FSMA lawsuit, over FDA’s failure to comply with FSMA’s timelines for issuing seven different regulations. That case resulted in the FDA’s enactment of those regulations based on new court-set deadlines.

Congress required the FDA to designate high-risk foods by January 2012 and to propose recordkeeping requirements for facilities that handle those foods by January 2013. Yet, more than five years after these deadlines, and countless numbers of food safety illness episodes later including  E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce that resulted in five deaths and 210 sickened people in 36 states.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in six Americans, (48 million people), becomes ill from foodborne diseases each year. About 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die based on exposure to pathogens present in the food supply. The annual cost to the U.S. economy in medical bills and productivity losses alone is more than $93 billion

The FSMA requires a range of preventive measures that would reduce the impact of many illnesses caused by foodborne hazards, including the designation of “high-risk” foods that are more susceptible to being a source for foodborne illness outbreaks and additional requirements for them.

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WHO wants data on mercury in fish

Food Safety News - September 24, 2020 - 12:03am

The World Health Organization (WHO) is requesting data on methylmercury and total mercury in certain fish species.

Fish types for which maximum limits have already been established are excluded.

People are mainly exposed to methylmercury when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound. It can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system.

The 13th Session of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods in Indonesia in mid-2019 agreed to continue work on the subject and re-establish the electronic working group led by New Zealand and Canada to prepare proposals for maximum levels and sampling plans for additional fish species to be considered in the next meeting.

Due to the pandemic, this meeting has been postponed until 2021, so there is an opportunity to build on  findings in a paper submitted by Codex members.

Attempt to plug information gaps
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WHO are requesting submission of new or additional data on methylmercury and total mercury in all fish species which has not previously been sent in. This should cover the last 12 years. Data is wanted for those fish species for which insufficient information was available when the working group prepared the discussion paper.

Additional fish species for which data is sought to consider the feasibility to establish Codex maximum levels include anglerfish, barracuda, cardinalfish, catfish, cusk-eel, greenling, grouper, hapuku, orange roughy, snapper and sablefish.

Information also needs to be included on whether it is domestically caught or imported fish, the state of food analyzed, so cooked or raw, and the portion analyzed such as fat content, dry weight as is or as consumed as well as if it is fresh or processed, canned, preserved or salted. Data should be submitted by Dec. 15, 2020. More information can be found here.

Another call relates to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) meeting planned for June 2021. It covers toxicological, dietary exposure assessment and technological data. The deadline is Dec. 31, 2020.

For the food additives to be considered at the meeting, governments, organizations, producers of these chemicals, and individuals are invited to submit data for the toxicological evaluations, preparation of specifications for identity and purity and for estimating intake of the compounds listed.

Benzoic acid and its salts and Riboflavin from Ashbya gossypii are included for toxicological evaluation, exposure assessment and establishment of specifications for food additives. More than 10 substances used as processing aids will be looked at. The committee has also requested suitable microbiological acceptance criteria and supporting data for all modified starches.

Other areas include cadmium and lead
One of two ongoing calls covers cadmium in food. An electronic working group led by Ecuador and Ghana is looking at maximum levels for certain categories of chocolates and cocoa-derived products ahead of a meeting in May 2021.

JECFA is updating the dietary exposure assessment of cadmium from chocolates and cocoa products and all foods. Data on cadmium from all food sources, particularly chocolates and cocoa products, should cover the past 10 years and be submitted by Dec. 1, 2020.

The other is a request for data on lead in food for infants and young children in certain foods such as aromatic herbs; egg products; sugars and confectionery excluding cocoa.

An electronic working group led by Brazil is advising on the need and feasibility to establish maximum levels for lead in some food for this age group except those for which a limit has been established.

New or additional data on lead in commodities such as fruit juice and herbal teas, yoghurt, cheese and milk-based desserts for infants and young children, dry spices, quail eggs, brown sugars and syrup and molasses is wanted. Data should cover the past 10 years and must be submitted by Nov. 21, 2020.

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Salmonella finding prompts recall of dried, imported, edible fungus

Food Safety News - September 23, 2020 - 7:21pm

A California company has initiated a recall for imported dried fungus because state officials found Salmonella in the food product.

Wismettac Asian Foods Inc., Santa Fe Springs, CA, is recalling Shirakiku brand imported dried fungus, also known as black fungus or kikurage, from restaurants in 31 states, the District of Columbia and one Canadian province.

The recall comes following the California Department of Public Health’s discovery of the presence of Salmonella in the product. The manufacturer has been made aware of the issue, and is conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the issue so corrections can be implemented, according to a recall notice posted by the Food and Drug Administration.

Officials with Wismettac Asian Foods Inc. reported distributing the fungus to restaurants in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington DC, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and British Columbia in Canada.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at recall@wismettacusa.com.

Item Number Item Description Pack Size UPC Code Product Lot Code Package Photo #60403 BLACK FUNGUS (KIKURAGE) 5LB 5 LB 00074410
604035 All Lots with Item #60403 on the package Click here

About Salmonella infections
Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled product and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Letter from the Editor: Kiecker speaks out after rising to the top as FSIS Administrator

Food Safety News - September 23, 2020 - 12:05am
Opinion

The Meat & Poultry Daily News recently did a question and answer session with Paul Kiecker, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator since last March 12.  It’s worth reading in its entirety at M&P,  and I am going to steal some quotes here.

Kiecker certainly deserves the attention for rising to the top of one of these civil agencies as it is no small feat.

I lived in a Seattle suburb for several years where our mayor was the retired top administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He was my all-time favorite as a mayor because he feared nothing, supported his department heads, and made timely decisions.

At its core, the federal civil service is supposed to reward and promote based on merit. Those who rise to the top should be the “best of the best.” And the system produces some really interesting people.   

We saw that with Al Almanza, who started as an East Texas meat inspector and ended up as USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Administrator for more than a decade.   

The FSIS Administrator is ultimately in charge of a $1 billion budget, 10,000 professionals, and inspection services for about 6,200 meat and poultry establishments. The FSIS Administrator is not always the most popular person.   

Almanza had his detractors in the FSIS C-Suite.  But he also carried an extra title as USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety because he had the full support of the Secretary of Agriculture.

After the 2016 election, Almanza left the government for the top food safety job with international meat company JBS. The new Secretary of Agriculture,  Sonny Perdue, replaced him with agency lawyer Carmen Rottenberg who held the top job from  2017 until early 2020 when she left for the private sector

Perdue then picked Kiecker as FSIS Administrator. He joined the agency in 1988, starting as a food inspector. He had virtually every job between inspector and administrator.

He was a district manager in both Madison, WI, and Springdale, AR.

He also served as an executive associate for Regulatory Operations and Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Field Operations, the major focus on inspection, in Washington, DC. And he worked as a Compliance Investigator and a Supervisory Compliance Investigator with the Office of Investigation, Enforcement, and Audit.

Kiecker said his many jobs taught him what FSIS is supposed to do and he worked at every level of the agency. Since 2017, Kiecker was second only to Rottenberg at the top of the agency.

He took over as administrator March 12, 2019, just as the pandemic was taking hold.

“Our No. 1 priority has been to make our inspections in the field and conditions for our inspectors as safe as possible. We’ve followed all the CDC and OSHA guidelines,” Kiecker told Meat & Poultry. “At first, if you remember, it was a bit confusing. No face coverings. Then we were cleared to wear them. As inspectors and regulators, we haven’t missed anything. Obviously, with the plants operating at a slower speed and level, that helped us out. We also got help from the AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) and APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), volunteering to work the slaughter lines and processing lines. Up to now, a plant never had to slow down because we weren’t available.”

Kiecker says FSIS inspection personnel have been “on patrol” during the pandemic. If inspectors didn’t get to every task, they picked the highest priorities. “We’ve collected the same number of samples, there’s nothing we missed there.”

He says COVID-19 has not taken the agency’s attention away from pathogens, allergens, and foreign materials. “No impact on those areas, like ante-mortem, post-mortem, humane handling, HACCP verification, SSOPs (sanitation). We did have to adjust products that had been going to restaurants and school lunch (business) dried up, so instead, they have moved into retail.”

Communication with inspection personnel in the field is more important because of the pandemic, Kiecker says.

“Three times a day, we let them know what changes are taking place. We’re also trying to connect our field operations employees (inspectors) more closely. Equipment is very important, face masks, shields, hand sanitizer.

“Dr. Mindy Brashears (Under Secretary for Food Safety) and I have been going to many plants in the last couple of months. The plants don’t look the same – face shields and coverings, people standing in hallways with a sanitizer, temperature checks. We have communications with managers at plants, and the regulated establishments can call us, as well. We told plants with COVID-19 procedures in place that our people follow their procedures, as well. If plants require testing, our people would be tested, too. It didn’t take very long for the plants to put these procedures in place.”

Kiecker says the FSIS is moving ahead with its own priorities. 

 Yes, we’ve` been able to move forward. Our new poultry inspection, our new swine inspection is moving forward. With most plants under normal operation, we’re looking to have more plant facilities come under these new systems. We’re also moving forward with the egg rule, that would have HACCP regulations for egg product processing.”

“In June, FSIS announced plans to expand this testing to all beef products currently analyzed for E. coli O157: H7 and asked for comments due this month (September). The testing in raw beef manufacturing trimmings has been done since June 2012. Verification testing for ground beef, bench trim, and other raw ground beef components wasn’t done because the agency needed to expand laboratory capacity and evaluate data from sampling raw beef trimmings. Those additional products were already being tested for E. coli O157: H7.

“We’re moving ahead with this expansion because non-O157: H7 STEC is linked to serious, life-threatening human illnesses, including recent outbreaks and death. We’ve been behind on the ground beef. We will respond to comments and announce when we will start this additional sampling in a Federal Register notice.”

Who knows. Kiecker might yet be a good mayor for some city out there. Good mayors seem to be in short supply these days.

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Germany part of resurgent hepatitis A outbreak

Food Safety News - September 23, 2020 - 12:03am

The resurgence of a hepatitis A outbreak linked to strawberries underlines the importance of complete traceback of implicated products during outbreaks, according to researchers.

Following outbreaks linked to frozen strawberries in Sweden and Austria in 2018, 65 cases of the same hepatitis A virus (HAV) strain were detected in Germany between October 2018 and January 2020.

The HAV subgenotype IB strain caused outbreaks in Sweden from June to July and Austria from July to September 2018, affecting 20 people in Sweden and 14 in Austria. In Sweden, the outbreak strain was detected in frozen strawberries and the contaminated batch was withdrawn from sale. Traceback investigations from Sweden and Austria identified a Polish producer as the source for implicated frozen strawberries.

German outbreak
Shortly afterward, cases with the identical virus sequence appeared in Germany. The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and all federal public health authorities were informed by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and sequencing of samples from hepatitis A cases was intensified.

A first wave of cases started in 2018 and a second wave began in July 2019. The first case-control study was conducted by RKI and included all 21 primary outbreak cases in Germany with disease onset in 2018 and 237 people as controls, according to the study published in Eurosurveillance.

Overall, 30 cases including 27 confirmed and three probable, from 11 states had disease onsets between Aug. 29 and Dec. 22, 2018. Of confirmed cases, three were likely secondary infections.

The second case-control study was done by the State Office for Health and Social Affairs Berlin and included the first 11 outbreak cases of the second peak in the city and 103 controls.

During the second wave, 33 cases including 31 confirmed and two probable from seven states had disease onsets between June 13 and Sept. 29, 2019. One probable and one confirmed case likely were secondary infections. Twenty were in Berlin and five from the neighboring state Brandenburg. Eight cases were notified from five other states in Germany and one person reported travel to Berlin.

Frozen strawberries from Poland or Egypt?
Of all 65 patients, the median age was 48 years with a range of 1 to 77 years old and 45 percent were female. More than three quarters of patients were hospitalized.

From interviews with 46 cases, 34 reported definite and four had possible consumption of items containing frozen strawberries. Frozen strawberry cake was the most commonly mentioned such product; 27 cases reported definite and five had possible consumption.

Of 27 people with definite consumption of such cake, 26 gave details on the type, with 25 identifying strawberry cake(s) from one brand spontaneously or in product picture-assisted recall. Some of the cakes are ready to eat after thawing and do not require oven cooking.

Trace back investigations revealed the Polish producer involved in the outbreaks in Sweden and Austria received frozen strawberries from Egypt via a German wholesaler that also delivered them to a cake manufacturer. A retention sample of frozen strawberries of that batch provided by the German distributor was negative for HAV.

Evidence needed to prompt recall
A sample of frozen strawberries from a patient in Berlin tested negative for HAV. Samples of two frozen strawberry cakes from the implicated brand also tested negative. Detection of HAV in food samples, especially berries, is known to be difficult, according to researchers.

Food authorities have not issued product recalls from the German market in relation to the outbreak. Researchers said preventive measures should not solely rely on microbiological findings but include epidemiological evidence.

Contamination of berries can occur in various ways. The most likely route is contaminated water used for irrigation or processing of fruits. The outbreak subgenotype IB strain is similar to circulating strains in Egypt which might indicate that production and/or contamination of strawberries could have occurred in that country and not in Poland as suggested by the Swedish and Austrian investigation, according to the study.

One person had disease onset in January 2020. They likely consumed a frozen strawberry cake of the implicated brand in the incubation period as it had been bought in summer 2019. It can take months for symptoms to begin.

The Netherlands reported two cases with an identical sequence: one with disease onset in September 2018 after travel to Germany and one in May 2019. Both had eaten strawberries. Italy also had two cases in August and September 2019; both had consumed frozen berries.

“Many uncertainties remain regarding distribution routes, mechanism of contamination, role of other frozen strawberry products in the outbreak and, if one or multiple shipments were involved,” said researchers.

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Senegal project improves food safety capability

Food Safety News - September 23, 2020 - 12:01am

Senegal has improved detection of residues and contaminants in food products thanks to international help.

The four-year project strengthening laboratory capabilities for analyzing veterinary drug residues and contaminants in food began in 2016. It is expected to boost consumer and market confidence and make the country’s exports of agricultural and food products more competitive.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), trained 10 experts at four national labs to screen a range of residues and contaminants in foods that could cause health risks for consumers. Lab staff received method-validation protocols and training on analytical measurement uncertainty, proficiency testing and data analysis.

The technical cooperation project is part of the food and environmental protection sub-program of the Joint FAO/IAEA Program of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

Improved situation
Dr. Assiongbon Teko-Agbo, head of the Laboratoire de contrôle des médicaments vétérinaires (LACOMEV), said outsourcing of analytical tests was cumbersome and time consuming.

“Before our advanced analytical capabilities were established, we were severely hampered and had to send scientists carrying several food samples abroad to laboratories in countries such as Morocco and France to test for food hazards,” he said.

Veterinary medicines and pesticides are used in food production to control animal and plant diseases and pests. However, these residues and contaminants such as mycotoxins, biotoxins and toxic metals can pose a health risk to consumers. Testing checks products containing high levels of these substances are not in the food supply chain.

Through the IAEA technical cooperation program, equipment to identify these hazards, including a radio receptor assay and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometer, were delivered along with training on how to use them. The IAEA also provided lab information management systems and consumables.

Increased capability
The radio receptor assay method tests for more than 10 groups of veterinary antimicrobials and pesticide residues as well as mycotoxins in milk, meat, eggs, fish, honey, grains and animal feed.

The volume of food products analyzed for residues and contaminants has increased from 800 to 4,000 tons per year since 2017, according to the National Laboratory for Analysis and Control (LANAC).

Thanks to the project, LACOMEV was given responsibility for the national residue monitoring program for aquaculture products in 2017. Senegal’s fish product exports had an average of more than €300 million ($352 million) worth of annual earnings between 2016 and 2019, according to the Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy.

LACOMEV has also trained more than 100 scientists from 15 French-speaking African countries and currently hosts up to 10 fellows and scientists each month.

Another lab in the project, the Food Technology Institute (ITA), was approved to ISO 17025 by the French accreditation committee (COFRAC) for aflatoxin analysis.

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More microgreens recalled in relation to Salmonella outbreak

Food Safety News - September 22, 2020 - 8:35pm

A third recall has been initiated in Canada related to a Salmonella outbreak associated with fresh sprouts from Sunsprout. The recall covers micro-greens including alfalfa and onion, and alfalfa and radish.

There is concern that consumers may have the recalled microgreens in their homes because of their relatively long shelf life. The sprouted greens named in the expansion of the Sunsprout product recall have best-before dates up to and including Oct. 5, according to the recall notice posted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Previously recalled Sunsprout microgreens have best-before dates up to and including Oct. 13.

Brand Product Size UPC Codes Sunsprout Micro – Greens Alfalfa & Onion 100 g 0 57621 13516 1 All best before dates up to and including BBOCT05 Sunsprout Micro – Greens Alfalfa & Radish 100 g 0 57621 13512 3 All best before dates up to and including BBOCT05

Public Health Ontario is investigating an outbreak of infections associated with the recalled microgreens, according to the food inspection agency.

The company reports having distributed toe recalled sprouted greens to retail stores in Ontario and British Columbia.

“This recall was triggered by findings by the CFIA during its investigation into a foodborne illness outbreak. The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated,” according to the recall notice.

About Salmonella infections
Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled sprouted microgreens and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Inconsistent labeling complicates clam recall; marine toxin found

Food Safety News - September 22, 2020 - 8:08pm

Government tests spurred a recall of Manila clams because of contamination with a marine biotoxin that causes the potentially deadly Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.

 Evergreen International Foodstuffs Ltd. reports distributing the clams to retailers in Ontario and British Columbia, according to a recall notice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Mismatched branding may be complicating recall efforts, as well as consumers’ ability to identify the recalled shellfish.

“These Manila clams may also have been sold in bulk or in smaller packages with or without a label and may not bear the same brand, product name, or code as described below,” according to the recall notice.

“Check to see if you have the recalled product in your home. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased.”

As of the posting of the recall notice, no illnesses had been confirmed in relation to the recalled products.

This recall was triggered by Canadian Food Inspection Agency test results.The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public.

About marine toxins

Paralytic shellfish toxins are a group of natural toxins that sometimes accumulate in bivalve shellfish that include oysters, clams, scallops, mussels and cockles. Non-bivalve shellfish, such as whelks, can also accumulate Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins. These toxins can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) if consumed.

Symptoms of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) include tingling and numbness of the lips, tongue, hands and feet, and difficulty swallowing with an onset of a few minutes and up to 10 hours after consumption. In severe situations, this can proceed to difficulty walking, muscle paralysis, respiratory paralysis and death.

Paralytic shellfish toxins are a group of natural toxins that sometimes accumulate in bivalve shellfish that include oysters, clams, scallops, mussels and cockles. Non-bivalve shellfish, such as whelks, can also accumulate Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins. These toxins can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) if consumed.

Symptoms of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) include tingling and numbness of the lips, tongue, hands and feet, and difficulty swallowing with an onset of a few minutes and up to 10 hours after consumption. In severe situations, this can proceed to difficulty walking, muscle paralysis, respiratory paralysis and death.

Brand Product Size Code Evergreen Int’l Foodstuffs Ltd. Manila clams 25 lb. Harvest Date: Sep 16, 2020
Processing Date: Sep 17, 2020
Harvest Location: B.C. 17-20
Lot# 21057

As of the posting of the recall notice, no illnesses had been confirmed in relation to the recalled products.

This recall was triggered by Canadian Food Inspection Agency test results.The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public.

About marine toxins

Paralytic shellfish toxins are a group of natural toxins that sometimes accumulate in bivalve shellfish that include oysters, clams, scallops, mussels and cockles. Non-bivalve shellfish, such as whelks, can also accumulate Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins. These toxins can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) if consumed.

Symptoms of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) include tingling and numbness of the lips, tongue, hands and feet, and difficulty swallowing with an onset of a few minutes and up to 10 hours after consumption. In severe situations, this can proceed to difficulty walking, muscle paralysis, respiratory paralysis and death.

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Note on clarification

Food Safety News - September 22, 2020 - 12:51pm

The Sept. 12, 2020 issue of Food Safety News, incorrectly reported that Williams Foods’ taco seasoning containing cumin seeds supplied by Mincing Spice Company was subject to a current recall. In fact, this recall occurred in July 2019.  Product subject to the recall was removed from the marketplace and the recall was terminated by FDA in 2019.

FDA floats rule for tracing records on some foods, from some sources, some of the time

Food Safety News - September 22, 2020 - 12:06am

The FDA continues to chase a paperless paper trail with the announcement of a proposed food traceability rule. The agency will be taking comments on the proposal for two months.

The proposal is tentatively set to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. Comments will be accepted for 60 days after publication. Click here for directions on how to comment.

One part of the food industry that’s been in the outbreak hot seat in recent years was quick to respond to the Food and Drug Administration’s rulemaking announcement. Officials with the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) issued a “been there, doing that” statement just hours after the FDA announcement Monday.

“This has been part of the LGMA requirements since the organization was formed in 2007,” according to a statement from the voluntary industry group. “It appears the members of the LGMA in California and Arizona are already in compliance with new requirements announced today.”

The LGMA, which covers about 80 percent of the lettuce and other leafy greens grown in the United States, was organized after a deadly 2006 E. coli outbreak traced to a field of spinach. More recently, romaine lettuce has caused several outbreaks.

While leafy greens are one of the foods included on the FDA’s high-risk list there are a number of others. The FSMA requires FDA to designate high-risk foods for which the proposed additional recordkeeping requirements “are appropriate and necessary to protect the known safety risks of a particular food, including the history and severity of the public health.” The high-risk food designation must be based on the following factors:

  • foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to such food, taking into consideration foodborne illness data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC);
  • the likelihood that a particular food has a high potential risk for microbiological or chemical contamination or would support the growth of pathogenic microorganisms due to the nature of the food or the processes used to produce the food;
  • the point in the manufacturing process of the food where contamination is most likely to occur;
  • the likelihood of contamination and steps taken during the manufacturing process to reduce the possibility of contamination;
  • the likelihood that consuming a particular food will result in a foodborne illness due to contamination of the food; and
  • the likely or known severity, including health and economic impacts, of a foodborne illness attributed to a particular food.

Food Traceability List

Description

Cheeses, other than hard cheeses

Includes all soft-ripened or semi-soft cheeses, and fresh soft cheeses that are made with pasteurized or unpasteurized milk

Shell eggs

Shell egg means the egg of the domesticated chicken

Nut butter

Includes all types of tree nut and peanut butters; does not include soy or seed butters

Cucumbers

Includes all varieties of cucumbers

Herbs (fresh)

Includes all types of herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, basil

Leafy greens, including fresh-cut leafy greens

Includes all types of leafy greens, such as lettuce, (e.g., iceberg, leaf, and Romaine lettuces), kale, chicory, watercress, chard, arugula, spinach, pak choi, sorrel, collards, and endive

Melons

Includes all types of melons, such as cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon

Peppers

Includes all varieties of peppers

Sprouts

Includes all varieties of sprouts

Tomatoes

Includes all varieties of tomatoes

Tropical tree fruits

Includes all types of tropical tree fruit, such as mango, papaya, mamey, guava, lychee, jackfruit, and starfruit

Fruits and Vegetables (fresh-cut)

Includes all types of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables

 

Finfish, including smoked finfish

Includes all finfish species, such as cod, haddock, Alaska pollack, tuna, mahi-mahi, mackerel, grouper, barracuda, and salmon; except does not include Siluriformes fish, such as catfish

Crustaceans

Includes all crustacean species, such as shrimp, crab, lobster, and crayfish

Mollusks, bivalves

Includes all species of bivalve mollusks, such as oysters, clams, and mussels; does not include scallop adductor muscle

Ready-to-eat deli salads

Includes all types of ready-to-eat deli salads, such as egg salad, potato salad, pasta salad, and seafood salad; does not include meat salads

“We will publish a final version of the Food Traceability List on our website when we issue the final rule, and we will update the list as appropriate,” according to the FDA’s summary of its proposed rule.

“. . . (The rule is) designed to improve the traceability information available for these foods during foodborne illness outbreaks and to increase the speed and precision of trace forward investigations for recall events.”

The traceability rule is part of the regulatory framework Congress required of the FDA in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Other mandated rules, such as the Produce Safety Rule, are already in place.

“The core components of the proposed rule are the requirements to establish and maintain records containing key data elements (KDEs) associated with different critical tracking events (CTEs) in a listed food’s supply chain, including the growing, receiving, transforming, creating, and shipping of listed foods,” according to FDA’s Monday announcement. 

“The recordkeeping requirements we propose emphasize the importance of documenting the applicable traceability lot codes and linking these codes to other KDEs at critical points in the supply chain of food to aid product tracing during an investigation of a foodborne illness outbreak or during a recall.”

Frank Yiannas

FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas said untangling the mess of shipping and sales records that currently hampers outbreak investigations is something everyone can understand.

Yiannas is the agency’s biggest cheerleader for electronic tracing and is pushing for a transition from paper-based recordkeeping to electronic records.

“Not only does this help us to remove potentially unsafe products from the market more quickly, preventing additional illness or death, but it also helps us to conduct root cause investigations to figure out what went wrong leading to the outbreak,” Yiannas said in a statement about the proposed rule. 

“Without knowing the source of contaminated food is extremely hard, if not impossible, for us to fully diagnose the problem and work with industry to develop and implement strategies to prevent similar issues in the future. Recent outbreaks of foodborne illness tied to fresh produce like leafy greens and papayas, among others, highlight the importance of this work.”

The agency summary about the rulemaking described the collection of regulations as being the key to establishing “a consistent approach for product tracing for the different types of products and firms subject to this regulation.” 

The proposed rule also specifies the data elements and information firms must establish and maintain, along with information they must send, in certain circumstances, to the next entity in the supply chain. The rule also would help establish a foundation for the use of consistent food tracing terminology, and a universal understanding of the critical information needed for a standardized and efficient system for traceability. 

What happened to the two-step?
There will be a new dance for some in food town if the proposed rule is written into the federal code. Congress already requires that food companies be able to trace their products one step forward — who they sold it to — and one step back — who they bought it from.

The FDA explained regulations in excess of that FSMA rule are the proposed rule: “. . . Congress directed FDA to adopt additional recordkeeping requirements to prevent or mitigate foodborne illness outbreaks and address credible threats of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals resulting from foods being adulterated.”

Requiring additional traceability steps isn’t just about public health, either, according to the proposed rule. There is a financial factor.

“Efficient traceability enables the government and the food industry to take action more quickly, thus preventing illnesses and reducing economic harm,” according to the FDA summary.

New footwork to learn
The recordkeeping and documentation requirements proposed by the FDA are not anything more than many businesses already have in hand — literally, according to the agency. But if Dancer A can’t read the handwriting on her dance card then Dancer B has little chance of taking her for a twirl.

“The rule also would help establish a foundation for the use of consistent food tracing terminology, a transition from paper-based recordkeeping to electronic records, and a universal understanding of the critical information needed for a standardized and efficient system for traceability,” according to the summary of the rulemaking document.

“Piecing together information from several types of documents to extract useful tracing data at each point in the supply chain is laborious and time-consuming, significantly slowing the tracing process and potentially putting more consumers at risk.”

Exemptions
As with the Produce Rule and other pieces of the FSMA, the proposed recordkeeping traceability rule includes exemptions. The exemptions run from partial to complete. Some were imposed by Congress and others FDA is proposing on its own.

The proposed rule also includes special requirements for foods on the Food Traceability List that are subjected to a kill step.

Proposed full exemptions include:

  • some small retail food establishments; 
  • small farms; 
  • farms selling food directly to consumers;
  • certain food produced and packaged on a farm; 
  • food that receives certain types of processing; and 
  • transporters of food.

Partial exemptions include:

  • certain commingled raw agricultural commodities (not including fruits and vegetables subject to the produce safety regulations);
  • fishing vessels;
  • retail food establishments that receive a listed food directly from a farm; and
  • farm to school and farm to institution programs.

As support for the need for the proposed traceability recordkeeping rule, the FDA included details about a number of foodborne outbreaks. Those outbreaks, as presented by the FDA were:

  • In 2018, the FDA investigated a cluster of illnesses caused by Cyclospora cayetanensis at small restaurants. We were unable to obtain enough information to identify specific farms/growers (from among several suppliers) as the source of the products suspected of contamination (e.g., basil, cilantro, vegetable trays) due to the restaurants’ lack of records indicating lot numbers received and lack of linking to information throughout the supply chain. In the absence of more specific data at the retail food establishment, we had to conduct a broader record collection involving numerous suppliers to ensure that we had sufficient tracing information to accurately determine what lots likely would have been available for consumption or purchase at the establishments by the sickened persons. One benefit of the proposed requirements is that they would allow us to conduct comparative analyses on supply chains of multiple commodities to rule in or out specific ingredients in outbreaks in which ill persons have reported concerns about mixed-ingredient foods.
  • Lack of traceability has led to delays in product recalls and notification to the public, allowing potentially contaminated foods to remain on the market longer. In 2017, the manufacturer of a soy nut butter product recalled the product after it was found to be the source of a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli) that sickened 32 people (81 percent of whom were younger than 18) in 12 states (Refs. 2 to 4). Weeks later, another company announced a recall of its products because they were made with soy nut butter supplied by the original company (Ref. 5). Inadequate traceability significantly impeded product actions for a potentially contaminated product associated with this outbreak investigation.
  • Inadequate traceability can affect both traceback and trace forward investigations. In 2015, FDA, CDC, and multiple states investigated a multistate outbreak of Salmonella associated with imported cucumbers that ultimately sickened 907 people (Ref. 6). While the traceback was able to identify a single grower of the cucumbers resulting in product recalls, the CDC reported additional sporadic cases of Salmonella 6 months after the recall. Having more robust trace forward information could have helped ensure a more complete recall by identifying more locations that received the contaminated product and may have helped assess whether there were other contaminated products on the market subject to the same conditions that led to the contamination of cucumbers.
  • During an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium in 2008, almost 4,000 peanut butter- containing products were recalled over a period of three and a half months. Cases of illness were first seen in patients residing in a long-term care facility and other institutional settings. Records at these locations identified a common brand of peanut butter, which led to a common manufacturer, and a recall of the brand was initiated. But illnesses continued to be reported across the United States, and further case interviews indicated that the illnesses could not be explained by consumption of the recalled brand of peanut butter. An extensive traceback and trace forward investigation led to expanded recalls over several months, during which many potentially contaminated peanut butter products remained available in the marketplace. This outbreak illustrates the challenges posed by ingredient-based outbreaks and the lack of standardized records documenting a product’s distribution chain. Manual review of a variety of records was necessary to determine the subsequent commercial recipients of the peanut butter and the inclusion of the peanut butter as an ingredient in other food products. This time-consuming review resulted in a delay in the identification of the many products ultimately recalled in this outbreak.
  • Poor traceability records also can lead to an inability to appropriately narrow the scope of a recall. In 2018, a leafy greens mix was linked to an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. FDA identified numerous farms that could potentially have produced leafy greens linked to the outbreak. Traceback data gathered during the investigation led to the issuance of a public advisory to not consume chopped romaine lettuce from the identified growing region. However, the lack of traceability records hindered our ability to identify specific lots and growers of contaminated products. After the initial advisory was issued, we identified an additional cluster of illnesses in people who consumed whole-head romaine lettuce from the same region. As a result, we expanded the initial public advisory to include all romaine lettuce from the identified growing region. Because we were unable to identify a point of origin for the food that made people ill, we were unable to narrow the scope of the advisory but instead had to expand it.
  • Poor traceability can affect not only outbreaks caused by infectious pathogens but also illnesses associated with fish poisonings. For example, in 2019, the FDA investigated a cluster of 50 illnesses that were attributed to Scombrotoxin fish poisoning. In cases of fish toxin poisonings, the illness onset can occur within minutes of consuming fish products, making it even more vital to have specific tracing data available at the point of sale. Because cases reported a variety of frozen tuna products due to inconsistent product descriptions, FDA’s traceback investigation traced all cuts of tuna supplied by two firms rather than narrowing the focus to one specific cut of tuna (Ref. 10). The traceback investigation was unable to confirm that the most recent shipments to the points of sale contained the actual product used to prepare meals reported by the cases, due to the extended 2-year shelf life of the frozen product and lack of recordkeeping for this product. Additionally, the traceback investigation could not identify/implicate lot codes at the point of sale because at least two distributors reboxed product into different packaging, and there was potential commingling of product at least one point of sale. Given the extended shelf life and lack of lot codes available at the point of sale, the traceback investigation could not determine relevant lot codes for the implicated products. Due to these traceability limitations, the Agency was only able to place one of the importers of the contaminated tuna products on an import alert, and multiple recalls were required to ensure that importers removed all contaminated products.
  • During the investigation of an outbreak of E. coli O26 in 2015 at a restaurant, the available consumer data could not identify a single ingredient for tracing because customers who became ill had consumed a variety of dishes with multiple common ingredients. This problem was magnified by the lack of information linking the distribution center to the point of sale.
  • In the last few years, numerous outbreaks associated with leafy greens have resulted in expansive recalls due to, among other reasons, a lack of uniform data collection across the supply chain. While our traceback activities identified farms that could have supplied affected products during the timeframe of interest for those outbreaks, a lack of data about the source of individual lots restricted our ability to identify which farms actually supplied the contaminated product.

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R-CALF sues USDA over Beef Checkoff — again

Food Safety News - September 22, 2020 - 12:03am

“Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” was a Beef Checkoff campaign almost 30 years ago that is still recognized by 88 percent of the public. And the program’s legitimacy was settled in 2005 in a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling written by Justice Antonin Scalia. He found the fee-based advertising was government speech and not an infringement on anyone’s First Amendment rights.

But success and storied history has not kept the U.S. Department of Agriculture out of court when it comes to the Beef Checkoff program.

The last time the Beef Checkoff was challenged in the courts, USDA managed to find  a way to end it by entering into Memorandums of Understanding  (MOUs) with 20 “qualified state beef councils.” 

Those agreements with qualified state beef councils, some private and some created by state statutes included  Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. 

Under the MOUs, the USDA gets pre-approval of the beef promoting advertisements sponsored by the state beef councils. Those approval rights make certain it is “government speech” consistent with the Scalia decision.

“Thus, the MOUs substantively amended the existing regulatory scheme and gave USDA enforcement power over the state beef councils (and indeed created new obligations for the state beef councils), says the latest complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “Prior to the MOUs, there was no legislative basis for USDA to exercise control over the state beef councils in this way.”

The new complaint was filed on Sept. 11 by the Billings, MT-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF).  It claims to be  the nation’s largest cattle trade association that “exclusively represents independent cattle producers.”

R-CALF has long complained about how Beef Checkoff funds are spent, insisting that they should “be administered in a manner that benefits independent, domestic producers. “

According to its national website, “The Beef Checkoff program is a producer-funded marketing and research program designed to increase domestic and/or international demand for beef.” The Beef Checkoff is funded by the collection of a $1-per-head assessment on all cattle sold in the U.S.

R-CALF’s previous challenge to the state beef councils was made on the grounds that they were private entities engaged in private speech, but the USDA/state council agreements turned their pronouncements back into “government speech.”

Government speech is not subject to anyone’s First Amendment challenges because it has been  “subject to democratic accountability.” “Whether a compelled subsidy funds “government speech turns on whether government officials exercise ‘effective control’ over the speech.” the earlier ruling said. 

“The district court found that the MOUs provided sufficient control over the speech of the private state beef councils to render that speech “government speech,” and thus bring this aspect of the federal Beef Checkoff program in line with the First Amendment (according to) R- CALF v. Perdue, No. CV-16-41-GF-BMM-JTJ, Dkt. No. 147 D. Mont. May 2, 2016.

But R-CALF believes the USDA failed to get it exactly right. It says in the previous court action USDA was not acting within the “notice-and-comment procedures” of the federal Administrative Procedures Act.

The  new complaint  says: “This has deprived R-CALF and its members the ability to advance alternative and/or additional reforms to the federal Beef Checkoff program such as adding provisions to the program that” 

  • (a) grant USDA the ability to appoint or remove board members of the state beef councils; 
  • (b) give USDA the ability to review the state beef councils’ oral speech; 
  • (c) prevent the state beef councils’ from funding private third-party speech USDA never reviews; 
  • (d) prevent the state beef councils from sharing staff and facilities with other private third-parties; and 
  • (e) require a USDA official to participate in the business meetings of the state beef councils. 

“R-CALF has seen that Beef Checkoff expenditures by state beef councils are frequently used to promote the type of speech to which R-CALF objects, including speech that promotes corporate consolidation in the beef industry and advertisements that make no effort to distinguish domestic beef from other beef,” the complaint continues.”

“Moreover,,” it says, “R-CALF has seen that much of the money retained and used by the state beef councils under the federal Beef Checkoff program goes to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other entities that advocate for corporate consolidation in the beef industry, which threatens independent ranchers.

“Additionally, R- CALF’s members are threatened by efforts to treat all beef as equal or that fail to distinguish between where and how beef is produced. R-CALF believes strongly that consumers should and would prefer domestic beef produced in compliance with the United States’ rigorous standards over other beef that is not if they were empowered to make that distinction.”

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