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Dutch study assesses pathogens in broilers

September 22, 2020 - 12:02am

Two agencies in the Netherlands have looked at the prevalence of selected pathogens in chickens for meat production.

The study reaffirmed Campylobacter, Salmonella and extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing bacteria on broiler farms can be transmitted to humans through meat consumption and direct or indirect contact.

In 2018 and 2019 the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) investigated how often these pathogens occurred in broilers. The study involved broilers at 198 of the more than 600 farms in the country as well as 132 livestock farmers, family members and employees from 81 companies.

Meat can become contaminated in the slaughterhouse if it comes into direct contact with manure. People can prevent infection by eating thoroughly cooked chicken. It is also important to prevent other food coming into contact with raw poultry and meat, advised RIVM and NVWA.

ESBL and Campylobacter mostly found
Manure samples were collected at all farms and analyzed for Campylobacter, ESBL-producing E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Dust samples were examined for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Results for Salmonella came from regular monitoring of sampled flocks. Fecal samples from people were tested for Campylobacter, ESBL-producing E. coli and Salmonella while nasal swabs were examined for MRSA.

ESBL-producing bacteria were found in broilers on 36 percent of the farms. For livestock farmers and family members, these bacteria were found in 7 percent of participants. This is comparable to the percentage in the general Dutch population.

Campylobacter was found on almost a third of broiler farms. This is comparable to numbers from surveillance between 1999 and 2002. It was also found in two human participants.

Despite hygiene measures such as using company overshoes or work clothing, showering before entering broiler houses and cleaning and disinfection, the prevalence of Campylobacter in live poultry appears to be difficult to reduce, according to the report.

The model approach used showed nine variables significantly associated with the occurrence of Campylobacter including season, age of broilers at the time of sampling, number of stables on the farm, and stocking density.

Salmonella, STEC and Listeria results
Salmonella surveillance is carried out on all broiler farms as per European legislation. It was reported in broilers from 11 percent of the farms. Salmonella was also found in one person.

The prevalence of Salmonella appears to be higher than the European average of 2018. The emerging serotype Salmonella Infantis was found in almost half of the cases but Typhimurium and Enteritidis were not detected. Salmonella Paratyphi B variant Java was another common serotype.

Six significant risk factors were found for the presence of Salmonella including washing hands after entering the barn, no contact with other poultry in the past 12 hours and pets present on the farm. This shows the need to follow strict biosecurity measures to control Salmonella, according to the report.

STEC and Listeria were found on very few broiler farms, meaning the sites are likely of less importance in the spread of Listeria and STEC and pose a limited risk. They were detected on 1 percent for Listeria, or less for STEC, of investigated farms.

STEC was isolated from two manure samples in one of the sampled barns. The isolate found in both samples was serotype O24: H18, positive for the virulence gene stx2 but negative for the gene eae.

In the surveillance, Listeria monocytogenes was found at two farms. Prevalence of Listeria in broilers in the Netherlands had not been investigated before.

MRSA was not found in any of the 190 broiler farms investigated but concerns were raised about the method not being sensitive enough. It was detected in the nasal swab of four people.

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EU funded project helps boost food safety in Armenia

September 22, 2020 - 12:00am

A project funded by the European Union is helping to improve food safety in Armenia.

The effort is being implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) and funded by the European Union under its EU4Business initiative.

The law in the Republic of Armenia on food safety sets the mandatory introduction and use of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system for all food producers in the country.

Ensuring food safety is key to public health and a country’s economic growth, according to the project announcement. Adopting best international practice enables companies to produce safer food products, which allows for better representation on international markets.

The EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was signed in November 2017. EU imports from Armenia are mainly manufactured goods, raw materials and beverages while EU exports consist of machinery and transport equipment and chemicals.

Export potential
Since 2018, the ITC has provided consultations under the Eastern Partnership: Ready to Trade, EU4Business initiative, to 10 companies by helping them put food safety systems in place.

Four more firms will join the current beneficiaries by spring 2021. As part of this project, all 10 businesses will be provided with system enforcement plans, while the five with most export potential will be trained for certification. ITC also intends to cover costs of auditing services and maintenance of certification for certain companies for the next three years.

Rita Martirosyan, a project beneficiary and director of Ritea Company, said it separated the production of teas and dried fruits because of food safety requirements.

“The new factory has been constructed in line with international standards. Regardless of the market we are aiming for, having a food safety system in place is key to building the trust of the importing country,” Martirosyan said.

One way to show food has been produced in line with food safety standards is an ISO 22000:2018 certificate. This document, which specifies requirements for a food safety management system is key, as rules are different in well-established markets where wholesalers set the terms. ISO 22000 opens up better prospects for Armenian companies and gives them greater flexibility when targeting international markets and partners.

The document confirms the imported food is in compliance with best international practice, and that HACCP procedures have taken place. It proves that the product meets food safety regulations of the importing country. Different countries adhere to different approaches when setting limits on presence of heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics, and contamination with microorganisms. The HACCP system helps the producer control these in the final product.

Initial investment and continued focus
More than 200 companies in Armenia have introduced food safety management systems in compliance with the latest ISO 22000 standard. Fifty of them are continuing to develop such systems.

Artavazd Baghdasaryan, a consultant for the ITC and Integrated Management Solutions Company, said the involved companies are taking on a major responsibility by agreeing to be supervised regularly.

“In the early stages, introducing the international food safety system may increase the cost of the product. However, it makes the companies more flexible and competitive by ensuring sustainable growth and solid market positions.”

Lida Devejyan, deputy director of the Arcolad Company, said a piece of paper can’t be the only proof of a company following food safety standards.

“Rather, it should be at the core of the company’s policies and require daily strict adherence to sanitary and other norms established by the system,” the deputy director said.

A different project on strengthening food safety and animal health risk assessment and management was launched in the country in June 2019.

The two-year Food and Agriculture Organization work will provide assistance on identifying and improving the evidence and data sources on food safety, animal and plant health risks. It should help develop appropriate controls to avoid unsafe food and movement of animals.

Challenges exist in the country in terms of compliance with international regulations and standards, risk assessment capability and risk based approaches in food control systems. according to some officials.

The Food Safety Inspectorate in Armenia, which is the agency in charge of official controls and management of food safety, animal and plant health, is the implementing partner of the plans.

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USDA food safety agencies announces plan to reduce Salmonella

September 21, 2020 - 12:05am
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Food Safety (OFS) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has a plan to decrease Salmonella, one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses.

The Roadmap to Reducing Salmonella: Driving Change through Science-Based Policy outlines programs and policies that are science based, data driven, and promote innovation to reduce Salmonella in meat, poultry, and egg products.

“This roadmap represents FSIS’s commitment to lead with science and data in all that we do. It puts us on a course to aggressively target Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens,” said USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears. “I look forward to a continued partnership with the food safety community in driving a science-based approach to protecting public health.”

OFS and FSIS will discuss the Salmonella roadmap at a virtual public meeting next week. Also scheduled to participate  in the meeting are the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The public meeting continues Under-Secretary Brashears’ vision of building relationships, influencing behavior change, and leading with science to enhance food safety.

Stakeholders are invited to participate in the public meeting and comment on the Salmonella roadmap and on the science that drives FSIS’ Salmonella reduction efforts. The public meeting has reached its capacity for oral comments. Interested parties can still submit written comments on or before Sept. 25, 2020, at http://www.regulations.gov.

The Sept. 22 public meeting is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT. The meeting is virtual and will be viewed via the Webex link provided by email upon registration for the meeting. There is no fee to register for the public meeting, but preregistration is mandatory for participants to attend. More information is available at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/meetings.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is USDA’s public health unit responsible for ensuring the safety of commercially produced meat, poultry, and egg products.  It draws authority from the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906, the Poultry Products Inspection Act of 1957 and the Egg Products Inspection Act of 1970.

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Federal agency warns food companies about import modifications

September 21, 2020 - 12:01am

The Food and Drug Administration uses import alerts to enforce U.S. food safety regulations for food from foreign countries. The agency updates and modifies the alerts as needed.

Recent modifications to FDA’s import alerts, as posted by the agency, are listed below. Click on the links to view the full alert modifications.

 

Import Alert

Desc Text

URL

IA-12-10

Detention Without Physical Examination of Cheese Due to Microbiological Contamination

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_9.html

IA-16-124

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Aquaculture Seafood Products Due To Unapproved Drugs

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_27.html

IA-16-125

DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF REFRIGERATED (NOT FROZEN) RAW FISH AND FISHERY PRODUCTS THAT ARE VACUUM PACKAGED OR MODIFIED ATMOSPHERE PACKAGED OR PACKAGED IN A MATERIAL THAT IS NOT OXYGEN- PERMEABLE DUE TO THE POTENTIAL FOR CLOST

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_28.html

IA-16-127

Detention Without Physical Examination of Crustaceans Due to Chloramphenicol

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_29.html

IA-16-18

Detention Without Physical Examination of Shrimp

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_35.html

IA-21-11

Detention Without Physical Examination of Ackee Products Due to Hypoglycin A

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_64.html

IA-25-12

Canned mushrooms (all sizes, styles) for named mfrs from Republic of Korea and continued surveillance of other mfrs from Rep. of Korea, due to staphylococcal enterotoxin

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_83.html

IA-25-12

Detention Without Physical Examination of Canned Mushrooms (All Sizes) for Named Manufacturers from South Korea and Continued Surveillance

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_83.html

IA-34-01

Detention Without Physical Examination of Cocoa Beans From Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia Due to Presence of Live Insects

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/

cms_ia/importalert_106.html

IA-66-41

Detention Without Physical Examination of Unapproved New Drugs Promoted In The U.S.

http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_190.html

IA-66-78

Detention Without Physical Examination of Drugs, Based Upon Analytic Test Results

None

IA-76-01

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Medical Instruments from Pakistan 2

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_224.html

IA-80-06

Detention Without Physical Examination of Medical Devices with False or Misleading Labeling

None

IA-89-08

Detention Without Physical Examination of Devices Without Approved PMAs or IDEs and Other Devices Not Substantially Equivalent or Without a 510(k)

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_244.html

IA-99-08

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Processed Human and Animal Foods for Pesticides

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_259.html

IA-99-19

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Food Products Due To The Presence Of Salmonella

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_263.html

IA-99-32

DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF PRODUCTS FROM FIRMS REFUSING FDA FOREIGN ESTABLISHMENT INSPECTION

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/
cms_ia/importalert_521.html

IA-99-35

DWPE OF PRODUCE THAT APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN PREPARED, PACKED OR HELD UNDER INSANITARY CONDITIONS WHEREBY IT MAY HAVE BEEN RENDERED INJURIOUS TO HEALTH

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1128.html

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Warning sent to company in California because of import violations

September 21, 2020 - 12:01am

As part of its enforcement activities, the Food and Drug Administration sends warning letters to entities under its jurisdiction. Some letters are not posted for public view until weeks or months after they are sent. Business owners have 15 days to respond to FDA warning letters. Warning letters often are not issued until a company has been given months to years to correct problems.

This week companies realized the FDA is no longer shooting smoke when it comes to warning letters.

On Sept. 15, the FDA for the first time issued a consent decree of permanent injunction against a firm for violating public safety standards under the Produce Safety Rule. This injunction comes two years after sending a warning letter to the firm and more than nine years after gaining the power to do so.

GMS International Foods Inc., Torrence, CA
An import company in California is on notice from the FDA for not having FSVPs for a number of imported food products.

In an Aug. 27 warning letter, the FDA described an April 15-17 and 19-21, 2020, Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) inspection at GMS International Foods Inc.

The FDA’s inspection revealed that the firm was not in compliance with FSVP regulations and resulted in the issuance of an FDA Form 483a. The significant violations are as follows:

The firm did not develop, maintain, and follow an FSVP. Specifically, they did not develop an FSVP for each of the following foods:

  • Pran Puffed Rice imported from (redacted), located in (redacted)
  • Pran Kalizera Rice imported from (redacted), located in (redacted)
  • Pran Flattened Rice imported from (redacted), located in (redacted)

The full warning letter can be viewed here.

Curious about why there are redactions in FDA warning letters? We recently took a look at this in an opinion piece.

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Human salmonella illnesses associated with expanded sprout recall

September 20, 2020 - 2:58pm
A Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)  food safety warning issued on August 11, 2020, has been updated to include additional product information. This additional information was identified during the CFIA food safety investigation. Sunsprout Natural Foods is recalling Sprouts Alive brand and Sunsprout brand Micro – Greens Alfalfa from the marketplace due to possible Salmonella contamination.  According to CFIA, consumers should not consume and retailers, restaurants, and institutions should not sell or use the recalled products described below. Brand Product Size UPC Codes Sprouts Alive Micro – Greens Alfalfa 100 g 0 69022 10030 3 All best before dates up to and including BBOCT13 Sunsprout Micro – Greens Alfalfa 100 g 0 57621 13511 6 All best before dates up to and including BBOCT13 Public Health Ontario is investigating an outbreak of human illness associated with the consumption of these products. The 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 Food Recall Warnings.

The CFIA is verifying that the industry is removing the recalled products from the marketplace.  It also advises:

  • If you think you might be sick from consuming a recalled product, consult your doctor.
  • Check to see if you have the recalled products in your home or establishment.
  • Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the location where they were purchased.

Food contaminated with Salmonella may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems may contract serious and sometimes deadly infections. Healthy people may experience short-term symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Long-term complications may include severe arthritis.

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Survey identifies main food safety concerns for consumers

September 20, 2020 - 12:03am

Six in 10 people said they would never go to a restaurant again if they contracted a foodborne illness while eating there, according to a survey.

Surveyed consumers said their top food safety concerns included restaurant kitchen and wait staff hygiene, foodborne outbreaks, illness from contaminated food, and recalls.

Findings come from the food safety supply chain vision study by Zebra Technologies. It details the views of consumers and food and beverage companies on safety, traceability and transparency.

Slightly more than 80 percent of consumers said companies have an important role to play in food safety and an ethical responsibility to ensure safe handling of food. Seventy percent of consumers said it is important to know how their food and ingredients are manufactured, prepared, and handled.

Less than a quarter of consumers said they have complete confidence in the safety of their food, based on information currently available to them. An average of 20 percent of consumers place complete trust in companies and brands to ensure food safety compared to 37 percent of industry representatives, who are reportedly more informed.

North American highlights
The survey included 4,957 consumers and 462 food and beverage firms from 15 countries in the manufacturing, transportation and logistics, retail and wholesale distribution markets in North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Europe. They were interviewed in January 2020 by Azure Knowledge Corporation.

In North America, almost two thirds of consumers cited fear of foodborne illness as the primary reason for wanting more information about their food source. The average trust level in companies and brands to ensure food and beverages are safe is higher in industry decision-makers (45 percent) than consumers (18 percent).

Almost seven in 10 industry representatives said the sector is prepared to manage food traceability and transparency, but only 35 percent of consumers agree. Only 13 percent of the public felt industry was extremely prepared today to manage traceability and be transparent about how food goes through the supply chain, whereas 27 percent of decision-makers reported feeling this way. Half of surveyed decision-makers said meeting consumer expectations will remain a challenge in the next five years.

“Findings from our study show that while the industry is taking measures to ensure a more transparent supply chain, more work needs to be done in order to increase consumer confidence and improve food traceability. Businesses naturally have more information available to them but can improve consumers’ faith in their food sources by providing them access to the same information,” said Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions at Zebra Technologies.

Regional reaction
Businesses in Latin America take food safety and transparency more seriously, while attitudes around the value of technology to food safety are more relaxed in Europe.

Seventy-nine percent of consumers in Latin America reported having access to accurate information about where their food came from was important. Almost nine in 10 cited restaurant kitchen staff hygiene as their top concern for food-related issues.

In Europe, only 15 percent of surveyed consumers completely trust food and beverage distributors to ensure products are safe for consumption. More than six in 10 listed a foodborne outbreak as their top concern for food-related issues.

Nearly three-quarters of consumers in Asia Pacific listed illness and death caused by contamination as their biggest concern for risks posed by the food supply chain.

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Misinformation poses ‘severe test’ in Asia Pacific

September 19, 2020 - 12:03am

So called fake news about food safety and COVID-19 has had a negative impact on consumption patterns and created anxiety among consumers in Asia Pacific.

Ahead of World Food Safety Day on June 7, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), organized a webinar called: Food safety in the new normal.

The event dealt with the negative impact of what was described as fake news and rumors, which have particularly impacted the meat and dairy sectors due to an incorrect association with COVID-19. In some countries, dumping of imported fruits and vegetables has been observed. This was led by misinformation and caused unnecessary food waste.

Junshi Chen, chief scientific advisor to the China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment, told listeners misinformation was posing a severe test to regulators, businesses and customers.

Tackling the emerging issue
Experts said authorities need to monitor inaccurate reports and put out clarifications as soon as possible on social media showing that food does not transmit COVID-19 and no food protects against the virus. Fake news is an emerging issue that could undermine consumers’ trust in food safety systems. It also affects businesses but transparency and education could mitigate the problem.

In China, fake news is considered as the second major food safety issue after foodborne diseases. These rumors affect consumers’ trust in the food supply. The Chinese government asks experts to refute rumors from a scientific viewpoint. However, improving consumers’ knowledge on food safety remains the key method to reduce the impact.

The FAO, OIE, WFP and WHO also detailed ongoing food safety activities in the Asia Pacific region and three guest panelists from government, industry and research from China, India and Singapore shared their perspectives on food safety in the post-pandemic scenario. A total of 1,505 people from 84 countries registered to attend the webinar, which has more than 4,600 views.

While during the new normal, food safety has benefitted from an increased awareness on good practice on personal hygiene, in the future, regulatory frameworks with a long-term vision and that ensure consumers’ protection will need to be put in place, according to FAO.

New food consumption patterns have been observed during lockdown where people have relied on delivery services and information on social media. Consumers are more aware of the importance of food safety and quality, demanding better and safer food.

FAO work in Asia Pacific
Masami Takeuchi, food safety officer at the FAO, highlighted the agency’s activities in the region. One project aims to develop capacities to effectively participate in Codex Alimentarius. Ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are part of this project: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

FAO supports Codex Trust Fund projects in several countries, and will help new ones in nations such as Samoa and Solomon Islands. In past years, assistance was provided to Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines to improve imported food control systems.

Since 2017, an initiative on food safety indicators has been piloted within the region. Bhutan, China, Cook Islands and the Philippines participated in the project, which confirmed the effectiveness of setting specific national food safety indicators. In conjunction to this project, in 2019, Bhutan also introduced food safety culture.

Under the FAO country projects, Bangladesh is improving national food safety institutional capacities while Cambodia is developing standards for Good Agricultural Practices for national certification. Indonesia has assessed national food control systems. Thailand has finished a project to strengthen food safety and quality control of livestock products. Pakistan is piloting a national program on street food safety, while Mongolia is developing systems for food control management and it is piloting quality assurance options for the private sector.

Topics suggested for future webinars included COVID-19 related issues on food safety, risk assessment, food safety at home and risk based inspection.

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Indiana officials investigating cluster of Salmonella infections

September 18, 2020 - 7:14pm

Health officials are urging anyone who ate or drank anything from an Indiana grocery store since Sept. 7 to monitor themselves for signs of Salmonella infection.

Local media, FOX59, reported county officials are investigating a cluster of illnesses among patrons of La Aldea Grocery Store at 2801 Klondike Rd #D. Public health staff from the Tippecanoe County Health Department are reportedly working with the state health department on the investigation.

As of this evening, state officials had not responded to a request from Food Safety News for confirmation of the investigation.

The county health department requests that anyone who ate or drank anything from the store in West Lafayette between Sept. 7 and 17 and became ill contact a health care provider as well as the county department. Sick people should call 765-423-9222 Ext. 1, according to the FOX59 report.

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 consumed food or drink from the implicated store 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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Tesco and Asda improve Campylobacter in chicken results

September 18, 2020 - 12:03am

The percentage of chickens at Tesco and Asda testing positive for Campylobacter at the top level of contamination in the second quarter of 2020 has fallen below the FSA target.

The two supermarkets had recorded levels above the Food Standards Agency (FSA) threshold of 7 percent of birds with more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) of Campylobacter in the first quarter of this year.

Tesco reported 9 percent of 132 samples in 1Q 2020 had the highest level of Campylobacter contamination while Asda recorded 9.2 percent.

The figures for 2Q from April to June show Tesco had 3 percent and Asda had 3.6 percent above the top level of contamination.

Results from other retailers
Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the United Kingdom and the infectious dose can be as low as a few hundred cells.

FSA used to compile figures from the top food retailers on Campylobacter results for fresh shop-bought UK-produced chickens but stopped doing this after the second quarter of 2019.

Lidl recorded above 6 percent of birds in the highest contamination category in 2Q 2020 compared to 5.5 percent in the first three months of the year.

Grocery chain Sainsbury’s reported slightly more than 4 percent of chickens sampled were above the 1,000 CFU/g category from April to June this year compared to around 3 percent in the past quarter.

A total of 0.85 percent of chickens from Morrisons had higher levels of contamination from a sample of 118 chickens tested. This is down from 2.7 percent in 1Q 2020.

Findings of no contamination at the highest level
Based on a sample of 343 Marks and Spencer chickens, none were above 1,000 CFU/g in April, 5 percent in May, and 3 percent in June. In the first quarter of 2020, from 333 samples, 6 percent were above 1,000 CFU/g in January, 3 percent in February, and 1 percent in March.

Results for April to June for Aldi show that no chickens were in the above 1,000 CFU/g category but due to COVID-19 restrictions, no birds were tested in April. This is down from 2.8 percent in 1Q 2020.

Co-op results for the second quarter of this year also showed zero chickens sampled had contamination at levels greater than 1,000 CFU/g. This is down from 1.8 percent in 1Q 2020.

The results of the Waitrose and Partners survey for the second quarter of 2020, shows zero chickens tested positive for levels of Campylobacter more than 1,000 CFU/g over the period.

A Waitrose and Partners spokesperson said the key to the good results was the hard work of farmers and suppliers combined with data gathering and analysis, surveying chicken at the factory, and on supermarket shelves.

“Our testing regime is rigorous and because we know that the prevalence of Campylobacter is reduced over a product’s shelf life, we have ensured our sampling is random and have adhered throughout the survey to the FSA testing protocol,” said the spokesperson.

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China refuses imports from Fort Smith and Springfield poultry plants in U.S.

September 18, 2020 - 12:03am

For the second time since June, China has suspended imports from a U.S. poultry plant where employees became infected with the coronavirus.

First to face suspension was poultry from a Tyson Foods plant in Springdale, AR, which was suspended by the Chinese government in June for similar reasons.  The second such action came a few days ago when China suspended imports from an OK Foods poultry plant in Fort Smith, AR  because of coronavirus cases among employees.

China, the world’s top importer of meat and poultry products, has refused imports from some foreign plants in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

“We don’t think that either one of these two are justified, especially considering the fact that the virus cannot be transmitted in poultry meat,” said Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.

Imports from the OK Foods, which is owned by Mexico’s Industrias Bachoco, were suspended by GACC, China’s customers authority.  According to USDA, the Arkansas plant  became ineligible to ship products to China on Sept. 13.

The Sept. 13 suspension was included on a list of recent changes to approved meat imports published on Sept. 15 on the website of China’s General Administration of Customs.

The Arkansas Department of Health reports 234 OK Foods employees were infected with the virus from the onset of the pandemic last March through Aug. 31.   Currently, however, the number of active cases is less than five.

“We feel this action is very unfortunate and that it is not justified,”  Sumner added.,  “One reason we feel it is unjustified is that we know, based on several research findings, that the virus can’t be transmitted in poultry.”

Broiler exports to China in July were 34,623 tons and valued at $57.6 million, reports USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service data.

China previously asked companies to sign and provide letters attesting that China’s products are not a risk for COVID-19. The US Department of Agriculture advises companies not to sign such letters or give a statement.

“It is important to note that the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USDA and the US Food and Drug Administration agree that there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food,” said Gary Mickelson, a spokesperson with Tyson regarding the ban on its poultry.

“At Tyson, we’re confident our products are safe and we’re hopeful consultations between the US and Chinese governments will resolve this matter,” he said.

 China in 2019 lifted a four-year ban on poultry from 172 US-based plants that began in response to a 2015 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) resulting in the culling of 50 million birds in the United States. The United States was confirmed HPAI-free in 2017.

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Austin federal court makes it official: Blue Bell owes record $17.25 million in criminal penalties

September 18, 2020 - 12:02am

A federal court in Texas sentenced ice cream manufacturer Blue Bell Creameries L.P. to pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties for shipments of contaminated products linked to a 2015 listeriosis outbreak.

The Brenham, Texas-based Blue Bell is an iconic 113-year old ice cream maker whose product was once only available in the Lone Star State.   It now distributes in about half the country with manufacturing in Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma.   The 2005 listeria outbreak proved both costly and deadly for the ice cream maker.

It’s not known if this sentencing ends federal action involving Blue Bell and the 2015 outbreak.   U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas dismissed separate felony charges against former Blue Bell CEO Paul Kruse on July 15 because the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the charges, which had not gone through a Grand Jury.   The charges of conspiracy and wire fraud that were brought against Kruse were all lapping up against the 5-year statute of limitations at a time when federal grand juries haven’t been meeting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blue Bell pleaded guilty in May 2020 to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products.  The sentence, imposed on Sept. 17 by Judge Pitman was consistent with the terms of a plea agreement previously filed in the case.  The $17.25 million fine and forfeiture amount is the largest-ever criminal penalty following a conviction in a food safety case.

“American consumers must be able to trust that the foods they purchase are safe to eat,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The sentence imposed today sends a clear message to food manufacturers that the Department of Justice will take appropriate actions when contaminated food products endanger consumers.”

“The health of American consumers and the safety of our food are too important to be thwarted by the criminal acts of any individual or company,”  said Judy McMeekin, Pharm.D., Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  “Americans expect and deserve the highest standards of food safety and integrity.  We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who put the public health at risk by distributing contaminated foods in the U.S. marketplace.”

“The results of this investigation reflect the determination of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service to hold companies that sell food products to the military accountable and ensure they comply with food safety laws,”  said Michael Mentavlos, Special Agent-in-Charge of the DCIS Southwest Field Office.  “The health and safety of our service members and their dependents are of paramount importance.”

The plea agreement and criminal information filed against Blue Bell allege that the company distributed ice cream products that were manufactured under insanitary conditions and contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

According to the plea agreement, Texas state officials notified Blue Bell in February 2015 that samples of two ice cream products from the company’s Brenham, Texas factory tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a dangerous pathogen that can lead to serious illness or death in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

Blue Bell directed its delivery route drivers to remove the remaining stock of the two products from store shelves, but the company did not recall the products or issue any formal communication to inform customers about the potential Listeria contamination.  Two weeks after receiving notification of the first positive Listeriatests, Texas state officials informed Blue Bell that additional state-led testing confirmed Listeria in a third product.  Blue Bell again chose not to issue any formal notification to customers regarding the positive tests. Blue Bell’s customers included military installations.

In March 2015, tests conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked the strain of Listeria in one of the Blue Bell ice cream products to a strain that sickened five patients at a Kansas hospital with listeriosis, the severe illness caused by ingestion of Listeria-contaminated food.  The FDA, CDC, and Blue Bell all issued public recall notifications on March 13, 2015.  Subsequent tests confirmed Listeria contamination in a product made at another Blue Bell facility in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, which led to a second recall announcement on March 23, 2015.

According to the plea agreement with the company, FDA inspections in March and April 2015 revealed sanitation issues at the Brenham and Broken Arrow facilities, including problems with the hot water supply needed to properly clean equipment and deteriorating factory conditions that could lead to insanitary water dripping into product mix during the manufacturing process.  Blue Bell temporarily closed all of its plants in late April 2015 to clean and update the facilities. Since re-opening its facilities in late 2015, Blue Bell has taken significant steps to enhance sanitation processes and enact a program to test products for Listeria prior to shipment.

Trial Attorneys Patrick Hearn and Matt Lash of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch prosecuted the case with assistance from Shannon Singleton and Michael Varrone of the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel.  The criminal investigation was conducted by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and the Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

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Three sentenced after discovery of illegal sheep slaughtering

September 17, 2020 - 3:00am

Three men have received suspended prison sentences for offences relating to the illegal slaughter of sheep at a farm.

Sean Burns, John Clayton and Kenneth Darren Evans were found by officers of Pembrokeshire County Council in Wales, preparing sheep carcasses, which had been slaughtered into smokies.

Smokies are an illegal product created by singeing the fleece off the carcass of a sheep, to leave the surface of the meat with a smoky color and leaving the carcass with a strong smoky smell, due to the burning process. They are mostly sold in ethnic communities, which view them as a delicacy. Smokies cannot be produced legally, because the skin is left on the carcass of the animal. This is not allowed for sheep meat in Europe.

The men were sentenced at Swansea Crown Court earlier this week for offences at Bramble Hall Farm, Ferry Lane Pembroke Dock, on Jan. 21, 2019. Burns and Clayton were found guilty following a week-long trial in February this year.

Sentencing details
Burns pleaded not guilty to operating a food establishment without the required approval; running a slaughterhouse that failed to meet legal requirements relating to hygiene; failing to ensure food premises were clean and maintained in good repair; possessing unsafe food for the purpose of sale; and failing to collect animal by-products in line with legal requirements.

He was found guilty on all five counts. For each charge, Burns was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for two years, to run concurrently.

Clayton pleaded guilty to two charges of possessing unsafe food for the purpose of sale and failing to collect animal by-products in accordance with legal requirements. He denied three charges of operating a food site without the required approval, operating a slaughterhouse that failed to meet specific legal requirements relating to hygiene and failing to ensure food premises were clean and maintained in good repair but was found guilty on all counts.

To the charges he had denied, Clayton was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for two years. For those to which he pleaded guilty, he received nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years, to run concurrently.

Evans admitted two charges of possessing unsafe food for the purpose of sale and failing to collect animal by products in accordance with legal requirements. He was sentenced to 16 weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Investigation in 2019
Current Court of Appeal guidance recommends suspended sentences should be considered because of the risk of COVID-19 in prisons. No prosecution costs were awarded to the council.

Speaking after the sentencing, Cris Tomos from Pembrokeshire County Council, said the authority was pleased with the verdicts.

“While it was disappointing that costs had not been awarded in this protracted and lengthy investigation, it was important that these illegal activities are highlighted to illustrate the fact that such offenders have absolute disregard for the health of any potential purchasers, for any of the rules relating to the safety of food or the wellbeing of the animals which they slaughter.”

An investigation at the farm in January 2019 involved Pembrokeshire County Council and Dyfed Powys Police’s Rural Crime Team.

Officers discovered an illegal slaughter operation in an agricultural outbuilding, with Clayton and Evans caught in the act. The unit had been set up as a slaughter hall with six slaughtered sheep at various stages of preparation and other penned sheep.

The court was told that conditions in the slaughter hall were unsanitary and the floor was stained with blood from the killed animals as well as by-products from the slaughter process. A herd of pigs were seen wandering among suspended sheep carcasses, feeding on the remains of slaughtered animals. A further six carcasses of smoked sheep were found bagged in the boot of Evan’s car, ready for onward supply.

Speaking in February 2020, Tomos said: “The individuals involved had clearly sought to profit from these unlawful activities in which they displayed a complete lack of regard for the welfare of animals and for the safety of consumers who might ultimately have purchased the illicit smokies. The consumers would have had no comprehension of the conditions in which the animals had been held, slaughtered and processed, or of the potential health risks.”

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Plant-based food producers sue state in federal court to block disclaimer requirement

September 17, 2020 - 12:05am

Burgers, hotdogs, meatballs, jerky, sausage, chorizo, bacon and corned beef are among the products that will be defined as meat in Oklahoma on Nov. 1 when the Sooner State’s “Meat  Consumer Protection Act” becomes law.

The Act prohibits sellers of plant-based foods from using “meat terms” to describe their foods without disclaimers in the “same size and prominence” as their product name that their product is plant-based.

Illinois-based Upton’s Naturals Co. and the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA) Wednesday sued the state of Oklahoma in federal court, seeking an injunction to prevent the labeling law from taking effect. Making Upton Naturals the top Plaintiff is a strategy as the company markets to vegans and its smart packaging labels say everything “100% Vegan.”

But come Nov. 1, it will be illegal to sell “vegan” bacon or other products that will be defined as meat without what is called the “Compelled Disclaimer” that the product is plant-based in lettering that is the same size and prominence as the product name. 

The Act expressly prohibits advertising “a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock.” However,  it says “product packaging for plant-based items shall not be considered in violation of [the Act] so long as the packaging displays that the product is derived from plant-based sources in type that is uniform in size and prominence to the name of the product.” 

“The Act would fail any level of First Amendment scrutiny,” says the court complaint.  “The Act is a content-based regulation of speech.”

The plaintiffs say House Bill 3806 was “brought” to the Oklahoma Legislature by the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association during the last legislative session. They say “powerful meat industry lobbying groups,” asked the Legislature to make it more difficult for sellers of meat alternatives to compete with the meat industry. It prohibits the use of terms like “beef,” or “poultry” or “pork” without  the “Compelled Disclaimer.”

The lead sponsor of HB 3806 was Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, OK. The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association recognized Rep. Hasenbeck in August with its top legislative award.

Upton and the 170-member PBFA argue in the federal court filing that the Oklahoma Legislature went overboard. “The Act is more burdensome than numerous other alternatives, including but not limited to a requirement that sellers of plant-based foods use meat terms in context so as to not mislead consumers, which they are already doing,” they argue.

Under its 2019 statutes, Oklahoma already required plant-based foods to “display that the product is derived from plant-based sources,” but without requiring this display to be “uniform in size and prominence” to their product names. 

In their press release, the plaintiffs say, “Oklahoma’s law has nothing to do with health and safety and everything to do with protecting the meat industry from competition. A small company like Upton’s Naturals can’t afford to change its labels to satisfy their competitors’ demands, and they shouldn’t have to because their labels are speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

“Oklahoma is treating safe and healthy plant-based meat alternatives like they are cigarettes,” said plaintiff attorney Milad Emam. “This new law won’t tell consumers anything they don’t already know, but it will have a devastating effect on vegan and vegetarian food companies since their perfectly honest and understandable labels will now be illegal in Oklahoma. This law, which was passed to prevent competition with the meat industry, clearly violates the First Amendment.”

Named as defendants for the state of Oklahoma are Gov. Kevin Stitt and Commissioner of Agriculture Blayne Arthur, both named in their official capacities.

Plaintiffs are represented by the Arlington, VA-based Institute for Justice, a non-profit libertarian public interest firm. They filed the suit in U.S. District Court for Western Oklahoma.

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U.S. regulatory update on food safety to be featured in IAFP virtual meeting

September 17, 2020 - 12:01am

The International Association for Food Protection 2020, A Virtual Annual Meeting will feature a “U.S. Regulatory Update on Food Safety,” from FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response and Mindy Brashears, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety of the USDA.

From 9 a.m.to 7 a.m. EDT on Oct. 27 Yiannas and Brashears are scheduled to provide insight into the latest information from the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As usual, the popular session will include a question and answer period with the audience.

Registration is still open for the IAFP 2020 event, “A Virtual Annual Meeting,” scheduled for Oct. 26-28. Anyone who has already registered for the annual conference and meeting and plans to attend the online event in October will automatically be registered for the new dates. Early rates end Oct. 2, 2020. Register here.

Attendees will join thousands of food safety professionals from around the world for three days of remote sharing, learning and networking.

In a usual year, the IAFP Annual Meeting is attended by more than 3,800 of the top industry, academic and governmental food safety professionals from six continents. The event is known for the quantity, quality, and diversity of each year’s program; the quality and relevance of exhibits sharing the latest in available technologies; leading experts speaking on a variety of timely topics; and special recognition of outstanding professionals and students for their contributions in the food safety field.

The IAFP says it is committed to producing a high-quality program in the virtual setting, including presentations, general sessions, exhibits and award recognitions. After-hours options are being planned to offer conversation and networking opportunities.

Registration Includes:

  • Program Book
  • Ivan Parkin Lecture
  • Technical Sessions
  • Poster Presentations
  • Symposia
  • Roundtables
  • Exhibits
  • Networking
  • John H. Silliker Lecture
  • Presentation of Awards

For more information on IAFP 2020 event, “A Virtual Annual Meeting,” visit their website.

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FTC’s move could help make ‘Made in the USA’ label meaningful again

September 16, 2020 - 12:05am

A 60-day comment period for the Federal Trade Commission’s “Made in the USA” label ended Monday with 838 submissions that favor a crack-down on unqualified U.S-origins claims on product labels.

And the No. 1 maker of those unqualified claims was named in many of the comments — Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

“My name is Wade Fox I am a (South Dakota) cattle producer,” his comment said.   “The conflict is this: While the FTC wants to ensure that only products actually made in the USA bear a “Made in the USA” label, the Secretary of Agriculture has a policy that says a foreign beef product that enters the USA and is subject to only minor processing, such as being taken out of a big box and packaged in smaller boxes, can bear a “Product of USA” label.”

“This is the very kind of conflict the FTC needs to hear about,” Fox added. “The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA)’s policy that allows a USA label on imported beef deceives consumers and should be considered fraud.”

The USDA watered down its Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat five years ago. Previously it had required “Made in USA” labeling only for meat that was born, raised, and slaughtered in this country. Canada and Mexico claimed the stronger requirement was an unfair barrier to trade, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against the United States.

The USDA then watered down the rule after Congress decided it did not want to pay retaliatory tariffs that WTO was going to grant Canada and Mexico. Consumers and some independent beef producers want the stronger COOL label restored, consistent with where the FTC is going on the issue.

FTC’s involvement adds a new twist, but its involvement in preventing deceptive “Made in USA” claims goes back to at least 1940. Congress gave the FTC separate authority to enforce Made in USA labels.

“For 80 years, the Commission has pursued enforcement actions that have established the principle that unqualified MUSA claims imply no more than a de minimis amount of the product is of foreign origin,” FTC’s call for comments said. 

“In 1997, following consumer research and public comments, the Commission published its Enforcement Policy Statement on U.S. Origin Claims (“Policy Statement,”) elaborating that a marketer making an unqualified claim for its product should, at the time of the representation, have a reasonable basis for asserting that “all or virtually all”  of the product is made in the United States.

Comments that have been submitted indicate the problem of Made in USA labels ending up on foreign products goes beyond meat and poultry.

“I am in support of the USA Labeling Rule,” wrote Texan Carl Graham. “First and foremost, I want to support the producers and suppliers of food originating in the U.S. Secondly, I am extremely frustrated with the majority of restaurants that claim to sell U.S. produced shrimp and upon further questioning of managers and waiters learn that the product is foreign.

“I do not want to consume farm-raised shrimp from foreign countries and this regulation should assist me in assuring I am receiving what I order when dining out. Knowing that I am receiving U.S. products, especially shrimp, will allow me to comfortably order the product. There are only a few dining facilities that I trust when I order shrimp. This legislation will expand my choices and provide assurance that I am receiving what I order,” he added.

A North Dakota rancher says he supports the FTC rule. “I believe it should be born, raised, and slaughtered in the USA to be eligible for a label to say made in the USA,” he said.

The FTC “may from time to time issue rules pursuant to section 553 of title 5, United States Code” requiring MUSA labeling to “be consistent with decisions and orders of the Commission issued pursuant to section 5 of the [FTC] Act.” The FTC may seek civil penalties for violations of such rules

To use a Made in the USA label, it will require : (1) Final assembly or processing of the product occurs in the United States, (2) all significant processing that goes into the product occurs in the United States, and (3) all or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the United States.  The labeling requirements extend to mail-order catalogs and advertising.

The Commission welcomed comments on whether the NPRM conflicts with any state country-of-origin labeling requirements, such as USDA’s.

And the hitch may come with this statement: “To avoid confusion or perceived conflict with other country-of-origin labeling laws and regulations, the NPRM specifies that it does not supersede, alter, or affect any other federal or state statute or regulation relating to country-of-origin labels, except to the extent that a state country-of-origin statute, regulation, order, or interpretation is inconsistent with the NPRM.”

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Food safety part of the FAO’s COVID-19 response efforts

September 16, 2020 - 12:03am

Food safety standards and trade is one of seven areas in the Food and Agriculture Organization’s COVID-19 response and recovery program.

The United Nations’ agency is calling for $1.2 billion in initial investment to support efforts.

The food safety part has a budget of $50 million and a timeframe until 2024.

Trade measures have been a common feature of the immediate policy response to the outbreak such as import restrictions because of food safety concerns that are not necessarily science-based, according to the FAO.

Digital and infrastructure focus
Key areas include digital solutions promoting the exchange of electronic trade documents, such as e-certificates and the harmonization of food safety and animal health e-certification systems as well as infrastructure supporting improvements in laboratories for food safety analysis.

In line with the UN approach to “build back better” post COVID-19, the overall program aims to mitigate immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the longer term resilience of food systems and livelihoods.

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), world merchandise trade in 2020 could fall by as much as 32 percent. Estimates from the World Bank predict the pandemic’s economic impact could push about 100 million people into extreme poverty.

The FAO’s Director-General Qu Dongyu said a business as usual approach is not possible anymore.

“We must work very hard to limit COVID-19’s damaging effects on food security and nutrition. We need to be more country-driven, innovative and work closely hand in hand,” Dongyu said.

Regional approach
In Africa, the program will focus on strengthening food safety control systems, improving infrastructure and promoting adoption of digital technology.

In Asia and the Pacific, work will center on technical support to streamline administrative procedures and implement harmonized food safety standards, including the promotion of digital innovations along certain borders.

It will look at export promotion, through technical support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on compliance with food safety standards in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In the Near East and North Africa, efforts will prioritize technical assistance in trade facilitation, food safety and post-production efficiency in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.

The FAO is planning a regional platform for animal health and phytosanitary assistance including food safety for the 33 countries of the Latin America and Caribbean region by 2024. The agency aims to bring together stakeholders to support phytosanitary activities (pests and plant diseases) and food safety management in the processing, distribution, retail and consumption sectors.

Overall work
The other priority areas are to reinforce a global humanitarian response plan for COVID-19; improve data for decision-making; ensure economic inclusion and social protection to reduce poverty; boost smallholder resilience for recovery; prevent the next zoonotic pandemic through a strengthened One Health approach; and trigger food systems transformation.

Preventing the next zoonotic pandemic has a timeframe of up to 2024 and a budget of $100 million.

COVID-19 originated from an animal source, as have an estimated 60 percent of human infectious diseases. Particularly risky settings for the next pandemic include live animal markets and regions where there is a rise in wild meat consumption.

Family farmers are most at risk, often women and children, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where medical, veterinary and animal production services are limited and food safety control systems are ill-equipped to prevent, detect and respond to emerging and resurgent zoonotic diseases, according to the FAO.

Mitigation measures include enhancing national and international preparedness and performance during the emergency response, developing policies for spillover containment and strengthening policy implementation.

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USDA assistance will be available to storm victims after Sally passes

September 16, 2020 - 12:01am
contributed

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminds communities, farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses in the path of Hurricane Sally that USDA has programs that provide assistance in the wake of disasters. USDA staff in the regional, state and county offices stand ready and are eager to help.

In a continuing effort to serve the American people, USDA partnered with FEMA and other disaster-focused organizations and created the Disaster Resource Center. This central source of information uses a searchable knowledgebase of disaster-related resources powered by agents with subject matter expertise. The Disaster Resource Center website and web tool now provide an easy access point to find USDA disaster information and assistance.

Severe weather forecasts often present the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food. USDA encourages those in the path of the storm to take the following precautions:

  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
  • Place appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or below in the refrigerator, 0°F or below in the freezer.
  • Freeze water in small plastic storage bags or containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold.
  • Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately—this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Consider getting 50 pounds of dry or block ice if a lengthy power outage is possible. This amount of ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days
  • Group foods together in the freezer—this ‘igloo’ effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.

Protecting livestock during a disaster
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is urging everyone in the potential path of the hurricane to prepare now – not just for yourselves, but also for your pets and your livestock.

  • Plan for evacuation – know how you will evacuate and where you will go. If it is not feasible to evacuate your livestock, be sure to provide a strong shelter and adequate food and water that will last them until you can return.
  • If you are planning to move livestock out of state, make sure to contact the State Veterinarian’s Office in the receiving state before you move any animals. You also may contact APHIS Veterinary Services state offices for information and assistance about protecting and moving livestock.
  • Listen to emergency officials and evacuate if asked to do so.

USDA also developed a disaster assistance discovery tool specifically targeted to rural and agricultural issues. The tool walks producers through five questions that generate personalized results identifying which USDA disaster assistance programs can help them recover from a natural disaster.

USDA also encourages residents and small businesses in impact zones to contact USDA offices which meet their individual needs.

Owners of meat and poultry producing businesses who have questions or concerns may contact the FSIS Small Plant Help Desk online 24 hours a day, by phone at 1-877-FSIS-HELP (1-877-374-7435) and by email at infosource@fsis.usda.gov.

Helping producers weather financial impacts of disasters
Livestock owners and contract growers who experience above normal livestock deaths due to specific weather events, as well as to disease or animal attacks, may qualify for assistance under USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program.

Livestock, honeybee and farm-raised fish producers whose mechanically harvested or purchased livestock feed was physically damaged or destroyed; or who lost grazing acres or beehives due to an extreme weather event may qualify for assistance. Producers of non-insurable crops who suffer crop losses, lower yields or are prevented from planting agricultural commodities may be eligible for assistance under USDA’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program if the losses were due to natural disasters.

Helping operations recover after disasters
USDA also can provide financial resources through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help with immediate needs and long-term support to help recover from natural disasters and conserve water resources. Assistance may also be available for emergency animal mortality disposal from natural disasters and other causes.

Farmers and ranchers needing to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters can apply for assistance through USDA’s Emergency Conservation Program. USDA also has assistance available for eligible private forest landowners who need to restore forestland damaged by natural disasters through the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (PDF, 257 KB). For declared natural disasters that lead to imminent threats to life and property, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can assist local government sponsors with the cost of implementing recovery efforts like debris removal and streambank stabilization to address natural resource concerns and hazards through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.

Orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for assistance through USDA’s Tree Assistance Program to help replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.

When major disasters strike, USDA has an emergency loan program that provides eligible farmers low-interest loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. USDA’s emergency loan program is triggered when a natural disaster is designated by the Secretary of Agriculture or a natural disaster or emergency is declared by the President under the Stafford Act. USDA also offers additional programs tailored to the needs of specific agricultural sectors to help producers weather the financial impacts of major disasters and rebuild their operations.

Helping individuals recover after disasters
In the aftermath of a disaster, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works with state, local and nongovernmental organizations to provide emergency nutrition assistance – including food packages and infant formula – to households, shelters and mass feeding sites serving people in need. Upon request from states, the agency also provides emergency flexibilities in the administration of its nutrition assistance programs. In recent weeks, the agency has allowed the purchase of hot foods with SNAP benefits in California, Louisiana, and Iowa, and has provided automatic replacement of benefits due to food loss in California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas. In some circumstances, the agency also works with local authorities to provide Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) benefits, as it has in Louisiana and Iowa, for individuals and families who do not normally receive SNAP benefits. Once the disaster recovery efforts begin, emergency nutrition assistance and flexibilities requested by states and approved by FNS will be posted to the FNS Disaster Assistance website.

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides support for disaster education through the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN). EDEN is a collaborative multi-state effort with land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension Services across the country, using research-based education and resources to improve the delivery of services to citizens affected by disasters. EDEN’s goal is to improve the nation’s ability to mitigate, prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from disasters. EDEN equips county-based Extension educators to share research-based resources in local disaster management and recovery efforts. The EDEN website offers a searchable database of Extension professionals, resources, member universities and disaster agency websites to help people deal with a wide range of hazards, and food and agricultural defense educational resources.

Producers with coverage through the Risk Management Agency (RMA) administered Federal crop insurance program should contact their crop insurance agent for issues regarding filing claims. Those who purchased crop insurance will be paid for covered losses. Producers should report crop damage within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days. The Approved Insurance Providers (AIP), loss adjusters and agents are experienced and well trained in handling these types of events. As part of its commitment to delivering excellent customer service, RMA is working closely with AIPs that sell and service crop insurance policies to ensure enough loss adjusters will be available to process claims in the affected areas as quickly as possible. Visit the RMA website for more details.

Helping with the long-term recovery of rural communities
USDA Rural Development has more than 50 programs available to rural and tribal communities for the repair and modernization of rural infrastructure including drinking and waste water systems, solid waste management, electric infrastructure, and essential community facilities such as public safety stations, health care centers and hospitals, and educational facilities. Visit the USDA Rural Development website for more information on specific programs.

Visit USDA’s disaster resources website to learn more about USDA disaster preparedness and response.

FDA flexes FSMA permanent injunction muscles for the first time

September 15, 2020 - 3:03pm

More than two years after sending a warning letter to the firm — and more than nine years after gaining the power to do so — the FDA has today, for the first time, issued a consent decree of permanent injunction against a firm and grower for violating public safety standards under the Produce Safety Rule.

The action regarding Fortune Food Product Inc., an Illinois-based processor of sprouts and soy products, involves violations of the sprouts portion of the Produce Safety Rule, which is part of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

“This action also follows several inspections conducted by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), which found that the company failed to comply with Produce Safety and Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations. In July 2018, the FDA sent a warning letter outlining food safety violations,” according to today’s announcement regarding the consent decree.

U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey in the Northern District of Illinois entered the consent decree of permanent injunction, on Sept.15, between the United States and Fortune Food Product Inc., its majority owner Steven Seeto and its supervisor Tiffany Jiang.

The consent decree prohibits the defendants from growing, harvesting, packing, and holding sprouts and soy products at or from their facility, or any other facility until certain requirements are met. The consent decree requires the defendants to, among other things, take corrective actions and notify the FDA before operations may resume.

In the formal complaint against the business, the U.S. Department of Justice said the FDA staff conducted multiple inspections. They documented unsanitary conditions showing that sprouts and soy products may have become contaminated with filth or may have been rendered injurious to health.

“The action marks the first consent decree of permanent injunction against a firm or grower for violating public safety standards under the Produce Safety Rule enacted under the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011,” according to the FDA statement.

The sprout specific portion of the Produce Safety Rule requires certain sprout operations to take measures to prevent the introduction of dangerous microbes into seeds or beans used for sprouting. They must also test spent sprout irrigation water or, in some cases, in-process sprouts for the presence of certain pathogens; test the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding environment for the presence of the Listeria species or Listeria monocytogenes; and take corrective actions when needed.

No confirmed illnesses related to Fortune Food’s products have been reported to the FDA. Consumers who think they may have been sickened by these products should seek the assistance of a health care professional and contact the FDA to report problems with this or any FDA-regulated product.

About Listeria infections
Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still cause serious and sometimes life-threatening infections. Anyone who has eaten any of the implicated products and developed symptoms of Listeria infection should seek medical treatment and tell their doctors about the possible Listeria exposure.

Also, anyone who has eaten any of the recalled products should monitor themselves for symptoms during the coming weeks because it can take up to 70 days after exposure to Listeria for symptoms of listeriosis to develop.

Symptoms of Listeria infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Specific laboratory tests are required to diagnose Listeria infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and people such as cancer patients who have weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illnesses, life-threatening infections, and other complications. Although infected pregnant women may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, their infections can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

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Blowback from industry and union on OSHA for Smithfield/JBS fines

September 15, 2020 - 12:05am

Those OSHA fines for not protecting employees from the coronavirus are getting blow-back from both the industry and the union.

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) issued a statement after Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, SD, and JBS USA in Greeley, CO, were hit with fines totaling about $29,000. Both Smithfield and JBS are appealing those fines, which local chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) believe are low enough that they might lead to bad behavior by the companies. JBS USA is known as Swift.

Mark Lauritsen, UFCW’s vice president, claims the OSHA fines for Smithfield and JBS are merely about politics, enough to cover themselves politically. He says until now, OSHA had turned a blind eye to the issue. UFCW’s local unions have also spoken out.

Kim Cordova who heads the local at the Greeley beef plant says “tiny fines” are  “an incentive to make these workers work faster and harder in the most unsafe working conditions imaginable,”  Sandra Sibert, a union representative at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, says. In March thousands of employees were packed on processing lines like “tuna in a can” without masks or hand sanitizers. She was infected with the virus, took several weeks to cover, and the warnings she issued resulted only in an email message saying her concerns were appreciated.

Four employees at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls died from the virus among 1,294 who tested positive. At the Greeley beef plant, 290 employees were infected and six died.

Outside of hospital and medical services, meat and poultry processing are one of the larger “essential” industries that have continued production during the pandemic.  The nonprofit Food Environmental Reporting Network reports 42,534 meat and poultry employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the nation’s 494 meatpacking and processing plants. Among those, 203 or 0.47 percent died.

NAMI says OSHA’s Sept. 10 citation from its Sioux Falls office in Region 8 makes the sole allegation against Smithfield Foods that employees “were working in close proximity.”  And on Friday, Sept. 11, OSHA’s Denver office, also in Region 8, issued a citation to JBS USA with the same allegation of “proximity.”

The timeline below shows, according to NAMI, both national and international confusion over which measures were effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“Not until April 3 did the CDC reverse its guidance and tell people to wear masks. Early in the pandemic, PPE and testing were difficult to obtain and some states, including South Dakota, were not issuing lockdown instructions to residents.” NAMI’S statement says. “And not until April 26 did CDC/OSHA release their joint guidance specific to the meat and poultry industry.”

But, it says OSHA’s citation faults Smithfield and JBS beginning back on March 22 and March 25, respectively, prior to CDC recommendations to wear a mask, but most important, prior to issuing their own guidelines for the industry.

Moreover, NAMI points out that Sioux Falls was shut down for 29 days within this time period and Greely was closed for 11. “If your head is spinning, we understand,” NAMI adds. “Equally confusing is that OSHA’s own citations in the abatement notes say the following regarding six feet between workers: ‘where feasible.’

“That acknowledgment also is found in abatement note 2, which begins, ‘When workers are unable to socially distance at least six feet’ and goes on to discuss the use of face shields or coverings, the use of barriers, etc. – all of which the companies have done and did for all or most of the time covered by the citation.

“The citation’s sole allegation is employees worked in close proximity but the CDC/OSHA guidance acknowledged being six feet apart is not always possible and the abatement notes in the citation itself also acknowledge that fact and offer solutions — which already have been implemented. OSHA stated that companies that adhere to the Guidance need not fear citation, yet this citation exists. Perhaps Region 8 ought to contact the home office, ” it says.

NAMI also points to the Food and Environmental Reporting Network’s continued tracking of COVID-19 associated with meat and poultry workers, which is on the decline.

“But it takes vigilance to maintain that trend and meat and poultry companies will do everything to ensure this trend continues,” it says.

NAMI is the leading voice for the meat and poultry industry. Its members process the vast majority of U.S. beef, pork, lamb, and poultry, as well as manufacture the equipment and ingredients needed to produce the safest and highest quality meat and poultry products. The 1.3 million-member UFCW represents employees involved in grocery, retail, chemical, packing, and processing industries.

Timeline:

March 11 – World Health Organization (WHO) declares pandemic.

April 2-3: President Trump issues Executive Orders using the Defense Production Act to accelerate production of respirators and ventilators and an order to prevent domestic manufacturers from exporting personal protection equipment. The media begins to report on nationwide shortages of masks and PPE.

April 3: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reverses policy on masks and now recommends face coverings to help stop the spread of the virus.

April 12: Smithfield Sioux Falls plant closes. The company details all of the measures it had already implemented to protect and support employees, “These include mandatory 14-day COVID-19 related quarantines with pay as an uncompromising effort to protect its dedicated employees. The company has also relaxed attendance policies to eliminate any punitive effect for missing work due to COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine. In addition, Smithfield is taking many measures to minimize its team members’ risks of contracting COVID-19. These include adding extra hand sanitizing stations, boosting personal protective equipment, continuing to stress the importance of personal hygiene, enhancing cleaning and disinfection, expanding employee health benefits, implementing thermal scanning, increasing social distancing, installing plexiglass and other physical barriers and restricting all nonessential visitors.”

April 9: Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors are allowed to make their own face coverings due to difficulty in obtaining masks.

April 13: JBS USA announces closure of Greeley beef facility. The company details the efforts it had enacted prior to this closure to stop the spread of the virus: “To date, JBS USA has adopted the following safety measures, health protocols and worker benefits at all its facilities:  increasing sanitation and disinfection efforts, including whole facility deep-cleaning every day; promoting physical distancing by staggering starts, shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including plexiglass dividers in key areas; dedicating staff to continuously clean facilities; temperature testing all team members prior to entering our facilities, including the use of hands-free thermometers and thermal imaging testing technology in many locations; providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective masks that are required to be worn at all times; removing vulnerable populations from our facilities, offering full pay and benefits; requiring sick team members to stay home from work; waiving short-term disability waiting periods; relaxing attendance policies so people don’t come to work sick; providing free 100 percent  preventative care to all team members; offering free LiveHealth Online services that allow for virtual doctor visits at no cost.”

April 14 and 16: CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) inspects JBS USA Greeley

April 24: JBS USA re-opens the Greeley plant, which operates as Swift.

April 26: 15-13 days after Sioux Falls and Greely close, OSHA/CDC issues guidance for meat and poultry processing and recognizes several times it is not possible in every circumstance in a plant for employees to work six feet apart.

April 28: Solicitor of Labor Kate O’Scannlain and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for OSHA Loren Sweatt issues a Statement of Enforcement Policy regarding Meat and Poultry Processing Facilities which says, “To the extent employers determine that certain measures are not feasible in the context of specific plants and circumstances, they are encouraged to document why that is the case…..In the event of an investigation, OSHA will take into account good faith attempts to follow the Joint Meat Processing Guidance. OSHA does not anticipate citing employers that adhere to the Joint Meat Processing Guidance.”

May 7: CDC inspects Smithfield Sioux Falls, and the plant resumes full operation by May 11.

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