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Updated: 2 hours 29 min ago

Final hog rule sent off to the Federal Register, ending the HIMP pilot era after 22 years

2 hours 59 min ago

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s new regulatory system for market hogs is a direct descendant of the food safety reforms first put in place after the Jack-in-the-Box tragedy 25 years ago.

FSIS made it official Tuesday by sending the “final rule” to the publisher of the Federal Register. It was approved Friday by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Mindy Brashears, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, believes the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS)  is another food safety improvement with a long ancestry.

“This is the next phase of our HACCP implementation,” says the former Texas Tech University food safety professor. 

Brashears predicts 30-to-35  swine slaughter plants will fairly quickly opt-in to the NSIS. Most will be larger establishments. The change frees up FSIS personnel from sorting duties, giving them more time for “offline” inspections for enforcement of hazard and sanitation plans.

Brashears also thinks the change up testing requirements also only makes sense. With the NSIS, generic E.coli testing ends, but sampling for microbial organisms is required. And, FSIS will decide where sampling occurs.

Like the pre-2011 caucus testing for Salmonella, the generic E. coli testing produces uniformly low results. Brashears says such flatline data is not helpful. She says changing up testing makes the most sense.

The new rule anticipates healthier animals and carcasses with fewer defects reaching the Agency’s inspectors. That’s because the rule makes it clear than only establishment personnel is responsible for sorting that occurs before FSIS does the antemortem inspection.

Key elements of the NSIS, according to the Final Rule include:

  •  Requiring establishment personnel to sort and remove unfit animals before the antemortem inspection by FSIS inspectors and to trim and identify defects on carcasses and parts before the post-mortem inspection by FSIS inspectors.
  •  Requiring establishment personnel to identify animals or carcasses, that they have sorted and removed for disposal before FSIS inspection, with a unique tag, tattoo, or similar device, and to develop, implement, and maintain written procedures in their HACCP system to ensure that animals and carcasses sorted and removed for disposal do not enter the human food supply.
  • Requiring establishments to maintain records to document the total number of animals and carcasses sorted and removed per day and the reasons for their removal;
  • Requiring establishment personnel to immediately notify FSIS inspectors if they identify, while conducting sorting activities, an animal or carcass that they suspect has a reportable or foreign animal disease such as African swine fever, classical swine fever, or Nipah virus encephalitis;
  • Shifting agency resources to conduct more offline inspection activities that are more effective in ensuring food safety, which allows for up to two offline verification inspectors per line per shift and reduces the number of online inspectors to a maximum of three per line per shift;
  • Requiring establishments to maintain records documenting that products resulting from their slaughter operations meet the new definition of ready-to-cook (RTC) pork product, which is any slaughtered pork product sufficiently free from bile, hair, scurf, dirt, hooves, toenails, claws, bruises, edema, scabs, skin lesions, icterus, foreign material, and odor which is suitable for cooking without need of further processing; and 
  • Revoking maximum line speeds and authorizing establishments to determine their line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control for preventing fecal contamination and meeting microbial performance measures for carcasses during the slaughter operation. FSIS retains the ability to slow or stop the line, as needed.

In the past five years, the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) has been adopted by 101 chicken and 17 turkey establishments along with one operator doing both. Seven more want to opt-in to NPIS.

FSIS has that experience plus 22 years with a pilot program, known as HIMP or the HACCP Inspection Models Project. HIMP enlisted 20 young chicken, five young turkeys, and five market hog plants to make new tracks, beginning in 1997.

HIMP was an extension of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) planning doctrine that USDA borrowed from the Space Program after the E. coli outbreak associated with Jack-the-Box.

Market hog establishments opting into the NSIS will get more offline inspections, while FSIS will still be doing 100 percent carcass-by-carcass inspection as required by law. Gains in food safety, FSIS officials say, may come with attention to HACCP and Sanitation plans.

Over the years, the tasks being turned over to companies under NSIS are depicted as inspection-related by critics. It’s not that simple, however. The 209-page Final Rule assigns company sorters who “will be required to incise mandibular lymph nodes and palpate the viscera to detect the presence of animal diseases.”

Brashears says the task requires taking a sharp knife to the lymph node, and people can be taught how to do it fairly quickly.  However, if not done correctly,  FSIS personnel will slow or even shut down the line.

Twisting the knife in lymph nodes is one of the tasks the sorters must perform before they can present a hog to FSIS for inspection. Unfit animals need to be removed before antemortem inspection and defects on carcasses and parts must be removed before post-mortem inspection by FSIS inspectors.

While the Final Rule is largely about opting in or out of the new system, it includes more than that.

“Under this final rule, FSIS is also making several changes that will affect all establishments that slaughter swine,  regardless of the inspection system under which they operate,” it says.

“Specifically, all official swine slaughter establishments must develop, implement, and maintain in their HACCP plans, sanitation standard operating procedures (sanitation SOPs), or other prerequisite programs (hereafter collectively referred to as their HACCP systems), written procedures to prevent the  contamination of carcasses and parts by enteric pathogens, and visible fecal material, ingesta, and milk throughout the entire slaughter and dressing operation. These procedures must include sampling and analysis for microbial organisms to monitor the process control for enteric pathogens, as well as written procedures to prevent visible fecal material, ingesta, and milk contamination.”

Also, all hog operations will be “required to collect and test two carcass samples for microbial organisms, one at pre-evisceration and one at post-chill (i.e., the point in the slaughter process after the carcass has chilled in the cooler and after all slaughter interventions are completed), or, for very low-volume establishments, a single post-chill carcass sample.

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Another state fair with E. coli O157 infections and one HUS case

3 hours 1 min ago

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157 infections associated with the Minnesota State Fair.

Disease investigators recently identified 11 cases among Minnesota residents who visited the Minnesota State Fair prior to becoming ill. The ill people reported having visited the fair between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2, and becoming ill between Aug. 29 and Sept. 6. The patients range in age from 2 to 43 years. Six of the ill people were hospitalized, and one developed the hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal complication. One person remains hospitalized.

MDH is working  with fair officials to determine the source of the outbreak. Evidence gathered to date suggests that contact with livestock is the most likely factor. Most of the ill people reported visiting the Miracle of Birth exhibit and having contact with calves, goats, sheep or piglets.

However, some cases did not have direct contact with animals and may have been exposed through contact with contaminated surfaces such as fence rails. This serves as a strong reminder to always wash your hands after being around livestock and their enclosures, according to public health officials.

Preliminary laboratory tests of the bacteria done by whole genome sequencing from several of the cases indicate the E. coli O157 strains are closely related. Additional testing will be conducted to try to pinpoint the source of the infections.

MDH State Public Health Veterinarian Joni Scheftel said that while there is little chance of ongoing exposure since the fair has ended, the potential health impact of E. coli O157 makes it important to spread the news so health care providers are aware and anyone with symptoms of infection get proper treatment.

“These infections can have serious health impacts and there is always a chance that an ill person can pass along the infection to others through close contact,” Scheftel said. “Anyone who believes they may have developed an E. coli O157 infection should contact their health care provider. E. coli O157 infections should not be treated with antibiotics, as this might lead to serious complications.”

Symptoms of E. coli O157 infection typically include stomach cramps and diarrhea, often with bloody stools, but only a low-grade or no fever. People typically become ill two to five days after exposure, but this can range from one to eight days.

Most people recover in five to 10 days. However, E. coli O157 infections sometimes lead to serious complications like hemolytic uremic syndrome. This syndrome can lead to kidney failure and death. Those most at risk include children under 10 years of age, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.

Regardless of the original source of infection, E. coli O157 can be passed from person-to-person through fecal-oral transmission, particularly among families with children still in diapers. Children with diarrhea should not attend childcare. Family members and caregivers of recently ill children should wash their hands after changing diapers, going to the bathroom, and before eating. E. coli O157 can be passed in the stool for weeks, and occasionally months, after symptoms resolve.

A total of 130 cases of E. coli O157 are reported each year in Minnesota. More information on E. coli O157 and how to prevent it can be found on the MDH E. coli website.

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Food safety report gives picture of issues in Austria

3 hours 3 min ago

The number of food businesses found to be violating the law during audits last year was around the same as the year before, according to Austria’s annual food safety report.

The report covers official inspections during 2018 by the Austrian provinces, Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) and Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection (BMASGK).

A total of 43,581 inspections were carried out at 33,187. Violations were found at 2,824 companies or 8.5 percent of those inspected, which compares to violations at 3,058 or 8.3 percent of firms out of 36,839 inspections in 2017.

AGES and the inspection bodies of Carinthia and Vorarlberg examined 25,743 samples. The percentage that failed the tests was 16.9 percent, lower than 17.5 percent in 2017 and similar to past years.

Samples harmful to health

Risk, origin, type, composition and apparent quality of the sample determine the types of analyses carried out. Smell, flavor, visual appearance and labeling are assessed. Meat products, dairy products, and fish are tested for pathogens such as Salmonella and Listeria. Tests for heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury, pesticide residues, or additives are also conducted.

A total of 120 samples were harmful to health, 723 were judged as unsuitable for human consumption or their intended purpose. Common reasons for objections were issues about labeling and information that might mislead consumers. In 397 samples, the composition did not meet required standards and 942 tests were unsuitable for reasons such as hygiene regulations.

A total of 36 of the 120 harmful samples faced complaints because of microbial contamination and a lack of hygiene. Twenty-one complaints because of contaminants were mostly related to iodine and heavy metals and in individual cases PAH and aflatoxins. Harmful foreign matter and contaminants were found in 20 samples. Fourteen were classed as harmful to health based on ingredients or composition.

“Plan samples” are taken on a routine basis throughout the year across the product range. The 21,941 plan samples analyzed are categorized in 5,234 from in-house production, 10,299 market samples and 6,408 from focus audits.

A total of 323 of 2,359 samples examined resulted in complaints. The most common causes were incorrect labeling and/or misleading information.

Forty-six samples were unsuitable for consumption because of microbial contamination and/or organoleptic issues and high levels of lead. Nine samples were classified as harmful; three-game meat products because of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), two salted meat items because of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), two sausages due to Listeria monocytogenes, another sausage because of STEC, and game meat item due to lead contamination.

Results for fish, milk, and poultry

A total of 97 of 827 fish samples examined resulted in complaints. The most common were labeling infringements and/or misleading information. Microbial contamination and/or organoleptic deficiencies caused by hygiene issues resulted in 15 complaints.

Seventeen samples were unsuitable for human consumption, eight due to microbial contamination and/or organoleptic issues, four because of mercury, two each due to nematodes and Listeria. One was harmful because of Salmonella contamination.

A total of 143 of 2,124 milk samples analyzed resulted in complaints. Microbial contamination due to hygiene issues was the primary reason in 65 samples. One sample of raw milk was unsuitable due to veterinarian drug residues.

Twenty-six samples were classed unsuitable to consume mostly because of microbial contamination. Three were harmful due to Staphylococcus toxin, Listeria monocytogenes, and a foreign body.

A total of 67 of 884 poultry samples led to complaints. Thirty-three were unsuitable for consumption because of microbial contamination, mainly caused by Salmonella. Microbial contamination because of hygiene issues resulted in complaints for six samples.

Findings for other product categories

A total of 199 of 1,259 bread and baked goods samples had complaints. Eighteen were unsuitable to consume, nine due to microbial contamination and one each because of an infestation by insects and foreign body contamination.

A total of 104 of 861 ice cream samples resulted in complaints. Forty-two because of hygiene issues, showing increased contamination – primarily with Enterobacteriaceae and also Bacillus cereus and E. coli in individual cases. One sample was harmful as a result of contamination with Bacillus cereus.

A total of 326 from 2,734 fruit and vegetable samples prompted complaints. Forty-five were unsuitable for human consumption, mainly traced back to microbial contamination and/or spoilage after poor hygiene or incorrect or overly long storage.

A total of 74 of 383 samples of spices, seasonings, and condiments resulted in complaints. Two were unsuitable for consumption because of Bacillus cereus.

Seven samples of fruit juices and non-alcoholic beverages and three alcoholic drinks were classed as unsuitable because of microbial contamination. Twenty-five samples of drinking and packaged water were unsuitable as a result of microbial contamination.

Three ready meal samples were unsuitable because of minor contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. Nine samples were objected to because of microbial contamination caused by poor hygiene. One ready meal was harmful because of Listeria. Seven of the ready-to-eat foods for direct consumption were harmful because of contamination with Bacillus cereus.

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First illness in French Listeria outbreak from February last year

September 17, 2019 - 11:05am

The seven people in France part of a Listeria outbreak linked to organic dairy products fell ill over a period of 18 months, according to public health authorities.

Those infected with the same strain of Listeria were identified by the National Reference Center for Listeria, with an eighth case still under investigation.

Santé Publique France reported two people have died but the agency does not have any evidence to attribute the deaths to Listeria infection.

Details on patients

People fell ill between February 2018 and August 2019 and are aged between 36 to 93 years old. Five are women. Four live in Alsace while Burgundy, Ile-de-France, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur all have one case.

Investigations by Santé Publique France found these people had consumed organic dairy products in the weeks before contracting listeriosis. Analysis of food samples from a company, based in Bas-Rhin, Alsace confirmed contamination with Listeria. Raw milk cheeses are the suspected source of the contamination.

Testing by the National Reference Center for Listeria confirmed strains found in products had the same genetic characteristics as those isolated in the patients. Consumption of Ferme Durr products was also confirmed by several patients.

Ferme Durr recalled all dates of Durr brand organic dairy items including natural yogurt and yogurt with fruit, cream, cottage cheese, and cheese. Products were sold directly at the firm, in markets and stores throughout France. Products were also distributed in Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg.

The action was extended a few days later to include puddings and food such as cheese and cold meats resold but not produced at the site.

All production by the company has been stopped until further notice, according to French authorities after an investigation revealed: “serious shortcomings” and results of official controls found “widespread contamination” of the facility and food products.

It can take up to 70 days after exposure to Listeria for symptoms of listeriosis to develop. Symptoms of the infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness.

Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and people who have weakened immune systems are more at risk of serious illnesses, life-threatening infections, and other complications.

Certified Reference Material available

Meanwhile, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission has released a Certified Reference Material (CRM) to be used as quality assurance for analysis of Listeria monocytogenes in food control laboratories.

The aim is to support EU member states when monitoring listeriosis and ensure collection of comparable data on the disease.

Evaluating the subtype of Listeria monocytogenes is essential in epidemiological investigations or source tracking contamination from food factories. One of the methods used by labs for subtyping is Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE). The material was certified using an interlaboratory comparison study, in which all participants used PFGE.

In the EU, 2,480 cases were reported in 2017, with a mortality rate of 14 percent. The disease is often severe with high hospitalization and mortality rates. Consumption of ready-to-eat foods such as smoked fish, deli meats and soft cheeses are the main routes of transmission.

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The Story of Harvey Washington Wiley is coming out in paperback

September 17, 2019 - 4:35am
Don’t wait — Add ‘The Poison Squad’ by Deborah Blum to your reading list BOOK REVIEW

“Regulation is bad for business.”

It’s an all-too-common refrain, but not exclusively a modern one.

Most people, when asked what they know about the origin of the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, are likely to respond with either a shrug or a blank stare. A few may credit Upton Sinclair’s exposé of the horrendous practices in Chicago slaughterhouses, as described in his novel, “The Jungle.” Others may give credit to President Theodore Roosevelt, whose disgust at the food supplied to his troops in Cuba during the Spanish American War compelled him to support the campaign for safer food.

It would be a rare person, indeed, who would recognize the name of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley. Yet, without Wiley’s persistence, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 might never have been signed into law.

Before the turn of the 20th century, food adulteration was rife in the United States, and food labeling non-existent. Formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals were used to extend the shelf life of perishable commodities. Dyes derived from coal tar were incorporated into everything from candy to peas.

Unregulated, free enterprise prevailed. Embalmed beef, swill milk, and fake food were the order of the day.

In 1882, Wiley joined the USDA as chief chemist, a position he would hold for 30 years. The first 24 years of his stewardship were devoted to promoting the passage of safe food law. The remaining six years were consumed with protecting the act from emasculation.

“The Poison Squad” is the story of Wiley’s lifelong crusade for safe food in the face of opposition from large swaths of the chemicals, dyes, and food processing industries.

Author Deborah Blum guides the reader through his complex and compelling saga with skill, and with a clear mastery of the subject matter. Consumers and legislators alike can learn from Blum’s insights on Wiley’s legacy.

Deborah Blum
Photo by Mark Bennington

About Deborah Blum
Deborah Blum is the director of the Knight School Journalism Program at MIT and publisher of “Undarkmagazine” ( In 1992, she won a Pulitzer Prize for a series on primate research, which she turned into a book, “The Monkey Wars.” Her other books include “The Poisoner’s Handbook,” “Ghost Hunters,” “Love at Goon Park,” and “Sex on the Brain.” She has written for publications including the New York Times, Wired, Time, Discover, Mother Jones, the Guardian, and the Boston Globe. Blum is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a lifetime associate of the National Academy of Sciences.

Editor’s Note:  Deborah Blum’s book, The Poison Squad, will be available in paperback on Sept. 24, 2019, from Penguin Books.  We first published this review by Phyllis Entis two years ago when the hardback version was published.


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Three dead and 200 ill in Spanish Listeria outbreak

September 17, 2019 - 4:34am

More than 220 people are sick and three have died as part of a listeriosis outbreak in Spain, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

From July 7 to September 13, 222 confirmed cases have been reported in five regions of Spain: 214 patients in Andalusia, four in Aragon, two in Extremadura and one each in Castilla y Leon and Madrid.

Most Andalusian cases have been registered in Seville with 175 but 17 people are sick in Huelva, 11 in Cádiz, six in Málaga and five in Granada. This past Friday only 21 people remained in hospital.

The outbreak has been traced to a chilled roasted pork meat product made in Spain by Magrudis and sold under the brand name “La Mechá”. Usually, there are about 300 infections from Listeria in Spain every year.

A total of 66 probable and 80 suspected cases are under investigation in Aragón, Canary Islands, Castilla y León, Castilla La Mancha, Cataluña, Valencia, Extremadura, Madrid, and Melilla, according to Spanish authorities.

Potential international cases

Graph showing confirmed Listeria outbreak cases from July 15 to September 11

WHO recommended against any travel or trade restrictions in relation to the outbreak. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is also monitoring the incident.

It was reported by Spanish authorities to the World Health Organization, via the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), on August 20. Three days later, a food safety alert by Spanish authorities advised consumers to avoid any product sold under the Magrudis brand and that a small amount of implicated chilled roasted pork was also sold non-branded by another company, Commercial Martínez León.

France notified a related case in a citizen of the United Kingdom with travel history to Andalusia. Spanish media reported infections in Germany but authorities in Spain said there are none from Germany included in the outbreak as yet.

Only three cases of listeriosis have been recorded with a date of consumption after August 17, but they all bought the product before the food alert. The maximum incubation period in the outbreak is 30 days but listeriosis can have an incubation period of up to 70 days.

Fifty-seven percent of those ill are female including 38 pregnant women and 24 percent are 65 years old or above. Three deaths have been reported in two people over 70 years old and one person over 90 years old who were ill with listeriosis at the time of death. Six women had miscarriages linked to the outbreak.

“Although the implicated products have been recalled, given the long incubation period of listeriosis (up to 70 days), the shelf life of the implicated products (three months), and the popularity of this brand of meat served in many restaurants, additional cases are expected in the coming weeks,” said WHO officials.

“Additionally, given the high number of tourists to Spain, and Andalusia, in particular during the summer months, international travelers may have been exposed while the product was in the market; although the risk for any international disease spread is low given that the products have been recalled and have not been exported outside of Spain.”

WGS analysis of outbreak strain

Authorities in Andalusia suspended production of the implicated pork at Magrudis and ordered the withdrawal of all batches from the market. The company recalled all products manufactured since May 1, 2019.

During investigations at the plant by authorities in Spain, Listeria monocytogenes was isolated in other products commercialized under the same brand. Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) of isolates at the Instituto de Salud Carlos III in Spain revealed that human and food strains share the same sequence. The strain has been characterized as serovar IVb, sequence type 388, clonal complex 388 and core genome-multilocus sequence typing (cgMLST) CT8466.

In other developments, the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN) has informed a sample of chilled roasted pork meat under the brand “Sabores de Paterna” tested positive for Listeria and the alert was later extended to include all items produced by Sabores de Paterna S.C.A. Products were mainly distributed in Andalucía but no infections associated with the alert have been confirmed.

AESAN also alerted the public about Listeria in products of the “La Montanera Del Sur” brand, which is produced by Incarybe SL, based in Benaoján (Málaga). As a precaution, Andalusian authorities ordered the withdrawal of all products made by the company but no illnesses have been recorded.

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French child dies 8 years after E. coli infection

September 17, 2019 - 4:34am

A French child who developed severe complications after being infected by E. coli in 2011 has died.

Nolan Moittie was two years old when he was one of a number of people infected by an E. coli outbreak from frozen minced beef steaks of the Steaks Country brand bought at supermarket chain Lidl in May and June 2011.

After being infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157, he developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infection and was left paralyzed and mentally handicapped. French media reported he could not walk, talk or eat and lived in a wheelchair.

Florence Rault, the family’s lawyer, said the death was a total tragedy for the child and his family who had seen their lives devastated.

Around 15 people were part of the outbreak including 12 cases of HUS in children aged from seven months to 10 years old living in Nord-Pas-de Calais, Picardie, and Alsace.

Guy Lamorlette, former manager of SEB-Cerf based in Saint-Dizier, which was the company linked to the outbreak in 2011, was sentenced to at least two years in jail in 2017 and a €50,000 fine ($55,000).

An appeal was held earlier this year where Lamorlette blamed his former quality manager, Laurent Appéré, who died in 2017. After the jail term and fine was upheld, Lamorlette’s lawyer indicated that his client may file an appeal.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include abdominal cramps and diarrhea that can become bloody. Fever and vomiting may also occur. The incubation period can range from three to eight days and most patients recover within 10 days.

E. coli is transmitted to humans primarily through consumption of contaminated food, such as raw or undercooked ground meat, raw milk, and raw vegetables and sprouts.

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The STEC O121 outbreak caused by ground bison is over

September 17, 2019 - 4:33am

The E. coli outbreak caused by ground Bison is over.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called the outbreak over on Sept.13, 2019.

It ended after reports of 33 confirmed E. coli infections in eight states. Those illnesses, including 18 hospitalizations,

The ground Bison came from Northfork Bison Distributions Inc., located in Saint-Leonard, Quebec in Canada. Northford recalled ground beef produced between ruaryFebruary 22, 2019, and April 30, 2019.

The recall announcement came on July 16, 2019. Recalled bison was sold to distributors as ground bison and bison patties, called Bison Burgers and Buffalo Burgers. Four-ounce burger patties were included in the recall.
The outbreak dates back to June 10, 2019, when PulseNet notified CDC of the outbreak and laboratory evidence pointed to the Quebec bison producer as the source.

Ground bison was mentioned by 57 percent of the people who became ill as among the food they ate in the week before becoming sick.

Federal, state and local officials collected restaurant records showing Northfork made ground Bison deliveries and led to the discovery that the outbreak strain was STEC O121.

The CDC said its findings did not affect treatment guidance since antibiotics are not recommended for STEC O121 or O103 infections.

Cook ground bison to internal temperatures of 160 degrees or more and preparation should include washing hands with hot soapy water or bleach solutions.

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General Mills recalls Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour over E. coli fears

September 17, 2019 - 4:32am

Today, General Mills announced a nation wide recall for 5 lb. bags of its Gold Medal “Unbleached All Purpose Flour” marked with a “better-if-used-by” date of Sept. 6, 2020 for the potential presence of E. coli O26, which FDA officials said was discovered during sampling of the 5 lb. bag product.

According to the recall, “This recall only affects this one date code of Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour five-pound bags. All other types of Gold Medal Flour are not affected by this recall.”

As of today, General Mills has not received any direct consumer reports of confirmed illnesses related to this product. If consumers or others have flour on hand that is no longer in its original packaging, and it is not known for sure that it is not the implicated flour, they should throw it out.

“Consumers are asked to check their pantries and dispose of the product,” the state department advised.

To determine whether they have any of the implicated flour on hand, consumers should look for the following packing information:

  • 5 lb. Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • Package UPC Number – 016000 196100
  • Better If Used By Date – 06SEP2020KC

Government officials warn consumers to refrain from consuming any raw products made with flour; “E. coli O26 is killed by heat through baking, frying, sautéing or boiling products made with flour.”

Advice for consumers
FDA offers these tips for safe food handling of flour:

  • Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
  • Closely supervise children handling flour for baking and craft projects to make sure they don’t touch their faces and that they properly wash their hands after handling raw flour.
  • Follow package directions for cooking products containing flour at proper temperatures and for specified times.
  • Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with flour and raw dough products.
  • Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that may be present from spreading. Be aware that flour may spread easily due to its powdery nature.
  • Follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.

About E. coli infections
The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. If there is fever, it is usually not lower than 101 degrees F (38.5 degrees C). Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or even life-threatening symptoms and complications.

About 5 percent to 10 percent of those who are diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. 

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or die. This condition can occur among persons of any age but is most common in children under 5-years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients. 

People who experience HUS symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately. People with HUS should be hospitalized because it can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage and neurologic problems.

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Publisher’s Platform: Journal of Pediatrics weighs in on E. coli Outbreak linked to Soy Nut Butter

September 16, 2019 - 12:08am

I.M. Healthy – goodness the irony.

For a bit(e) of history: In the Spring of 2017, the CDC reported that thirty-two people infected with the outbreak strains of E. coli O157: H7 were reported from 12 states – Arizona 4, California 5, Florida 2, Illinois 1, Massachusetts 1, Maryland 1, Missouri 1, New Jersey 1, Oregon 11, Virginia 2, Washington 2 and Wisconsin 1.  There were also others sickened but because stool cultures were not completed, those two people were not “officially” counted by the CDC.  One of those was the likely first illness.  had “genetic fingerprinting” been done on the E. coli O157: H7 culture, it is certainly possible that this outbreak would have been identified sooner.

Twelve people were hospitalized – some for as many as four months. Nine people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome – some will require kidney transplants. Fortunately, no deaths were reported.

Twenty-six (81 percent) of the 32-ill people in this outbreak were younger than 18 years.

Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicated that I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter manufactured by Dixie Dew was the likely source of this outbreak.

Of the 32 sick, I have had the honor of representing 21 of the sickened through the bankruptcies of I.M. Healthy and its manufacturer Dixie Dew.  All but three cases have been resolved.  One failed at mediation in the last month and is now in litigation.  A month from now we will attempt to resolve two more, and if not resolved, those too will be put into litigation.  It has been a long process for the ill, both in medical recovery, but in seeking fairness from the insurance companies and lawyers that represent the retailers and supply chain that supplied the tainted product.

The Journal of Pediatrics weighed in on the outbreak and it is worth a read.  J. Pediatrics Article (02178215xAD20B) – I am most impressed by the authors* conclusions and recommendations:

  • This investigation identified soy nut butter as the source of a multistate outbreak of STEC infections affecting mainly children.
  • The ensuing recall of all soy nut butter products the facility manufactured, totaling .1.2 million lbs, likely prevented additional illnesses.
  • Prompt diagnosis of STEC infections and appropriate specimen collection aids in outbreak detection.
  • Childcare providers should follow appropriate hygiene practices to prevent the secondary spread of enteric illness in childcare settings.
  • Firms should manufacture ready-to-eat foods in a manner that minimizes the risk of contamination.

*Rashida Hassan, MSPH, Sharon Seelman, MS, MBA, Vi Peralta, MPH, Hillary Booth, MPH, Mackenzie Tewell, MA, MPH, CPH, Beth Melius, RN, MN, MPH, Brooke Whitney, PhD, Rosemary Sexton, BS, Asha Dwarka, BS, Duc Vugia, MD, MPH, Jeff Vidanes, BS, David Kiang, PhD, Elysia Gonzales, RN, MPH, Natasha Dowell, MPH, Samantha M. Olson, MPH, Lori M. Gladney, MS, Michael A. Jhung, MD, Karen P. Neil, MD, MSPH.

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Bakery, seafood processors warned by FDA

September 16, 2019 - 12:06am

The Food and Drug Administration recently sent warning letters to a Massachusetts bakery, two seafood processing facilities in China and Greece because inspectors found significant violations of U.S. food safety laws at their operations.

Businesses have 15 days to respond in writing to the FDA after receiving a warning letter. If they don’t correct the violations, the FDA can take action up to and including shutting down operations.

Peggy Lawton Kitchens, Inc. — East Walpole, MA

Inspectors found serious violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food regulation (CGMP & PC rule); “Based on FDA’s inspectional findings, we determined that your RTE food products manufactured in your facility are adulterated in that they were prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.”

The FDA sent a warning letter dated Aug. 29, 2019, to the bakery owner Mr. William H. Wolf, informing him of multiple violations after inspecting the facility May 28 through June 12, 2019, where the facility manufactures Ready-to-Eat (RTE) bakery products, including cookies and brownies. Additionally, the FDA noted a response form they received from the firm on June 21, 2019, including a summary of corrective actions taken and planned by the firm.

“The adequacy of each of your firm’s promised corrective actions is discussed below and implementation of those actions will be assessed during our next inspection,” the FDA said.

The violations noted by the FDA include:

  • Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (Subpart C)
    • “The CGMP & PC rule requires that you must conduct a hazard analysis to identify and evaluate known or reasonably foreseeable hazards for each type of food manufactured, processed, packed, or held at your facility to determine whether there are any hazards requiring a preventive control.”;
    • During the FDA’s inspection, it was determined that the firm did not prepare, or have prepared, and did not implement a food safety plan for the food manufactured in their ready-to-eat (RTE) cookie and brownie processing facility; and
    • The firm’s response outlines the corrective actions they have taken or plan to take, which includes modification of their recall plan; “Your response does not include a hazard analysis or food safety plan. We do not have enough information to fully assess your promised corrective actions regarding your violations of the requirements in subpart C. We will verify the adequacy of your corrective actions during a future inspection.”
  • Current Good Manufacturing Practice (Subpart B):
    • “Your plant equipment and utensils used in manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding food are not designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and are not maintained adequately to protect against allergen cross-contact and contamination.”;
    • For example, multiple layers of electrical tape were observed wrapped around a cookie die. The cookie dough is pressed out of the die to make the dough in the shape of cookies;
    • “Specifically, on May 29, 2019, an employee was observed removing sheet pans of cooked brownies and placing them on a rack immediately beneath sheets pans of uncooked brownies. Additionally, your firm uses the same oven racks for holding sheet pans of uncooked brownies prior to placing the sheet pans in the oven and for holding pans of cooked brownies after they are baked.”; and
    • “On May 29, 2019, the equipment used to manufacture brownie batter was cleaned with water only; the cleaning did not include the use of detergent, physical scrubbing, and a sanitizer.”
  • Additionally, the firm did not have records documenting training in the principles of food hygiene and food safety for employees who manufacture, process, pack, or hold brownies;
  • “On May 29, 2019, and May 30, 2019, employees packaging ready-to-eat brownies were observed to not wash and sanitize their hands prior to handling brownies with their bare hands after touching unsanitary objects including dishwasher buttons with brown residue and conveyor belt switches that were observed to be encrusted with apparent brownie residue. The same employees were observed to not wash and sanitize their bare hands (or sanitize their gloved hands) after returning from break and continuing to work with the ready-to-eat brownies.”; and
  • The firm did not adequately maintain buildings, fixtures, and other physical facilities in a clean and sanitary condition and in repair adequate to prevent food from becoming adulterated.
  • Consumers can view a complete list of violations in the FDA warning letter.

Donggang Hongxing Food Co., Ltd. — Liaoning Sheng, China

In a warning letter dated Aug. 15, 2019, the FDA informed owner Quan Shijie that Donggang Hongxing Food Co.’s fish or fishery products were under serious violations of the seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulation. The FDA acknowledged receipt of the firm’s response sent via email on June 6, 2019 including a revised HACCP plan entitled “Frozen Boiled Short Necked Clam (Vacuum Packed)” and a spreadsheet outlining their corrections, however, FDA evaluation of the response revealed it was not adequate, as further described in the warning letter.

The firm’s frozen boiled short-necked clams (vacuum packed) are adulterated, in that they have been prepared, packed, or held under conditions whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.

The FDA noted the following significant deviations:

  • The firm’s HACCP plan must, at minimum, list the critical limits that must be met, to comply with 21 CFR 123.6(c)(3). “A critical limit is defined in 21 CFR 123.3(c) as ‘the maximum or minimum value to which a physical, biological, or chemical parameter must be controlled at a critical control point, to prevent, eliminate, or reduce to an acceptable level the occurrence of the identified food safety hazard.'” However, the firm’s revised HACCP plan entitled “Frozen Boiled Short Necked Clam (Vacuum Packed),” dated June 1, 2019, lists critical limits that are not adequate to control pathogens because there is no corresponding critical limit for time.;
  • The firm listed a critical control point that is not adequate to control Clostridium botulinum because it does not list that handling instruction is included on each label to state that the product is to be thawed under refrigeration. “FDA recommends each product label include the statement ‘Keep Frozen, Thaw under refrigeration immediately before use.'”; and
  • The firm’s revised HACCP plan lists a critical control point and a monitoring frequency that is not appropriate to control natural toxins; “FDA recommends you visually check incoming tags of every container.”

Additional violations can be found in the FDA’s warning letter.

Pavlos Trifonidis S.A — Kavala, Greece

Pavlos Trifonidis S.A in Kava la, Greece is on notice from the FDA because of significant deviations from the Seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulation under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act). The firm processes fish products, which must have a HACCP plan that complies with the Act.

FDA acknowledged receipt of an email response sent from the firm via email on April 5 and June 10, 2019; “Your responses included revised HACCP plans along with corresponding HACCP documents. However, our evaluation of your response revealed it was not adequate, as further described in this letter.”

Staff from the Food and Drug Administration inspected the firm’s facility on March 14 and 15, 2019, and rendered the firm’s tuna “Lakerda (Thunnus alalunga)” packed in oil and canned salted anchovies products adulterated, in that they have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.

The FDA noted several significant deviations:

“The maximum or minimum value to which a physical, biological, or chemical parameter must be controlled at a critical control point to prevent, eliminate, or reduce to an acceptable level the occurrence of the identified food safety hazard.” However, the firm’s revised HACCP plan provided with their June 10th response for critical limit for a core temperature of the fish is not appropriate to control scombrotoxin (histamine) formation.

“FDA recommends a critical limit that ensures the product is held at a continuous cooler temperature of 40°F (4.4°C) or below, or ensure the product is completely and continuously surrounded by ice throughout the storage time.”

Additional critical limits submitted by the firm were not adequate by themselves to control scombrotoxin (histamine) formation when receiving fresh fish from the harvest vessel; In addition to taking the internal temperature of incoming scombroid species fish, FDA recommends conducting a sensory examination of a representative number of incoming fish for decomposition.

“Lastly, when processors rely on the adequacy of ice during transit from the harvest vessel to the plant, FDA recommends a critical limit that lists fish are to be completely surrounded by ice during transit and at the time of delivery.”

At the end of the warning letter, the FDA warned that if the firm does not respond, or if the FDA finds their response inadequate, further action may be taken; “For instance, we may take further action to refuse admission of your imported fish or fishery products.”

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Truck driver safety rules with changes around food and agriculture

September 16, 2019 - 12:03am

With the deadline approaching, new safety rules for truck drivers, including definitions for agricultural commodities are not getting much public feedback.

The deadline for comments is Sept. 27, 2019, and currently, just 30 have shared their opinions with the federal Department of Transporation (DOT).

Two farm trucks haul corn, soybeans, and turfgrass within 50 miles of Libby Essick’s family farm near Kernersville, NC. Each farm truck travels about 7,500 a year moving the crops. USDA and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture define turf as a crop, but not DOT.

Essick says the hours of service regulations put a burden on the farm.

Jack Williams of Wingdale, NY hauls horses. He’d like DOT to exempt any requirement to keep logs within a 200-mile radius of a truck’s terminal. He says horses need food and water breaks every five and one-half hours. He suggests coordinating the driver breaks with the horses.

Scott Hampton, who did not provide his state and town, isn’t happy with the proposed regulations. “Why in the world does out government have to make things so difficult?” he asks. Just use some common sense.”

Hampton says flexible hours of service would address many of the concerns. He says ag commodities should go including everything related to farming, planting, and harvesting, from seeds to grains to fertilizers. Hampton says the rules should recognize farm trucks take time to unload.

The DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will after the deadline be reviewing all the comments ahead of making the rules final. They revolve around Hours-of-Service (HOS) requirements for truck drivers.

The DOT’s goal is to improve safety and flexibility for commercial drivers. The drivers would be required, at a minimum, to take one 30-minute break after eight consecutive hours of driving.

Drivers would also be allowed to be “on-duty, not driving” rather than “off-duty” during breaks.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao sees the new rules as more flexible, but with lessening the safety limits on driving times. They include a short-haul exemption for Commercial Drivers License (CDL) holders within 150 air miles. Off-duty hours for those operating within the exception will be increased to 14 hours, up from 12.

DOT estimates the changes will save American consumers an estimated $274 million and improve driver safety on the road.


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Letter From the Editor: I’m a little worried, are you?

September 15, 2019 - 12:06am

Foodborne illnesses are not generally considered to be “highly contagious.” There are exceptions of course. Children in close contact can give each other E. coli infections.

But generally speaking, if you don’t eat the contaminated food, you aren’t going to become ill just because you have contact with those who did. ‘

Nobody wants to get a foodborne disease, but we probably fear much more those “highly contagious” diseases.

The kind of contagious diseases of which I speak is the kind that is transmitted through the air or someone’s sweat or spit.  We’ve been lucky to live in the public health era because most of those kinds of contagious diseases are history, or so we thought.

I was not long out of college when the planet Earth eradicated smallpox. It was highly contagious and deadly. An army of public health workers took it down on every continent.  The world cheered.

Smallpox only exists now in government laboratories and vaccine stocks are available if it ever gets out. As recently as last week, a company called Emergent BioSolutions was providing $170 million in vaccines for smallpox.   We suppose the consider eradication and vaccines a belt and suspenders approach to smallpox.

What makes the government nervous about infectious diseases that we thought no longer exist? Maybe it’s because they keep popping up.

Take measles, for example. Once childhood diseases, we thought measles were history.

Measles charted some new record territory in 2019. From January 1 to September 5, 2019, 1,241 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 31 states. That’s the highest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992.

More than 75 percent of the cases this year are linked to outbreaks in New York. Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in U.S. communities where groups of people are unvaccinated. Everybody wants to believe their own science in this country and we’ve grown a generation in some locations that do not believe in vaccines.

The majority of 2019 measles cases are among people who weren’t vaccinated against measles. Measles can cause serious complications. As of September 5, 2019, 130 of the people who got measles this year were hospitalized, and 65 reported having complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis.

Measles is highly contagious. It spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

What else might be out there to worry about?

Well, how about this.   Dr. Marc K. Siegal, professor of medicine and medical doctor at Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health, says it is only a matter of time before there’s a Leprosy outbreak in the United States. “Certain populations” in the U.S. make the country ripe for a battle with Leprosy, which is now called “Hansen’s disease.”

The United States experiences 150 to 250 individual Leprosy cases each year, compared with 20,000 new cases annually in Central and South America.   Leprosy is caused by slow-growing bacteria that spreads where close quarters meet unsanitary conditions.

Those conditions are not unlike those often described as contributing to the hepatitis A outbreak.  In the past 30 months the hepatitis A outbreak has infected nearly 25,000 people and results in almost 250 deaths.

Leprosy is easily treated when detected early, but the question Dr. Siegal seems to be raising is now many American doctors are looking for a disease from the Middle Ages.  But the NYU doctor has been looking at what comes after tuberculosis, measles, and typhus and then matching it up with the homeless conditions in places like Los Angeles County,  and figures a Leprosy comeback is likely.

We cannot allow contagious diseases to get any kind of foothold and we definitely need to keep these diseases from the Middle Ages from making any kind of a comeback.     To achieve both of those goals, we first and forecast need to support our local health department.   We need to extend that support to the larger public health community.

It’s nice living in a country that does not let its contgous dieases run wild.


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Chemical analysis gaps found in UK lab review

September 14, 2019 - 12:09am

Gaps incapability to perform some chemical analyses have been identified in a review into official laboratories in the United Kingdom.

The review assessed the capacity, capability, and governance of the U.K. official food and feed laboratory system and made recommendations to address gaps and weaknesses to maintain safety standards when the U.K. leaves the European Union (EU), a process known as Brexit.

The number of official labs for food and feed testing has declined in recent years which prompted authorities to consider whether services will be sufficient after EU exit.

The first phase of a two-part review was done by Fera Science Ltd, a joint venture between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Capita. It found several areas have an insufficient number of U.K. based Official Control Laboratories (OCLs) and/or Official Laboratories (OLs) capable of performing enforcement for feed and food controls.

OCLs support Food Standards Scotland (FSS), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and local authorities by testing the safety and standards of food and animal feed. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the FSA is responsible for official controls for feed and food enforcement and in Scotland it is FSS.

Chemical analysis problem

Areas where there was limited or no capability included determining concentrations of all regulated plant toxins in feed and food samples; testing needed to show compliance with regulations on materials and articles in contact with food; concentrations of halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in feed and food; glycidyl fatty esters; some feed additives; some authenticity tests and GM testing.

“The cost to set up the analyses for the areas of limited/no capability in a laboratory is prohibitive unless large numbers of samples can be guaranteed together with a sampling strategy and budget. Considering the number of official samples taken in these areas in recent years then it is maybe not surprising that this capability has not been developed/maintained at this level,” according to the review.

All labs involved in official controls for feed and food were found to have the instrumentation and skilled resource to be able to implement new methods in their labs with appropriate funding.

While the labs won’t be prepared straight away after Brexit as it takes time to develop, in-house validate and gain accreditation, with appropriate training most tests required to support enforcement could be covered by the network of OCLs and OLs. These labs also have access to a network of overseas partner labs, National Reference Laboratories (NRLs) and other testing labs by sub-contracting.

The review found there was lab capability for official testing of samples for microbiological contamination across the U.K. with a number of Food Examiner and Public Analyst labs able to do the required analyses.

The second part of the review

The second phase of the review was done by Ernst & Young, who did a risk assessment on the “as-is” situation to identify mitigating actions which could reduce risks.

Identified high risks in the U.K. food and feed enforcement system included insufficient risk assessment, as the U.K. depends on what is currently created by the EU; inability to plan for required capacity and capability; limited use of private labs due to potential conflicts of interest and an actual or perceived increase in food safety incidents impacting consumers, tourism and trade.

Risks from the current system mean the U.K. cannot continue with it as is, so Ernst & Young created a “to-be” model. A Target Operating Model (TOM) was developed to provide a fit-for-purpose lab system for the future.

They identified six areas where improvements could be made to address risks in the current system. These were strategy and accountability, funding, organization of labs, public analysts’ appointment, public analysts’ qualification, and food sampling.

The model includes one central accountable body coordinating the creation and delivery of an intelligence-led national risk assessment which could be led by the FSA or FSS and a central commissioning body responsible for delivering the strategy set by the former agency.

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Salads, wraps containing spinach recalled for E. coli risk

September 14, 2019 - 12:08am

Urban Remedy of California, a producer, and retailer of ‘ultra-fresh, organic meals’ is recalling 76 salads and wraps because they contain spinach that may be contaminated with E. coli, according to a recall notice posted on the FDA’s website.

“Seventy-six salads and wraps are still unaccounted for. No juices or any other products are being recalled,” the recall notice said.

According to the FDA, spinach from a supplier tested positive for a small amount of E. coli bacteria. Urban Remedy CEO Paul Coletta Coletta said that Urban Remedy will no longer buy spinach from the supplier.

The recalled products were sold in Urban Remedy’s retail stores, at Whole Foods Markets, online, and at other California retailers. All remaining affected products have been removed from store shelves and the Urban Remedy website.

There have been no illnesses reported to date in connection to the recalled salads and wraps.

According to the recall, all of the potentially affected products have a “use-by date” of September 15. Consumers who purchased any of the following products are advised to throw them out or return them to the store of purchase for a full refund:

Item Name

UPC Item Code

Use-By Date



Black Rice Umeboshi Bowl 813377 022595 9/15/2019 12 oz 30 The Benedict Brunch Bowl 813377 022854 9/15/2019 9.7 oz 21 Samosa Cauli Wrap 813377 023097 9/15/2019 6.7 oz 14 Green Tea Leaf Salad 813377 023158 9/15/2019 6.7 oz 11

Symptoms of E. coli infection can include nausea, vomiting, mild to severe abdominal cramps and watery to bloody diarrhea. In severe cases of illness, some people may have seizures or strokes, need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis or live with permanent kidney damage. The infection and complications are sometimes fatal.

High-risk groups for severe illness and complications include young children, older and/or frail adults, pregnant women and people with suppressed immune systems such as diabetics, HIV patients, transplant recipients, and cancer patients.

Consumers with questions can contact the company at 855-875-8423.

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Norway finds tropane and pyrrolizidine alkaloids in food samples

September 14, 2019 - 12:07am

Atropine was detected in four of 14 samples of cereal-based foods intended for children, according to a survey last year by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet).

Another tropane alkaloid, scopolamine, was detected in two of the samples. As in 2017, the highest levels were found in processed snacks for babies called “skumpinner” from Slovakia, and one was above the maximum limit of 1 µg/kg at 1.68 µg/kg. The other country positive samples came from was Spain.

Tropane alkaloids are found in large quantities in seeds from the plant order Datura. Crops may be contaminated by these seeds during harvest, and tropane alkaloids may be a problem in cereal- and seed-based foods.

Picture of the domestic market

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are often found in weeds in tropic and sub-tropic regions, and tea from these areas may potentially be contaminated. The EU has not set limit values for pyrrolizidine alkaloids in tea. Honey from bees collecting nectar from PA-producing plants may also contain them.

PA was detected in eight of 10 tea samples with the highest levels found in green tea. The PA’s jacobine and jacobine-NOX were detected at very high levels in one tea sample. In honey, PA was detected in nine of 15 samples but only at low levels.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority sampled relevant foods on the domestic market to get an idea on the levels of tropane alkaloids and PA in foods. Samples were analyzed by the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO).

In 2018, 14 samples were received for analysis of tropane alkaloids. Ten were cereal-based porridge and four were processed cereal-based baby food. Ten teas and 15 honey samples were received for analysis of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids in tea and honey

Black tea had low PA content or was completely free. Three of four green tea samples had medium to high levels, with a total concentration of 55, 90 and 447 µg PA per kilo of tea. All these green tea samples were produced in China. The highest PA content was 447 µg/kg.

Lycopsamine, intermedine N-oxide, jacobine and jacobine N-oxide were the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in tea. Jacobine and/or jacobine N-oxide were detected in six of the 10 samples and at very high concentrations in one test.

Two samples of Norwegian honey contained pyrrolizidine alkaloids at less than 5 µg/kg. Low levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids at less than 3.5 µg/kg were detected in seven honey samples from Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, and Chile.

Senecionine/NOX, seneciphylline/NOX, and jacobine were the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in Norwegian honey. Echimidine, lycopsamine, intermedine, latekirkin, heliotrine and lasiocarpine were detected in imported samples. A sample from India, which is one of the largest honey exporters, did not contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

In 2017, atropine was detected in three of 35 samples of cereal-based foods and foods intended for children. Two of these products came from Sweden and one from Slovakia.

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More pâtés, mousses, terrines and rillettes recalled in Canada for Listeria risk

September 14, 2019 - 12:06am

This week, the CFIA added more pâtés, mousses, terrines, and rillettes to a recall list involving multiple brands.

In an initial recall notice posted on Aug. 31, the CFIA warned consumers not consume various The Deli-Shop brand Pâtés because of possible Listeria contamination found by CFIA test results.

On Sept. 12, the CFIA announced that Les Spécialités Prodal (1975) Ltée is recalling various brands of pâtés, mousses, terrines, and rillettes from the marketplace due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The CFIA said consumers should not consume and distributors, retailers, and foodservice establishments should not sell or use the implicated products.

According to the recall notice, the recalled products have been sold ‘clerk-served’ from retail counters up to and including September 12, 2019, with or without a label. The CFIA advises consumers who are unsure if they have purchased the affected product to contact their retailer.The following products were sold in Ontario and Quebec: Brand Name Common Name Size UPC Code(s) on Product The Deli-Shop Country-style Pâté – Cognac 150 g 0 59749 95188 3 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 The Deli-Shop Country-style Pâté – Pepper 150 g 0 59749 95189 0 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 The Deli-Shop Country-style Pâté – Old Fashioned 150 g 0 59749 95187 6 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 The Deli-Shop Liver Pâté – Fine Herbs 150 g 0 59749 95191 3 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 The Deli-Shop Liver Pâté – Garlic 150 g 0 59749 95190 6 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 The Deli-Shop Liver Pâté – Old Fashioned 150 g 0 59749 95192 0 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Paysan Country-style Pâté 2 x 100 g 0 68104 02286 1 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Paysan Country-style Pâté with black pepper 2 x 100 g 0 68104 02287 8 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Paysan Liver Pâté 2 x 100 g 0 68104 02288 5 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Paysan Liver Pâté with garlic 2 x 100 g 0 68104 02289 2 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Poultry rillettes 125 g 0 29145 13471 5 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Liver pâté 125 g 0 29145 50006 0 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Country-style pâté 125 g 0 29145 50506 5 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Black peppercorn country-style pâté 125 g 0 29145 50516 4 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Country-style pâté with cognac 125 g 0 29145 50526 3 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Duck and pork à l’orange terrine 125 g 0 29145 51006 9 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Rabbit and pork terrine with white wine 125 g 0 29145 51126 4 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Poultry liver mousse with port 125 g 0 29145 52506 3 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Première moisson Rillettes du Mans 125 g 0 29145 52006 8 All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC12 Les Specialites Prodal (1975) Ltee Country style pate with cognac Variable Variable All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC18 Les Specialites Prodal (1975) Ltee Country style pate Variable Variable All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC18 Les Specialites Prodal (1975) Ltee Country style pate with pepper Variable Variable All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC18 Les Specialites Prodal (1975) Ltee Liver pate Variable Variable All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC18 Les Specialites Prodal (1975) Ltee Liver pate with garlic Variable Variable All Best Before dates up to
and including 2019OC18 Les Specialites Prodal (1975) Ltee Liver pate with fine herbs Variable Variable All Best Before dates up to and including 2019OC18

There is yet to be any reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products. Consumers can find a full list of implicated product labels here.

“This additional information was identified during the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) food safety investigation,” the recall notice said.

Anyone who thinks they have become sick from consuming a recalled product should call their doctor, the CFIA warned. The CFIA is also concerned the recalled product may currently be stored in consumers’ homes. Any recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased.

Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Symptoms can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are, particularly at risk. Although infected pregnant women may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, the infection can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or even stillbirth. In severe cases of illness, people may die. Who is affected

The updated recall was triggered by CFIA 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 through updated Food Recall Warnings.

Denver resident is latest death in hepatitis A outbreak

September 14, 2019 - 12:04am

Two months after Denver declared its outbreak of hepatitis A, the viral disease has taken the life of a resident of the Mile High City.

“Deaths from hepatitis A are rare, but they can occur, especially when people who have other medical conditions get the disease,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s infectious disease epidemiologist.

“This unfortunate death reminds us that the critical work our local public health agencies have been doing to vaccinate at-risk populations must continue,” she added. “This outbreak is not over.”

Colorado’s hepatitis A outbreak began on Oct. 1, 2018. Through Aug. 28, 2019, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 140 cases in the Centennial State. CDC says 102 hepatitis A cases in Colorado required hospitalization, a 70 percent rate.

During the past 30 months, the United States has recorded 24,952 hepatitis A infections and 244 deaths. Nationally, the hospitalization rate is 60 percent.

Hepatitis A spreads through person-to-person contact. The contamination of food and water is sometimes a factor. Drug users and people living in unsanitary conditions are believed to be fueling the current outbreaks around the country. Infected restaurant workers put their customers at risk.

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) spent the last week investigating a case of hepatitis A in a food service worker that could have led to possible exposure for restaurant customers.

Mississippi joined the hepatitis A outbreak last April 1.  It has logged 31 cases to date.   Twenty or 65 percent required hospital care.   The state has not had a hepatitis A death.

MSDH said an employee of Dixie Depot Courtyard Lane deli, 6241 Highway 613 in Lucedale (Agricola area), who handles food has been diagnosed with hepatitis A infection.  After determining the dates and times the employee worked during August,  MSDH went about contacting customers and offering vaccines.

“While the risk of transmission is likely low, the management and staff of Dixie Depot are cooperating with us to prevent new illnesses as a result of this exposure,” said MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers. “We recommend that anyone who ate at this restaurant during these times should consider getting a hepatitis A vaccination if they have not been previously immunized.”

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that causes fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes) and abdominal pain and dark colored urine. Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool (feces) from an infected person. If you think you have symptoms of hepatitis A, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Everyone can prevent the spread of hepatitis A by carefully washing hands with soap and water, including under the fingernails, after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food will help prevent the spread of this disease.

As a reminder, there is an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak in Mississippi and surrounding states affecting those who use drugs, those who are in jail or were recently in jail, those with unstable housing or who are homeless, and men who have sex with men.

The MSDH continues to recommend hepatitis A vaccination for those specific groups as well.

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GAO report examines how date label confusion contributes to food waste

September 13, 2019 - 12:04am

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) wants something done about confusing date labels that contribute to food waste.

GAO recommends the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Serice (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) work with stakeholders outside the federal government to reduce consumer confusion.

Almost one-third of the U.S. food supply is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer levels, according to USDA. A new GAO report says date labeling confusion contributes to food waste.

When consumers cannot be sure about when food has expired, they often follow the adage” “When in doubt, throw it out.” GAO says both the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are researching the issue.

“USDA and FDA have coordinated on some initiatives focused on date labels on packaged foods, ” GAO reports. “For example, agency officials said they were working together to develop information for food banks, food donors, and recipients of donated food on how to interpret date labels, so food past the date on the label–but otherwise wholesome–is not wasted.

GAO focuses on the many introductory phrases used on the date labels, including these:

  • Sell by
  • Use by
  • Best by
  • Better if used by
  • Display until
  • Best when used by
  • Fresh until
  • Enjoy by
  • Best before
  • Use or freeze by
  • Best if used by
  • Expires on
  • Better if used before

USDA and FDA have both produced consumer education materials to help cut the confusion caused by date labels, including their work with state, local, and tribal jurisdictions.  USDA and FDA “could better assure that approaches they take to address consumer understanding of date labels are effective in helping reduce consumer confusion, GAO said.

According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), food loss and waste is complicated but involves these elements:

  • Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted.
  • Food losses and waste amount to roughly $ 680 billion in industrialized countries and $ 310 billion in developing countries.
  • Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tons.
  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
  • Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30 percent for cereals, 40-50 percent for root crops, fruits, and vegetables, 20 percent for oilseeds, meat and dairy plus 35 percent for fish.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).
  • The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tons in 2009/2010).
  • Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kilogram a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kilograms a year.

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Researchers develop method to detect low levels of norovirus

September 13, 2019 - 12:03am

University of Arizona researchers have created a portable method for detecting low levels of norovirus.

The analysis is done automatically by a smartphone app when a sample of water is loaded onto the chip.

Detecting very small amounts of norovirus in water or food samples typically involves a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based method, which takes several hours and is done in a lab by trained personnel.

Noroviruses are the top cause of foodborne illness. A person usually develops symptoms 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to the virus. Most people get better within one to three days. During 2009 to 2015, the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS) received reports of 1,130 norovirus outbreaks and 27,623 outbreak-associated illnesses.

“It only takes a very small number of norovirus particles to cause an infection in humans, so we need a really sensitive detection method. Also, scientists aren’t able to culture norovirus in the lab, and available antibodies to the pathogen aren’t very strong,” said Jeong-Yeol Yoon, who led the team, which included Soo Chung and Kelly A. Reynolds.

They published their results in ACS Omega, a journal of the American Chemical Society, and Yoon presented the research at the ACS Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition in San Diego.

From light scattering to fluorescence

In previous work, the team developed a smartphone-based device that could detect low levels of norovirus by measuring the light scattered from virus-bound polystyrene beads in a paper microfluidic chip.

Paper’s porousness and opacity can cause background scattering that interferes with imaging and makes it difficult to detect very small concentrations of a virus. The new approach involves counting fluorescent beads instead of measuring light intensity.

click to enlarge

Researchers converted a smartphone into a fluorescence microscope by attaching a commercially available light microscope accessory, a separate light source, and two band-pass filters. To a channel of their paper microfluidic chip, they added a water sample containing norovirus.

The team added a suspension of fluorescent beads with antibodies against norovirus attached. The capillary action of the paper caused the two liquids to flow and mix. Each individual norovirus particle bound to multiple fluorescent beads via their attached antibodies, causing the beads to aggregate and produce a much larger size of the fluorescent image.

“Norovirus particles are too small to be imaged by a smartphone microscope, and so are antibodies. But when you have two or three or more of these beads joined together, that indicates that the norovirus is there, causing the beads to aggregate,” said Yoon.

They took photos of the chip with their smartphone-based fluorescence microscope, and an app calculated norovirus concentrations from the pixel count of the images. The most expensive part of the whole device is the smartphone microscope which costs less than $50.

Early diagnosis in patients

The lowest detection limit was about 5 or 6 norovirus particles per sample. As few as 10 virus particles can cause illness, so the method is sensitive enough for practical applications.

Yoon and colleagues made the system more compact by enclosing the fluorescent microscope, light source and optical filters in a 3D-printed case. They also developed a cloud-computing app to analyze the large images and send results to the smartphone. Finally, they found a way to concentrate samples within the paper chip to analyze larger sample volumes.

The device could detect small amounts of norovirus in purified water and reclaimed wastewater but had problems with tap water with scientists suspecting chlorine was affecting the assay.

Researchers are now working on using the smartphone-based device for diagnosing norovirus infections in patients at an earlier stage than is currently possible by analyzing fecal samples.

Early detection might help stop the spread of disease in isolated, crowded situations like cruise ships.

“When norovirus reaches levels detectable by other methods, the person is already seriously ill. But if we can detect the virus earlier, they can receive medical care sooner,” said Yoon.

The National Science Foundation Water and Environmental Technology Center at the University of Arizona and Tucson Water provided funding for the research.

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