Food Safety News

Subscribe to Food Safety News feed Food Safety News
Breaking news for everyone's consumption
Updated: 1 hour 17 min ago

Mushroom poisoning behind most outbreaks in China

September 15, 2020 - 12:03am

Poisonous mushrooms were the most common cause of outbreaks in China during a 14-year period, according to a study.

Researchers looked at data reported to the National Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2003 to 2017 and published findings in the journal Food Control.

A total of 19,517 outbreaks, which resulted in 235,754 illnesses, 107,470 hospitalizations, and 1,457 deaths, were recorded during the period.

Stats on mushroom outbreaks
Of the 13,307 outbreaks with known etiology, almost a third were caused by poisonous mushrooms, followed by Vibrio parahaemolyticus at 11 percent while the percentage linked to saponin, Salmonella, nitrite, pesticides, Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus were all in single figures.

Of 13,305 outbreaks associated with a single food category, fungi – mainly poisonous mushrooms – were most commonly implicated, followed by meats, vegetables, aquatic animals, condiments, poisonous plants such as saponin, tung oil or seed and aconite, as well as grains such as rice and noodles.

Among almost 19,000 outbreaks with reported settings, nearly half were associated with food prepared in a household, followed by less than a quarter with food made in a restaurant, and less than a fifth prepared in a canteen.

“Analysis of foodborne disease outbreaks can provide insight into the most important causative agents and sources of foodborne disease, and assist public health agencies determine the high-risk etiology and food pairs, specific points of contamination and settings to reduce foodborne disease illnesses,” said researchers.

Wild mushroom poisoning incident
Another study, published in China CDC Weekly, described 10 cases of wild mushroom poisoning in a city of Zhejiang Province this past year.

From late June to mid-July, 2019, three suspected food poisoning events occurred in Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province. Ten patients with different degrees of liver damage were found and one person died. Poisonings were caused by ingestion of a wild mushroom (Amanita rimosa) containing amanitin toxins.

The Xinchang County CDC of Shaoxing City, received a report from a local hospital that six patients in a family went to a doctor with suspected food poisoning in late June. Patients had gastrointestinal irritation symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in the early stages.

They then developed different degrees of liver function damage. One person died of acute liver failure but the other patients improved after medical treatment and were discharged one week later. On July 11, the Shaoxing City CDC got a report from the local hospital of another two patients with similar symptoms.

Until July 25, 10 patients meeting the case definition were found, including six in Xinchang County and two each in Keqiao District and Zhuji County. Before 2019, there were one to two cases of wild mushroom containing amanitin toxins poisoning each year in Zhejiang Province.

All patients came from three families in Shaoxing City, who lived tens of kilometers apart. The families did not know each other, nor did they have any other common exposure factors. All patients became sick 10 to 22 hours after family dinners. Wild mushrooms were collected on mountains near the residences and were one of the main foods with noodles or as a soup. Amanitin toxins were found in eight patients’ plasma samples and two people’s urine samples.

CDCs in Shaoxing city carried out publicity and education about wild mushroom poisonings and prohibited residents from picking and eating them. No similar incidents occurred until mid-August 2019. In China, about 20 species of mushrooms can cause death, and most people are not able to identify which types are edible.

The rainy season in Zhejiang Province is from the middle of June to mid-July and with the average temperature, combined to make suitable growing conditions for wild mushrooms. Local CDCs decided to set up warning signs prohibiting the picking and eating of wild mushrooms in mountain areas to prevent such incidents.

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

STOP shines a light under the baskets and benches at farmers markets

September 15, 2020 - 12:02am
Commentary

Editor’s note: As part of our coverage of national Food Safety Education month we publish the following column from STOP Foodborne Illness.

This time of year food lovers’ enjoy one of their favorite traditions: visiting local farmers markets. In addition to all the invigorating colors, exquisite aromas, strong flavors, and spirit of community, the farmers market is also an opportunity to develop one-on-one relationships with the people who produce some of your food. Their passion for food can be quite inspiring.

Stop Foodborne Illness, a national public health organization whose mission is preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens wants to remind you that no matter where you get your food – by supporting friendly local farmers or by shopping your neighborhood supermarket – food safety is always important.

Food that is fresh is a delicious treat. Organic and sustainable farming doesn’t use pesticides, chemicals, hormones and other additives, but it isn’t necessarily safer when it comes to foodborne illness – because everything is still grown in the dirt, and handled by humans. Pathogens such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella are found naturally in soil, as well as manure. Which basically means, everything needs to be washed.

Farmers and vendors selling food at the farmers market, as well as consumers/shoppers should understand the necessary steps to reducing the risk of illness from food.

“It’s a good idea to know the signs of safe food handling when you visit each market vendor,” said Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness. “Knowing your favorite farmers and vendors are using safe food practices, definitely boosts one’s confidence in their purchases.”

Most states have passed legislation regulating farmers’ markets. For example, in Illinois, most home-canned foods other than jams, jellies and preserves cannot be sold at the farmers markets. Typically, farmers markets must be inspected by local health department officials  who make sure each market meets food safety standards, and most vendors, including those from so-called “cottage industries,” must be licensed to sell their products at farmers markets.

For a list of farmers markets in your area click here.

If you’re interested in policies and regulations affecting farmers markets in your state, contact the department of health. For more information click here.

What to look for when it comes to safe food handling

The condition of the vendors’ booths and their products can tell you a lot about their safe food practices. Here are some things to look for:

• Clean hands. Dirty fingernails or a filthy aprons aren’t appetizing. For vendors serving food – are they wearing gloves, and is their hair covered?
• A certification notice. Some vendors will display certificates that show they have been trained in food safety. These are good indicators that their foods are handled properly.
• The carton is clean. When buying eggs, look to see if the carton is clean – inside and out, and make sure the eggs are clean and not cracked. Reused egg cartons are fine, if clean.
• Cold foods are cold. Meats, cheeses and other dairy, and eggs should be kept cold. Salads and cold sandwiches should feel like they’re straight from the fridge.
• Meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe temperature.  The only way to determine a safe temperature for meat, poultry or fish, is by using a cooking thermometer. If you’re not sure, ask.
• Hot foods are hot. The “Danger Zone” for food (where bacteria multiply quickly) is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. Cooked foods like soups and burgers should be “piping” hot.
• Samples are being safely handled. Vendors using gloves, tongs, tissues, or other utensils are doing it right. They shouldn’t be using bare hands. Are knives, serving utensils, dishes, and service surfaces kept clean? If not, take a pass on these foods.
• Ciders, juices, and dairy products are pasteurized. Since unpasteurized foods are serious sources of foodborne pathogens, shoppers should ask when products, including the samples, are not clearly labeled.

On hot days …

• Be mindful of jars open for sampling — sauces, salsas, jams, pickles and so on — they should not be out for more than two hours at outdoor temperatures. One hour, if it’s over 90 degrees F. Many markets have started offering hand-washing stations with hand sanitizer. We encourage you to use them.
• If you’re purchasing perishables like dairy, eggs, or meat bring a cooler or insulated bag with ice to the market, so your newly purchased products can be kept cold for the ride home in the hot car.
• Make the farmers market your final stop before heading home. Your fresh veggies and fruit, and other perishable foods, won’t have to sit long in a hot car and will make it to the refrigerator that much more quickly.

Download Quick Facts here.

Foodborne illness is no laughing matter; serious cases can have severe and long-lasting consequences. Keep in mind that babies, young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to serious attacks of foodborne illness.

Stop Foodborne Illness is a national nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens by promoting sound food safety policy and best practices, building public awareness, and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness. For more food safety tips please visit www.Stopfoodborneillness.org/awareness/.

Canada posts new patient count in onion outbreak; nothing new reported by U.S. for two weeks

September 14, 2020 - 6:30pm

As of this afternoon there have been 506 confirmed cases of Salmonella Newport illness in Canada linked to a Salmonella outbreak associated with onions. Officials in the U.S. have not posted an outbreak update since Sept. 1.

The total in Canada has increased by 49 people since the most recent update from the Public Health Agency of Canada on Aug. 31. The 506 confirmed patients are spread across several Canadian provinces — British Columbia has 116; Alberta 292; Saskatchewan 34; Manitoba 25; Ontario 14; Quebec 24; and Prince Edward Island 1.

On the U.S. side of the border, according to a Sept. 1 update, there are at least 1,012 sick people across 47 states with Salmonella infections linked to onions. 

Thomson International, Inc., of Bakersfield, CA, shipped the implicated onions and has initiated recalls in both countries. Other companies that use Thomson as a supplier have also recalled onions and related products.

Investigations by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration initially showed a link between the illnesses and red onions, but because of the way onions are grown, harvested, and packed other onion types, such as white, yellow, or sweet yellow, are also likely to be contaminated.

Public health officials in the United States report that 34 illness clusters have been identified in 13 states of the implicated states.Information was collected on 23 of the 34 clusters at restaurants and grocery stores. Information from these clusters shows that many ill people ate red onions and other types of onions. 

Investigations conducted by U.S. state and federal officials determined that all 23 restaurants and grocery stores specifically identified as having served or sold red, yellow, or white onions. Seventeen of the 23  (74 percent) served red onions, 13 (57 percent) served yellow onions, and 10 (43 percent) served white onions.

Of those patients interviewed so far in the United States, 90 percent report they specifically remember eating onions or foods containing onions during the days before they developed symptoms of Salmonella infection.

Thomson International, Inc., of Bakersfield, California, as a likely source of red onions. Due to the way onions are grown and harvested, other onion types, such as white, yellow, or sweet yellow, are also likely to be contaminated.

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

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

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

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

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

OSHA fines JBS beef plant in Colorado for failing to protect employees from virus

September 14, 2020 - 12:06am

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited a second large meat production company for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus.

Nearly 300 JBS employees in Greeley, CO, were infected with the COVID-19 virus since March and seven died. Six worked in the beef plant and a seventh was assigned to theJBS USA corporate headquarters located nearby.

OSHA has proposed $15,615 in penalties for the JBS  beef plant in Greeley, CO.    Earlier it imposed a similar fine for the Smithfield Foods meat plant in Sioux Falls, SD.

JBS USA, which operates as Swift Beef Co., took sharp exception to the federal agency’s findings, saying in a statement  that “the OSHA citation is entirely without merit.”

“It attempts to impose a standard that did not exist in March as we fought the pandemic with no guidance,” the company said. “When OSHA finally provided guidance in late April, one month after the beginning of the citation time period, our previously implemented preventive measures largely exceeded any of their recommendations.”

Based on a coronavirus-related inspection, OSHA cited the company  for a violation of the general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm. The $15,615 penalty assessed for the general duty clause violation is the maximum allowed by law. The company also failed to provide an authorized employee representative with injury and illness logs in a timely manner following OSHA’s May 2020 inspection.

“Employers need to take appropriate actions to protect their workers from the coronavirus,” said OSHA Denver Area Director Amanda Kupper. “OSHA has meatpacking industry guidance and other resources to assist in worker protection.”

OSHA guidance details proactive measures employers can take to protect workers from the coronavirus, such as social distancing measures and the use of physical barriers, face shields, and face coverings when employees are unable to physically distance at least 6 feet from each other. Employers are also required to maintain injury and illness logs.

JBS Foods  has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Employers with questions on compliance with OSHA standards should contact their local OSHA office for guidance and assistance at 800-321-OSHA (6742). OSHA’s coronavirus response webpage offers extensive resources for addressing safety and health hazards during the evolving coronavirus pandemic.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, and assistance. For more information, visit https://www.osha.gov.

OSHA’s mission is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

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

Tune into these important food safety tips for cooked potatoes

September 14, 2020 - 12:05am
Analysis

How often have you plopped a left-over baked potato, sill tightly wrapped in foil, on your kitchen counter, thinking you could heat it up or for a meal the next day or cut it up for a potato salad for an afternoon picnic. 

STOP. Don’t do that. Why? Because that still-wrapped potato can actually be deadly if left out too long, according to federal and state food-safety experts.

The culprit here is botulism, a severe type of food poisoning. It’s caused by a toxin produced by a bacterium known as Clostridium botulinum. Botulism is an important disease to know about because of how deadly it can be if not treated immediately. 

How deadly is it? It’s so powerful that one teaspoon could kill 100,000 people. That means that even consuming a very small amount of this toxin — even just tasting a food that contains this toxin — can make you sick.

The unusual thing about the botulism toxin is that it grows in the absence of oxygen. To make matters stranger yet, it also forms spores that are heat resistant, which can happen when the potato is being cooked. If these spores germinate and grow they can produce the botulism toxin. 

That’s where the foil-wrapping comes into the picture. If tightly wrapped around a potato, it keeps oxygen out. And if the foil-wrapped baked potatoes are not kept at high or low enough temperatures, the spores can germinate. That’s when things can get dangerous.

This toxin can also survive regular cooking temperatures or survive in foods that haven’t been processed properly. Examples of this would be non-acidic foods such as string beans and meats that have been home-canned Other examples are unrefrigerated homemade salsa, honey (the primary cause of botulism in infants), garlic in oil, and traditionally prepared salted or fermented fish.

USDA advises that when the jars of low-acidic foods (string beans and meats, for example) are stored at room temperature, the botulism spores can germinate and produce the toxin. But since the toxin is sensitive to heat, it can be destroyed if the food in question is boiled for 10 minutes (longer at higher altitudes) before being served. 

The nitty gritty about this toxin is that it causes paralysis, which usually starts with the eyes and face and then moves down to the throat, chest and arms and legs. These symptoms usually show up 18 to 36 hours after eating the poisoned food but can vary from 4 hours to 8 days.

Weakness and dizziness followed by double vision are early symptoms that include trouble breathing, difficulty in swallowing and slurred speech. Constipation is another common symptom.

If left untreated, the chest muscles become fully involved. This inhibits breathing, and the person suffocates. Many patients are placed on ventilators.

If botulism is caught in the early stages, the injection of an antitoxin can lessen the severity of the disease by neutralizing any toxin that has not yet bound to nerve endings. However, because of the risk of serious side effects, the antitoxin cannot always be used. The advice here, of course, is to contact your health provider or go to the emergency room.  

Cases of botulism from foil-wrapped baked potatoes are rare, but they do occur. One example occurred in El Paso, TX, in 1994, the largest botulism outbreak since 1978. In that outbreak, 30 people were sickened, and four of them had to be put on mechanical ventilators. The culprit was a baked-potato-based dip. The toxin formed when foil-wrapped baked potatoes were held at room temperature for too long a time before they were used in the dips.

Why do cooked potatoes pose possible dangers and how to prevent them
Surprisingly, cooked potatoes pose several food safety risks. That’s because they are considered a Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) food. That according to information from a Potato Statistical Yearbook created by the National Potato Council.

Foods in this category are prone to bacteria growth for several reasons: They are moist, contain protein and have a neutral or slightly acidic pH. This combo lends itself to the growth of microorganisms and the production of toxins.

According to the industry’s statistical yearbook, a food in this category becomes risky when it is held too long in what is referred to as “the temperature danger zone” — temperatures ranging from 41 degrees F to 135 degrees F.

Bottomline: Keep hot foods hot (above135 degrees F) and cold foods cold (below 41 degrees F). Check the temperature every two hours. Any food in this category should be tossed if it’s been left out at room or outdoor temperatures for four hours or longer. No need to take any chances. If it’s hot outside, this time is reduced to two hours.

Make sure the potatoes are eaten within two hours of being cooked, or keep the potatoes at 140 degrees F or hotter. Or put them in the refrigerator within two hours of being cooked. This would apply to dishes such as mashed potatoes, potato soup, boiled potatoes, and potato salad. In the case of baked potatoes, remove the foil before putting them in the refrigerator.  If reheating the potatoes. make sure the temperature is 140 degrees F or hotter before serving them.

About potato salad
Grilling and potato salad go together. The important thing here is to enjoy sharing this favorite with friends and family. But it’s also important to make sure you’re not taking any chances when it comes to food safety. You don’t want to get anyone sick.

Although some potato salad recipes — and some well-meaning relatives — advise adding everything to the cooked potatoes while they’re still hot, this is not what food-safety experts advise.

Instead, they caution that if the cooked potatoes are not cooled down first, they could enter that “temperature danger zone.” This is also why they urge people to cool down cooked potatoes by putting them in the refrigerator before making potato salad. 

But more than that, potato salad is usually made with mayonnaise or oil. They give potato salad a breeding ground for foodborne toxins such as salmonella or listeria when the correct temperature is not maintained. That’s why potato salad should be kept cold, either by putting the serving dish on ice or leaving it in the refrigerator or cooler until just before it’s served. You definitely don’t want to leave it languishing out in the  sun where it can quickly turn into a food safety hazard instead of a favorite dish.

Before cooking potatoes
Potatoes are grown in the ground, and even though store-bought potatoes are usually cleaned before being bagged or put out on the shelves, consumers and chefs should wash them under running water and scrub them with a clean vegetable brush. 

A recent recall of bagged red potatoes was the result of a routine internal testing that identified Listeria monocytogenes on a piece of equipment in a packing facility  No illnesses were associated with the potatoes, but it underscores the importance of washing potatoes before cooking them throughly.

In addition,  as with all fresh produce, handwashing is important before and after preparing potatoes. Prepared dishes should be stored properly to maintain a safe temperature.

About potatoes
We do love our potatoes. In the United States, it’s the number one crop. Each year people in the U.S. consume about 110 pounds of potatoes per person. Europeans eat twice that much.

A little more than one-third of all potatoes grown in the United States are manufactured into frozen products, 85 percent of which are french fries. 

The average American eats more than four pounds of potato chips each year.  

Here are some nutrition facts about this popular vegetable, provided by the National Potato Council.

  • A medium-sized potato has no fat, no cholesterol and contains only 110 calories
  • Sodium free. Low sodium diets help to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Vitamin C. Don’t just think of oranges anymore as a great source of Vitamin C. By eating one medium-sized potato with the skin, you will receive 45 percent of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C — a great antioxidant.
  • More potassium than bananas. A medium-sized potato contains 18 percent of the recommended daily value of potassium – essential for maintaining proper muscle function.
  • Good source of fiber. The 3g of fiber in one medium-sized potato is 8 percent of the recommended daily value. Diets high in fiber are beneficial for a healthy digestive system and may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Consuming adequate fiber also makes you feel fuller, helping to reduce snacking between meals.
  • Less than 10 percent of the Daily Value of Carbohydrates. A medium-sized potato contains 26 grams of carbohydrates. That’s only 9 percent of the recommended daily value. Complex carbohydrates are a great source of energy for the body.
  • A great antioxidant. Potatoes have one of the highest overall antioxidant activity among vegetables. Antioxidants protect key cell components by neutralizing the damaging effects of “free radicals.” Potatoes also contain glutathione, an antioxidant that may help protect against some cancers.

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

Study investigates large STEC rise in Switzerland

September 14, 2020 - 12:03am

Researchers have assessed the factors behind an increase in Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections in Switzerland.

Since 2015, a large rise in cases has been observed. This coincided with introducing multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) panels for stool analyzes in standard laboratory practice in Switzerland suggesting that the increase in notified patients was because of a change in test practices and numbers.

While it is clear that changes in diagnostics influence surveillance data and trend monitoring, scientists believe this change only explains part of the increase in STEC notifications in Switzerland.

The rise in notified STEC cases is a combination of changing test practices and a real increase in incidence of infections among the Swiss population, according to a study published in the journal Eurosurveillance.

Milder infections
Prior to gradual introduction of multiplex PCR to routine diagnostics between 2011 and 2015, STEC was only specifically tested for in Switzerland upon physician request, and this rarely happened, said researchers. Since their introduction, these tests have become the largest proportion of all diagnostic checks for STEC and have led to an increase in test numbers.

The team analyzed routine data from 11 labs, which reported 62 percent of all STEC cases from 2007 to 2016 to calculate the positivity, i.e. the rate of the number of positive STEC tests divided by the number of tests performed.

The impact of changes in diagnostic approaches on public health surveillance has been highlighted before, especially the switch from culture-dependent to culture-independent diagnostics for foodborne diseases. A trend of culture-independent diagnostic tests means more detection of less virulent strains. However, the 11 Swiss diagnostic labs in the study switched to culture-independent methods for STEC detection before 2007.

Researchers hypothesized that if the increase in new STEC cases was because of the introduction of multiplex PCR only (leading to less targeted screening) there would be a decrease in positivity because of a lower pre-test probability for a positive test outcome. But this was not reflected in the data. Instead, the increase in STEC cases is disproportionally higher compared with the rise in test volume, resulting in the observed increase in positivity.

More tests and positives
E. coli infections continued to climb in 2019, according to the country’s surveillance report on zoonoses and foodborne outbreaks.

The number of cases of a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infections, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), remained relatively constant from 1999 to 2015. So, the increase in STEC notifications is likely to represent mainly mild cases and/or asymptomatic co-infections that might have been present but undetected in the past.

A changing distribution of STEC serogroups among patients could be an explanation for the change in disease severity, said researchers.

The final dataset comprised 86,043 records, of which, 1,149 were positives. Median age of the tested population increased from 30 to 43 years between 2007 and 2016. Among the STEC-positive population, the median age also went up significantly.

Between 2007 and 2016 the number of multiplex PCR panels performed rose by 42 percent. The positivity of this test increased from 80 of 7,617 in 2014 to 418 of 24,190 in 2016.

The number of tests for STEC increased sevenfold from 2007 to 2016 from 3,711 to 26,639 while the amount of positive test results increased 13-fold from 33 to 440.

Positivity increased for all age groups. Calculated over the study period it was highest for children 1 to 4 years old and increased from 11 of 809 in 2007 to 51 of 1,734 in 2016. The largest relative increase was in those older than 80, from no case among 146 in 2007 to 45 of 2,449 in 2016.

Researchers said the current Swiss surveillance system for STEC could be improved by incorporating strain typing information that would guide intervention and control measures.

“We believe it is critical that all cases of STEC infections, regardless of clinical relevance, are reported in order to identify clusters and sources and thus support outbreak control.”

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

Industry can find FSA ‘frustrating and inconsistent’

September 13, 2020 - 12:03am

Negative terms most commonly used to describe the Food Standards Agency (FSA) were “frustrating, challenging and inconsistent”, according to a survey.

The research was done because the FSA wanted to know how businesses in the meat, wine and dairy sectors in England and Wales viewed the agency and its official controls.

In February and March 2020, 54 qualitative interviews were conducted with meat and wine firms and 327 quantitative interviews with meat, wine and dairy businesses. A financial incentive was given to all companies who took part.

Sector differences
No wine operators said they were dissatisfied with their experiences of the FSA’s processes, but some meat firms had criticisms about enforcement.

Most rated their experience of working with the FSA as very good (29 percent) or good (44 percent), with a quarter saying it was average. Only 2 percent said it was poor and 1 percent very poor.

Almost half of wine business operators said their experience of working with the FSA was very good compared with 23 percent of meat and 24 percent of dairy operators.

Overall, three quarters said their views had stayed the same over time. However this dropped to 58 percent amongst meat operators, 25 percent of whom said it had gotten better and 16 percent said their views had gotten worse.

Both meat and wine operators said they felt the FSA stopped bad companies from getting away with poor practice and helped to maintain consumer confidence.

Interpretation of guidelines
More than half of respondents said they found it easy or very easy to comply with FSA guidelines and requirements but one in 10 found it difficult, rising to a quarter of meat firms.

The main reasons for difficultly were that rules were too stringent or impractical, that it was becoming more complicated to comply, and the rules were constantly changing. Specific instances where some meat companies found it harder to comply included installing cameras or air conditioning in slaughterhouses, which could be expensive.

Many found the FSA to be helpful, professional, efficient and knowledgeable but it was also seen as frustrating, challenging and inconsistent. Some firms felt there was a lack of consistency on interpretation of FSA guidelines, and advice and instructions were not always clearly communicated.

A company might receive different audit feedback from one year to the next, even if it had not made any changes. There were instances where the same person gave different advice on different occasions. Some operators had made investments on meat mincing equipment or knife sterilizers based on advice, which turned out to be unnecessary.

Another criticism amongst meat firms was a perception that FSA and its staff lacked pragmatism and flexibility when it came to the standards it imposed on businesses. Smaller operators felt it was unfair to expect them to adhere to the same rules as larger ones as this could be costly and use up staff resources.

Communication was an issue for many. For some this was due to language barriers – meat operators reported many official veterinarians did not have English as a first language, and this resulted in a lack of clarity as to what they were being asked to do.

Unannounced visits and enforcement
A small minority of meat sites felt that FSA inspectors were actively looking to find fault and questioned whether some might have an agenda. These sites have a more “them vs us” mentality, and can feel they are working against the FSA.

Nearly all meat companies had experienced unannounced visits. The majority were satisfied, and some actively welcomed them. For some, the main criticism was that visits were not long enough.

About two thirds of meat operators had experienced enforcement. Some felt the timescales for compliance were unrealistic or unfair. Other concerns were the process being time-consuming and costly and the fact that the approach was formal as opposed to collaborative.

The majority of meat firms had experienced an audit and most were positive about it but some said there was sometimes a lack of consistency depending on who conducted the visit.

Dairy operators were most likely to have experienced unannounced visits, the FSA team and inspections for welfare, with more than half having been through these processes. The vast majority of dairies were satisfied with their experiences.

Wine firms felt that the FSA wine inspection teams were knowledgeable and helpful, and most had built up a strong relationship. Only a third had experienced enforcement, and most were satisfied. Nearly all wine operators had been through inspections and none said they were dissatisfied.

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

Williams recalls Walmart, HEB taco seasoning for Salmonella risk

September 12, 2020 - 2:40pm

Williams Foods LLC has initiated a recall of certain taco spice seasoning because its cumin supplier has recalled its product because of a positive test for Salmonella. 

“These items contain cumin spice involved in a recall initiated by our supplier, Mincing Spice Co. Mincing has issued a recall for a specific lot of cumin they produced because a sample from that lot was tested by one of Mincing’s customers and was found to be potentially contaminated with Salmonella,” according to the recall notice.

A portion of the lot recalled by Mincing was supplied to Williams Foods LLC. Williams is recalling its products certain Walmart Great Value taco spice packets and HEB brand taco spice packets.

The taco spice was distributed to a large number of states in addition to Washington D.C. States that received the spice are: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI, WV and WY.

According to the recall notice no confirmed infections or other adverse reactions have been confirmed in relation to the recalled taco seasoning.

The recalled products consist of retail packages weighing 1 ounce and 1.25 ounces. “Best By” date information can be found on the top part of the back side of the package. The product is sold in select retail grocery stores.

Item number Product Name Package Size Product UPC Product dates 564829444 Great Value Mild Taco Seasoning Mix 1 oz 0 78742 24572 0 Best if used by 07/08/21
Best if used by 07/09/21 050215 HEB Taco Seasoning Mix Reduced Sodium 1.25 oz 0 41220 79609 0 Better by 07/10/21
Better by 07/11/21
Better by 07/15/21

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

Anyone who has eaten any recalled products 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.

Smithfield appeals OSHA fine for not protecting meat plant employees from COVID-19

September 12, 2020 - 12:05am

 The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, SD, for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA proposed a penalty of $13,494, the maximum allowed by law.

Based in Smithfield, VA, Smithfield Foods Inc. will appeal the fine, which spokeswoman Keira Lombardo said is “wholly without merit” because the company took”extraordinary measures” to protect employees from the COVID-19 virus. And during the pandemic, Smithfield took direction from OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

But OSHA claims not enough was done to protect Smithfield employees at the Sioux Falls plant, which accounts for about 5 percent of the nation’s pork production. That production was lost during a three-week shutdown. Meat and poultry plants were put under the Defense Production Act on April 28, giving USDA extraordinary powers to have firms maintain production.

At about the same time, OSHA and CDC issued guidance to the facilities that were intended to keep employees from being infected by the virus. The Union Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents Smithfield employees in Sioux Falls, says the OSHA fine is a “slap on the wrist.”

Four Smithfield employees in Sioux Falls died from COVID-19, and 1,294 contracted the virus. More than 7,000 are employed at the plant.

“Employers must quickly implement appropriate measures to protect their workers’ safety and health,” said OSHA Sioux Falls Area Director Sheila Stanley. “Employers must meet their obligations and take the necessary actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus at their worksite.”

OSHA guidance details proactive measures employers can take to protect workers from the coronavirus, such as social distancing measures and the use of physical barriers, face shields, and face coverings when employees are unable to physically distance at least 6 feet from each other. OSHA guidance also advises that employers should provide safety and health information through training, visual aids, and other means to communicate important safety warnings in a language their workers understand.

Smithfield has 15 business days from receipt of the citation and penalty to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Employers with questions on compliance with OSHA standards should contact their local OSHA office for guidance and assistance at 800-321-OSHA (6742). OSHA’s coronavirus response webpage offers extensive resources for addressing safety and health hazards during the evolving coronavirus pandemic.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, and assistance.

OSHA’s mission is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

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

Study finds Salmonella program was cost effective in Hungary

September 12, 2020 - 12:03am

An analysis of a Salmonella control program has found it was cost-effective in Hungary, according to researchers.

The authors conducted a retrospective analysis of the Hungarian Salmonella Control Program (HSCP) for 2007 to 2017 to assess the cost-effectiveness of it as a food safety intervention. Findings were published recently in the journal Food Control.

They decided to measure costs and benefits from the state’s perspective and not include those of others such as consumers or industry. The key things for the public budget include health sector expenses and national production loss due to work absence because of illness.

Costs spent on the interventions are justified by the health gain because of the decrease in human cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and the declining costs of health care services and productivity loss, said researchers.

Data came from national and international databases, literature or the researchers’ estimations. Country-specific cost of illness estimates and a quality-adjusted life year (QALY) -based burden estimate have been developed for human salmonellosis cases.

The program’s results were compared to a reference where incidence, hospitalization and mortality rates were extrapolated after 2007 by adjusting for annual changes in population demographics, as if no control measures had been introduced in Hungary.

EU control measures
To fight against zoonotic diseases, including Salmonella, the EU launched an extended control program in 2007. The cost-effectiveness of this program has not been examined at EU-level.

The control program aims to reduce the prevalence of Salmonella Enteritidis and Typhimurium in poultry flocks (breeding hens, laying hens, broilers, turkeys) and pigs. Animals positive for these serotypes are slaughtered and eggs are destroyed.

For Salmonella control programs the EU financed 50 percent of costs between 2007 and 2014. Since 2015, if certain conditions are met by a member state, it can apply for 75 percent co-financing. Costs of the HSCP were taken from annual reports by the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH).

This financing is for measures such as control and testing, compensation for animals being slaughtered or culled after testing positive, and for destroyed products, vaccines, cleaning and disinfection of the holding areas and equipment.

Hungarian data shows a decreasing prevalence of Salmonella Enteritidis and Typhimurium in flocks and human infections. In total, 4,722 cases were reported in 2016 with 1,745 hospitalizations and 12 deaths compared with 5,953 infections in 2010 with 2,168 hospitalizations and nine deaths.

Preventing illness and death justifies program costs
Results of the main analysis indicated the Salmonella control program in Hungary prevented more than 700,000 illnesses, at least 5,416 hospitalizations and 29 fatal cases between 2007 and 2017, at a public cost of €97.2 million ($115 million), including EU co-funding.

When the calculation was performed with original data on fatal cases taken from the ECDC database, results indicated that the HSCP was not cost-effective. In this scenario, the program did not result in less fatal cases over the examined period. If considering only the part paid from national sources instead of the total program, cost-effectiveness of the HSCP improved significantly.

“Differences in main analysis and sensitivity analysis findings clearly illustrate how methodological considerations can affect the results of such cost-utility assessments, and highlight the need for a harmonized methodological framework so that the cost-effectiveness of different programs could be compared to each other within and across countries,” said researchers.

Results of these analyses could support food safety managers and policymakers at national and/or EU levels to evaluate their Salmonella programs in the future and determine whether an intervention is cost effective or not.

Researchers said a next step could be an analysis considering the costs and benefit of the other stakeholders, especially the industry.

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

Most people in UK don’t check takeaway hygiene ratings

September 12, 2020 - 12:02am

Only one fifth of British people always check the hygiene rating of a takeaway restaurant before ordering, according to new research.

A survey of 1,000 adults in the United Kingdom in July 2020 found one in 10 say the hygiene rating does not affect their decision on placing an order.

The research was done by Furniture Choice. It is an area the company has not explored before but it was keen to highlight the popularity of takeaways across the country as something people enjoy as families.

The online furniture retailer wanted to look into 0-rated takeaways and highlight how often people don’t check the hygiene rating of their local site.

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) is run by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and local authorities. Display became mandatory in Wales in November 2013 and October 2016 in Northern Ireland. In England, businesses are not required by law to display their ratings. Premises are awarded a rating based on food hygiene standards ranging from 0 (urgent improvement necessary) to 5 (very good). The Food Hygiene Information Scheme (FHIS) covers Scotland.

Likeliness of checking hygiene rating by city
Based on data from the FSA as of early August, Birmingham had the most zero star hygiene rated takeaways followed by Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester, and Nottingham.

Although ranking third for the most 0-star hygiene rating takeaways, the poll revealed those in Bristol are the least likely to check hygiene ratings, with 36 percent admitting that they don’t check because the outcome doesn’t bother them.

Despite ranking second, nearly a third of people in Liverpool said they always check a takeaway’s hygiene rating. Residents of Sheffield are the most likely to check a hygiene rating out of all of major UK cities, and almost half of Newcastle households listed hygiene as one of the biggest factors to influence their decision when choosing a takeaway.

The menu is the biggest influence on people’s choice of where to order from, with nearly half saying it is an important factor. Only 15 percent said that online recommendations influence their takeaway decisions.

A quarter of participants said their go-to was Chinese cuisine, closely followed by Indian at 23 percent, fish and chips at 14 percent, and Italian at 12 percent.

Hygiene rating not a factor for those in Edinburgh
Takeaways are rated differently in Scotland with locations either achieving a pass or requiring improvement. Edinburgh comes out worse than Glasgow based on these rankings, with 137 takeaways requiring improvement.

No-one in Edinburgh said the hygiene rating of a takeaway influenced their decision to buy, with 36 percent admitting that they do not check the rating of their favorite takeaways because they don’t know where to find this information.

Tom Obbard, managing director at Furniture Choice, said households have spent more time together in recent months and ordering in food from restaurants and takeaways has been a treat for many.

“We do however recommend that before ordering, Brits check up on the hygiene rating of their chosen takeaway before parting with their hard-earned cash. All you need to do to check the takeaways score is visit the Food Standards Agency website and search your postcode,” he said.

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

Experts affirm that coronavirus is ‘highly unlikely’ to be food risk

September 11, 2020 - 12:05am

It is highly unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 is a food safety risk, according to an international group of scientists.

The International Commission for Microbiological Specifications of Foods (ICMSF) is a non-governmental organization and an observer to Codex Alimentarius. The chair is Martin Cole and members include Darrell W. Donahue and Lucia Anelich, as well as consultants Robert Buchanan and Jeffrey M. Farber.

The opinion covers the coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, which causes an illness called COVID-19. ICMSF shared technical and scientific insights it considered relevant for professionals in and along the food supply chain and governments overseeing food safety.

The ICMSF members believe it is highly unlikely that ingestion of SARS-CoV-2 will result in illness because there is no documented evidence that food is a significant source and/or vehicle for transmission. It is vital that one differentiates a hazard from a risk, i.e., the presence of an infectious agent on food does not necessarily mean an infection will occur, said experts.

In April, the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization published COVID-19 food safety guidance for businesses and another document with advice for food authorities.

Sampling and testing for virus not best use of resources
ICMSF experts said SARS-CoV-2 should not be considered a food safety hazard since such a hazard enters the human body with food via the gastrointestinal tract, where it can infect organs and tissues elsewhere in the body. Scientists gave an example of the hepatitis A virus, which enters the bloodstream and causes foodborne disease, ultimately establishing infection in the liver.

ICMSF does not advise testing of food end products or food environmental areas for the SARS-CoV-2 virus for food safety assurance. As SARS-CoV-2 does not pose a food safety risk, systematic sampling and testing for the virus is of no added value for these purposes. Because of uncertainties and inconsistencies around expected analytical results (RNA detection only), sampling plans and subsequent corrective actions do not represent the best use of food processing facility resources.

Despite the billions of meals consumed and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for the virus.

The opinion notes there are a few reports of SARS-CoV-2 virus being found on food ingredients, products and packaging materials and the virus cannot multiply in foods.

“In many instances such reports are not specific as to how the virus was identified, what amount was found and whether the virus was viable and infectious. As methods used for identification of the virus are primarily gene-based, what most of these reports show is the presence of RNA of the virus. They show a hazard to human health may be present. They do not show there actually is a hazard present such as a viable virus or that it is a risk to human health via ingestion or handling of the food. Viruses present on food or packaging will lose viability over time.”

Trade impact
Food trade and supply chains have seen major disruptions due to the impact on health of the workforce operating along the farm-to-fork supply chain.

Some countries are restricting food imports, testing imported products and/or asking for COVID-19 freedom statements. ICMSF believes these controls are not scientifically justified, as there is no documented evidence that food is a significant source and/or vehicle for transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Some Chinese importers are requesting exporters sign a COVID-19 declaration. China’s customs officials have been testing for COVID-19 on food, packaging and the environment at the border since February this year.

Reports from China have suggested imported salmon from Norway, chicken from Brazil and shrimp from Ecuador or their packaging has tested positive for the virus. Following the chicken findings, Philippines suspended poultry imports from Brazil in mid-August and Hong Kong banned imports from the one affected plant. Both countries have now lifted these restrictions.

Discovery of genetic traces of SARS-CoV-2 on food may raise concerns about safety but this does not indicate a risk for public health and should not be a basis for restricting food trade or initiating a recall, said ICMSF experts.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the production, trade and distribution of food to the extent that food security is being affected in several regions.

ICMSF said SARS-CoV-2 is an occupational hazard that may affect the health of employees and their ability to work. The focus for food businesses should be on protecting workers, consumers and restaurant patrons from being infected by person-to-person spread.

In food businesses, effective measures can best be built upon and integrated into the good hygienic practices and food safety management systems, such as those based on HACCP, that firms may already have to ensure hygiene in operations and consumer safety of products produced, handled and manufactured. Companies should validate whether measures are effective and should regularly verify whether they are implemented appropriately in daily operations.

Processing environment risk factors such as humidity, cold temperatures, limited air flow, physical exertion, talking and shouting have been suggested to increase the opportunity for person-to-person spread.

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

Wisconsin reports first human death from the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus

September 11, 2020 - 12:04am
A Wisconsin woman in her 60s has succumbed to the eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus, state laboratory testing has confirmed. She is one of two known human cases of the EEE virus, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS)

“We are very sad to report that one of our fellow Wisconsinites has contracted EEE and has passed away. This is the second confirmed case of EEE in our state this year and the seriousness of this infection cannot be overstated,” cautioned Interim State Health Officer Stephanie Smiley. “Since mosquitoes continue to be active in Wisconsin, we are urging people to continue to take steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”

There have also been nine cases of EEE reported in horses this year; all of which were in the northwestern part of the state, and four of those from Chippewa County, which is where the dead woman lived. These cases in animals and now in two residents of our community represent unusually high levels of EEE activity in the state.

EEE virus is a rare, but potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages. Symptoms begin anywhere from three to 10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Inflammation and swelling of the brain, called encephalitis, is the most dangerous and frequent serious complication. In Wisconsin, the most recent human case of EEE was reported in 2017.

EEE can be spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes acquire the EEE virus by feeding on infected birds. The virus is not spread person to person or directly between animals and humans.

And people who eat a lot of potassium or salt or drink alcohol may be more likely to attract mosquitoes, according to experts. Potassium-rich foods like bananas, avocados, and dried fruit are among foods thought to attract mosquitoes.

And mosquitoes are active during cooler fall temperatures, meaning the risk of EEE and other illnesses spread by mosquitoes are not yet over. The single best prevention tool continues to be avoiding mosquito bites.

Avoid mosquito bites

  • Apply an insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 to exposed skin and clothing.
  • Prior to heading outdoors, treat clothing with permethrin; do not apply permethrin directly to the skin.
  • Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during evening or early morning hours, when mosquitoes are most active
  • Wear long-sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors to help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.

Mosquito-proof your home

  • Make sure window and door screens are intact and tightly-fitted to prevent mosquitoes from getting into your home.
  • Prevent mosquitoes from breeding around your home by removing stagnant water from items around your property, such as tin cans, plastic containers, flower pots, discarded tires, roof gutters, and downspouts.
  • Turn over wheelbarrows, kiddie pools, buckets, and small boats such as canoes and kayaks when not in use.
  • Change the water in birdbaths and pet dishes at least every three days.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas, and hot tubs; drain water from pool covers.
  • Trim or mow tall grass, weeds, and vines since mosquitoes use these areas to rest during hot daylight hours.

Protect Your Animals

  • Animal owners should reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools – especially after heavy rains.
  • Owners should also speak with their veterinarian about mosquito repellents approved for use in animals and vaccinations to prevent WNV and EEE.

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

WHO to update foodborne disease estimates; FERG experts sought

September 11, 2020 - 12:01am

The World Health Organization (WHO) is planning to update figures on the burden of foodborne diseases by 2025.

At a meeting of the WHO Executive Board in February in Switzerland, experts discussed food safety under “accelerating efforts on food safety” and recommended adoption of a resolution on “strengthening efforts on food safety.”

The World Health Assembly, held virtually in May, adopted the resolution, which called for WHO to monitor, and to report to member states on, the global burden of foodborne diseases at national, regional and international levels.

It also asked for another report on the global burden of foodborne diseases by 2025 with up-to-date estimates of incidence, mortality and disease burden in terms of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).

FERG to return
The WHO is now calling for experts to serve on the reactivated advisory group, Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG), to estimate the global burden of foodborne disease.

The group will advise WHO on the methodology to estimate the global burden of foodborne diseases, review epidemiological data on the disease burden, identify technical gaps and priorities for research, and advise WHO on the development of and methodology to monitor food safety-related indicators.

According to estimates published in 2015 from the FERG, foodborne infections caused 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths in 2010. That report produced the first-ever global estimates on the burden of foodborne diseases. It involved 40 advisory panel members that had eight meetings between 2006 and 2014.

Children are disproportionately impacted. According to the WHO FERG estimates, although children younger than 5 years old represent only 9 percent of the global population, 40 percent of the foodborne disease burden is in this age group. There are also differences in the burden of foodborne diseases among sub-regions with the highest observed in Africa.

Boosting evidence base
The First International Conference on Food Safety in Addis Ababa in February 2019 and the International Forum on Food Safety and Trade in Geneva in April 2019 reviewed food safety globally and identified new and emerging challenges.

One issue highlighted in those conferences was the importance of improving the evidence base for food safety decisions through monitoring food hazards, surveillance of foodborne diseases, and estimating the public health and economic burden of foodborne diseases.

Interested applicants should fill out the online application form and submit a resume, filled Declaration of Interest, and a list of publications, no later than Oct. 31.

The FERG will have up to 20 members involved in their personal capacities and meetings are planned annually. They will be appointed for three years and shall be eligible for reappointment.

In August, the WHO issued another call for experts to serve on a technical advisory group (TAG) for two years to advise the agency’s work in food safety.

WHO will update the Global Strategy for Food Safety: safer food for better health and aims to deliver a new plan by 2022. The deadline for this call is Sept. 11.

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

Federal alerts include milk products from China, aquaculture seafood

September 11, 2020 - 12:00am

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

Description

URL

IA-16-119

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Fish And Fishery Products For Importer And Foreign Processor (Manuf) Combinations

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_23.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-16-81

Detention Without Physical Examination of Seafood Products Due to the Presence of Salmonella

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_49.html

IA-45-02

Detention Without Physical Examination and Guidance of Foods Containing Illegal and/or Undeclared Colors

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_118.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-68-19

DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF UNAPPROVED NEW ANIMAL DRUGS

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1147.html

IA-76-01

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Medical Instruments from Pakistan 2

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

IA-95-05

Detention Without Physical Examination of Electronic Products That Fail to Comply with Performance Standards or No Certification

None

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-99-30

Detention Without Physical Examination of All Milk Products, Milk Derived Ingredients and Finished Food Products Containing Milk from China Due to the Presence of Melamine and/or Melamine Analogs

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_401.html

IA-99-38

DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF LOW-ACID CANNED FOODS OR ACIDIFIED FOODS DUE TO INADEQUATE PROCESS CONTROL

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1132.html

IA-99-39

DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF IMPORTED FOOD PRODUCTS THAT APPEAR TO BE MISBRANDED

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1144.html

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

USDA puts inspectors on egg “patrol” and gives egg producers more flexibility

September 10, 2020 - 12:04am

Federal egg inspections are getting an update for the first time in 50 years, according to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The new egg inspection rule will take effect at 83 USDA-inspected eggplants as soon it is published in the Federal Register.

Egg producers, under the new rule, will be able to use food safety procedures designed to accommodate their specific plant and equipment.

The change by the Trump administration is intended to help egg producers recover from the losses they experienced during the pandemic. Food safety might be eroded by the change, according to consumer advocates.

Production of egg substitutes, which previously were regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will now fall under USDA oversight.FSIS inspectors will make one visit during each shift rather than being on-site whenever eggs are being processed.

The egg inspection changes are part of the FSIS modernization program already implemented for poultry and swine.Changes to egg inspection were first rolled out for comment in 2018.

“We feel very confident that, based on the once per shift that we have them there, we’ll still be able to verify that they’re producing safe products,” says FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker.He says FSIS personnel will “patrol” multiple plants daily.

Some consumer groups question whether a patrol system will be effective as a continuous inspection.Kiecker says the change will use inspectors more effectively. Egg producers will be responsible for implementing plans for sanitation and food safety management systems known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.

HACCP planning puts more responsibility on egg producers to ensure they are producing safe products, according to the FSIS Administrator.

USDA said the changes in egg products inspection methods are the first since Congress passed the Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA) in 1970. The Egg Products Inspection Regulations final rule aligns the egg products regulations to be consistent with current requirements in the meat and poultry products inspection regulations.

“Requiring egg product plants to develop food safety systems and procedures similar to meat and poultry requirements is a significant milestone in modernizing our inspection system,” said Kiecker. “FSIS is continuing to carry out its public health mission to prevent foodborne illness.”

Under the new rule, federally inspected egg products plants are required to develop and implement Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). FSIS will continue to test for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in egg products. FSIS requires that plants produce egg products that meet food safety standards and are edible without additional preparation and nothing in the final rule changes those requirements.

Under the HACCP system, plants will be able to tailor a food safety system that best fits their particular facility and equipment. Furthermore, by removing prescriptive regulations, egg products plants will have the flexibility and the incentive to innovate new means to achieve enhanced food safety.

In addition, FSIS will be assuming regulatory authority over egg substitutes and freeze-dried egg products, which pose the same risk as egg products and will be inspected in the same manner, enhancing the existing food safety system.

The agency has also realigned the regulations governing the importation and inspection of foreign egg products more closely with the regulations governing the importation of foreign meat and poultry products. FSIS will notify foreign countries of the regulatory changes. Countries that have ongoing equivalence and most countries that have requested initial equivalence for egg products already have HACCP implemented for egg products for their domestic products.

Note: This is an advance copy of the document submitted to the Office of the Federal Register and may be subject to minor changes.

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

Listeria rise continues but other pathogens decline in Sweden

September 10, 2020 - 12:02am

The number of people infected with E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter decreased but there was an increase for Listeria in Sweden in 2019.

The report, published by the National Veterinary Institute (SVA), also noted record highs for Yersinia and cryptosporidium.

Domestic incidence of campylobacteriosis was lower in 2019 compared with the 8,132 cases in 2018 and in recent years when several large outbreaks were related to domestically produced chicken. A total of 6,693 cases were reported in 2019, of which, 2,865 were domestic. For these, the median age was 47 with a range from 0 to 97 years old. Like previous years, the domestic incidence was higher among adults than children, and more men (56 percent) than women were reported.

In August 2019, a survey by the Swedish Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) saw 100 samples of fresh chicken meat collected at retail and analyzed. Campylobacter was detected in 51 percent of them and levels exceeded 10 CFU/g in 13 percent of samples. Food businesses at five slaughterhouses collected 419 pooled neck skin samples. Test results were satisfactory and only seven exceeded the limit of 1,000 CFU/g.

Increasing Listeria trend
During 2019 listeriosis rose slightly compared to 2018 and there is an increasing trend in Sweden and other EU countries. In total, 113 cases were reported compared to 89 in 2018. Twenty people died within one month of diagnosis. The median age was 75 and as in previous years, most were people over 80 years old. Sixty-four cases were females and 49 were males.

One Swedish case was connected to a Norwegian outbreak from rakfisk, a fermented fish product. The fish to be fermented in Norway was produced in Sweden and the outbreak strain was found at the Swedish establishment. Sweden had four historical cases from 2015 to 2016 in an outbreak linked to cold-smoked or gravad fish from a production plant in Estonia. A rare strain of Listeria monocytogenes in Sweden (ST 91) caused one case of listeriosis. A sample of unpasteurized French cheese, Brie de Meaux, from the freezer of the patient was positive for the outbreak strain.

“In 2019 as in previous years, typing using WGS indicated that many of the linked cases were geographically dispersed and that the sources of infection had persisted for many years,” according to the report.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)
In 2019, 756 STEC cases were reported of which 415 were domestic, compared to 892 cases of which 627 were domestic in 2018. The long-term trend for STEC infection in Sweden is rising. As in previous years, the incidence was highest in children. In total 80 different serotypes were identified. The most common were O157: H7, O26: H11, and O103: H2.

STEC-associated hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) was reported in 22 cases of which 18 were domestically acquired. Eleven were children under the age of 10. Ten domestic HUS cases belonged to serotype O157: H7.

In 2019, an unusually high number of farms in southern Sweden, 12 in total, were investigated following suspicion of STEC infection. The repeated occurrence of STEC O26 among farms in recent years is notable. This echoes a trend of increasing human O26 cases in Sweden. A nationwide cattle slaughterhouse prevalence study targeting O26 and O157 will be conducted in 2020 and 2021.

Domestic rise for Salmonella
In 2019, 1,993 cases of salmonellosis were reported, compared to 2,040 in 2018. Domestic cases increased from 677 in 2018 to 763 in 2019. Thailand is the top country for travel-associated salmonellosis, although the number has decreased in the past years.

Among domestic cases, the median age was 45 years with a range of 0 to 94, and incidence was highest for children younger than 5 followed by people over 80 years old. The most common serovars from domestic cases were monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium, Enteritidis, and Typhimurium. Around 70 other types were identified in domestic cases.

In July 2019, the County of Dalarna informed the Public Health Agency of Sweden about 15 people with salmonellosis with an epidemiological link to a pizzeria/kebab restaurant. Food analyses identified Salmonella Enteritidis in sliced cucumber and sliced tomatoes as well as on a worktop where food was prepared. Identical strains were found in nine Norwegian patients who had been in Sweden during this time, but it could not be confirmed they had visited the restaurant.

During July through November, 33 people from 12 counties were notified with Salmonella Newport. Most of those sick had eaten a brand of frozen pre-cooked Chinese crayfish, which was recalled by the retail company. Salmonella Newport was detected in samples of crayfish taken by the retailer and in border control.

In early autumn 2019, the county of Jönköping reported an increase in salmonellosis. The outbreak spread nationally, and a case-control study pointed towards small tomatoes being the likely source. In total, 82 cases were identified.

In October 2019, a cluster of Salmonella Mikawasima was identified. Simultaneously, an outbreak alert was launched at the EU level by Public Health England. Epidemiological studies did not identify a suspected food item but pointed towards a source with a short expiry date widely distributed in Europe. In total, 36 cases were identified in 12 counties. Internationally, almost 200 cases were reported.

Record Crypto levels
In 2019, 1,088 cases of cryptosporidiosis were reported. This is the highest incidence since 2004 when it became a notifiable disease. A total of 771 cases were domestic, 304 travel-associated and for 13 there was no information on place of infection. Most of the travel-associated cases were from Portugal closely followed by Spain and Turkey.

In autumn 2019, there was a substantial increase in domestic reported cases of cryptosporidiosis, and five foodborne outbreaks of C. parvum were identified through typing and surveys. A total of 450 of 771 of the annual domestic cases were reported from October to December.

Unpasteurized juice with spinach was identified as the source of infection for most cases. No source of infection was identified for the second most common subtype. Other common subtypes were found in cases that had visited different Christmas buffets in December where fresh kale from four producers in the southern part of Sweden was the probable source of infection.

In May, one patient sought care for abdominal symptoms in Jönköping county. They attended a confirmation reception where 11 to 12 others also reported abdominal symptoms. Four samples were analyzed and were positive for C. parvum. Through surveys, green salad was identified as the probable cause of infection. A smaller outbreak of Cryptosporidium chipmunk genotype I was detected at a pre-school in Stockholm in September. The suspected source of infection was a culture of peas in the yard of the pre-school where red squirrels had been spotted.

Tick-borne encephalitis and Brucella
In a survey in 2019, antibodies to the Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) were found in four of 108 tested bulk milk samples.

Although most cases acquire the TBE infection via tick bites it can be foodborne. Outbreaks and clusters of cases caused by the consumption of unpasteurized milk products have been described in Baltic, Balkan, and central European countries. The survey showed the virus circulates in the Swedish population of dairy cattle.

In 2019, 14 brucellosis cases were reported, which is within the range seen during the past 10 years. Seven were travel-associated mainly from the Middle East and Horn of Africa regions. Three cases were domestic infections. Seven cases ate unpasteurized milk products, three had consumed the products in Iraq and one person with a domestic infection had eaten unpasteurized cheese purchased in Iraq.

Yersinia at the highest level in a decade
During 2019, 393 Yersinia cases were reported. This is the highest incidence in 10 years. The proportion infected in Sweden increased from around 75 percent in previous years to near 80 percent of cases. Similar to previous years, the incidence was high among children younger than five years.

Two large outbreaks were identified and both mainly included cases in the age group 15 to 39-year-olds. In the first outbreak, an unusual increase of Y. enterocolitica and Y. enterocolitica O3 biotype 4 was identified. Denmark reported a match and in the Danish case-control study, there was a clear link to fresh spinach from a large retail store. A trace-back investigation found a common producer of fresh spinach supplying both the Danish and Swedish markets via different wholesalers. In total, 57 cases were identified and 37 came from Sweden.

Most cases in the second outbreak were reported in May. In total, 30 cases and all isolates formed a cluster within the same type of Yersinia enterocolitica as the first outbreak. However, no source could be identified.

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

State prosecutor acts in Backer beer contamination incident

September 10, 2020 - 12:02am

Public prosecutors in a Brazilian state have filed a complaint against certain employees from a brewery that sold contaminated beer linked to the deaths of 10 people.

The action by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Minas Gerais includes 10 people allegedly involved in the contamination of Backer’s beers and a witness for reportedly making a false statement during the police investigation.

If any of the 10, including the three-part owners of the brewery and seven staff involved in making the beer, are convicted they could face between four and eight years in prison.

Glycol poisoning
The complaint alleges that between 2018 and Jan. 9, 2020 the three owner-partners of the business in Belo Horizonte sold beer adulterated by a toxic substance in the production process that harmed consumers.

People were poisoned by diethylene glycol after drinking beer from the Backer brewery. The company had said it never bought diethylene glycol but did use mono ethylene glycol.

Police in Minas Gerais found a leak in a tank that started in September 2019. This hole allowed the coolant liquid circulating in an external system to mix with the drink inside the container. Eleven people linked to the company were indicted as part of that investigation which concluded in June that it was an accident likely caused by a manufacturing defect.

Also in June, the Minas Gerais State Department of Health reported 42 suspected cases of poisoning by diethylene glycol with symptoms including blindness and facial paralysis.

Mapa final report
A report this past month by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Supply (Mapa) said more than 80 thousand liters of beer of various brands and batches from the company had been removed from the market or seized at the brewery. This included more than 56,600 bottles. In the state of Espírito Santo, more than 9,000 bottles of potentially contaminated beer were withdrawn from sale.

This 76-page report claimed contamination had occurred since January 2019 and diethylene glycol and mono ethylene glycol contamination was not restricted to batches that passed through one tank as it occurred in beers prepared prior to the installation of this unit. From about 600 samples tested, glycols were found in 36 lots produced in 2019 and 2020 in varying concentrations.

MAPA said the company had gaps in its internal control and management systems, with incomplete information in production reports and inefficient traceability.

As of August, the Backer factory remained shut until it could be confirmed there are no risks for the production of beers on site, according to authorities.

In January, the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) banned the sale of Backer beers with an expiration date from August 2020 onwards.

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

Publisher’s Platform – Food Safety Month – We need some work

September 9, 2020 - 11:31pm

According to the FDA, September is National Food Safety Education Month!

This month take an active role in preventing foodborne illness, also known as “food poisoning.” The Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually – that’s about 1 in 6 Americans each year. Each year, these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

Well, the work that State and Local Health Departments, the CDC and FDA have done over the last months, underscores why we need a month to think about what we need to do to prevent these outbreaks.

Cyclospora – Fresh Express Salad

As of August 26, 2020, 1,102 laboratory-confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis in people who had no history of international travel during the 14-day period before illness onset have been reported to CDC by 35 jurisdictions, including 34 states and New York City, since May 1, 2020.

As of August 12, 2020, a total of 690 people with laboratory-confirmed Cyclospora infections associated with this outbreak have been reported from 13 states: Georgia (1), Illinois (209), Iowa (206), Kansas (5), Massachusetts (1), Minnesota (86), Missouri (57) Nebraska (55), North Dakota (6), Ohio (4), Pennsylvania (2), South Dakota (13), and Wisconsin (45). The ill person from Georgia purchased and ate a bagged salad product while traveling in Missouri.

In Canada, as of July 8, 2020, there are 37 confirmed cases of Cyclospora illness linked to this outbreak in three provinces: Ontario (26), Quebec (10) and Newfoundland and Labrador (1). Individuals became sick between mid-May and mid-June 2020. One individual has been hospitalized.

Salmonella – Thomson International, Inc. Onions

As of August 31, 2020, a total of 1,012 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Newport have been reported from 47 states.

As of August 31, 2020, there have been 457 confirmed cases of Salmonella Newport illness linked to this outbreak in the following provinces: British Columbia (107), Alberta (257), Saskatchewan (33), Manitoba (25), Ontario (11), Quebec (23) and Prince Edward Island (1).

Salmonella – Wawona Peaches

As of September 2, 2020, there have been 48 confirmed case of Salmonella Enteritidis illness linked to this outbreak in two provinces: Ontario (32) and Quebec (16).

As of August 27, 2020, a total of 78 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 12 states: Connecticut (1), Iowa (8), Kentucky (1), Maryland (1), Michigan (17), Minnesota, (23), Missouri (1), New Jersey (7), New York (9), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (3) and Wisconsin (5).

We have some work to do.

Beyond Meat inks agreement with food safety challenged China to produce its plant-based proteins

September 9, 2020 - 12:08am

In the past decade, Beyond Meat’s plant-based protein offerings have become ubiquitous in the marketplace.   It’s gone far with its claim that its meat substitute   is “the future of food.”

Now, however, Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat has to persuade finicky American consumers that the future includes a detour through the People’s Republic of China, a country with one of the most atrocious food safety records in the world.  Food safety scandals in China include a seemingly endless list of foods and poisons..   Some examples include poisonous Jinhua ham, counterfeit baby formula, adulterated pickled vegetables, counterfeit alcoholic drinks, poisonous mushrooms, sewage in tofu manufacturing, fake eggs, expired meats, gutter oil, pesticide residues, and sodium formaldehyde Sulfoxylate, just to name a few.

All that history aside, Beyond Meat has signed an agreement with  Jiaxing Economic & Technological Development Zone “to design and develop manufacturing facilities in the JXEDZ, including a state-of-the-art production facility to manufacture plant-based meat products including beef, pork, and chicken under the Beyond Meat brand in China.”

Jiaxing is a northern, water-connected  Chinese city that some remember for when at least thousands of hog carcasses were found floating in the local Huangpu River.  The JXEDZ, according to Beyond Meat, is a new “historic and commercially important development zone with ready access to Shanghai.”

 “Beyond Meat is building the perfect road to long term success in China, said Micky Pant, senior advisor to Beyond Meat,  “It has the confidence to set up dedicated, cutting edge production capacity via a wholly-owned subsidiary, located on the mainland close to Shanghai. The JXEDZ is a visionary and proactive partner with an excellent record in supporting the food industry.”

Supply chains not previously considered risky because of their Chinese links are now under serious review because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Going the other way, however,  Beyond Meat, Inc. will be the first multinational company focused solely on plant-based meat production to bring its own major production facility into China.

Food production in China has come at a price because of the country’s poor food safety record, which often puts children at risk.  Many American consumers ceased buying food produced in China more than a decade ago when milk powder was dosed with melamine, sending thousands of children to hospitals and killing several.

Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown is apparently not among them.

China is one of the world’s largest markets for animal-based meat products, and potentially for plant-based meat,” Brown said.  “We are delighted and confident that after several months of productive and collaborative discussions, we will partner with the JXEDZ to develop two production facilities, including one of the world’s largest and technologically advanced plant-based meat factories. We are very impressed by the capabilities and vision of the JXEDZ and they are the ideal partner for us in this vitally important country and market.” 

Candy Chan, General Manager for Beyond Meat in China added, “With its expertise in the food industry, proximity to Shanghai, and excellent logistics and people capabilities, the JXEDZ will be the perfect partner and location for our ambitious plans for the China market.”

The general director of the Jiaxing Economic & Technological Development Zone is happy with the deal.

“We are very happy to welcome Beyond Meat to our Economic Development Zone and to China. It is our vision to support high-quality investors in starting their ventures in China, and we are aligned with the vision of Beyond Meat to bring new, high technology food products that are nutritious and environmentally friendly to the Chinese market,” he said. ” We look forward to a long relationship and mutually beneficial partnership with this dynamic new-age company.”

Trial production is expected to commence within months with full-scale production in early 2021. China is expected to be one of the most important markets in the world for Beyond Meat, as a production and R&D center, and as a major market in the years to come.

It remains to be seen how American consumers will respond.   When USDA permitted China to process chickens raised and slaughtered in the U.S., Canada, and Chile, thousands of American consumers protested because of China’s dismal reputation for food safety.

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

Pages