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Review analyzes measures to ensure safety of beef used in rare burgers

September 2, 2020 - 12:03am

A review has looked at a number of ways to try and ensure burgers served rare are as safe as those that are thoroughly cooked.

The sale and consumption of burgers served less than thoroughly cooked (LTTC) and pink in the middle is a growing trend, prompting concerns of an increased risk of E. coli O157 infections, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The FSA believes burgers served LTTC should have the same level of protection as thorough cooking gives the consumer, which is a 6 log reduction in microbial load. However, it is unlikely this will be achieved solely at the catering level. Safe production of LTTC burgers at caterers is likely to rely on controls and interventions to reduce microbiological risks at beef processing facilities earlier in the supply chain.

Food firms serving LTTC burgers must have documented and validated evidence of procedures in the supply chain that can achieve at least a 4 log reduction before the burger is served to the consumer.

No single intervention, apart from E-beam irradiation, can realistically deliver 4 log reduction of microbiota on carcasses or beef cuts, according to the review.

Consumer protection
“The integrated and coordinated use of multiple interventions in the ground beef production chain may be able to reduce microbial loads sufficiently to offer the same level of protection to consumers from burgers, which are produced with these interventions and are served LTTC as that of thoroughly cooked burgers originating from the conventional ground beef production chain,” according to the review by Dragan Antic at the University of Liverpool.

The work covered a range of GHP-based and hazard-based interventions from cattle received in abattoir up to and including finished product packaging and storage. More than 300 articles were used for data extraction and reporting.

It looked at effectiveness of each intervention in reducing indicator bacteria such as aerobic colony counts, Enterobacteriaceae, total coliform and generic E. coli counts and foodborne pathogens, primarily E. coli O157 and other Shiga toxin producing E. coli and Salmonella.

Only potable water, thermal treatment with hot water and steam pasteurization, and lactic acid beef carcass washing have been permitted for use in European abattoirs.

Stage and type of measures
Multiple use of interventions featuring knife trimming, steam vacuuming, pasteurization treatments and organic acid washes had the biggest impact on microbial reduction on beef carcasses, more than any of them applied alone.

Pre-slaughter beef interventions included good hygiene practices such as lairage cleaning, proper cattle handling to prevent hide cross-contamination, and hide cleanliness assessment.

Post-slaughter interventions included good hygiene practices during carcass fabrication to prevent and minimize carcass cross-contamination post-chill. Hot water or chemical substances have shown good reduction effects but these treatments can only be used if optimized to retain acceptable sensory quality of final products.

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and vacuum packaging are useful to extend shelf life of beef trim and ground beef, but they had very limited impact on E. coli O157:H7.

Novel technologies for beef, such as electron beam, gamma and UV light irradiation, high-pressure processing, cold atmospheric plasma and bacteriophage treatments, merit further investigation but commercial uptake will depend on consumer acceptance, according to the report.

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Botulism cases linked to pate in Vietnam

September 2, 2020 - 12:01am

At least nine cases of foodborne botulism have been reported in Vietnam with a link to a brand of pate. All patients have required hospitalization.

People reported eating Minh Chay pate products, which have been recalled nationally, according to the Vietnam Food Administration.

All patients have been hospitalized – five at Cho Ray Hospital and two each at Bach Mai Hospital and Ho Chi Minh Hospital for Tropical Diseases. They became ill from mid-July through Aug. 18.

Initial test results of some Minh Chay pate products, made by Loi Song Moi Company, from different batches detected Clostridium botulinum type B. Patient samples were also positive for Clostridium botulinum.

Incident timeline
On Aug. 19, the Department of Food Safety at the Ministry of Health received a call from the Poison Control Center at Bach Mai Hospital about a couple of people initially diagnosed with suspected food poisoning caused by Botulinum toxin. Both of these patients had Minh Chay pate products with the last time being at the end of July.

On the same day, the Department of Food Safety asked the Hanoi Food Safety and Hygiene Department to work with local authorities to investigate and verify the information.

One day later, the production facility in Dong Anh Town, Hanoi was inspected and issues were found at the company with sanitary conditions such as factory cleaning and drainage. The inspection team told the Health Department of Dong Anh district to suspend production at the firm until problems were fixed and they also took samples of the products.

Patient samples and pate from those being treated at Bach Mai Hospital also became available. Both were positive for Clostridium botulinum and results pointed to contamination during the production process.

Company response
A statement from the company started by apologizing to customers.

“As a brand that comes from a family with a 30-year vegetarian tradition with the desire to convey vegetarian values to the community, Minh Chay always complies with the law. The safety of our customers is Minh Chay’s top priority, we are extremely grateful for your support,” it read.

“Immediately after receiving the direction and guidance of the authorities, we stopped all business and production activities of Minh Chay to coordinate with the authorities to investigate and clarify the cause as well as focus a maximum on customer support resources.”

Botulism is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. In foodborne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating a contaminated food. However, they can start as soon as six hours after or up to 10 days later.

It can cause symptoms including general weakness, dizziness, double-vision, and trouble with speaking or swallowing. It paralyzes respiratory muscles so most patients must be placed on life support. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distention and constipation may also occur. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention.

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Salmonella concerns prompt recall of organic microgreens

September 1, 2020 - 1:34pm

A Canadian company is recalling organic microgreens because of possible contamination with Salmonella, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The agency is urging consumers to check their homes for the Picoudi brand microgreens and immediately discard them if they have them on hand. The company Les Jardins Picoudi shipped the implicated sprouts to Quebec and New Brunswick, according to the recall notice. 

Inspectors from the CFIA as well as staff from the Quebec agriculture department (MAPAQ) are investigating the situation in search of the source of the contamination.

“This recall was triggered by MAPAQ. A food safety investigation is being conducted. If other high-risk products are recalled, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will notify the public through updated food recall warnings,” according to the recall notice.

“The CFIA is verifying that industry is removing the recalled products from the marketplace. There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

The recalled microgreens are:

Brand Product Size UPC Codes Picoudi Organic Broccoli Microgreens 35 g 8 13526 00001 6 3 233 Picoudi Organic Broccoli Microgreens 75 g 8 13526 00011 5 3 233 Picoudi Organic Arugula Microgreens 35 g 8 13526 00006 1 3 233 Picoudi Organic Arugula Microgreens 75 g 8 13526 00016 0 3 233 Picoudi Organic Coriander Microgreens 35 g 8 13526 00005 4 3 233 Picoudi Organic Coriander Microgreens 75 g 8 13526 00015 3 3 233

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

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

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

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

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Sodexo Management Inc. faces punitive damage claims after Marine E. coli outbreak

September 1, 2020 - 12:05am

A district court has ruled that victims of an E. coli outbreak on a Marine Corps base have sufficiently alleged that Sodexo Management Inc. exercised a conscious disregard of risk, which is the standard for punitive damages under California law

The court in the Southern District of California was tasked to consider whether the proposed amendments have the facts that constitute a valid claim for punitive damage. In the now approved amended complaints, eight plaintiffs added claims for punitive damages for counts of strict liability and negligence. Plaintiff Vincent Grano initiated the action in the lead case and plaintiffs in all seven member cases initiated their actions Oct. 7, 2019. 

The cases are related to an Oct. 2017 E. coli outbreak that swept through the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and Camp Pendleton. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 62 confirmed, 62 probable and 120 suspected patients. Thirty of those patients required hospitalization and 15 developed HUS.

The plaintiffs, represented by Marler Clark LLC and co-counsel in California, suffered injuries from this 2017 E. coli outbreak at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) and Edson Range at Camp Pendleton, CA. These injuries included hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) known for causing permanent kidney injury. Several plaintiffs suffered seizures and were required to undergo total hip replacements. The plaintiffs have brought strict liability and negligence claims against Sodexo and Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. for injuries caused by this outbreak.

In the now approved amended complaints the plaintiffs added claims for punitive damages for both counts of strict liability and negligence. Plaintiff Vincent Grano initiated the action in the lead case Aug. 3, 2019, and plaintiffs in all other seven member cases initiated their actions Oct. 7, 2019.

Sodexo is a New York corporation that is responsible for providing food and facility management services for the United States Navy at both MCRD and Edson Range. Also named in the suit, is  Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., which manufactures, distributes, and sells meat products to Sodexo.

The plaintiffs allege that Sodexo knew of the risk of foodborne illness and that the company has had a long-standing pattern of inaction in addressing the risk.

The lawsuit contends Sodexo employees and management officials had specific knowledge of the risks posed by undercooked beef and failed to review their meat-cooking processes over the course of a 15-17 year period leading up to the Marine Corps E.coli outbreak.

The court’s task wasn’t to award punitive damages, but rather to assess whether the proposed amended pleadings allege facts that would constitute a valid claim for punitive damages. 

Expert testimony
Richard A. Raymond, who is a medical doctor, veterinarian and a former Undersecretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was asked by the law firm of Marler Clark LLP to review records relevant and provide testimony to the court.

“Professionally, I have devoted a significant part of my professional career to food safety and public health. I have never seen behavior on this level in any hamburger operation, and that it involved the production of such vast quantities of hamburgers so clearly magnified all risks. Sodexo did not have any control over this operation whatsoever,” Raymond said.

Raymond said it is astonishing, disturbing, and frankly anger-provoking that Sodexo does it like this in 2017.

The plaintiffs’ state that their motion to amend is not based on a single meal. As alleged in their amended complaint, “it is almost two decades of Sodexo willfully ignoring its own institutional knowledge of the unique risks posed by ground beef and E. coli 0157 and its refusal to implement a scientifically-validated, multi-control point system up to industry standards to ensure it produced and served safe hamburgers.”

The case so far:

  • Sept. 19, 2018 — Grano filed a first amended complaint.
  • Oct.  22, 2019 — Grano filed a Second Amended Complaint (SAC), adding Cargill as a defendant on the basis that Cargill had sold to Sodexo the allegedly contaminated ground beef patties that give rise to plaintiffs’ claims. 
  • May 4, 2020 — The court granted plaintiffs’ motion to file amended complaints in all member cases in order to add US Foods as a defendant, in response to Sodexo’s decision to file third-party complaints against US Foods in the lead and member cases. 
  • June 5, 2020 — The court ordered that plaintiffs had until July 6, 2020 to file any motion for leave to amend and/or add claims. 
  • July 6, 2020 — Plaintiffs filed this instant motion.
  • Aug. 18, 2020 — The court ordered the motion to grant file amended complaints.

Victim profile

August 2018 — One week after surgery, Outside Wounded Warrior Battalion Naval Medical Center in San Diego

Earlier this year, Food Safety News had the chance to interview Hunter Browning, one of the Marine recruits, who was part of the E. coli outbreak.

“There are bouts of anger, of very extreme feelings toward my situation. Because it could have been different in so many ways. If the food was cooked properly. I would be out doing my job in the Marine Corps,” Browning told FSN.

Long term, Browning will need at least one more hip replacement, and possibly two more in his lifetime. Browning still has pain when standing for too long or sitting on a hard surface. The limited leg motion has made simple tasks more difficult. Even repositioning his leg while sleeping is a challenge.

“I didn’t even get to finish boot camp, so they don’t even consider me a marine,” he said. “It’s very difficult not to have negative feelings. Given a chance, I would have worked for everything.”

Browning’s full profile can be read here.

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Food poisoning drops significantly at youth camps in Belgium

September 1, 2020 - 12:03am

The Belgian food safety authority has had to step in less this summer at youth camps following outbreaks of food poisoning.

The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) intervened twice in youth camps following incidents related to food poisoning in 2020, which is four times less than the three previous years.

The agency reported this was likely because of increased attention to hygiene during the coronavirus pandemic as well as support and training on good hygienic practices.

Bacillus cereus and norovirus
The first incident involved 12 ill people and Bacillus cereus was found in leftover food. The second left 14 people sick and was caused by norovirus.

In 2019, out of the hundreds of camps organized in Belgium, FASFC was called upon eight times with half of the incidents caused by norovirus.

Youth camps are generally not part of the FASFC inspection program but the agency raises awareness and trains youth organizations so summer camps are safe.

FASFC, known in French as AFSCA and Dutch as FAVV, has been carrying out awareness campaigns for young people and staff members of these camps for years. If incidents occur, agency officials go on site to try to pinpoint the origin of collective contamination, and prevent other children falling ill.

This includes doing a survey to find out what was the last meal eaten, origin of the food and water, and method of storage for foodstuffs. They also ensure good hygiene practices are known and respected. If there are any, leftover meal samples are taken and analyzed.

Outbreak figures
Meanwhile, the number of product recalls remained stable in 2019 after an increase the year before, according to FASFC’s annual report.

In 2019, 153 product recalls and 86 warnings were published on the agency’s website making a total of 239 compared to 220 in 2018. Listeria remained prominent in product recalls, with large quantities of meat products withdrawn from the market in Belgium and across Europe.

Notified outbreaks in Belgium 2016-2019

There was a major Salmonella outbreak in September 2019 that involved 203 people at the Spermalie Hotel and Tourism School in Bruges. The eggs used in preparation of tartare sauce were suspected as being the origin of contamination. Salmonella bacteria could be detected in the leftover sauce, but not in leftover eggs.

The eggs came from Spain and Spanish authorities inspected the farm concerned and analyzed eggs. They were found to be contaminated with Salmonella and the strain was the same as that found in patients.

In total, 571 outbreaks were reported and 2,457 people fell sick with 28 needing hospital treatment but no deaths were reported, according to data from Sciensano, the Belgian Institute for Health. It was only possible to identify the food vehicle in one other outbreak, besides the egg example above, and that was a Salmonella outbreak caused by milk.

While the pathogen was unknown in 555 outbreaks, Salmonella caused five with 216 sick and six admitted to hospitals, norovirus was responsible for three with 41 cases and Listeria monocytogenes two with four cases and two hospitalizations. Bacillus cereus, Campylobacter and E. coli O157 all caused one outbreak. More than 70 percent of outbreaks were linked to the Horeca, or food service, sector.

Food fraud and RASFF
The National Investigation Unit (UNE) of AFSCA is in charge of the prevention, detection and stopping fraud in the country. In 2019, UNE recorded 1,331 administrative cases compared to 711 in 2017 and 712 in 2018 including the opening of more than 700 investigations.

UNE has also worked with Dutch authorities on labelling of fruit and vegetables, slaughter of poultry and fraud in the potato sector and Bulgarian officials on meat fraud.

In 2019, 4,000 reports were made by all EU member states via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), for products likely to present a risk to humans or animals and 224 came from Belgium, down slightly from the 240 in 2018. Almost a quarter of notifications in 2019 by Belgium were due to pathogenic microorganisms.

FASFC carried out 68,684 sample tests in 2019 and 97.3 percent of them were compliant compared to 96.5 percent of more than 70,000 samples in 2018. Meat was the product with the most non-conformities followed by cheese.

The Scientific Committee of FASFC has an annual symposium and this year’s is planned for Dec. 1 on the subject of “Animals without disease: the future of the animal production chain?”

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Registration opens for IAFP 2020 virtual annual meeting

September 1, 2020 - 12:02am

Registration Is now open for the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) 2020 event, “A Virtual Annual Meeting,”scheduled for Oct. 26-28.

“Join thousands of food safety professionals from around the world for three days of sharing, learning, and networking – safely and remotely,” association officials said in a news release.

When the Annual Meeting was rescheduled from August to October, it was hoped that the United States and the world would experience a decrease in COVID-19 infection rates. Because of the continued spread of coronavirus and the persistent pandemic, the IAFP Executive Board moved the event online to protect the health and safety of IAFP Members and Annual Meeting attendees. 

Anyone who has already registered for the annual conference and meeting and plans to attend the event in October will automatically be registered for the new dates.

After continued attempts to hold IAFP 2020 as an in-person Annual Meeting, the IAFP Executive Board agreed to move to a virtual platform for this year.

In a usual year, the IAFP Annual Meeting is attended by more than 3,800 of the top industry, academic and governmental food safety professionals from six continents.

The event is known for the quantity, quality, and diversity of each year’s program; the quality and relevance of exhibits sharing the latest in available technologies; leading experts speaking on a variety of timely topics; and special recognition of outstanding professionals and students for their contributions in the food safety field.

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

Registration Includes:

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

To register for the event, visit this page.

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Officials probe rise in GBS infections in Singapore

September 1, 2020 - 12:01am

Authorities in Singapore are investigating an increase in Group B Streptococcus (GBS) cases.

GBS infections had previously been associated with eating raw freshwater fish and the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) advised those who consume ready-to-eat (RTE) raw fish to exercise caution.

In July 2020, the MOH received reports of 50 GBS patients from public hospitals compared with an average of 25 GBS cases per month from January to June.

Spike in reports
Laboratory investigations showed that 18 cases in July were GBS serotype III sequence type (ST) 283. This compares with an average of four per month from April to June. Most people with GBS Type III ST283 were aged 65 and above. The majority have since been discharged and recovered from their infections while one person died because of an unrelated cause.

MOH and SFA are collecting information on the affected individuals’ food history and conducting field investigations, to determine possible sources of GBS in these patients.

Based on SFA’s routine sampling and testing of fish samples for GBS between May 2019 and August 2020, the presence of ST283 has not been detected. SFA also inspected food stalls visited by recent cases and found that none of them sold any RTE raw fish dishes.

Ban and previous outbreak
SFA is reminding retail food establishments there is a ban on use of freshwater fish for sale of RTE raw fish dishes, which has been in force since December 2015. Food sites selling RTE raw fish should also ensure good hygiene practices and proper handling of fish.

A major outbreak of GBS infection associated with eating a Chinese-style raw fish dish called yusheng occurred in Singapore during 2015 and involved 238 people during the first half of the year compared with an average of 150 cases per year in the four years before 2015.

GBS is a common bacterium found in the human gut and urinary tract of about 15 to 30 percent of adults without causing disease. However, it may cause invasive infections of the skin, joints, heart and brain. Risk factors for infection include underlying chronic or co-morbid conditions, such as diabetes. Transmission may also occur during childbirth. Most GBS infections are treatable with antibiotics.

As a general precaution, vulnerable groups, especially young children, pregnant women, elderly persons, or people with chronic illness, may be more susceptible and should avoid consumption of raw food. Individuals can also reduce the risk of infection by thoroughly cooking food; washing hands and kitchen utensils such as knives and cutting boards thoroughly before handling food; and using separate sets of knives and cutting boards for raw and cooked food.

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Part Three: Forming your OEE game plan

August 31, 2020 - 12:05am

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

While delivering safe food is a leading priority for food companies, this must be done in a way that satisfies customer needs and makes sense from a business standpoint. 

According to Roger Woehl, Chief Technical Officer for SafetyChain Software, marrying all of these key components together can be supported by implementing an equipment effectiveness (OEE) strategy as a part of an overall approach to production and quality. 

“To do this, it is important OEE is not treated as a one-point solution for a specific area of efficiency within a plant and instead incorporates the three segregated areas of OEE: Availability, Performance and Quality,” says Woehl. “When implementing change, we must always consider the bigger ramifications and how it fits into the greater plan of food safety and quality.”

For example, a low hanging fruit of making operations more efficient is it reduce machine downtime. As that time is reduced, throughput can then be focused on. While this may increase the number of units produced per shift, what happened to quality once production was stepped up? 

“A business is not going to be effective if they can only do one or two of the OEE areas well – it must be a whole integrated approach to be a safe and profitable business,” says Woehl. 

To create an integrated OEE process, following a structured game plan will help keep businesses moving forward without compromising any key components of safety and quality, he adds. 

Here are four steps to forming an OEE game plan: 

Step One: Reinforce PreOp inspections

“OEE will track equipment effectiveness, but there are processes and procedures that need to be done even before you turn on the equipment, such as PreOp readiness. All these things should be integrated and seamless in the overall process,” says Woehl. 

To improve the efficiency of this process, Woehl recommends companies ditch paper and implement real-time data reporting technology that will give managers full visibility of the line. 

“When things like compliance checks are automated, issues are flagged up immediately to supervisors and can be dealt with quickly and efficiently,” says Woehl. “Good OEE really starts with starting the machine on time and the visibility to all the steps before that.”

Step Two: Pre-kick off huddle 

As part of the plan to improve OEE, everyone responsible for productivity should have received training on how to identify factors that impede this and built them into a checklist. Prior to kicking off production, these materials should be reviewed, and any tasks required to improve productivity should be set based on what they day’s objective is. Once these have been identified, everyone working the shift should be gathered together to go through these together.  

“For example, if you’re concentrating on minimizing downtime, you need looked at past issues and create a strategy to address these gaps to achieve the daily goal,” explains Woehl. “It is then really important that everyone on the team knows what the target is, the overall strategy and their role in achieving it.”

Step Three: Obtain real-time visibility into productivity metrics 

The key to driving productivity is to keep everyone alerted at what is happening at specific points along the line at any time with real-time data. 

“This allows us to shift the questions from ‘what is our OEE?’ to ‘why is that our OEE?’” says Woehl. 

For example, if the OEE target was 84% and the actual score was 80%, real-time data allows supervisors to trace product back through the line and identify the root cause of the inefficiency. 

“Understanding the ‘why?’ in as short as time as possible is critical to know what is going on,” he says. “The faster you have it, the faster you can adapt, and the faster you can improve efficiency.”

Step Four: Establish an improvements committee 

Last, but one of the most important steps, is to establish a working group to analyze data and assess which changes are going to have the most impact on OEE. 

“This committee needs to have multiple perspectives so the ramifications of these actions can thoroughly be assessed ahead of time. This can include people upline in inventory, packaging, maintenance teams and people on the line,” says Woehl. “Getting everyone involved is key to getting the best perspective and then figuring out what changes can be done.”

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Packs of baby food damaged by mice leads to recall in New Zealand

August 31, 2020 - 12:03am

Holes found in baby food packaging was likely due to mice, according to officials in New Zealand.

Initial investigations also looked at the possibility of a manufacturing fault and involved New Zealand Police to ensure the damage was not caused deliberately.

Supermarket chain Woolworths NZ recalled squeezable baby food pouches from stores nationwide after holes were found in about 30 packets in its Auckland and Napier supermarkets.

The individual pouches of baby food with damaged packaging were found across six supermarkets in Auckland, and one in Napier. All these products have been removed from shelves. Woolworths New Zealand has also checked all baby food in their stores and distribution centers across the country to ensure no damaged product is still on shelves.

Damage due to mice infestation
The move follows the discovery of a mice infestation at two of Woolworth NZ’s Auckland distribution centers.

Examples of recalled products

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) reported no associated illness but advised anyone who had health concerns to seek medical advice.

Gary Orr, New Zealand Food Safety director of compliance, said: “It now looks likely that the damage was caused by these mice infestations. However, we continue to work to rule out any other possible issues in the supply chain. In the meantime we are working with Woolworths NZ to ensure corrective actions are taken so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Product is being removed from Countdown, SuperValue and FreshChoice stores across the country. All dates, flavors and batches of Smiling Tums, Only Organics and Natureland brands sold at these stores are affected. None of these items were exported. Organics and Natureland are sold in 120-gram or 170-gram pouches. Smiling Tums comes in a 120-gram pouch.

Importance of pest control
Orr advised consumers who have any affected product to return it to retailers or throw it out.

“Mice must be kept away from food because they can contaminate the food and packaging with harmful microbes from their saliva, urine and droppings. Any food contamination is serious, but for babies it can be particularly significant, so we ask that parents check every squeezable baby food pouch in their home to ensure it is not affected by the recall,” he said.

Parents should routinely check baby food pouches for damage even if they are not affected by the recall, according to Orr.

“You can do this by giving the packet a light squeeze to identify any holes or other damage. Of course, any product with any damaged packaging should not be consumed. Damage to packaging does occur from time to time as part of the process of manufacturing and distributing food,” he said.

In all the damaged product found, the holes were prominent and easy to see without squeezing, according to officials.

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Six companies put on notice over after FDA uncovers violations

August 31, 2020 - 12:02am

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

Martinez Mexican Produce LLC

Hidalgo, TX

An import company in Texas is on notice from the FDA for not having FSVPs for a number of imported food products.

In a June 16 warning letter, the FDA described March 6, 2020, Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) inspection at Martinez Mexican Produce LLC.

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

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

  • Mayonnaise manufactured by (redacted)
  • Shredded coconut manufactured by (redacted)

The full warning letter can be viewed here.

Fides Ny Inc.

Bayside, NY

An import company in New York is on notice from the FDA for not having FSVPs for a number of imported food products.

In a July 29 warning letter, the FDA described May 26 and 28, 2020, Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) inspections at Fides New York Inc.

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

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

  •  Namja Ramen imported from their foreign supplier, (redacted)
  •   Aloe Drink imported from their foreign supplier, (redacted)
  •   Frozen Yogurt Drink Green Apple Flavor imported from their foreign supplier, (redacted)

The full warning letter can be viewed here.

Grupo Rm Usa, Inc.

Miami, FL

An import company in Florida is on notice from the FDA for not having FSVPs for a number of imported food products.

In an Aug. 6 warning letter, the FDA described an April 30 and May 6, 2020, Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) inspection at Grupo Rm Usa, .

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

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

  • Tropical Banana Soft Drink, imported from (redacted).
  • Toasted Crackers, imported from (redacted).
  • Milk Candy, imported from (redacted).

The full warning letter can be viewed here.

La Sonorense, Inc.

Phoenix, AZ

A company in Arizona is on notice from the FDA for CGMP & PC violations, including not identifying and evaluating bacterial pathogens such as pathogenic E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes, in their ingredients as known or reasonably foreseeable hazards to determine whether they are hazards requiring a preventive control.

In an Aug. 6 warning letter the FDA described a March 16 and 21, 2020, inspection at La Sonorense Inc.’s ready-to-eat food manufacturing facility. Inspectors found that the company had serious violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food regulation.

FDA’s inspection resulted in issuance of an FDA Form 483. The significant violations are as follows:

Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (Subpart C):

  • The firm did not conduct a hazard analysis for any of their products to identify and evaluate known or reasonably foreseeable hazards for each type of food products manufactured or processed at their facility to determine whether there are any hazards requiring a preventive control. Specifically,
  1. The firm did not identify and evaluate undeclared allergens due to incorrect labeling as a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard to determine whether the hazard requires a preventive control. Their facility receives, stores, and manufactures products that contain an allergen (wheat). FDA investigators observed their RTE pressed wheat flour tortillas were packaged into clear unlabeled packages, twist tied closed, and packed into a cardboard box. The bulk packaged RTE pressed wheat flour tortillas were not labeled with an ingredient statement declaring wheat flour as an ingredient. As a result of FDA inspection, their firm conducted a voluntary recall of their bulk Pressed Wheat Flour Tortillas that contain wheat flour as an ingredient due to undeclared wheat allergen on the product label.
  2. The firm did not identify and evaluate bacterial pathogens such as pathogenic E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes in their ingredients as known or reasonably foreseeable hazards to determine whether they are hazards requiring a preventive control. For example, pathogenic E. coli and Salmonella are known or reasonably foreseeable hazards in flour.
  3. The firm did not identify and evaluate environmental pathogens, such as Salmonella, as a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard after their (redacted) step to determine whether the hazard requires a preventive control. Their facility manufactures RTE food which is exposed to the environment after the (redacted) step but prior to packaging. The packaged food does not receive a lethal treatment or otherwise include a control measure, such as a formulation lethal to the pathogen or control by the supply chain or downstream customer, that would significantly minimize the pathogen.
  4. They did not identify and evaluate mycotoxins as a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard to determine whether the hazard requires a preventive control. Their facility manufactures tortillas with wheat and corn flour. These ingredients have been associated with mycotoxins.
  • The firm did not identify and implement preventive controls for any of their products to provide assurance that any hazards requiring a preventive control will be significantly minimized or prevented and the food manufactured, processed, packed, or held by their facility will not be adulterated. Preventive controls include, as appropriate to the facility and the food, process controls, food allergen controls, sanitation controls, supply-chain controls, and a recall plan. Preventive controls are subject to preventive control management components as appropriate to ensure the effectiveness of the preventive controls, taking into account the nature of the preventive control and its role in the facility’s food safety system.
  • The firm did not prepare or have prepared and did not implement a written food safety plan for any of the products manufactured in their facility. A food safety plan must include the following:
  1. The written hazard analysis.
  2. The written preventive controls.
  3. The written supply-chain program.
  4. The written recall plan.
  5. The written procedures for monitoring the implementation of the preventive controls.
  6. The written corrective action procedures.
  7. The written verification procedures.

During the inspection, the company’s assistant manager stated the firm would conduct a hazard analysis and create a food safety plan after construction of their new facility, but no timeline for the creation of the food safety plan or new plant construction was provided. Their written response did not provide any details to address the hazard analysis or food safety plan.

Current Good Manufacturing Practice (Subpart B):

  • The firm did not take effective measures to exclude pests from their manufacturing, processing and packing areas to protect against the contamination of food, as required by 21 CFR § 117.35(c). Specifically, the FDA investigator observed:
  1. The (redacted) dock doors located on the east side of the facility remained open during each production day of the inspection, with employees, raw ingredients, and finished products passing in and out. The dock door is equipped with an (redacted) which did not appear to be functioning properly during the inspection. There was also a 1 to 2-inch wide gap under and in-between the sliding dock doors. During the production of (redacted)-inch wheat flour tortillas, an employee was seen placing proofed dough onto a dough feeder located approximately four feet from the open dock doors.
  2. Apparent rodent excreta pellets were present on top of a large plastic bin containing a mixture of (redacted) and (redacted) which was used as an (redacted) for boiling and soaking corn kernels.
  3. Flying insects, too numerous to count, were in the production area and landing on the wheat flour dough feeder and ovens, including one insect directly on top of the prep table as employees were packaging flour tortillas.

Similar observations were made during the 2018 and 2019 inspections. In their written response, company officials stated they are in the process of replacing the back door to repair the gaps, and they will retrain employees to ensure that the (redacted) are on at all times. The FDA will evaluate the adequacy of their corrective actions during the next inspection.

  • The firm’s equipment and utensils were not adequately maintained to protect against contamination. Specifically, on March 17, 2020, FDA investigators observed the plastic and metal portions of the belt on the feeder of the (redacted) Tortilla oven and (redacted) Tortilla oven were scarred and stained with  dark residue. A similar observation was made during the 2018 inspection. Their written response did not address this violation.
  • The firm did not clean and sanitize its utensils or equipment in a manner that protects against contamination. Specifically, FDA investigators observed their sanitation process, which consisted of scraping to remove residual dough and wiping down the RTE tortilla processing areas using a cleaner/degreaser in (redacted) water and a rag (redacted), but no sanitizer. Residual dough, approximately ¼ inch thick on the mixer, proofing boxes, metal sheet pans, and dough feeders, was observed after cleaning was performed. The large metal vat used to soak, and boil corn kernels contained standing water and had yellow and brown stains with residues measuring approximately ½ inch thick on the food contact surfaces. An employee used a metal scoop to remove standing water from the metal vat, but the vat was never cleaned prior to being used in food production. Furthermore, the (redacted) conveyors used to transport the baked tortillas to packaging were not cleaned. Similar observations were made during the 2018 and 2019 inspections.

The full warning letter can be viewed here.

Grand Strand Sandwich Company Inc.,

Longs, SC

A company in South Carolina is on notice front from the FDA for CGMP and PC violations, including the presence of Listeria monocytogenes found on four swabs collected from locations adjacent to food contact surfaces.

In an Aug. 4 warning letter the FDA described a Feb. 24-27, 2020, inspection at Grand Strand Sandwich Company Inc. ready-to-eat sandwich manufacturing facility. Inspectors found that the company had serious violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food regulation.

FDA’s inspection resulted in issuance of an FDA Form 483. The significant violations are as follows:

Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (Subpart C):

  1. The firm did not identify and implement preventive controls adequate to provide assurances that any hazards requiring a preventive control will be significantly minimized or prevented, and the food manufactured, processed, packed, or held by their facility will not be adulterated.
  • In their food safety plan, they identified environmental pathogens as a hazard requiring preventive controls and identified sanitation controls to address the hazard. However, as evidenced by environmental findings that indicate a resident strain of Listeria monocytogenes in their facility, they did not implement sanitation controls adequate to ensure that their facility is maintained in a sanitary condition to significantly minimize or prevent the hazard of the environmental pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.

Environmental swabs collected during each of the past three FDA inspections revealed Listeria  monocytogenes in their facility as follows:

– 2020: four (4) swabs collected from locations adjacent to food contact surfaces.

– 2018: seventeen (17) swabs primarily collected from food contact surfaces and locations adjacent to food contact surfaces.

– 2017: five (5) swabs within their facility primarily collected from locations adjacent to food contact surfaces.

Whole genome sequencing (WGS) was conducted on the Listeria monocytogenes isolates obtained from the FDA environmental samples. The current WGS analysis determined that the isolates derived from the samples collected at their facility during FDA 2020, 2018, and 2017 inspections represent a single strain of Listeria monocytogenes. These isolates are also genetically identical to one (1) clinical isolate collected in 2015, which indicates this strain has the capability of causing human illness. The FDA advised them of those WGS results via a conference call on March 25, 2020. The presence of the same strain of Listeria monocytogenes over multiple years indicates that there has been a resident pathogen or harborage site in their facility since 2017.

These findings demonstrate that their sanitation procedures have been inadequate to significantly minimize or prevent Listeria monocytogenes in their facility. Once Listeria  monocytogenes is established in a production area, personnel or equipment can facilitate the pathogen’s movement and contamination of food-contact surfaces and finished product. It is essential to identify the areas of the food processing plant where this organism is able to survive and grow to take such corrective actions as necessary to eradicate the organism by rendering these areas unable to support the survival and growth of the organism and prevent the organism from being re-established in such sites.

In addition, on January 6, 2020, they found Listeria spp. on a (redacted) in their processing environment. Their firm implemented corrective actions, which included cleaning and sanitizing, followed by conducting environmental swabbing on that location to determine these were effective. On February 24, 2020, FDA’s environmental swabbing isolated Listeria monocytogenes from a (redacted) in their (redacted), which appears to be the same location of their January 6, 2020, finding.

In their written responses, they indicate that they have assessed potential routes of contamination, closed production on March 13, 2020, to perform deep cleaning and sanitizing, performed environmental swabbing, and purchased a (redacted) to use on hard-to-clean, high-risk areas of production. They also state that they are evaluating the use of a third-party consulting company to assist in re-evaluating their environmental monitoring program; however, they have not provided details on the completion of their consultation process, actions items that resulted from their consultation, or a timeframe for implementation of any additional corrective actions. Additionally, they state that they created an SSOP for changing gloves, created an SSOP for operating their (redacted), and re-trained their employees on both procedures; however, they did not provide any records that document their employees received the specified training.

As reflected in the inspectional findings and repeated detection of the same strain of Listeria monocytogenes in their facility, their previous actions have not been adequate to address the hazard of Listeria monocytogenes. Specifically, after the FDA’s 2017 inspection, they indicated that they contracted with a third-party cleaning service to conduct deep cleaning and sanitizing in their facility, and they were in consultation with (redacted), who performed a one day inspection at their facility and identified areas for improvement within their processing environment. After the FDA’s 2018 inspection, they indicated that they ceased operation, contracted again with a third-party cleaning service to conduct deep cleaning and sanitizing of their facility, made improvements to their production environment, and implemented (redacted) environmental monitoring. Furthermore, the agency had Regulatory Meetings with their firm in 2017 and 2019, to notify them of the FDA’s concerns with FDA inspectional findings, environmental findings, and the firm’s corrective actions. During both Regulatory Meetings, the firm committed to implementing corrective actions to prevent the recurrence of Listeria monocytogenes findings within their food manufacturing facility.

Given the history of findings, the FDA continues to be concerned about their ability to maintain a sanitary environment. The FDA recommends that they continue to identify potential harborage sites and source(s) of the organism in their processing environment and implement the necessary methods and controls to ensure Listeria monocytogenes does not contaminate their RTE food products. The FDA will verify the effectiveness of their corrective actions during their next inspection.

  1. The firm did not identify and evaluate whether there are hazards in their raw materials or other ingredients that require a supply-chain-applied control.

Their facility manufactures various RTE sandwich products using deli salad and deli meats as ingredients. These ingredients have the known or reasonably foreseeable hazard of pathogens including Listeria monocytogenes, and they do not receive any further processing in their facility to control these hazards. Thus, these hazards are controlled by their supplier. The need to consider the hazard of pathogens in their ingredients is illustrated by their recall in October 2019 of Lunch Box Chicken Salad Fresh Wedges, Lunch Box Chicken Salad Frozen Wedges, and Fresh and Local Chicken Salad Croissants because of the potential contamination of the chicken salad ingredient with Listeria monocytogenes. In their revised hazard analysis contained in their food safety plan included with their March 10, 2020, response, they did not identify the hazards in their incoming ingredients as needing a preventive control such as supply-chain-applied control. Although their revised food safety plan indicates the importance of (redacted) during shipment to their facility, this does not address the hazard of pathogens in incoming ingredients.

  1. The firm did not appropriately evaluate the hazard of bacterial growth and/or toxin formation based on the packaging of their food. Their hazard analysis, dated July 30, 2019, did not identify bacterial growth and/or toxin formation as a hazard requiring a preventive control based on the packaging of their food. Their revised hazard analysis contained in their food safety plan included with their March 10, 2020, response, acknowledges that “our sandwiches are (redacted) packaged which can create the growth of C. botulinum” but states that “We control this hazard by our (redacted) which does not allow C. botulinum to grow. Therefore, we feel that this does not need a PC.” It is not appropriate to conclude that a hazard does not need a preventive control based on the presence of such a control. They state that they control the hazard of C. botulinum by their (redacted); thus, this program is the preventive control for the hazard.
  2. The firm did not establish and implement adequate written verification procedures.
  • Their environmental monitoring procedures are not adequate. Specifically, their “Environmental Sampling-(redacted) & In-house,” dated Feb. 26, 2020, states that for their “(redacted)-Done (redacted)” they will “collect (redacted) swabs from different locations in our production room, place swabs and paperwork in cooler with ice pack, Ship to (redacted), place report in Environmental Sampling Book.” Additionally, for their “In House Testing-Done,” they will “collect (redacted) swabs from different locations in our production room, place in incubator, record results.” The firm’s environmental monitoring procedures for both their external laboratory analysis and in-house testing do not identify the locations from which samples will be collected and the number of sites to be tested during routine environmental monitoring; or identify the test(s) conducted.

The full warning letter can be viewed here.

Chicago Indoor Garden Inc.

Chicago, IL

A company in Chicago is on notice from the FDA for Produce Safety regulation violations, including the presence of E. coli O103 on sampled sprouts.

In a July 30 warning letter the FDA described a Feb. 28 through March 31, 2020, inspection at Chicago Indoor Garden Inc.’s sprouting operation. Inspectors found that the company had serious violations of the Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption regulation 

FDA’s inspection resulted in issuance of an FDA Form 483. The significant violations are as follows:

Pathogen Findings

March 3, 2020 — The FDA collected a sample of red clover sprouts (1119371) from their sprouting operation. The laboratory analysis yielded E. coli O103 isolated from one of 10 swabs. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) analysis was conducted on the two E. coli O103 isolates obtained from the positive product sample collected during the FDA inspection on March 3, 2020. The WGS analysis determined that the two isolates from sample 1119371 were genetically identical to each other and to isolates from the outbreak (2002IAEXW-1 and 1912IAEXW-1).

The FDA received their written response on April 15, 2020, outlining the corrective actions that they have taken in response to the product sample findings; however, the FDA inspectors were unable to evaluate the adequacy of their corrective actions. The FDA acknowledges that they agreed on March 16, 2020, to recall all products containing red clover sprouts. The FDA also acknowledges that they stated that they stopped production of red clover sprouts, ordered seed from a different supplier, conducted a root cause analysis, had the seed’s spent irrigation water tested for E. coli O103, and deep cleaned some of the equipment that they use to grow their sprouts in. The FDA will evaluate the adequacy of their corrective actions at the FDA’s next inspection.

Produce Safety Regulation Violations

During the inspection, FDA investigators observed the following significant violation of the Produce Safety regulation:

  1. The firm did not discontinue the use of all seeds from a lot which they knew or had reason to believe may have been contaminated with a pathogen, and they did not ensure that sprouts grown from that lot of seeds did not enter commerce. Specifically, at the end of December 2019 and beginning of January 2020, their operation received communication from their seed supplier, indicating that sprouts grown from clover seed lot (redacted) had been voluntarily recalled by another sprouting operation, and that the seed supplier was waiting to receive test results to determine whether lot (redacted) was contaminated with pathogens. In December 2019, they placed that lot on hold. However, in January 2020, without further communication from their seed supplier, they resumed sprout production using lot (redacted) to grow sprouts which were sold to their customers.

The FDA acknowledges their written response received April 15, 2020; however, the FDA is unable to evaluate the adequacy of their corrective actions. In their response, the firm stated that decisions made about “questionable” seed would be discussed with the owner and all management before any decisions are made about that seed. The FDA will evaluate the adequacy of their corrective actions at the FDA’s next inspection.

  1. The firm did not inspect, maintain, and clean, and, when necessary and appropriate, sanitize all food contact surfaces of equipment and tools used in covered activities as frequently as reasonably necessary to protect against contamination of covered produce. Specifically, on March 10, 2020, and March 12, 2020, after the FDA investigator observed an employee cleaning sprout drums used in the growing of sprouts, the investigator observed that those sprout drums contained yellowish-brown residues on their walls, and the screw heads of the drums had black residues on them.

The full warning letter can be viewed here.

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Webinar review of the 2020 Center for Produce Safety Virtual Research

August 31, 2020 - 12:01am

On Sep. 8 at 2 p.m. EDT, the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), United Fresh, and Western Growers (WGA) are revisiting selected research presentations from the 2020 Center for Produce Safety Virtual Research Symposium. The webinar is titled CPS Research Symposium Review: Bringing Executive Summaries to Life.

This year’s symposium provided broad glimpses of knowledge gained and in-progress awareness of its sponsored research to its largest and most geographically broad stakeholder audience yet.

Sometimes, however,  it’s not clear whether this new knowledge represents solutions that are ready for adoption. How close are these adaptations? And what needs to happen next? What sectors should be prepared for subtle shifts in practices or policies and which project outcomes are fueling significant game-changing expectations?  PMA, United Fresh, and WGA are revisiting selected research presentations to try to answer some of these questions.

Presenters will focus on those outcomes which improve the ability to identify, assess, and reduce or manage risk. They will look at discussions, opinions, and interpretive suggestions that bring to life highlights from the sessions and solicited stakeholder input on research priorities for future Center for Produce Safety funding.

Presenters:

  • Trevor Suslow, Vice President, Produce Safety Produce Marketing Association
  • De Ann Davis, Senior Vice President, Science Western Growers
  • Jennifer McEntire, Senior Vice President, Food Safety and Technology, United Fresh Produce Association

To register for the CPS Research Symposium Review: Bringing Executive Summaries to Life, visit this page.

Or for those who missed this year’s symposium, the CPS has uploaded recordings on all of the sessions. They can be viewed here.

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Food safety brass over summer were taking COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 calls

August 30, 2020 - 12:05am

Unlike the first 90 days or so of the coronavirus pandemic, not every outsider who made contact with USDA’s top Food Safety and Inspection Service executives in June wanted to talk about COVID-19. Nor was normalcy making a comeback during the summer months as the only contact outsiders had with FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker or Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears was telephonic.

FSIS has updated its public calendar through July, reporting on meetings with people who are outside the federal government that involved either Kiecker and Brashears. Other FSIS personnel that attended the meetings are also listed.

Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports, was the participant in a telephonic conference involving Kiecker and several other FSIS officials on June 3 about small and very small production plant issues. Ronholm is a former deputy USDA undersecretary for food safety.

The FSIS administrator had two telephone conferences during the month with representatives of USDA regulated establishments on COVID-19. Those telephonic updates were on June 10 and 24. Several FSIS officials were on both calls.

Kiecker and FSIS staffers did a phone meeting on June 15 with Brian McFarlane, head of technical services for JBS, about the antemortem inspection.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), put members on the line to speak with Kiecker and other FSIS officials on June 24 about state inspection.

Brashears, who was confirmed as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety on March 23, conducted an introductory meeting with executives of the Irving, TX-based technology company InnovaZones.

On June 18, Brashears had separate telephone conferences that were open to representatives of consumer and industry organizations.

On June 23, hatchery eggs were the subject of Brashear’s conference call with Oscar Garrison, senior vice president of food safety for United Egg Producers, and Watson Green, a principal with Watson Green LLC, a Washington D.C.-based law firm.

FSIS Administrator Kiecker had another COVID-19 conference call for USDA-regulated establishments and industry representatives on July 8. On July 24, Brashears and numerous FSIS officials conferenced with North American Meat Institute (NAMI) executives about COVID-19. President Julie Anna Potts led the NAMI delegation.

Kiecker and other FSIS officials had a conference call on July 9 with Cargill’s Dan Etzler, director of food safety, quality, and regulatory affairs. The subject discussed was “connectivity.”

On the same day, Brashears was on the phone with Brian McFarlane, who heads technical services for JBS. A long list of FSIS personnel was listening in with the subject matter being “data collection.”

A telephonic conference Brashears had on July 10 with food safety organizations, including STOP Foodborne Illness and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has generated some interest. The subject of the discussion is listed as “changes in poultry safety regulatory framework,” Mike Taylor, formerly FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, was patched into the session. He is now on the board of STOP Foodborne Illness.

Brashears also had another round of conference calls with consumer and industry organizations on July 23. Numerous FSIS officials were listening in for those meetings.

Brashears finished off the month with a July 28 conference call with “small scale producers” about assistance for small meat and poultry processors.

Kiecker’s final telephone conference was on July 29 with Lee Beckmann, manager of government affairs for the Georgia Ports Authority, about export certificates. Numerous FSIS officials were also on the line.

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Researchers use machine learning to tackle food poisoning

August 30, 2020 - 12:03am

Scientists at a university in Scotland have developed a technique which could help to identify the source of food poisoning in a better way than current methods.

The technique relies on a new machine learning method – known as the Minimal Multilocus Distance (MMD) method – which can be used to train a computer to identify likely sources with high accuracy.

It has been demonstrated at a theoretical level to attribute human cases to source reservoirs such as chicken, cattle and sheep but further research is required to build it into technology that could be used by health protection professionals.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen showed the technique could match Campylobacter and potentially other common foodborne pathogens more accurately to their source of origin within a reduced timeframe. Findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Identifying likely sources of Campylobacter
Advances in Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) mean that the complete DNA sequence of an organism’s genome can be obtained at a single time. However, methods that efficiently mine these data are yet to be developed.

The study was led by Francisco Perez Reche and professor Norval Strachan, from the University of Aberdeen’s departments of Physics and Biological Sciences.

Perez Reche said when dealing with an outbreak, speed and accuracy of identifying the likely source is key.

“There are a number of existing methods to calculate the likely source of an infection but in order to work effectively, they either use only part of the genome sequencing, meaning results are less targeted, or if they use the whole genome, the calculations can take up to two days to perform. Our MMD method trains the computer to identify likely sources of origin of a Campylobacter infection within seconds,” he said.

Researchers proposed a fast method for source attribution which can deal with genotypes comprising thousands of loci with minimal computational effort.

Method accuracy
Whole genome sequenced Campylobacter isolates including 500 clinical isolates from human patients and 673 from five food and animal sources were obtained: 150 from cattle, sheep and chicken, 130 from pig and 93 from wild birds.

The total self-attribution accuracy when combining results across all the source populations was 73 percent for MMD and 57 percent for STRUCTURE, a Bayesian clustering model, in the Campylobacter example.

The MMD method correctly assigned most isolates (more than 70 percent) from pig, chicken and wild bird samples based on 25,937 core genome SNP (cgSNP) genotypes. Self-attribution of Campylobacter isolates from cattle and sheep is less precise at 58 percent and 45 percent. Wrongly self-attributed cattle isolates are mostly assigned to sheep and chicken sources, whilst sheep isolates tend to be erroneously attributed to cattle and chicken sources.

Source attribution was carried out to predict the origin of Campylobacter that resulted in human infection. MMD estimated that most cases (61 percent) were associated with chicken whilst wild birds and pigs were relatively unimportant (both less than 8 percent).

Researchers said it would be interesting to test accuracy of these methods for source attribution of human Campylobacter isolates from outbreaks with a known source.

Strachan added: “This has the potential to rapidly provide information on the potential source of infection and could be used to inform strategies to reduce food poisoning.”

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U.S. company shipped peaches around the globe; Salmonella outbreak ongoing

August 29, 2020 - 1:28pm

A California fruit company shipped peaches, now linked to a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak in the U.S. and Canada, to at least 14 other countries around the world.

The fresh peaches shipped by Wawona Packing Co. and Prima Wawona were distributed in bags and in bulk bins, according to an update from the Food and Drug Administration.

“Information received by FDA indicates that recalled Wawona peaches were shipped to foreign consignees in Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates,” according to the update. 

“FDA is sharing distribution information directly with foreign food safety authorities in these jurisdictions.”

At least two countries have issued recall alerts for the peaches — New Zealand and Singapore.

In the update the FDA renewed its warning to consumers about the California peaches. Recalled bagged peaches packed or supplied by Prima Wawona from June 1 to Aug. 19 should not be eaten and should be thrown away. Recalled loose/bulk peaches packed or supplied by Prima Wawona from June 1 to Aug. 3 should not be eaten and should be thrown away. Consumers and retailers who cannot determine whether the peaches they have on hand are included in the recall are urged to discard them.

The outbreaks in the United States and Canada have sickened 111 people, 78 in the U.S. and 33 in Canada.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the outbreak illnesses began on dates ranging from June 9 through Aug. 3. Ill people range in age from 1 to 92 years old. Some illnesses might not yet be reported because of the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is laboratory confirmed and reported to the CDC. This takes an average of two to four weeks. 

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

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

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

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

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Tougher safety provisions added to leafy greens agreements in key states

August 29, 2020 - 12:05am

The Leafy Greens Greens Marketing Agreements in California and Arizona have been amended by their Advisory Boards to require additional safety practices for growing leafy greens such as romaine lettuce in the two states that grow the vast majority of it.

The additional safety measures follow costly and embarrassing outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 normally being associated with cattle that were traced instead to romaine and other products being grown under the LGMAs’ voluntary rules. Between 2017 and 2019, these were the outbreaks of concern:

These multiple state outbreaks sickened nearly 500 over the space of a couple of years, resulting in a handful of deaths and creating the sort of publicity growers and their retail partners eschew.

Details of the new changes were disclosed by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Advisory Board on the organization’s website, saying this:

“Over 50 recommended changes were unanimously approved to strengthen food safety requirements for the production of leafy greens in the areas of farm water use and field/equipment sanitation. These are in addition to several significant changes made by the LGMA less than a year ago. The most recent updates are the first of many more as the LGMA conducts a complete review of all its mandatory food safety practices, or metrics, in the wake of recent outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce.

“A series of subcommittees have been reviewing the LGMA’s required food safety practices in all areas. In recent months. Subcommittees for water use and field/equipment sanitation met numerous times to consider new research, examine findings from outbreak investigations, gather input from food safety experts, and the public before making recommendations to the full LGMA Board last week. This process is being facilitated by Western Growers as part of an open, transparent process.”

Here’s a list of some of the major changes among the 50 changes approved by the LGMA Board:

  1. Adoption of new requirements that ensure the safety of water used during the overhead application of pesticides and crop protection materials. This update is similar to changes approved by the LGMA last year requiring that any water from open sources — such as a canal or reservoir — applied via overhead application must be treated to eliminate pathogens during the previous 21 days before harvest.
  2. Approved enhancements to monitoring requirements for water used in farming leafy greens to ensure that regular water quality tests are conducted and that samples are collected throughout the irrigation systems used in leafy greens fields.
  3. Added language to minimize the risk of water applied via furrow irrigation from coming into contact with any edible portion of the leafy greens plant.
  4. Updated best practices for cleaning harvest equipment, containers, tools, and bathroom facilities in and near leafy greens fields.
  5. New language designed to prevent the cut end of leafy greens products from coming into contact with the ground during harvest.

The Arizona LGMA adopted similar changes.

Approved updates will now be forwarded to the California Department of Food and Agriculture to be incorporated into food safety checklists used by government auditors to verify new practices are being followed on LGMA member farms.

The LGMA officials say the organization will immediately begin educating members on how to comply with the new standards.

Additional updates are expected to follow for the areas of soil amendments/inputs and adjacent land as the Subcommittees assigned to these topic areas are currently meeting to review existing practices. These Subcommittees will be making their recommendations to the LGMA Board in the near future.

Industry members and scientists are working diligently as part of the LGMA subcommittee process to help improve the safety of leafy greens. The LGMA is committed to strengthening required food safety practices throughout our processes and farmers are doing everything possible to prevent future foodborne illness outbreaks.

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Peaches linked to U.S. outbreak recalled in New Zealand, Singapore

August 29, 2020 - 12:03am

Fresh peaches suspected to be behind a Salmonella outbreak in the United States and Canada were also distributed in New Zealand and Singapore.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 78 patients across 12 states in the outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis infections. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has reported 33 illnesses linked to the outbreak in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

There are no reported cases of Salmonella Enteritidis in New Zealand or Singapore connected to the recalled peaches.

New Zealand and Singapore recalls
In New Zealand, a consumer recall of imported yellow flesh peaches from the U.S. has been initiated because of the possible presence of Salmonella by Primor Produce Ltd., and Turners and Growers Fresh Ltd.

It affects unbagged yellow flesh Prima and Sweet Value brand peaches imported from California and supplied by Prima Wawona. They are sold at supermarkets, fresh fruit and vegetable retailers, and selected grocery stores in the North Island.

Peach recall in New Zealand

The affected peaches were sold from July 10 to Aug. 25 and have green fruit stickers attached with Price Look Up (PLU) numbers of 4044 and 4038.

The recall does not affect any other yellow flesh peaches with a different color fruit sticker, or different PLU number. White flesh peaches are also not part of the notice. PLU stickers may not have a brand name printed on them.

Melinda Sando, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) food compliance manager, said people with these imported peaches at home should throw them out or return them to retailers.

“If you have health concerns after eating the product, seek medical advice. This New Zealand recall follows recalls in the United States linked to Prima and Wawona brand peaches,” according to the announcement.

Singapore recall
Peaches packed or supplied by Prima Wawona or Wawona Packing Company were also imported in Singapore.

The Singapore Food Agency told the importer, Satoyu Trading Pte Ltd, to recall the product. This action is ongoing.

Peaches may have the following stickers with PLU numbers on them: 4037, 4038, 4044, 4401, 94037, 94038, 94044 and 94401. However, not all peaches with these PLU codes are supplied by Prima Wawona. Consumers who are unsure about the brand or variety of their loose peaches should contact their respective retailers.

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 fresh peaches 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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Nearly 100 sick in UK outbreak linked to nuts; some sent to U.S.

August 28, 2020 - 12:05am

Almost 100 people are part of a Salmonella outbreak linked to nuts used in different products.

There have been 98 cases of Salmonella Typhimurium in different parts of the United Kingdom.

Four alerts for affected items have been published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) including recalls of Lidl GB’s Deluxe Dark Chocolate Muesli Bar with Brazils and cranberries, Eat Natural bars containing Brazil nuts, sultanas, peanuts and almonds and Hema Natural fruit and nut bars, Rude Health Food’s The Ultimate Muesli containing brazil nuts and The Paleo Foods Co. Cocoa and Hazelnut Grain-Free Granola that has Brazil nuts.

Nuts in several products
Nick Phin, Deputy Director, National Infection Service at Public Health England, said efforts to find the source of contamination were ongoing.

“We have been working closely with the Food Standards Agency as well as health protection and food safety colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to identify the cause of a Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak and implement control measures,” he said.

“Epidemiological and microbiological investigations point to contaminated nuts used in several products – investigations to determine the source of the contamination and whether any other products may have been affected continue.”

Phin said FSA has issued a recall for the affected products.

“Anyone who has these products in their home should not eat them and either dispose of them or return them to the retailer for a full refund. Symptoms of Salmonella infection include diarrhea, stomach cramps and sometimes vomiting and fever. Anyone who is concerned about symptoms should contact their GP or out of hours service in the first instance.”

Eat Natural stands by supplier
Praveen Vijh, co-founder of Eat Natural, said: “Our bars are heat treated and this diminishes the likelihood of contamination, but we are taking this matter extremely seriously and taking all steps possible, even though at this stage the notification is very much a precautionary measure.”

Eat Natural would not name the supplier of Brazil nuts when asked by Food Safety News but said it would “absolutely” be working with them again.

“We have worked with them for many years with no issues and enjoy a very good working relationship with them. We are working with them on this current issue to ensure corrective actions are in place. Eat Natural is in discussion with the supplier and will not be purchasing any Brazil nuts until corrective action is implemented and verified,” said a spokesman.

An Environmental Health Officer and the FSA made the firm aware of a potential incident and it then began an internal investigation. Following an audit the contaminated Brazil nuts, which are used as a ready to eat ingredient, tested positive for Salmonella.

The United Kingdom raised a warning about Salmonella Anatum contaminated Brazil nuts from Bolivia in mid-August via a notification on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). This alert involves more than 30 countries including the United States.

People with Salmonella typically develop symptoms 12 and 36 hours after infection, but this can range between six and 72 hours. The most common is diarrhea, which can sometimes be bloody. Other symptoms may include fever, headache and abdominal cramps. Illness usually lasts four to seven days. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

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Horses test positive for the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus in Wisconsin

August 28, 2020 - 12:03am

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is urging everyone to continue to protect themselves from mosquito bites now that six horses in Northwestern Wisconsin have tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), caused by the EEE virus, since late July.

The EEE virus can be spread to humans, horses, and other animals through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Mosquitoes acquire the EEE virus by feeding on infected birds. The virus is not spread person to person or directly between animals and humans. The presence of EEE positive horses in the state confirms that there are mosquitoes in the area infected with the EEE virus that can spread the virus to people and other animals. No EEE cases in humans have been reported in Wisconsin in 2020 at this time.

Many people infected with the EEE virus do not get sick. Those who do become ill may develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) that typically begins with the sudden development of fever, headache, chills, and vomiting. The illness may become severe resulting in disorientation, seizures, coma, or death. There is no specific treatment for EEE illness, and death occurs in approximately 30 percent of people who develop encephalitis from EEE.

EEE is very rare with only three human cases reported in Wisconsin between 1964 and 2019. However, since the infection can be so severe, and since the EEE virus is known to be circulating in Wisconsin, residents, and visitors anywhere in the state should be vigilant in preventing mosquito bites.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services offers these tips to protect yourself and your family against mosquito bites:

  • Limit time spent outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Apply an insect repellent with DEET, IR3535, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus to exposed skin and clothes.
  • Make sure window and door screens are intact to prevent mosquitoes from getting into your home.
  • Prevent mosquitoes from breeding 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, wading pools, buckets, and boats 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.
  • Landscape to prevent water from pooling in low-lying areas, and trim tall grass, weeds, and vines since mosquitoes use these areas to rest during hot daylight hours.

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Cheese firm in Switzerland investigated over Listeria link

August 28, 2020 - 12:01am

Swiss authorities are investigating if cheese from one company is linked to the deaths of 10 people with listeriosis since 2018.

The Schwyz Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened criminal proceedings in connection with Listeria in dairy products and is investigating allegations against the owner of the cheese firm.

A total of 34 cases are believed to have been infected with the same Listeria strain that was detected in brie from the dairy, according to the criminal complaint. Ten of the 34 sick people died. This resulted from analyzes commissioned by the federal government.

The ongoing investigation, with Schwyz police, includes whether the business owner is responsible for the illnesses and has violated food law.

Käserei Vogel AG, based in Steinerberg, a municipality of Schwyz, found Listeria in semi-hard cheese and at its production site in May this year. The company issued a recall, told authorities and informed its buyers to remove the products from shelves. The cheesemaker has already closed the business. More than 25 items sold across Switzerland were recalled and distribution also included Belgium and Germany.

Listeria outbreak link
In that same month, officials from the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) told Food Safety News at least 11 people had been infected by Listeria with two deaths and analysis was pending for a further 10 infections to see if they belonged to the outbreak cluster.

Of the 11 confirmed cases, five were men and six were women aged 66 to 86 years old. Infections occurred in seven cantons, or regions, of the country. Cheese was made from pasteurized milk.

The Center Hospitalier du Valais Romand (CHVR) previously said that from late March to early May four patients were diagnosed with invasive listeriosis. Infected patients did consume cheese during hospitalization but the brand was not clear. Three people recovered but one person with underlying health conditions died.

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

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.

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Salmonella outbreak linked to fresh peaches spreads to three more states

August 27, 2020 - 4:30pm

Since its Aug. 19 update on a Salmonella outbreak linked to fresh peaches, the CDC has added 10 patients and three more states to its tally. Additional products have been recalled.

Most of the recalled Wawona and Prima Wawona peaches were sold in bulk bins where shoppers select the fruit piece by piece, according to today’s update from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. There are now 78 confirmed patients across 12 states in the outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis infections.

Wawona Packing Co. has expanded its recall to include all bulk peaches shipped through Aug. 3. Wawona peaches sold in bags under various brands are also under recall. Many grocery retailers have recalled peaches because of the outbreak. Also, peach salsa from Russ Davis Wholesale has been recalled, along with a limited number of gift baskets that include fresh peaches. The recalled peach salsa was sold under three brand names and labeled as “Perfectly Peach Salsa.” 

Canadian officials report 33 Salmonella infections in their country have been liked to the U.S. outbreak. Various Wawona peaches are under recall in Canada. As of today officials in New Zealand and Singapore reported the implicated peaches had been imported into their countries, but they have not reported any confirmed illnesses.

Public health officials are urging consumers who have any of the recalled peaches on hand to immediately discard them. For those who have peaches of unknown origin, the agencies recommend “when in doubt, throw it out.” The peaches should be thrown out even if some have been eaten and no one got sick, according to the CDC.

In today’s update, the CDC reports the outbreak illnesses began on dates ranging from June 9 through Aug. 3. Ill people range in age from 1 to 92 years old. Some illnesses might not yet be reported because of the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is laboratory confirmed and reported to the CDC. This takes an average of two to four weeks. 

Of 67 ill people with available information, 23 hospitalizations have been reported. No deaths have been reported. Of 45 people with information available, 38, or 84 percent, reported eating fresh peaches in the week before their illnesses started. Of the 31 people who reported information on how the peaches were packaged, 19, or 61 percent, reported buying loose peaches and 12, or 39 percent, reported buying pre-bagged peaches.

The Food and Drug Administration is continuing its investigation of the outbreak, along with the CDC, Canadian officials, and state and provincial authorities. 

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