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Transparency is (redacted)

September 9, 2020 - 12:05am
Opinion

Every week I pour over the warning letters the Food and Drug Administration has sent to food firms. These letters are sent to food companies in the U.S. and companies importing into the U.S. They list  violations based on findings from FDA inspections. 

The recipients are given 15 days to respond to the letters and inform the FDA how they plan to adequately address the violations.

The warning letter news stories on Food Safety News are supposed to show the companies violations and remove some of the legal code and technical jargon for our readers. We hope that this is a step toward improving transparency between companies and consumers. However, there are often key facts in the warning letters that have been redacted by the FDA. We include these “redacted” markers in the warning letter news stories because we think it is important for consumers to see what is being hidden.

This past March I attended the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) 2020 conference. Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity led a session on “How to communicate with consumers about food safety.” 

Arnot explained how questions about food safety have become an issue of trust between companies and consumers. He told the corporate and food safety leaders at the conference that more than one in four consumers strongly believe small food companies will put their interests ahead of public interest, and more than half of consumers strongly believe that large food companies will put their own interests first. 

Are consumers right not to trust food companies? The number of redactions in the FDA’s warning letters would seem to back this perception. The legal rights of companies to protect “trade secrets” are in conflict with the public’s right to transparency.  

Why are things being hidden?
 Let’s start by taking a look at what is keeping companies and the FDA for being completely transparent — Trade Secret Information and Confidential Commercial Information.

The Freedom of Information Act and Title 21 of the Code of Regulations, government agencies and specifically, the FDA is told to exempt trade secrets and commercial information from any of their releases. Here is the exact letter of the law: 

  • “The FDA cannot disclose Trade Secret Information (TSI) to the States pursuant to §20.88 without the express written authorization from the owner or submitter.”
  • (a) A trade secret may consist of any commercially valuable plan, formula, process, or device that is used for the making, preparing, compounding, or processing of trade commodities and that can be said to be the end product of either innovation or substantial effort. There must be a direct relationship between the trade secret and the productive process.

The full public information exemption can be found here.

  • “Confidential Commercial Information (CCI) can be disclosed without the owner’s authorization pursuant to §20.88, but the state must agree to protect the information against further disclosure, and it must be in the interests of public health for FDA to share the information.”
  •  (1) Confidential business information is information which concerns or relates to the trade secrets, processes, operations, style of works, or apparatus, or to the production, sales, shipments, purchases, transfers, identification of customers, inventories, or amount or source of any income, profits, losses, or expenditures of any person, firm, partnership, corporation, or other organization, or other information of commercial value, the disclosure of which is likely to have the effect of either impairing the Commission’s ability to obtain such information as is necessary to perform its statutory functions, or causing substantial harm to the competitive position of the person, firm, partnership, corporation, or other organization from which the information was obtained, unless the Commission is required by law to disclose such information.

The full law can be found here.

Confidential consumer information can include raw material supplier lists, finished product customer lists, traceback information and more. 

The FDA is able to make public recall notices, including pictures of affected products. They even use their social media accounts to try to reach consumers as quickly as possible.

In some cases, the FDA can release certain information that is exempt from disclosure if it is needed to initiate a recall. However, the agency and industry say it is most efficient for the food company to directly notify its distributors so they can remove items from shelves immediately.

The FDA can interpret these regulations differently than other federal food safety agencies. This is why we see disparities in the information released. These agencies are forced to weigh the interests of private food companies against risks to the public.

The FDA often does not specify which stores, centers or schools the recalled food has been distributed to, because that would violate its interpretation of the trade secret rule. In the case of releasing retailer lists during major outbreaks, the FDA has historically sided with business, ruling that such lists constitute “confidential commercial information” and should not be available to the public.

In contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service posts retail locations that have the recalled product —this is especially true for Class I recalls. A Class I recall “involves a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.”

Who is putting consumer safety first?
Industry will argue it doesn’t want to turn over who they sell to, because it may give the competition a chance to undercut them. That makes sense and everyone understands that under normal circumstances. But should those rules really apply to a product that could cause people to become ill?

When a company does issue a recall, it has a lot of decision making power in the amount of information it shares. Recalls that are made public often contain only a description of the product and an explanation of the problem. However, these companies are not required to reveal where the product was sold. Consumers don’t know what store, school, or restaurant that product went to.

If the FDA began identifying individual stores throughout the country that have sold recalled foods it will have the added benefit of increasing local media coverage and raising consumer awareness. As consumers come to count on the agency to provide this valuable information, they will have increased confidence in the FDA and its commitment to protecting consumers. 

It seems clear that there should be more transparency. The question is, who will fight for it. If consumers want fewer redactions in FDA warning letters, they will have to put pressure on the FDA to increase transparency, or things will remain the same.

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Record number of outbreak alerts on EU platform

September 9, 2020 - 12:04am

A European system used by countries to report outbreaks saw a record number of alerts in 2019.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) hosts the Epidemic Intelligence Information System for food- and waterborne diseases (EPIS-FWD) platform. The network is a restricted web-based platform for experts to help with early detection and coordination of response to multi-country outbreaks through sharing information.

It consists of Urgent Inquiries and associated forums, which are the outbreak alert and investigation tools. The forums allow information to be shared about the outbreak investigation among a restricted number of experts. Nominated people outside the EPIS-FWD network, such as food safety and environmental experts or veterinarians from network countries or any expert or organization outside the network can also be invited to join.

In 2019, 88 Urgent Inquiries were initiated by 23 of the 52 network countries and one by ECDC. On average, 11 countries replied to each alert and 31 replied to at least one.

A record high
The number of Urgent Inquiries in 2019 was the highest since the platform was launched and 54 percent higher than the annual average in the past five years. In previous years, an annual mean of 57 Urgent Inquiries was published.

An ECDC spokesman told Food Safety News that the record number was good news.

“This reflects probably two aspects; one is the introduction of Whole Genome Sequencing as a tool to enhance surveillance to detect and investigate outbreaks leading to a much higher probability to detect the source and implement control measures. WGS enables also efficient follow up of effectiveness of control measures as new cases can be detected through WGS relatively rapidly, and two; increased sequencing capacity in member states and subsequent network participation,” he said.

Urgent Inquiries were related to salmonellosis (44 percent), followed by listeriosis (23 percent), Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) (12 percent) infection, and hepatitis A (9 percent).

“The number of listeriosis clusters has increased substantially after the introduction of WGS-enhanced surveillance in March 2019 but molecular epidemiology of Salmonella is more complex and challenging, even with the support of WGS. However, Salmonella is a much more common infection in humans than severe Listeria infection, which means usually more risk assessments related to Salmonella than to Listeria,” said the ECDC spokesman.

Monitoring threats and outbreak assessments
In 2019, ECDC opened and monitored 58 new threats in the threat tracking tool in addition to the 12 carried over from previous years. This is less than the 71 issues monitored in 2018. Of threats opened and monitored in 2019, 38 affected European countries.

Nine involved food and waterborne diseases compared to eight in 2018. One example is related to the difficulty to control Salmonella Enteritidis in poultry products, particularly eggs.

In 2019, ECDC and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) produced three joint rapid outbreak assessments. One due to Salmonella Poona in infant formula, another because of Listeria in cold-smoked fish and the last one a Listeria outbreak in ready to eat meat products.

So far this year, one has been published updating the multi-country outbreak of Salmonella linked to eggs from Poland and another is planned with EFSA on a multi-country outbreak of Salmonella linked to Brazil nuts involving the United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Canada.

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Lithuanian officials seize poultry meat due to Salmonella

September 9, 2020 - 12:02am

Lithuanian authorities have seized more than 40 tons of imported poultry meat due to potential Salmonella contamination in the space of three months.

From June to August of this year, the State Food and Veterinary Service (VMVT) banned the placing on the market of 10 batches of poultry meat imported to Lithuania from Poland, Hungary, and Romania.

More than half of the non-compliant meat (25 tons or seven batches) was imported from Poland. A total of 12 tons, or two lots, originated in Hungary and three tons, or one lot, came from Romania.

Year so far
All poultry products that reached Lithuania and contained Salmonella have been withdrawn from the market and destroyed. Some of it was detained in warehouses and did not enter the market. The companies involved received sanctions from VMVT inspectors for putting unsafe poultry on the market.

Lithuanian authorities stopped the supply of 100 tons of poultry meat in the first five months of 2020. Of 19 batches of possibly unsafe poultry analyzed in the first quarter of this year, 18 originated in Poland.

Three public warnings have been made recently by Polish authorities about Salmonella in poultry products and eggs. Earlier this month, the Polish Chief Sanitary Inspectorate (GIS) posted a recall of a brand of frozen marinated chicken fillets after Italian authorities found Salmonella Enteritidis, Salmonella Newport, and Salmonella Virchow in three batches.

Another recall was prompted by suspected Salmonella Enteritidis found on eggshells and in late August, Salmonella Enteritidis in a batch of chicken meat led to another warning.

EU-wide issue
In April, the Bulgarian Food Safety Authority found two shipments of more than 32,000 kilograms of frozen chicken legs from Poland contaminated with Salmonella. In May, the agency ordered the destruction of more than 19 tons of Polish poultry meat contaminated with Salmonella after a positive result from chilled chicken legs.

In Romania, two samples of frozen chicken breast fillets from Poland were found to be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis in March and April. In total, 21 tons were officially detained before being destroyed.

A number of European countries issued nearly 100 warnings about Salmonella in chilled and frozen poultry from Poland from March to May this year.

Data from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal shows alerts from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Italy, France, and Romania. Listed serotypes include Enteritidis, Infantis, Typhimurium, Saintpaul, Derby, Newport, and Mbandaka.

In June, 15 alerts were issued concerning Salmonella in poultry meat products from Poland, although half of these were by that country. In July, there were 18 alerts with seven from Poland and in August, 12 notifications were made with a third by Poland.

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Part Four: Strategic deployment crucial to success of OEE blueprint

September 8, 2020 - 12:05am

Editor’s note: This is part four of a four-part series on understanding and implementing overall equipment effectiveness strategy. This series is sponsored by SafetyChain Software. 

While the concept of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is straightforward, the rollout can cause huge disruptions if not done strategically. 

Below, Roger Woehl, Chief Technical Officer for SafetyChain Software, outlines five key areas of focus when successfully rolling out OEE: 

Define goals
The first part of implementing any OEE improvement plan is for a business to set clear goals of what it wants to achieve and any potential consequences it may have on other areas of production. 

“OEE is not meant to improve one single point of production. It must consider machine availability, output performance and the product quality to maximize throughput,” says Woehl. 

If the goal is to increase the number of units produced per shift, then consideration must be made to what that does to the quality and safety of end products. 

“A company may find that turning up the speed of production actually has far greater negative impacts on the overall business by jeopardizing quality or safety standards,” he says. “They may meet safety compliance standards but increase product rejections due to failed quality specifications. By analyzing all the data together, they can make a calculated decision on whether or not their goal makes economic sense.” 

Automate your data source
The biggest opportunity to improve OEE is to automate data by capturing real-time events with sensors that feed data into a centralized analysis platform. 

“Manual data is only as good as the person recording it and what they are physically able to capture,” says Woehl. “What tends to happen is that micro-events aren’t caught, like if a machine is temporarily down for two minutes.”

While not recording production gaps like that is common on paper, they can accumulate into a larger output problem and may signal a bigger issue in production that needs to be addressed. 

“Real-time data captures these small micro-events and allows operators to trace back to where the root of the problem is,” explains Woehl. “This allows for a fast and efficient improvement of OEE.”

Rollout line by line
Before implementing new operating systems, Woehl recommends a pilot program be formed with a small group of people to trial and adjust new processes before implementing them broadscale. 

“The main advantage of the pilot process it to work out the kinks and to figure out what works best for the business,” he says. “One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is attempting to improve everything all at once. This can cause huge disruptions and headaches.”

Instead, he advises new processes are rolled out one line at a time, and for practices to be made broadscale as soon as a company has reached a level of control for handling all the continuous adjustments for improvement.

Essential to the success of this process is bringing people onto the pilot program team who will buy into implementing change and will not badmouth the process as they work through issues, he says. 

“When implementing change into a business and introducing new technologies, it is really important for everyone involved to be on board with making it work. This starts with your pilot team supporting the goals and a commitment to help carry that support throughout the business,” he says. 

Develop a continuous improvement program
“The idea of continuous improvement is an important theme in the food industry. You can’t always be perfect, but you can work to continuously improve,” says Woehl. 

According to him, improvement is most quickly seen when a company establishes an attainable threshold and tackles it in small, incremental steps. 

“Let’s say a company wants to reduce its downtime from a shift that is currently 1 hour and 45 minutes. The first goal would be to shave off 15 minutes. To achieve that, we would look at all the different areas contributing to downtime and pick one to improve,” he says. “In this case, the area of focus was reducing the changeover time of product packaging materials. We can then zero in on that one process and look for ways to improve it.” 

Once the first identified area has become more efficient, Woehl says to pick another area to shave an additional 15 minutes off. 

“Setting realistic goals that can be accomplished in small bite-sized chunks will allow a company to improve OEE much quicker than if it tries to address multiple areas all at the same time,” he says. 

Cost analysis
Once a company starts seeing the monetary benefits of improving OEE, it must continue to monitor production to maintain performance. 

“OEE is like tuning up a race car. A one-time tune-up will get it running well, but only for a certain amount of time. If you want it to operate at its best continuously, then it is going to require regular adjustments,” says Woehl. “If a company invests the time and tools necessary to improve OEE and then discontinuous monitoring production once they reach their target, OEE will eventually decline.” 

To justify investment into improving and maintaining OEE, Woehl says to look at the return seen within a specific time window, such as three months, and then consider the cost of lost production if it were allowed to decline. 

“When looking at pure OEE – which considers machine availability, performance and product quality – it can be used as a huge competitive advantage. Having accurate, real-time data that takes into account the entire business picture allows a company to find what type of production model is right for them and opportunities to improve output efficiency,” says Woehl.  

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Four steps to safer food at home, at school, at work and at play

September 7, 2020 - 12:05am

September is Food Safety Education Month: Each week we will post educational material about food safety. Some is for consumers, some is for educators, all is targeted on reducing foodborne illness.

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. Following simple food safety tips can help lower your chance of getting sick.

National Food Safety Education Month Resources

FDA has resources to help encourage you and your community to put food safety first.

Social Media Resources

Help us to spread the word about the importance of food safety. Use these Twitter and Facebook messages to show your support for Food Safety Education Month and to encourage your community to keep food safe.

Sample Tweets
Learning the do’s and don’ts of food-safe meal prep can help avoid foodborne illness. Start in the kitchen, putting #foodsafety into practice to protect you and your family. http://go.usa.gov/xV2YK #NFSEM

#CLEAN – Rinse fruits and veggies under running water. Slicing or dicing? Scrub ‘em anyway– germs can jump from rinds to the insides during cutting and peeling. https://go.usa.gov/xVT3t #NFSEM

#COOK – When you’re cooking you can’t tell if it done just by looking. Use a food thermometer to make sure it’s safe to eat. https://go.usa.gov/xVT3d #NFSEM

#SEPARATE – No yolking around! Storing eggs on the fridge door can expose them to uneven temperatures. Here’s where you should store them instead: https://go.usa.gov/xVT3G#NFSEM #FoodSafety

#CHILL – Keep your cool – especially when it comes to grocery, leftovers, & food delivery items. Your fridge should be 40 degrees F or less, the freezer zero degrees F or less. https://go.usa.gov/xVT3A#NFSEM

Sample Facebook Posts
Think food poisoning is just a little upset tummy and will pass? Not always. Sometimes foodborne illness is serious & even life threatening. We’ve got short video stories from 3 people that speak from experience! https://go.usa.gov/xV2ry National Food Safety Education Month

Looking for free food safety information? Whether a consumer, teacher of middle & high school students, or a food service worker, you’ve come to the right place! Check out our resource library to find free education materials, printable posters, and videos. https://go.usa.gov/xPCJENational Food Safety Education Month

Download animated GIFs

Remember and follow these 4 key steps from @FDAfood to follow and keep your family safer from food poisoning

You wash apples, tomatoes and strawberries before you eat them, but what about cantaloupes, avocados and kiwi? https://go.usa.gov/xVT3t Hint: the answer is YES. #NFSEM

No yolking around! Storing eggs on the fridge door can expose them to uneven temperatures. Here’s where you should store them instead: https://go.usa.gov/xVT3G #NFSEM #FoodSafety

When you’re cooking you can’t tell if it done just by looking. Use a food thermometer to make sure it’s safe to eat. https://go.usa.gov/xVT3d #NFSEM

Keep your cool – especially when it comes to grocery, leftovers, & food delivery items. Your fridge should be 40°F or less, the freezer 0°F or less. https://go.usa.gov/xVT3A #NFSEM

Resources
Looking for #foodsafety information? Whether a consumer, teacher of middle and high school students, or a food service worker, you’ve come to the right place!
Check out @FDAfood’s resource library to find free printable materials and videos. https://go.usa.gov/xPCJE #NFSEM

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

Potentially groundbreaking plasma disinfection research ongoing

September 7, 2020 - 12:03am

A Drexel University research team is developing a cold plasma wash water treatment that could kill harmful pathogens and be used with delicate fresh produce with no adverse quality effects, low cost operations and no added chemicals. This is a potentially huge breakthrough as delicate fresh produce, like romaine lettuce, is difficult to clean and can contain potentially harmful pathogens.

If there is any question about how meaningful this type of washing treatment could be, here is a chart of delicate fresh produce E. coli outbreaks since 1995:

Date Vehicle Etiology Cases States &
Provinces July 1995 Lettuce
(leafy green; red; romaine) E. coli O157:H7 74 1:MT Sept. 1995 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7 20 1:ID Sept. 1995 Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7 30 1:ME Oct. 1995 Lettuce
(iceberg; unconfirmed) E. coli O157:H7 11 1:OH May-June 1996 Lettuce (mesclun; red leaf) E. coli O157:H7 61

3:CT,

IL, NY May 1998 Salad E. coli O157:H7 2 1:CA Feb.-Mar. 1999 Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7 72 1:NE Oct. 1999 Salad E. coli O157:H7 92

3:OR,

PA, OH Oct. 2000 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 6 1:IN Nov. 2001 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 20 1:TX July-Aug. 2002 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7 29 2:WA, ID Nov. 2002 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 13 1:Il Dec. 2002 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 3 1:MN Oct. 2003-May 2004 Lettuce (mixed salad) E. coli O157:H7 57 1:CA Apr. 2004 Spinach E. coli O157:H7 16 1:CA Nov. 2004 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 6 1:NJ Sept. 2005 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7 32

3:MN,

WI, OR Sept. 2006 Spinach (baby) E. coli O157:H7 and other serotypes 205

Multistate

and Canada Nov./Dec. 2006 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 71

4:NY,

NJ, PA, DE Nov./Dec. 2006 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 81

3:IA,

MN, WI July 2007 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 26 1:AL May 2008 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 9 1:WA Oct. 2008 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 59

Multistate

and Canada Nov. 2008 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 130 Canada Sept. 2009 Lettuce:
Romaine or Iceberg E. coli O157:H7 29 Multistate Sept. 2009 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 10 Multistate April 2010 Romaine E. coli O145 33

5:MI, NY,

OH, PA, TN Oct. 2011 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 60 Multistate April 2012 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 28

1:CA

Canada June 2012 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 52 Multistate Sept. 2012 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 9 1:PA Oct. 2012 Spinach
and Spring Mix Blend E. coli O157:H7 33 Multistate Apr. 2013 Leafy Greens E. coli O157:H7 14 Multistate Aug. 2013 Leafy Greens E. coli O157:H7 15 1:PA Oct. 2013 Ready-To-Eat Salads E. coli O157:H7 33 Multistate Apr. 2014 Romaine E. coli O126 4 1:MN Apr. 2015 Leafy Greens E. coli O145 7

3:MD,

SC, VA June 2016 Mesclun Mix E. coli O157:H7 11

3:IL,

MI, WI Nov. 2017 Leafy Greens E. coli O157:H7 67

Multistate

and Canada Mar. 2018 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 219

Multistate

and Canada Nov. 2018 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 91

Multistate

and Canada Sept. 2019 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 23 Multistate Nov. 2019 Romaine E. coli O157:H7 41

Multistate

and Canada

The Center for Produce Safety is funding the research team that is working to develop the cold plasma wash water treatment. The team is also partnering with SmartWash Solutions, a large manufacturing partner in the fresh produce processing industry, and Sunterra Produce Traders East representing technology to create this plasma system.

“If you possibly have Listeria or E. coli or Salmonella in the wash water, you want to get rid of it, so you have to add chemicals that you may not want to,” Alexander Fridmen, Ph.D. and director of the C. and J. Nyheim Plasma Institute at Drexel University said. “Cold plasma not only uses no chemicals but no thermal sterilization. And it’s more than that. It’s significantly less sensitive to organic loads.”

Drexel University had already developed an instrument known as the reverse vortex gliding arc plasmatron, a device that ionizes gas molecules to initiate a chemical reaction. When water is injected through the plasma stream, the ionized gas molecules initiate chemical reactions in the water that produce disinfectant compounds, such as ozone. These reactions are very short-lived, and the compounds quickly break down into harmless products, such as water and oxygen. But during that split second, the compounds deactivate pathogens in the water.

Key take-aways:

  • Technology is similar to that used in plasma TVs or fluorescent light bulbs.
  • Cold plasma has been used to treat water in other industrial applications. 
  • Research will seek to modify its use for the fresh-cut produce industry. 
  • Cold plasma offers potential as an economical non-chemical, non-thermal disinfection method for wash water.

“If we can produce fresh produce that’s safe without chemicals, it’s a big deal,” Fridman said. “That, I think, will be the biggest impact.” 

The project is now a year in. They are now validating the technology with a prototype model using a 100-gallon tub into which the plasmatron electrode has been submerged. The research team will simulate increased organic loading seen in a fresh-cut processing facility.

Plasma-treated water will be used to wash both produce inoculated with a microbial cocktail of E. coli strains and non-inoculated items. Afterward, the produce and wash water will be tested for pathogens to determine the rate of inactivation. The washed produce also will be inspected and monitored for quality changes. The final step will be for project collaborator SmartWash Solution to install the pilot system in a commercial-scale fresh-cut wash system.

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Research looks at E. coli and Campylobacter on farms and in raw milk

September 6, 2020 - 12:03am

E. coli and Campylobacter can persist on dairy farms for months and contaminate unpasteurized, bulk tank milk despite some hygiene measures, according to a thesis.

Anniina Jaakkonen’s work investigated the frequency and contributing factors of milk contamination by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and Campylobacter jejuni on Finnish dairy farms. It is based on three publications: one in 2017 in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health, another in 2019 in Applied Environmental Microbiology and the final one in April this year in the journal PLoS ONE.

In the first and third studies a dairy farm was first sampled due to a suspected outbreak. The first one describes an outbreak of STEC O157 with 11 cases identified in south-western Finland in June 2012. Six children were hospitalized, four with a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), after drinking raw cow’s milk from a local farm. The farm was sampled during the outbreak and three months later.

The third is a follow-up study of a campylobacteriosis outbreak in western Finland in November 2012. Two children had been hospitalized with bloody diarrhea and Campylobacter jejuni infection after consuming raw cow’s milk purchased from a local farm. The farm was sampled during the six months after the outbreak.

In the second bit of research, three dairy farms were recruited after previous on-farm isolation of both STEC O157:H7 and Campylobacter jejuni. They were sampled between January 2014 and June 2015. Despite simultaneous isolation of STEC O157:H7 or Campylobacter jejuni from cattle, these bacteria were rarely isolated from milk filters and milk.

E. coli and Campylobacter isolated on farms
Hygienic measures included continual disinfection of drinking and feeding troughs and contaminated areas. Enhanced hygiene practices were applied in milking and handling of feed and manure. To decontaminate bulk tank milk on the outbreak-associated farms, either the milk room was replaced or the milking machine and tank were rinsed with acid, and components were replaced.

In Finland on-farm sales are permitted up to 2,500 kilograms per year without official approval. Farms that annually sell more than this amount of unpasteurized milk need an approved food establishment and monitoring plan for pathogens.

In study one, STEC O157:H7 was isolated from cattle feces and the farm environment, from nine samples within three months after the outbreak. In study two, STEC O157:H7 was isolated from all three farms during a one-year sampling period. STEC contamination occurs during milking when cattle are shedding the bacterium, despite strict on-farm hygiene. STEC O157:H7 persisted in two herds for up to 12 months.

Campylobacter jejuni was isolated from all dairy farms in all three studies, but only in the third bit of research were isolates recovered from bulk tank milk. It was found to persistently contaminate bulk tank milk for seven months despite hygiene measures. Only the outbreak-causing strain with sequence type (ST) 883 was isolated from milk, although other types were isolated from the farm.

Finding and reducing contamination
STEC was rarely isolated from bulk tank milk and milk filters and only simultaneously with fecal isolation. Higher detection rates came from milk filters than milk by culture methods and real-time PCR. So, milk filters are more reliable sampling targets for monitoring of STEC than milk.

Milk contamination by STEC bacteria can be reduced, but not prevented, by on-farm practices. The effect of nine risk factors on stx contamination of bulk tank milk, as an indicator for STEC contamination, was studied. Reduced milk contamination was associated with culling of dairy cows, major cleansing in the barn, and pasturing of dairy cows.

Higher average outdoor temperature was associated with increased milk contamination. No effect was observed for five risk factors: abnormalities in feed, maintenance and breaks of the milking equipment, number of rainy days, total bacterial counts, and total cell counts.

Jaakkonen concluded that all farms producing raw drinking milk should apply cost-effective hygienic measures to reduce contamination risk. These steps cannot totally prevent milk contamination, and heat treatment of raw milk before consumption is recommended for safety.

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USDA calls food safety education meeting for early October

September 5, 2020 - 12:05am

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is holding a virtual public meeting on Oct. 6 to discuss the state of consumer food safety education, current research, and future studies and engagement to close the gap between food safety messages and consumer action.

“USDA has been a leader in consumer education for years, and now we have the evidence to show how and why our food safety messages are critical,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears. “By using research to continually improve food safety education, based on empirical data instead of assumptions, we can change consumer behavior and decrease foodborne illness nationally.”

The public meeting, “Food Safety: Consumer Outreach and Education Today and for the Future,” is set for noon to 4 p.m. on Oct. 6. It is scheduled to feature presentations from food safety experts on their current and upcoming work and will highlight partnerships that have set the stage for the continued improvement of consumer food safety. Participants must register online to attend, and can indicate if they would like to speak at the meeting when they register.

FSIS invites those interested in public health and advancing food safety to comment in writing on activities and research that promote safe consumer food handling. Interested parties should submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov, docket number FSIS-2020-0026, by Oct. 9. Those who want their comments to be considered for the public comment period of the meeting, should submit them on or before Sept. 18.

Food safety experts know that following the four steps to food safety, “Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill,” is easier said than done. The FSIS is conducting groundbreaking research to understand how consumers truly handle food in the home, with research partners RTI International and North Carolina State University. By observing consumers as they prepare meals and conducting interviews, focus groups, and web surveys, FSIS uses data to redesign and reimagine food safety outreach programs.

Learn more about FSIS food safety consumer education here.

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Iceland told to improve controls for ready-to-eat foods

September 5, 2020 - 12:03am

Iceland has been told to improve official controls on ready-to-eat food by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) monitors compliance with European Economic Area (EEA) rules in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

The ESA assessed how Iceland meets EEA hygiene requirements for ready-to-eat (RTE) food such as smoked salmon, salami and cheeses during an audit in March this year.

Resource issues and follow-up timeline
Auditors found Iceland has a risk based system to deliver official controls in plants producing RTE foods, which is generally effective. However, there is a lack of resources to perform inspections and long intervals are given to businesses to implement corrective measures. They said this may increase the risk of unsafe food being placed on the market as not all non-compliances are detected and dealt with in a timely manner.

“Iceland needs to ensure adequate time and resources are available for food safety inspections. Additionally, food businesses should be given stricter deadlines, to remedy any problems identified during inspection,” according to the audit report.

In the past three years there has been a reduction in the number of inspection hours delivered by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), in the meat and milk products sector, compared to planned hours. However, in the fishery products sector, there has been an increase in inspection hours delivered.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic only one site visit at a fishery products establishment took place. Meetings were conducted with two meat products companies and one dairy, salad and sandwich producer, catering firm and a National Reference Laboratory (NRL).

Reaction to issues raised during audit
In the fishery product plant visited the audit team saw examples of non-compliance such as storage of packaging bearing identification marks from a different establishment, co-mingling of animal by-products (ABPs) and food, co-mingling of food with product more than a year beyond its expiry date and a lack of traceability on certain products.

Storage of packaging with the identification mark from a different site had been detected by the authority more than five weeks previously and had not been addressed. A non-compliance item related to traceability had been recorded at a previous inspection more than one year earlier.

“In this case, the severity was assessed in the manner that there was no immediate food safety risk for consumers. Generally, if a non-compliance has not been corrected at the time of the next inspection visit, the food business operator in question will get a serious non-compliance and a drop in performance category,” said MAST, adding the firm is no longer operating.

“A non-compliance regarding traceability was made in an inspection on June 21, 2019, where products were stored unmarked. On a visit from Oct. 2, 2019 this is said to be corrected. Subsequently, in the next three inspections on our behalf no remarks are made on traceability. So no remarks were made for some time and then unfortunately this goes wrong again.”

Listeria sampling
The most recent inspection report for one establishment, operating since 2018, recorded no written procedures for traceability or for product recall and that a HACCP system was not yet implemented. These were not considered as serious deviations and the authority planned to check the non-compliances at the next inspection.

MAST said this has been corrected through use of the Isleyfur computerized inspection system.

One food firm met by the audit team submitted two rather than five units to constitute a sample for Listeria monocytogenes testing. This is not in compliance with EU regulation but had not been detected during official controls and had been ongoing for at least two years.

In response, MAST said it was reviewing the Listeria sampling guidelines for food businesses.

“Appropriate frequency of sampling and correct number of units forming a sample for analysis of Listeria monocytogenes, will be clearly stated in the guidelines. The main rule will continue to be that five units are needed to make up a sample for analysis of Listeria monocytogenes.”

MAST said if fewer than five units are accepted for sampling, companies will have to demonstrate with historical data they have an effective HACCP system in line with EU rules. This will be verified by a visit to go through all the issues in the HACCP section of the inspection manual.

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Alert over China’s exports of duck blood to U.S. without inspection or records

September 4, 2020 - 10:14pm

USDA’s  Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a public health alert for an undetermined amount of imported cooked duck blood curds from China.  Yes, that is correct, the public health alert is for imported cooked duck blood curds from China.

 FSIS has been unable to contact the importer to demand a recall.   The total amount of ineligible products is undetermined because the investigation is ongoing.

The following product is subject to the public health alert:

  • 10.58 OZ. (300g), vacuum-packed packages containing “Cooked Duck Blood Curds, DUCK BLOOD.”

The cooked duck blood curds product does not identify an eligible establishment number on its packaging and was not presented to FSIS for import re-inspection. FSIS has not received an official inspection certificate issued by the People’s Republic of China to certify this product as eligible. Therefore, this product is ineligible to import into the U.S., making it unfit for human consumption.

The problem was identified through an investigation with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). FSIS will continue working with APHIS on the ongoing investigation.

Retailers who have purchased the product are urged not to sell it. Consumers who purchased the product should not consume it and properly discard it. Consumers are asked to double bag the product when discarding it to reduce the possibility of animals accessing the product because the USDA cannot confirm whether the cooked duck blood curds were properly heated to control pathogens of concern to domestic livestock.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an illness should contact a health care provider.

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Possible Listeria contamination prompts recall of squash noodle medley

September 4, 2020 - 12:15pm

Giant Food is recalling Giant Food brand squash noodle medley because of possible Listeria contamination.

The product was sold in stores from Aug. 8 – 19. Giant Food officials encourage customers who may have purchased the product not to consume it.

The recalled product is:

UPC #68826718585 with an Aug. 19 “best enjoyed by” date.

Giant removed the product from stores after being notified by the supplier that a regulatory sample of the product tested positive for Listeria. Giant did not report what supplier or ingredient is involved.

Again, customers who purchased the affected product should not consume it and may return it to their local Giant Food store for a full refund. Customers may also contact Giant Food’s Customer Support Center at 888-469-4426.

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

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

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

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

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No sign of Salmonella outbreak ending as U.S. patient count tops 1,000

September 4, 2020 - 12:06am

A month after Thomson International Inc. initiated a recall of onions linked to a Salmonella outbreak, federal officials are reporting the patient tally has topped 1,000 in the United States. Canadian officials say hundreds are sick in that country.

As of this week, 1,012 people across 47 states have been confirmed as being infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those interviewed so far, 90 percent report they specifically remember eating onions or foods containing onions during the days before they developed symptoms of Salmonella infection.

Of those patients with complete information available, 136 have been so sick they had to be admitted to hospitals. No deaths have been reported. Because of the delay between when a person becomes ill and when confirmed lab tests results are reported, there will likely be more patients identified in this outbreak.

Initially it was thought only red onions were involved, but because of the way onions are grown, harvested and prepared for sale other varieties including yellow, white and sweet onions are under recall. Cross contamination of varieties is suspected.

“Of the 154 people who were asked what types of onions they ate, 103 (67 percent) ate red onions, 96 (62 percent) ate white onions, and 86 (56 percent) ate yellow onions. Most ill people reported eating more than one type of onion,” according to the CDC update.

See the full list of recalled onions and foods for U.S. consumers.

In Canada, there are now 457 confirmed patients. One person has died, but it is not known if Salmonella contributed to the cause of death, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“. . . based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to red onions imported from the USA has been identified as a likely source of the outbreak. Many of the ill individuals under investigation reported having eaten red onions before getting sick,” according to the Canadian federal officials. 

“Through a collaborative investigation between public health and food safety partners in Canada and the U.S., traceback information has identified that the contaminated red onions are coming from Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, CA.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued food recall warnings for implicated products that were sent to Canada. Some of the products were possibly distributed nationally, according to the CFIA recall notices.

Outbreak patients in Canada became sick between mid-June and early August. Of them, at least 66 have been hospitalized. Patients are between 1 and 100 years of age. Ill people reported eating red onions at home, in menu items ordered at restaurants and in residential care settings before becoming sick.

Public health officials in both countries are urging consumers and business to discard any onions of unknown origin in addition to discarding all onions specifically under recall.

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 onions 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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AquaBounty salmon is what’s for dinner if you can find it

September 4, 2020 - 12:05am

Food is going to be coming out of the laboratory in the near future, but if it’s not embraced by the retail distribution chain, it might have a short existence.  

That’s the strategy environmental groups like Friends of the Earth are using on AquaBounty’s genetically engineered (GE) salmon,  pressuring retailers like Walmart, Costco, Kroger, ALDI, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, WFM, H-E-B, Hy-vee, Sprouts, Giant Eagle, Meijer, and Target from selling  the GE salmon.

Those retailers, however, likely have not made a forever decision not to carry the product. The AquaBounty salmon is getting some rave reviews. Toronto Food Writer Michele Henry wrote: “The flesh is exquisite. Buttery, light, juicy. Just as Atlantic salmon should be.”

Grocery retailers usually respond to customer demands.

AquaBounty’s retail strategy, however, is not known as the company did not respond to inquiries from Food Safety News

COSTCO is among those prominently listed for not selling genetically engineered salmon, but it uses “not at this time” language in its customer explanations.  

“While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that milk and meat from cloned animals are safe for human consumption, we have only just begun what will be an extensive and ongoing conversation regarding future policies. Rest assured, however, that we are closely monitoring both the latest in research and in public input,” Costco ‘s website says.

AquaBounty Technologies (NASDAQ: AQB) plans first-ever harvest and commercial sales in the U.S.  for this fall.  

It says the first transgenic — also called a genetically modified organism (GMO) — salmon produced in an AquaBounty farms facility in Indiana will be sold in the United States later this year. The biotech community says it has waited 31 years to make the announcement.

The FDA and Health Canada approved the AquaBounty AquAdvantage salmon as the first and only bioengineered animal protein for human consumption. 

AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage fish program is based upon a specific molecular modification completed one time, 30 years ago, to better protect the fish during their early, most vulnerable stages of growth, resulting in an estimated 70 percent increase in annual production output for AquAdvantage versus conventional Atlantic salmon.

It doubles the growth rate of farm-raised salmon through a simple genetic modification, getting it to market size in half the time,  18 months vs. 36, while consuming fewer resources

Tests spanning 20 years show that the only difference between transgenic and non-transgenic salmon is the intended difference: their growth rate. There are no organoleptic differences (flavor, texture) or variations in the composition of the meat, nor is there any problem when consuming it.

Friends of the Earth claims 80 grocery retailers, seafood companies, food service companies, and restaurants with more than 18,000 locations nationwide have stated they will not sell GMO salmon, demonstrating a widespread market rejection of the first commercial offerings of the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption in the U.S.

“Genetically engineered salmon pose unacceptable risks to wild salmon and broader ecosystems. People across the country have made it clear that they don’t want to eat genetically engineered salmon, and food retailers are clearly listening,” said Dana Perls, food and technology program manager at Friends of the Earth. “We thank these forward-thinking retailers for their leadership.”

The environmental group says the salmon pose serious environmental risks including potentially irreversible damage to wild salmon populations. It claims still more research is needed.

The GE salmon has been approved for sale in the U.S. since 2015. Until 2019, however the U.S.prohibited imports of GE salmon and eggs.

AquAdvantage salmon is genetically engineered with the DNA of an eel-like ocean pout, a cold-water fish, to grow faster. 

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Salmonella outbreak in France tied to sausage from Spain

September 4, 2020 - 12:03am

Public health officials in France are investigating a foodborne illness outbreak suspected to be caused by fuet, a type of sausage from Spain. The product was also sent to Belgium.

In total, 18 patients with salmonellosis have been identified. They became ill between July 8 and Aug. 3, according to Santé publique France. All patients, including 12 children, had consumed the Spanish dry-cured sausage.

A link between illness and the Spanish company Embutidos Sola SA was confirmed at the start of September, according to the Directorate General for Food (DGAL), the Directorate General for Health and Santé publique France.

Several batches consumed by those sick were found to be contaminated with a Salmonella strain that is a variant of Salmonella Typhimurium.

Withdrawal and recall
A withdrawal of several batches of fuet, from a single supermarket in Gironde, took place on Aug. 21, based on initial findings of the investigation.

Now, a withdrawal and recall of all fuet with all dates and bearing the mark ES-10.12147/B-CE, will be carried out in various stores across France. Auchan was one supermarket to publish a product recall notice.

Public health authorities advised people who still have the affected products not to consume them and to return them to the place of purchase.

In 2018, French authorities reported a foodborne outbreak caused by monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium 1,4,[5],12:i:-) in fuet sausage from Spain but it is not known if the incidents are connected.

In July this year, an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis was suspected to be caused by eggs from France. In April, Salmonella Miami in chilled vacuum-packed cooked sliced pork shoulder from Spain was linked to an outbreak, but no details have been released on these incidents by French authorities.

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

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled food 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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NSW agency releases annual food testing figures

September 4, 2020 - 12:02am

More than 4,000 samples were taken during efforts to investigate outbreaks, according to an Australian state’s annual food testing report for 2018 and 2019.

The New South Wales (NSW) Food Authority reported 4,010 food and environmental samples were submitted for testing between July 2018 and June 2019 as part of foodborne illness investigations, compared to 591 samples between July 2016 and June 2017.

One example described in the latest report was an increase in Salmonella Enteritidis cases since mid-2018. More than 100 locally produced, imported foods and environmental samples were tested for Salmonella, including fresh and dried vegetables, seafood, spices, egg-containing foods, nuts and eggs. Environmental tests were swabs, stock feed, water, and poultry fecal samples as well as eggs.

During the investigation, another 2,072 samples from egg primary production companies were tested, including eggs and environmental samples. Salmonella Enteritidis was found on 13 properties in NSW and one in Victoria interconnected by movements of people, eggs or equipment. It was detected in NSW poultry for the first time in September 2018. More than 220 illnesses were reported in Australia including 193 in NSW linked to the outbreak.

Salmonella and eggs
The NSW Department of Primary Industries increased surveillance and monitoring at egg farms and issued biosecurity directions to certain properties, including quarantining them to prevent movement of eggs into the market.

Other actions included farm depopulation, decontamination and disinfection. The Biosecurity (Salmonella Enteritidis) Control Order was issued in August 2019 to assist in raising long term biosecurity standards. Surveillance and monitoring at egg farms was set to continue in 2020.

Meanwhile, Salmonella Typhimurium cases plateaued or rose slightly in 2018-19. Much of this was linked to one egg farm, which was the source of 20 percent of all such cases in NSW, according to the report. Several visits detected the same type of Salmonella Typhimurium linked to the human cluster. Illness was not helped by poor handling of eggs in some businesses, including failure to clean and sanitize surfaces or equipment, and use of raw egg products.

The farm implemented additional cleaning and sanitizing of farm grading equipment and is looking at vaccinating birds to reduce Salmonella Typhimurium. These measures appear to have been successful, with a decrease in this type of salmonellosis cases in NSW.

RTE food and chicken sampling
DTS Food Assurance is the primary testing provider. Between July 2018 and June 2019, 6,431 samples were submitted for testing: 5,438 to DTS where 10,756 individual tests were conducted and 993 samples to other laboratories.

Other work saw 162 ready-to-eat food samples randomly collected from 71 businesses and tested. Three products from three manufacturers were non-compliant as two samples of soft cheese contained E. coli greater than the regulatory limit of 10 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g). One gelato had E. coli above this limit. Follow-up actions included inspections from the Food Authority, re-sampling of product for analysis and ongoing compliance activities.

In total 196 whole chickens and chicken portions were collected from processing plants and 312 chicken portions from retail outlets. At processing plants, Salmonella was detected in 21.4 percent of samples and Campylobacter was found in 86.7 percent of samples. At retail, 25.8 percent of samples tested positive for Salmonella and Campylobacter was detected in 89.9 percent of samples.

A retail survey looked at if and how Campylobacter is transferred to ready-to-eat (RTE) products. It involved 22 councils, 169 retail food premises with 593 swabs taken and 281 food samples analyzed. Of 258 RTE chicken and pate samples, two were contaminated with Campylobacter at less than 100 cfu/g. A further 11 samples contained E. coli at 3 to 93 most probable number per gram (MPN/g).

Checks during audits and for Listeria in melon
During the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year, 76 samples of pipis, a type of edible clam, were tested for three main algal toxin groups: amnesic shellfish toxin, paralytic shellfish toxins, and diarrhetic shellfish toxins found in NSW coastal waters. Of these, diarrhetic shellfish toxins were detected in 13 samples. The Algal biotoxins in wild harvest shellfish project is planned to continue into 2019-2020.

Samples taken during audits are usually raw meat that have failed a field test for sulphur dioxide (SO2), which is not permitted in this product. Between July 2018 and June 2019, 1,598 audits of licensed retail meat businesses were conducted and 31 samples of raw meat from 14 butchers were tested for SO2 after positive field tests. Twenty-eight of these from 13 butchers were positive, with values ranging from 13 to 3,600 mg/kg.

Another project was a review of Listeria in rockmelon, also called cantaloupe, packhouses and melons. More than 940 melon and environmental samples were collected to monitor prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and standard plate count pre- and post-wash. Only one sample was positive for Listeria monocytogenes, which was a boot swab taken from a dis-used cool room. The only Salmonella detected was in untreated water.

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Food recalls during the COVID Quarter came with ‘glaring food safety headlines’

September 3, 2020 - 12:05am

In the B2B market, Bannockburn, IL-based Stericycle’s hand-holding of regulated businesses puts it in a unique position for monitoring almost all recall activity.

And as a result, Stericycle is also well-equipped to offer some insight about the second quarter, ending June 30. It is being remembered as the COVID-19 Quarter because it bore the brunt of the collapse of economic activity because of the pandemic.

Along with its review of second-quarter recall data, Stericycle adds some July data previews.

“Regulatory oversight of food that lapsed earlier in the year began to boom in the middle months as consumer fears rose with continued meat and produce recalls that was capped off with the first-ever nationwide FDA recalls of onions and peaches,” notes Chris Harvey, vice president of crisis solutions at Stericycle Expert Solutions.  

In fact, after the second quarter ended, USDA recalls inched upward in July, and are expected to rise further through the end of the year as attacks directed at the FDA and USDA continue to make headlines, Harvey says.

Stericycle reports that its most recent Recall Index includes findings on how COVID-19 impacts food safety, safety risks that top FDA and USDA priorities, and how FDA’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety” blueprint will impact the recall process.

“Some of the most glaring food safety headlines of the second quarter were fueled by food safety and public health advocates who continue to pressure companies and regulators alike for more safeguards,” the Recall Index reports. “We’re used to seeing their perspective in the media, but in some cases, they’ve turned it up a notch.”

For example, it cited Consumer Reports disclosure of potentially harmful levels of arsenic in bottled water manufactured by Whole Foods. Stericycle also pointed to the FDA’s relaxing labeling requirements in light of COVID-19, only to experience media criticism from Food Allergy Research and Education. And during the quarter, vegans at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sought meat testing for SARS-CoV-2 and labeling to disclose industry employees were being sickened and killed. 

While some of their concerns can seem far-fetched, the truth is that when they make headlines, they fuel consumer fear,” the Stericycle report says .“Fear that permeates amid a steady drumbeat of recalls, foodborne illness outbreaks, and limited inspections of food production facilities.”

Stericycle splits food recalls into two categories: FDA and USDA. The FDA-related recalls totaled 7.8 million units in 79 events, which were down 44 percent and 11.5 percent from Q1, respectively.

The USDA was involved in 9 recalls representing 672,000 pounds for a quarterly increase of 2,882 percent. Poultry products dominated the USDA recalls, which accounted for 44.4 percent of the events and 73.9 percent of recalled product weight.

Undeclared allergens accounted for 43 percent of the FDA recall events. It was the 12th consecutive quarter that undeclared allergens were the top cause for recalls, and one-third of those were for undeclared milk.

One French Onion dip was responsible for 86.8 percent of all the FDA recalled units for undeclared allergens. Foreign material caused 69.6 percent of all the pounds involved in USDA recalls.

More from the Stericycle second-quarter report:

  • “FDA recall activity dropped by 44 percent in the second quarter to 79 recalls. Those recalls, however, impacted more than 7.8 million units, representing a decrease of just 11.5 percent.  The decline in the number of events is not surprising given the agency’s limited regulation oversight activities over the last four months. In fact, the number of recalls was just over 20 percent lower in the first quarter of 2019 when the government shuttered for just one month.”
  • “Undeclared allergens remained the top cause of FDA food recalls for the 12th consecutive quarter, accounting for 43 percent of recalls. Of those 34 recalls, more than one-third contained undeclared milk. Mold was the top cause of recalled units for the first time in our tracking of this data, accounting for 86.8 percent of recalled units. This was the result ozone recall of French Onion dip impacting nearly all mold-related units recalled.”
  • “Bacteria contamination was the cause of 13 recalls in the second quarter compared to 36 events in the first quarter. In both cases, listeria was the most common contaminant. This is the fewest recalls due to bacterial contamination that we seen in more than a decade of monitoring this data.”
  • “Produce was the top product category impacted in terms of events at 19 percent; prepared food recalls impacted themes units at 88.1 percent.

Going forward,  Stericycle reports that “FDA food recalls remained on a downward trend in July, with just 26 recalls. Undeclared allergens were the leading cause with 12 recalls, while the presence of foreign material accounted for five recalls. 

The Stericycle report includes these comments about USDA:

  • “USDA recalls saw a slight uptick despite limitations in regulatory oversight, inching up to nine recalls in the second quarter. Recalls impacted about 672,000 pounds, representing a quarter-over-quarter increase of 2882.7 percent.”
  • “Quarterly recall activity remains down significantly with an average of 7.5 recalls a quarter compared with an average quarterly volume of more than 30 recalls over the last three years.”
  • “Foreign material and no inspection were each the cause of one-third of recalls, while 69.6 percent  of pounds recalled were because of foreign material.”
  • “USDA recalls in the second quarter most often impacted poultry products, representing 44.4 percent of all recall events and 73.9 percent of pounds.”

The USDA recalls inched upward in July with 4 recalls, all due to the lack of inspection. “This could signal significant gaps in regulatory oversight that are resulting in missed food safety issues,” Stericycle says.

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Campylobacter increase continues in Denmark

September 3, 2020 - 12:03am

The number of Campylobacter infections in Denmark has increased for the third year in a row.

In 2019, the amount of registered Campylobacter infections increased by almost a fifth. A total of 5,389 illnesses were registered, which is an 18.5 percent rise on the 4,547 cases in the previous year.

The increase is because of a large outbreak traced to Danish chicken meat. This food was also determined to be the source in five other outbreaks, while the source was unknown in three other outbreaks. The remaining Campylobacter cases in 2019 are recorded as sporadic.

The data comes from the 2019 annual report on the incidence of zoonoses by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Statens Serum Institut and Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (Foedevarestyrelsen).

A previous SSI report found there was a high incidence among young adults in their 20s in 2019 and the Campylobacter rate among elderly people older than 85 and in men was higher than previously observed. Among young children of 0 to 4 years, the incidence was lower than seen before.

Of all cases in 2019, 1,928, or 36 percent, were acquired abroad. Turkey accounted for the most registered infections closely followed by Spain with Thailand, Indonesia, India, France and Morocco also on the list.

A study in the journal Scientific Reports recently warned in the future that nearly 6,000 excess Campylobacter cases per year in the four Nordic countries could be linked to climate changes.

Infections often part of outbreaks and traced to chicken
During 2019, Statens Serum Institut and the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration analyzed and compared Campylobacter from patients and Danish chicken meat. Data show that cases are more often related to outbreaks than previously thought. Findings show almost one third of all patients have a Campylobacter infection that can be attributed to chicken meat.

Many Campylobacter infections in Denmark are not sporadic and can be linked to outbreaks, according to a study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Eva Møller Nielsen, head of unit at Statens Serum Institut, said the new knowledge provides opportunities to prevent infection in Denmark.

“We are surprised that analyses of patient samples using whole genome sequencing show that the Campylobacter cases to a greater extent are part of outbreaks, which can be traced back to the same food source, and that the majority of these outbreaks can be attributed to chicken,” said Nielsen.

Industry has started initiatives aimed at reducing the occurrence of Campylobacter in the food production chain. An expert group led by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has assessed various options for controlling infection in the production of broilers.

“Given that we in the expert group have not found one single solution to solve the problem, it is paramount that authorities, the industry and researchers have access to reliable data, which can guide efforts to reduce the incidence of illness in humans,” said Johanne Ellis-Iversen, head of research group and senior advisor at the National Food Institute.

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Scottish agency stresses handwashing value after survey results

September 3, 2020 - 12:02am

A survey in Scotland has revealed less than a third of people always use soap or hand wash and water when they are at home.

Around one fifth of respondents also said they spend less time than the recommended 20 seconds washing their hands.

The findings prompted Food Standards Scotland (FSS) to highlight the importance of thorough handwashing to prevent food poisoning.

Getting the message across
The handwashing tracker, conducted by Ipsos MORI, took place between July 10 and 14, and is the first of a quarterly survey. Almost 500 adults aged 16 to 75 years old took part.

Half of those surveyed sometimes use sanitizing wipes or gel to wash their hands while at home.

Two thirds said they always washed hands before cooking a meal or preparing food but less than half said they did it before eating or after contact with animals including pets.

Jane Horne, head of food protection science and surveillance, said washing hands thoroughly at home is an essential step for good food hygiene.

“To avoid cross contamination around your kitchen and reduce the risk of food poisoning to you and your family, you need to always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food – and in particular after touching raw foods, especially meat, and before handling ready-to-eat foods,” she said.

Important to reduce spread of infections
Between 10 and 20 percent of respondents always wash hands, or use hand sanitizing wipes or gels, before having a picnic outside the home, eating at a restaurant or consuming takeaway food.

A low percentage reported handwashing facilities are always not available or not usable in takeaways, cafes and restaurants, public toilets, pubs or clubs and sports and music events.

Results also showed that 85 percent always wash hands after going to the toilet and 41 percent do this after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing into their hands.

Gregor Smith, interim chief medical officer, said good hand hygiene is the single most important thing you can do to help reduce the spread of infections.

“Washing your hands properly with soap and warm water for 20 seconds can help protect you, your family and those around you. Whether you’re at home or out and about, you should make regular and thorough handwashing, or the use of hand sanitizer if warm water and soap isn’t available, part of your daily routine.”

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First Human Case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus in Wisconsin during 2020

September 3, 2020 - 12:01am

The first human case of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus infection this year, is a female under the age of 18 who is a resident of Wisconsin’s Eau Claire County,  reports the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and the Eau Claire County Health Department. Laboratory testing confirmed the infection.

As a result, DHS and Eau Claire County Health Department are reminding the public to protect themselves from mosquito bites by using mosquito repellent any time they are outside.

The news of a human case of EEE comes after the state announced this past week that horses in three northwestern Wisconsin counties were infected with the virus. EEE virus is a rare but potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages.

The last human case of EEE in Wisconsin 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.

The single best prevention tool continues to be avoiding mosquito bites.

“We all have an important role to play in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from illnesses caused by mosquitoes,” said Interim State Health Officer Stephanie Smiley. “Every preventive step we take makes a difference.”

Those prevention measures include:

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.

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Judge leaves USDA to decide on ‘Product of USA,’ but FTC might lend a hand on the labels

September 2, 2020 - 12:05am

The latest attempt to force the USDA to reinstate country of origin labeling (COOL) rules fell short. A federal judge in New Mexico granted motions on Aug. 27 by defendants Tyson Foods Inc., Cargill Meat Solutions, JBS USA, and National Beef Packing Co., to dismiss the two consolidated cases involving the long-fought COOL issue.

USDA enacted COOL rules in 2013 that required meat to be labeled with where an animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. Canada and Mexico claimed they were harmed economically by the COOL labeling scheme and challenged the USDA rule before the World Trade Organization (WTO) and won. The WTO’s ruling permitted Canada and Mexico to impose billions in punitive tariffs unless the United States repealed the COOL rule.

By late 2015, Congress folded by eliminating COOL, and the USDA watered down its labeling requirements to Canada’s and Mexico’s liking. Critics say meat sold under “Product of USA” labels routinely includes foreign product. That’s because the “Product of the USA” label can be used if the product is processed in the United States even if it is of foreign origin.

The consolidated cases that the judge tossed united cattle producers and consumers in claiming “Product of USA” labeling amounts to fraudulent and misleading practice because cattle raised in a foreign country and imported for slaughter and processing can qualify for the label, fooling consumers.

The judge, however, did not see it that way and found the governing statute for labeling leaves the matter within the USDA’s jurisdiction.  And, the judge ruled the USDA is within its authority of regulated country-of-origin labeling and it was not necessary to determine if that labeling might be misleading.

The plaintiffs are reviewing their prospects for appeal. The USDA is also planning on rulemaking that might result in a tougher standard for use of a “Product of USA” labeling standard.

Also, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is  currently accepting comments  through Sept.14 on  its proposed  “Made in USA Labeling Rule.” 

The FTC wants to strengthen  “Made in USA” labeling requirements to reserve the USA label only for products in which, among other things, all significant processing that goes into the product occurs in the United States, and all or virtually all ingredients of the product are made and sourced in the United States.

The FTC is specifically seeking public comments on whether there are any current statutes, rules, or policies that may conflict with the the commission’s proposal.

It appears to set up a conflict between the USDA and the FTC.  The FTC wants to ensure that only products actually made in the USA bear a “Made in the USA” label, while the USDA policy that says a foreign beef product that enters the USA and is subject to only minor processing, such as being taken out of a big box and packaged in smaller boxes, can bear a “Product of USA” label.

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