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Nestlé recalls more than 2 dozen cookie dough products because of rubber bits

November 1, 2019 - 9:23pm

Complaints about pieces of “food grade” rubber in some cookie dough has spurred Nestlé USA to initiate a nationwide recall of 26 ready-to-bake products.

The multi-national company reports distributing the refrigerated, raw, Nestlé Toll House dough in the continental United States and Puerto Rico. The recalled cookie dough products are sold in tubes, flat plastic packages and tubs.

Consumers who may have purchased the products should not prepare or consume them but should instead discard the product, the company urged in its recall notice.  

“We have identified the source of the rubber and have already fixed the issue,” the Nestle company reported in its Oct. 31 recall notice, which was posted today by the Food and Drug Administration. “We are working with the U.S. FDA on this voluntary recall and will cooperate with them fully.”

No injuries or illnesses had been confirmed as of the posting of the recall notice, according to the company.

Consumers should look for specific batch codes on the 26 recalled products to determine if the specific packages they have in their homes are subject to the recall. For a list of the recalled products and implicated codes, please click here.

For consumer support and product questions the public can call 800-681-1676, or email nestleproductinquiry@casupport.com. Consumers who have proof of purchase and contact Nestlé consumer services at nestleproductinquiry@casupport.com.

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New outbreak associated with ground beef; one person dead from Salmonella

November 1, 2019 - 8:39pm

One person is dead and a total of eight have been hospitalized in an outbreak of Salmonella Dublin infections linked to ground beef. People started getting sick in August. Federal officials reported the outbreak this afternoon.

Investigators have not identified a specific brand of ground beef in relation to the six-state outbreak, according to an announcement posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Salmonella Dublin serotype is known for causing serious infections and the CDC noted this outbreak is producing an 80 percent hospitalization rate instead of the usual 20 percent rate associated with Salmonella illnesses.

The CDC is not recommending that people avoid ground beef. Rather, the agency is urging the public to take food safety into its own hands and be sure to avoid eating raw or undercooked ground beef. The federal agency also reminded consumers to take precautions such as washing their hands and kitchen utensils after handling raw meat.

“Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicates that ground beef might be contaminated with Salmonella Dublin and is making people sick. At this time, the investigation has not identified a single, common supplier of ground beef,” the CDC reported.

A total of 10 people in six states have been confirmed as infected, according to the CDC. One of them in California died.

“In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill,” the CDC reported. “Of eight people interviewed, six (75 percent) reported eating ground beef at home. This percentage is significantly higher than results from a survey of healthy people in which 40 percent of respondents reported eating any ground beef at home in the week before they were interviewed.

“Ill people reported buying ground beef from various stores.”

Investigators collected a sample ground beef from the home of a sick person in California and tested it. The beef was contaminated with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Dublin. The sample was from ground beef that was left over and had been repackaged.

The CDC reported the following states with lab-confirmed patients as of today: California with 2, including the patient who died; Colorado 3; Iowa 1; Kansas 2; Oklahoma 1; and Texas 1.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from Aug. 8 to Sept. 22. However, there are likely yet unreported sick people because of the time lag between symptom onset, initial testing, confirmation testing, notification of state officials and notification of federal officials. The process can take four or more weeks for Salmonella infections.

The outbreak victims range in age from 48 to 74 years, with a median age of 68. Eighty percent of ill people are male. In half of the 10 confirmed patients, Salmonella was found in samples of blood, which indicates their illnesses may have been more severe.

“Typically, Salmonella Dublin illnesses are more severe because they can cause bloodstream infections, which are serious and require hospitalization,” according to the CDC.

About Salmonella infections
While Salmonella Dublin infections can be more serious than infections from other strains of the pathogen, there are some common signs and symptoms of salmonellosis.

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 ground beef 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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FDA hid romaine-related outbreak from public view for more than 6 weeks

November 1, 2019 - 12:56am

A not so public public outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce sickened people in a dozen states from July through early September, but U.S. officials did not release any information about it until Halloween.

Both the FDA and CDC investigated the outbreak of infections from potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7, but the federal agencies “did not identify actionable information for consumers” and therefore did not reveal the outbreak. The top food safety official at the Food and Drug Administration took the opportunity Thursday night to post a statement about the outbreak and to remind the leafy greens industry to review its food safety practices.

That reminder from Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, comes in the wake of two E. coli outbreaks in 2018 that sickened more than 270 people total, killing five. The outbreaks had unusually high hospitalization rates of between 46 percent and 48 percent. The outbreaks were traced to romaine lettuce from the Yuma, AZ, and California Central Coast growing regions.

Yiannas made it clear on Halloween that neither he nor the FDA believe the public should avoid romaine lettuce.

“The FDA is communicating details about the outbreak at this time to help ensure full awareness by the public and to highlight the ongoing importance of industry actions to help ensure the safety of leafy greens. Federal health officials do not believe there is a current or ongoing risk to public health,” according to the statement from Yiannas.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the FDA about the outbreak in “mid-September,” according to the Halloween statement. Yiannas said the FDA immediately began an investigation that included state agencies. Investigators were sent to visit farms located in California’s Central Coast region that were identified through a traceback investigation.

However, because it was believed that all of the implicated romaine lettuce was past its shelf life, the FDA did not opt for public transparency, instead choosing to leave the outbreak in the shadows.

“. . .when romaine lettuce was identified as the likely source of the outbreak, the available data at the time indicated that the outbreak was not ongoing and romaine lettuce eaten by sick people was past its shelf life and no longer available for sale,” according to the statement issued by FDA’s Yiannas.

“. . . Since the outbreak strain was not detected in samples collected from farms during the traceback investigation, and there have been no new cases since Sept. 8, 2019, the outbreak appears to be over.”

Failing to reveal the outbreak as soon as the CDC and FDA became aware of it is an example of an inexcusable lack of transparency on the part of the government, said Seattle-based food safety attorney Bill Marler.

Marler said withholding information about the outbreak shows a synergy between government and industry that is not in the best interest of public health.

“I learned about this outbreak last week but assumed the information was incorrect because I just couldn’t imagine the FDA and CDC would withhold such vital information from the public,” Marler said Thursday night after reading the FDA statement.

“Transparency on behalf of people in charge of food safety is absolutely vital for us to protect the public health. If FDA and CDC aren’t transparent in these situations they just don’t care about food safety.” 

Outbreak investigators collected and tested environmental samples from some romaine farms, but the outbreak strain was not identified, according to the FDA statement. While romaine lettuce is the likely cause of the outbreak, the investigation did not identify a common source or point where contamination occurred.

The outbreak sickened 23 people in 12 states. Of those patients with complete information available, 11 were so sick they had to be hospitalized. The states where illnesses were confirmed and the number of sick people in each state were: Arizona with 3, California 8, Florida 1, Georgia 1, Illinois 2, Maryland 1, North Carolina 1, Nevada 1, New York 1, Oregon 1, Pennsylvania 2, and South Carolina 1.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from July 12 to Sept. 8. No illnesses were reported after CDC began investigating the outbreak on Sept. 17, according to the FDA statement. 

Editor’s note: Bill Marler is publisher of Food Safety News.

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Congress wants consumers to be able to identify the fake and foreign beef and pork

November 1, 2019 - 12:05am

Better beef labeling may not be imminent, but it may be bubbling to the top again.

This week brought a new round proposals designed spur discussion on the topic, including reviving a more meaningful country of origin labeling for beef.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) currently does not require that beef be born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. to carry a “Product of the U.S.A.” label.

The World Trade Organization ruled against the United States when it had the tougher standard, and Congress repealed it to avoid punishing tariff penalties.

That created a loophole that allows beef from livestock born and raised in foreign countries to be labeled “Product of the U.S.A.” as long as the beef undergoes additional processing at a processing plant in the U.S.

South Dakota’s Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune want to close that loophole. They are trying to pass the “U.S. Beef Integrity Act” to make certain that the “Product of the U.S.A.” label only goes to beef and beef products exclusively derived from one or more animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.

“Today’s beef labeling rules are misleading and allow beef and beef products from cattle born, raised and slaughtered outside of the U.S. to be labeled as U.S. beef,” Rounds said. “This must be fixed for both consumers and our hardworking producers.”

“For South Dakota ranchers, ‘Product of the U.S.A’ is far more than a label. It’s a sense of pride, and it represents a way of life,” said Thune. “This legislation is straightforward and common sense, two qualities that are often lacking in Washington and are made up for by South Dakotans and their hardworking spirit. It’s with our ranchers and agriculture community in mind that I’m proud to support this bill to give consumers more accurate information about what’s on the grocery store shelf and help showcase America’s beef products – the best in the world – as clearly and as proudly as possible.”

While opting for a congressional resolution on the country of origin labeling (COOL), Montana’s Democrat Senator Jon Tester is on the same track as the two South Dakota Republicans.

Tester introduced a resolution supporting the reestablishing of a COOL program. The United States Cattlemen’s Association said Tester’s resolution “puts for a firm statement of support for COOL, which was repealed in 2015.

“We’re incredibly grateful for Sen. Tester continuing to champion Truth in Labeling efforts through the introduction of this resolution,” a USCA statement said. It urged other senators to follow Tester’s lead and stand with American consumers and ranching families.

COOL reached the public stage through the 2004 and 2008 Farm Bills, but it was not fully implemented until May 2013. It was only hen that foreign labels on imported beef and pork had to be retained through the retail sale.

The Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund or R-CALF also praised the Tester resolution. “Since COOL’s repeal, consumers have been unable to differentiate foreign beef from U.S. beef and U.S. cattle producers have been unable to compete against increasing influx of foreign beef and cattle,” the R-CALF statement said.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. House of Representatives,  Congressmen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) have introduced the Real MEAT (Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully) Act of 2019.

Specifically, The Real Meat Act will:

1. Codify the Definition of Beef for Labeling Purposes
• Establish a federal definition of beef that applies to food labels;
• Preserve the Congressional Intent of the Beef Promotion and Research Act;

2. Reinforce Existing Misbranding Provisions to Eliminate Consumer Confusion
• FDA has misbranding provisions for false or misleading labels;
• Prevent further consumer confusion with alternative protein products;
• Clarify the imitation nature of these alternative protein products;

3.Enhance the Federal Government’s Ability to Enforce the Law
• FDA will have to notify USDA if an imitation meat product is determined to be misbranded;
• If FDA fails to undertake enforcement within 30 days of notifying USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture is granted authority to seek enforcement action.

“Consumers should be able to rely on the information on food labels they see on the shelves to be truthful and not deceptive,” Rep. Marshall said. “For years now, alternative protein products have confused many consumers with misleading packaging and creative names for products. With this bill, consumers can be sure that the meat products they are buying are indeed real meat.”

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Tropane alkaloids caused Ugandan food aid outbreaks

November 1, 2019 - 12:04am

International investigations have found two outbreaks of illness in Uganda were likely caused by food aid contaminated with tropane alkaloids.

Five people died and about 300 fell sick after eating Super Cereal distributed in Karamoja in March and April. An August outbreak of sickness in Palabek refugee settlement in the north of the country affected 33 people.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is to destroy global stocks of the blended food product.

Distribution of Super Cereal, produced by one of WFP’s suppliers, was suspended following the outbreak and pending investigations that have identified the product as the most probable cause of illness. WFP is substituting Super Cereal Plus for Super Cereal in Uganda.

Mistake means contaminated stock distributed
Peter Smerdon, a WFP spokesperson, told Food Safety News distribution of Super Cereal from the Turkish supplier involved and all other firms remain suspended in Uganda and there are no plans for it to resume soon.

“Globally WFP would be disposing of 20,000 metric tons of Super Cereal, valued at $12 million U.S. These stocks have been kept secure in WFP or partner warehouses since April 9 as investigations continued. WFP halted the distribution globally of all products from the supplier involved and is not procuring any food from the company,” he said.

The investigation, involving international food safety experts, indicated the probable cause of sickness was contamination of Super Cereal by tropane alkaloids during harvesting or production. This can occur when wild plants from the Solanaceae family enter the food supply chain.

Smerdon said the smaller August outbreak has also been attributed to contaminated Super Cereal.

“Laboratory testing commissioned by WFP indicates the presence of tropane alkaloids and is consistent with the product involved in the Karamoja outbreak. From ongoing investigations into how that came about, it appears that a single 25-kilogram bag of contaminated stock mistakenly found its way into a consignment for distribution, despite concerted efforts globally to isolate all stocks from the suspended supplier.”

The Ministry of Health in Uganda, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States have been investigating and testing samples since the first outbreak to determine the cause. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration detected traces of alkaloids, specifically atropine. Other tests found aflatoxin B1, low levels of yeast and mold, Bacillus cereus and Salmonella.

“The women and children whose lives are saved and changed through food assistance remain our priority and this was an extremely unfortunate and unprecedented event in the history of WFP food assistance. WFP is deeply saddened by the loss of life and suffering among vulnerable communities who count on food assistance in one of the poorest areas of Uganda,” said Amir Abdulla, deputy executive director of WFP.

Action to prevent a repeat incident
Super Cereal is distributed as part of a program to protect and improve the health and nutrition of mothers and children by WFP. It is corn or wheat blended with soya beans, fortified with vitamins and minerals and processed into flour.

WFP has increased oversight of the production cycle of Super Cereal, including spot checks and sampling of cargo along the supply chain to test for potential contamination.

“There is growing demand for specialized nutritional food products globally, particularly as conflict drives food crises. Operating in challenging environments, we must intensify efforts to improve our supply chain management and food quality. We are already communicating with suppliers about phasing in new standards and upgraded specification expectations to meet new demands,” said Abdulla.

Smerdon said WFP is working with suppliers to mitigate risks and prevent future contamination from tropane alkaloids.

“WFP is now testing for tropane alkaloids right after production and before distribution. Retained samples from previous production of all Super Cereal suppliers have been tested and from the vast amount of data points collected so far, it is clear that the issue is linked to a specific supplier and was very exceptional. The rest of the Super Cereal distributed worldwide is not at the same risk levels,” he said.

“At present, there are no clear food safety regulations or global standards for tropane alkaloids in processed foods. WFP’s current specifications for food suppliers comply with Codex Alimentarius international food standards, as well as national food standards in the country where the food is consumed. The sole existing food safety regulation related to tropane alkaloids is a European one for infant foods. Other products are not regulated and Super Cereal was not monitored for this risk in the past.”

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Poor practices at free-range farm likely behind Salmonella egg outbreak

November 1, 2019 - 12:02am

Four people were infected with Salmonella in an Australian state likely because of poor processing procedures on a local free-range egg farm, according to researchers.

A study, published in volume 43 of Communicable Diseases Intelligence, noted that proper handling of eggs in the home could have prevented illness.

The Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak had closely related Multiple Locus Variable-number Tandem Repeat Analysis (MLVA) patterns and was detected thanks to routine surveillance by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Health Protection Service in May 2018.

Three people fell sick in 2018 and one person in 2016 who had eaten home-cooked free-range eggs from the same local producer. A retrospective review of ACT salmonellosis cases identified three infections from 2016 with a similar MLVA pattern.

The other two 2016 cases were siblings and had onset of symptoms less than a day apart. While neither reported eating eggs, the older child had handled them from chickens at their school and did not wash his hands. Person-to-person transmission between the siblings could not be ruled out.

The three 2018 infections occurred within 19 days of each other. The age range of all six was nine to 57 years old and half were female. Three people went to the emergency department and two were hospitalized.

Investigation and inspection
Environmental investigations found problems with egg cleaning, hand hygiene and documentation of food safety procedures on the farm.

Eggs were processed in a converted shipping container, which was not vermin-proof, and hens were seen in the processing area. After collection, eggs which appeared visibly clean were passed through the machine for grading only.

Visibly dirty eggs were soaked for two minutes in a chlorine solution with concentration measured by smell. After soaking, they were washed and sanitized in the machine. Brushes on the egg washing and grading machine, which had been operating since March 2018, were visibly dirty. The egg sanitizer function on the machine, and hot water system that supplied it, were faulty.

The only hand hygiene facility onsite was a small bottle of alcohol-based hand rub, and one staff member was seen rinsing hands in a puddle of wastewater.

During the initial inspection, 15 environmental samples were collected. Salmonella Typhimurium with the same MLVA pattern as those ill in 2018 was detected from a shoe cover and water from the egg processing machine wastewater hose.

Following the initial inspection, an improvement notice was issued and then revoked six weeks later after it was confirmed at a second inspection that all problems had been rectified.

“Although poor farm practices most likely led to contamination of the eggs, this outbreak highlights the need for consumer education about safe handling of eggs in the home,” said researchers.

“Given the inadequacy of food safety infrastructure and procedures at the implicated farm, it is surprising that more cases were not detected. This highlights the importance of investigating small outbreaks in order to mitigate serious public health risks and to improve food safety.”

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