Food Safety

FSIS Set to Implement Non-O157 E. coli Policy Next Week

New document responds to concerns and outlines expectations

Just days before the agency is set to begin testing raw beef trimmings for more strains of disease-causing E. coli, the Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a detailed response to comments it has received about the new policy.

The new document, published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, confirms that despite industry calls for delay, FSIS will begin testing trimmings for six additional Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) next week on June 4. As of that date, any raw, non-intact beef products or components contaminated with STECs O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145, will be legally considered adulterated — just as the agency has long treated E. coli O157:H7.

ecolipetri_iphone.jpgThe agency also said that it will issue a Federal Register notice to implement routine verification testing for the six STECs in additional raw beef products, including ground beef.

The policy rollout has not come without challenges. When FSIS first announced its intent to consider more non-O157 STEC adulterants, it said the verification and testing program would begin on March 5, 2012. But the agency eventually pushed back the implementation date to June 4, 2012 to “allow establishments time to implement appropriate changes in their food safety systems, including changes in process control procedures.”

In its response to comments, FSIS said that it disagreed with several of the reasons cited by those seeking a delay, including requests to conduct a baseline study before moving forward with the policy.

“FSIS has concluded that a baseline is neither necessary nor warranted before implementation of the FSIS verification sampling and testing program,” said the agency in the document. “These organisms are present in beef products in the United States; the evidence for this is presented in the risk profile. FSIS considers the data on non-O157 STECs obtained by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at a limited number of slaughter establishments to be evidence that the pathogens should be considered adulterants and are capable of causing illness.”

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Food Safety Incidents Rise For Second Year in United Kingdom

For a second consecutive year, the number of incidents involving food safety in the United Kingdom increased in 2011, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) reports.
Tim J. Smith, the agency’s executive director, says there is no single reason for the increasing number of incidents.  “Instead, we believe a combination of factors, including better reporting and monitoring, are behind the upward trend,” Smith says.
Most food safety incidents are reported to FSA by border inspection posts, local health authorities and fire services.
In FSA’s annual incidents report for 2011, published this week, the agency says the total number of incidents increased to 1,714, up from 1, 508 in 2010, and 1,208 in 2009.  Incidents include reports of contaminated or illegal food entering the food chain with some potential harm to the public.

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Smith says case studies in the report point to increases in incidents involving allergens and pesticides, and to more foodborne illness outbreaks originating abroad, including sources in India, China, and Bangladesh.  The report says these “high level” instances required international responses.
The UK continued to experience an increase in the number of reports of microbiological contamination–a trend that began in 2006.  In 2011, there were 281 such incidents, up from 271 in 2010, and 147 going back to 2006.

FDA Says Just Don’t Call It “Corn Sugar”

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) cannot be called “corn sugar,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined.
A citizen’s petition filed with FDA by the Washington D.C. Corn Refiners Association (CRA) on Sept. 14, 2010 and supplemented on July 29, 2011 requested the name change.
But in a letter Wednesday, FDA’s Michael M. Landa, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, turned down the name change request and rejected all three arguments made by the corn processors in their petition.
Specifically, Landa said calling HFCS “sugar” when the product is syrup would not be an accurate way to identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties.
The denial letter went to Ms. Audrae Erickson, CRA president, who was told that the petition “does not provide sufficient grounds for the agency to authorize ‘corn sugar’ as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS.”
Since filing the petition for the name change, CRA embarked on a national campaign to introduce the “corn sugar” name. That quickly brought on litigation by the Sugar Association, representing traditional sugar growers. That lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

FDA Warning Letters For 5/30/12

These FDA warning letters for the week of May 30, 2012 list food facilities with food safety violations that are of interest to consumers. These letters are sent after a facility is inspected, to give the owners guidance and time to fix violations.

1. Seco Spice Ltd. of Berino, New Mexico

2. Sushi Boy, Inc. of Gardena, California

3. The Nut Factory, Inc. of Greenacres, Washington

4. Smith Family Frosted Foods, LLC of Tiffin, Ohio.

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Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Chicks and Ducks

The CDC is reporting an outbreak of human Salmonella infections linked to live poultry. Outbreak strains of Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Newport, and Salmonella Lille have sickened 93 people in 23 states. Eighteen people have been hospitalized, and there has been one death that may be related to the outbreak and is under investigation. The outbreak began in February 2012.

Case counts are as follows:

  • Alabama (3)
  • Georgia (3)
  • Illinois (1)
  • Indiana (2)
  • Kentucky (4)
  • Louisiana (1)
  • Massachusetts (1)
  • Maryland (1)
  • Maine (2)
  • Michigan (1)
  • Nebraska (1)
  • New Jersey (1)
  • North Carolina (9)
  • New York (13)
  •  Ohio (26)
  • Pennsylvania (9)
  • Rhode Island (1)
  • South Carolina (1)
  • Tennessee (4)
  • Texas (1)
  • Virginia (6)
  • Vermont (1)
  • West Virginia (1)

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Consumer Groups Criticize Poultry Inspection Proposal

Three more leading consumer groups weighed in this week on the debate over a controversial plan to revamp poultry inspection by shifting greater responsibility to companies.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, and Consumers Union each sharply criticized the proposal in their comments filed before the Tuesday deadline, which had been pushed back a month in response to sharp criticism raised by the Government Accountability Project, Food & Water Watch, and poultry inspectors.

While each group acknowledged that modernizing the system is a commendable goal, all three expressed significant concerns about the plan to expand the HACCP Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP). The model reduces the number of inspectors from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on duty and largely turns over physical inspections to company employees, while allowing plants to significantly speed up their production lines.

FSIS says expanding HIMP would focus inspectors on food safety tasks rather than cosmetic surveillance, save taxpayers around $90 million over three years, and each year prevent 5,200 foodborne illnesses, mostly from Salmonella. The chicken and turkey industries strongly support the measure and USDA estimates it will save the industry $250 million annually. But consumer groups question whether HIMP would actually improve food safety.   RawChickenBody.jpg

“For years the poultry industry has operated under a system that allows for far greater levels of contamination than are acceptable to consumers,” read CSPI’s comments, submitted by staff attorney Sarah Klein. “FSIS should have reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry as the central tenet behind its changes, and should apply systems that monitor and measure contamination rates.”

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Recalls

Peach Granola Recalled for Undeclared Cashews

OSKRI Corp. of Wisconsin is recalling “Peach Granola” because it may contain undeclared cashews, a tree nut that is one of the major food allergens.

Product details:

  • Peach Granola
  • 3.53 ounce flexible plastic bag
  • UPC number 666016111743
  • Marked with this stamp:
    • P 3/3/12
    • EXP 9/9/13
    • LOT 75

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Articles of Interest

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome Most Common Cause of Pediatric Kidney Failure

According to a study published in the May issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children in the United States. FoodNet, the Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance network, was the source of the statistics. Surveillance is difficult because there is no single diagnostic test to diagnose HUS.

Get E. coli-HUS help here.

The study examined pediatric HUS cases from 2000 to 2007 and found that in 627 cases, more than 90% occurred after a diarrheal illness and most were caused by infections of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli 0157:H7 (STEC). An average of 78 cases were reported every year; most (66%) occurred in children less than than five years old; of those cases, 64% were in children less than two years old.

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Paper Chronicles 8-Year Salmonella Outbreak Tied to Chicks

Boots-on-the-ground epidemiology — including interviews, disease surveillance, and traceback — was key in helping health officials solve and control an 8-year salmonella outbreak, the longest in U.S. history, which was ultimately tied to mail order chicks.

Between 2004 and 2011, 316 reported illnesses from 43 states were linked to the same outbreak strain. A new paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine chronicles just how investigators were able to crack the case. Researchers say it is likely that thousands of additional infections occurred in association with the outbreak, but were not reported.

In April 2005, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment identified three Salmonella serotype Montevideo isolates with the same genetic patterns. After interviewing the patients, local health officials learned that all three had been exposed to chicks or ducklings bought at feed stores the week before they got sick.

Officials then checked PulseNet, the national network for foodborne disease surveillance, and found that the same rare outbreak strain had been isolated from five other people in four states: Kansas, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.

By March 2006, health officials had zeroed in on New Mexico agricultural feed stores that sold young poultry during 2005.

“New Mexico was chosen because it had a large number of cases as well as resources available to support investigation activities,” reported researchers in the NEJM paper. “Stores identified in an Internet search were randomly selected for an in-person or a telephone interview. The standardized questionnaire focused on the source of the live poultry, volume of live poultry sales, handling and hygienic conditions of poultry in the store, knowledge about the risk of transmission of Salmonella from poultry to humans, and education of customers about this risk.”

Using information from patients, investigators were able to trace young poultry back to where it had been purchased at the retail level, and back to mail-order hatcheries.  chickies_iphone.jpg

According to the paper, over the duration of the outbreak, cases peaked annually during the spring, but the greatest number of reported cases came in 2006. Those sickened ranged from age 1 to 86 years old with a median age of 4. Of those with information available, 143 (54 percent) were 5 years of age or younger and 149 patients (53 percent) were female.

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Cruelty Charges Brought Against California Auction Barn

The 73-year-old owner of Ontario Livestock Sales and 7 employees must appear in a California court July 20 to face a total of 21 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty stemming from an undercover investigation by an animal protection group.
If convicted, Horacio Santorsola and his employees would each face up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.

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Mercy for Animals of Los Angeles produced hidden camera video footage that showed auction barn workers kicking and stomping animals, most often to get them to move.
Another Ontario Livestock employee working with Mercy for Animals was behind the camera.
Dr. Temple Grandin, a Colorado State University-based expert on animal welfare, viewed the undercover video and said the rough treatment and frequent kicking was not acceptable. She said if the auction were a federally inspected meat packing plant, its inspection would be suspended and the operation would be shut down.

Food Safety Attorney Bill Marler to Present Webinar

Food safety attorney and Food Safety News publisher Bill Marler will present a webinar on the legal consequences of poor food safety practices on June 14.
In the webinar hosted by Food Seminars International, Marler will elaborate on his work in foodborne illness litigation. The webinar will include discussion on the obstacles companies face in prioritizing food safety, the common methods used to prove a foodborne illness claim and the roles that epidemiology and public health play in food safety, among other topics.

NYC Poised to Limit Size of Sugary Drinks

A small soda at McDonalds is about to become the largest option available in New York City if a proposal to limit sugary drink portion sizes is passed by the city’s health board.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, which has made public health a central part of its agenda, announced Thursday that it is seeking a 16 oz. cap on sugar-sweetened drinks served at delis, fast food and sit-down restaurants, movie theaters and sports venues.
This latest rule would follow past city regulations that have mandated calorie labeling on all chain restaurant menus and banned artificial trans fats from food establishments.

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According to the New York City Health Department, sugary drinks are a main contributor to the city’s obesity problem. Nearly 6 in 10 NYC residents are either overweight or obese. High sugary drink consumption is associated with weight gain, obesity and higher rates of diabetes in New York City, says a 2011 report by four district health offices.

FDA Appeals Mandate to Ban Three Animal Antibiotics

After a magistrate judge ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must act on its long-standing proposal to ban the use of three antibiotics in animal feed because they may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria, FDA is appealing the decision.

In a notice dated May 21, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine Bernadette Dunham and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius together filed an appeal with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the March decision.

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