January 2012

According to the Pennsylvania and Maryland Departments of Health, the number of confirmed cases of Campylobacter infection has increased to a total of 20 confirmed cases linked to the Family Cow Dairy – 16 cases have been confirmed in Pennsylvania and four cases of the bacteria illness have been confirmed in the State of Maryland. Testing of the product is still underway at the Department of Agriculture.  Testing by the Family Cow Dairy have resulted in negative tests.

In the wake of a Listeria outbreak that sickened at least 146 people nationally, killing 32 of them (including Sharon Jones, a Marler Clark client who died the evening of January 29), cantaloupe trade associations have promised new cantaloupe food safety rules by the end of July, just in time for the 2012 crop of Colorado cantaloupes. 

According to The Packer, The timetable for new commodity-specific food safety guidance for cantaloupe was announced less than a month after a crisis-inspired meeting of the cantaloupe industry in San Diego on Jan. 11.

Meeting in the wake of the listeria foodborne illness outbreak of 2011, leaders of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Assocation, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, Produce Marketing Association, Texas Produce Association, United Fresh Produce Association and Western Growers agreed to work together on developing cantaloupe safety guidance and education.

The trade association created two committees.  One is focused on cantaloupe food safety guidance and the other on extension, education and communication to growers.

The steering committe on guidance will have monthly meetings March-June to address operations throughout the supply chain and consider the diverse regions and growing processes for cantaloupes throughout the US. 

Leave it to Bill Marler at Marlerblog and Food Safety News to fill in the informational gaps left by the CDC, FDA, and 10 state health departments, who all know the source of at least 68 Salmonella illnesses in 10 states nationally, but aren’t naming names.  (Question: how many of these 68 victims of the Mexican restaurant Salmonella outbreak know what made them ill?  Do they have a right to know that information?)  No reason has yet been articulated by any of the officials involved in the investigation as to why the restaurant isn’t being named.

Food Safety News and Marlerblog are working on it nonetheless. Here are the possible candidates (many have dropped out of consideration because they did not have restaurant locations in multiple states known to have illnesses in the outbreak):

  • Taco Bell: Multiple locations in every outbreak state.
  • Qdoba: In every outbreak state; Only 1 in Northwest corner of NM (officials from Qdoba have confirmed that they are not retaurant A).
  • Chipotle: In all outbreak states except Tennessee, which has one victim. However, there are locations in 3 of Tennessee’s neighboring states. Only one NM location (officials from Chipolte have confirmed that they are not retaurant A).
  • Del Taco: Locations in all but 3 outbreak states (IA, KS and TN), but Kansas has one right over the border in MO.
  • Taco Del Mar: Not in KS, MO, or TN, but right on TN border with Mississippi.
  • Taco John’s: In all outbreak states but OK, MI, and TN, but one right across TN border in Kentucky.

Food Safety News also reports that somebody may be stepping up to the plate soon:  “Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the outbreak two weeks ago, no federal or state agency yet has revealed the name of the restaurant chain (although, one state epidemiologist indicated that they may announce the restaurant’s name over CDC and FDA objections later this week).”

Dare we say that non-disclosure in this case merely continues a trend that we have seen emerging for some time now?  See Information as Currency in Public Health, by Bill Marler, for more than a few other examples. 

Raw milk from Family Cow dairy in Franklin County Pennsylvania sickened 12 with campylobacter, so say State health officials.  All the confirmed cases were people who drank milk purchased directly at The Family Cow, or at drop off locations. The farm has voluntarily suspended raw milk production.

What is campylobacter?

Campylobacteriosis, the illness caused by Campylobacter, is a zoonotic emerging infectious disease characterized by diarrhea (often bloody), abdominal pain, malaise, fever, nausea, and vomiting (Chin, 2000). The severity of the disease is variable, but usually people who get campylobacteriosis recover completely within 10 days. For a small number of people, Campylobacter infection may result in long-term health problems. For example, Campylobacter infection is the most common cause of a rare disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome that occurs several weeks after the acute diarrheal illness, and may result in permanent paralysis (Ang et al, 2001; van Doorn et al, 2008).

raw milk.jpgAccording to published reports, the number of confirmed illnesses in a campylobacter outbreak has climbed to 12, including 8 persons from Pennyslvania and 4 in Maryland.  The outbreak was first announced by the Pennyslvania Department of Health on January 27, 2012.

All of the ill persons consumed raw milk from Shankstead EcoFarm in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  The milk is traded under the name The Family Cow. 

The farm owner is reported as saying that  raw milk samples that the farm sent last week to QC Labs “tested negative for pathogens.”

According to the online version of the Chambersburg Public Opinion:

Testing of the product is still underway at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture which will update the situation daily, according to a spokeswoman. A formal recall has not been announced, but the health departments recommend people discard any produce purchased from the farm after Jan. 1. Results from the Department of Agriculture testing are not expected until Wednesday or Thursday.

The raw, or unpasteurized, milk from The Family Cow is sold at its dairy at 3854 Olde Scotland Road, as well as various locations across the state including Pure & Simple Cafe in Greencastle, Paul’s Country Market in Waynesboro,The Healthy Grocer in Camp Hill and Appalachian Whole Foods Market in Carlisle.

The farm has a permit to sell raw milk in Pennsylvania.  Raw milk is not permitted to be sold legally in many states.  For more information see www.realrawmilkfacts.com.

family cow outbreak.pngThe Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is reporting multiple Campylobacter infection cases associated with consumption of raw (unpasteurized) milk from the Family Cow dairy store in Chambersburg, PA. DHMH, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, advises consumers that milk recently purchased from this store may contain harmful bacteria.

To date, there are six confirmed campylobacteriosis cases: three in Maryland and three in Pennsylvania, all of whom consumed raw milk from this farm. Maryland DHMH recommends consumers discard any product purchased from this farm since January 1, 2012.

The implicated milk is labeled “raw milk” (meaning, not pasteurized) and is sold under “The Family Cow” label in plastic gallon, half gallon, quart and pint containers. The Family Cow dairy sells directly to consumers at its on-farm retail store and at multiple drop-off locations and retail stores in the following Pennsylvania counties: Bucks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Lebanon, Montgomery, Philadelphia and York counties.

Hannaford’s lawyers must be scratching their heads over how easily the 19-victim, 7-state outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium could have been somebody else’s outbreak.  Hannafords stores didn’t keep records that showed the source of all the trimmings that they used when they ground their beef for resale, and the result is, not only will we never know the identity of the beef company that sold Hannafords the Salmonella-contaminated beef, but also Hannafords will have to foot the bill of a bunch of lawsuits entirely by itself. 

Leslie Bridgers at the Portland Press Herald wrote today:

Officials from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Friday that they plan to close the investigation within a week.

The officials said Hannaford’s “high-risk practices” for grinding beef were the barrier in their investigation, although those practices did not break any regulatory requirements and are probably used by other meat retailers.

Even though there was no regulatory violation by Hannafords sloppy recordkeeping, an inability to identify the beef company that sold them the bad beef means that there will be no “contribution” (i.e. money) from any other company to pay victims medical and other costs.

And then there is the other reason that this outbreak is Hannaford’s outbreak and nobody else’s:

Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, said it was not always clear from Hannaford’s records when the stores were grinding the trimmings. Investigators found that Hannaford would grind trimmings and tube meat without cleaning the equipment in between, he said, raising the possibility of cross-contamination.

Engeljohn noted that there is a lower sanitary standard for the cuts of meat that are used for trimmings than there is for the ground beef that comes in tubes.

There is no requirement that equipment be cleaned between grinds of meat from different companies, Engeljohn said, but the USDA has told retailers for several years that it recommends it, along with more complete information in grinding logs.

A little self-policing would go a long way for Hannafords in the future. 

Today the USDA announced that 18th Street Deli Inc., a Hamtramck, Mich., establishment, is recalling approximately 118 pounds of julienne salad products with turkey, ham and hard-boiled eggs. The salads contain eggs that are the subject of an FDA recall due to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

The salad products were produced on Jan. 20, 2012 and then distributed to retail stores in Michigan and vending companies in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. The products subject to the recall are 9.25-ounce packages of “18th Street Deli Julienne Salad,” “18th Street Deli Julienne Salad Lite,” and “Balanced Choice Julienne Salad Lite” that bear the establishment number “P-22061” inside the USDA mark of inspection and expiration dates of “01/27/12” and “01/30/12.”

The problem was discovered when 18th Street Deli was notified by one of its suppliers that hard-cooked eggs (a product inspected by the FDA) had tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes and are being recalled by Michael Foods Egg Products Co. The julienne salads contain the recalled eggs and are the subject of this FSIS recall. FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

18th street deli julienne salad listeria.jpg

cantaloupe.jpgBill Marler recently brought to my attention an article published roughly six years ago in the Journal of Food Science.   The article details a study that shows that washing cantaloupes with hot water was an effective method in reducing the likelihood of bacterial contamination.

The study demonstrated that surface pasteurization can greatly reduce levels of Salmonella from the surfaces of cantaloupes.  Beyond that, it appears that the “edible portions of cantaloupes remain cool” during such a treatment. 

It does not appear that the heat treatment, and other best agricultural practices, have been consistently followed in cantaloupe production.  In the wake of last years deadly listeria outbreak from cantaloupe, the growing practices invovled came under fire from Congress and the FDA.

But the 2011 listeria outbreak was not the first outbreak linked to cantaloupe. 

Courtesy of outbreak database, here are reported cantaloupe outbreaks:

Maybe its time to read up in those scientific journals?

Food Safety News reports, a Massachusetts resident who first tested positive for brucellosis has now been confirmed to not have the infection, according to an email from the assistant commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR).

“While initial test results did show up positive, further, more specific and accurate testing by the CDC confirmed that the person does not have brucellosis,” Nathan L’Etoile wrote in the message forwarded by the NOFA/Massachusetts Raw Milk Network.

As a result, the MDAR “will be rescinding the Cease and Desist from the sale of Raw Milk” order that had been issued in the state last week, the email stated.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), in an email, also confirmed that “the patient did test negative for brucellosis. The milk and the cows also tested negative for any brucellosis bacteria. Neither DPH or DAR have any health concerns at this time.”

On Jan. 20, the MDAR and the DPH issued a consumer alert for raw milk from Twin Rivers Farm in Ashley Falls, MA “due to the possibility of raw milk being contaminated with Brucella.”

That earlier news release stated, in part: “This investigation is being conducted in response to a suspected human case, following an individual’s contact with this farm. The presence of Brucella in raw milk represents a significant danger to public health.”

In his email Thursday, L’Etoile wrote, “All in all this has been a trying experience, but the cooperation and willingness to take the steps needed by MDAR, DPH, USDA and most importantly the farmer has helped immensely.”