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Hepatitis A Vaccines for Employees is Cheap Insurance

Last Friday, the Erie County Department of Health announced two precautionary public health clinics in response to the recent identification of the hepatitis A virus in a local restaurant worker, a server at Casa di Pizza on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. The health department also warned the public that they should watch for symptoms of Hepatitis A for 50 days after their visit. If they start having Hepatitis A symptoms they should call their healthcare immediately and tell them they may have exposed to Hepatitis in Buffalo. Anyone experiencing Hepatitis A symptoms should contact their healthcare provider immediately.

Hardly a month passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak. Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand-washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of food-service workers, especially those who serve the very young and the elderly.

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is the only foodborne illness that is vaccine-preventable. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since the inception of the vaccine, rates of infection have declined 92 percent.

The CDC estimates that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many of these cases are related to food-borne transmission. In 1999, more than 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, four died, and nearly 10,000 people got IG (immunoglobulin) shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant. Not only do customers get sick, but also businesses lose customers or some simply go out of business.

Although CDC has not yet called for mandatory vaccination of food-service workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Hepatitis A continues to be one of the most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S., despite FDA approval of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995. Widespread vaccination of appropriate susceptible populations would substantially lower disease incidence and potentially eliminate indigenous transmission of hepatitis A infections. Vaccinations cost about $50. The major economic reason that these preventive shots have not been used is because of the high turnover rate of food-service employees. Eating out becomes a whole lot less of a gamble if all food-service workers faced the same requirement.

According to CDC, the costs associated with hepatitis A are substantial. Between 11 percent and 22 percent of persons who have hepatitis A are hospitalized. Adults who become ill lose an average of 27 days of work. Health departments incur substantial costs in providing post-exposure prophylaxis to an average of 11 contacts per case. Average costs (direct and indirect) of hepatitis A range from $1,817 to $2,459 per case for adults and from $433 to $1,492 per case for children younger than 18. In 1989, the estimated annual direct and indirect costs of hepatitis A in the U.S. were more than $200 million, equivalent to more than $300 million in 1997 dollars.  A new CDC report shows that, in 2010, slightly more than 10 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 49 got a hepatitis A shot.

Vaccinating an employee make sense.  It is moral to protect customers from an illness that can cause serious illness and death. Vaccines also protect the business from the multi-million-dollar fallout that can come if people become ill or if thousands are forced to stand in line to be vaccinated to prevent a more serious problem.

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Hepatitis A outbreaks. The Hepatitis A lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Hepatitis A and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Hepatitis A lawyers have litigated Hepatitis A cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of sources, such as green onions, lettuce and restaurant food. The law firm has brought Hepatitis A lawsuits against such companies as Subway, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Quiznos and Carl’s Jr.

USDA Releases Strategies to Reduce E. coli Levels at Beef Slaughterhouses

Posted by Philip Bronstein, FSIS Senior Microbiologist, on March 12, 2015

Reduction of E. coli O157 illnesses since the mid-1990’s has been one of the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s greatest public health successes, with illnesses having dropped by over 50% since 1998.  While overall illnesses are down significantly, the most recently available outbreak data shows a slight increase in illnesses from this dangerous pathogen.  FSIS’ Strategic Performance Working Group (SPWG) has released a six-point strategy to turn the trend back in the right direction.

The Strategic Performance Working Group includes professionals from across FSIS, including field personnel, microbiologists, and policymakers who come together periodically to tackle serious and stubborn challenges that limit the Agency’s successful performance of its mission.  The SPWG previously developed the Salmonella Action Plan, which has been the agency’s blueprint for tackling Salmonella since December 2013.  Now the SPWG is also recommending a multipronged approach to address pathogenic E. coli in beef slaughterhouses.

The SPWG determined that a reduction in O157 could be achieved in two ways.  First, the Agency needs to improve how FSIS inspection personnel verify plant performance of sanitary dressing procedures through better training, more correlations, and developing a standard to assess industry’s performance of sanitary dressing. Drawing on the experience of its members, the SPWG also stated that the training would be most effective if it included photographs and real-world scenarios to effectively illustrate the issues discussed in the documents.

Second, the SPWG recommended improving the information available to industry on how sanitary dressing should be performed.  The SPWG said the Agency could do so by publishing a guide containing suggestions for best practices.

More detailed information about the SPWG’s findings and recommendations mentioned here can be found on the FSIS website at Strategic Performance Working Group: Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli Findings.  We are confident in this approach and look forward to being able to report lower illness numbers as a result of this report and future issues that the SPWG will work to address.

Senator Gillibrand: A Reasonable Proposal For Safer Food

Official PortraitNew York Senator Gillibrand has once again proposed a law that would give the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) the ability that it does not believe it already has to recall meat tainted with the pathogenic Salmonella bacteria. The law in essence would prompt the FSIS to label Salmonella for what it really is – an adulterant that should not be on the meat on our tables.

In our convoluted food safety system, FSIS generally oversees beef, chicken, pork and lamb production and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all other manufactured food products. FDA already bans Salmonella from all food, FSIS not at all.

Salmonella is a fecal bacteria that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates sickens 1.4 million annually in the United States, hospitalizing 15,000 and killing 400. The economic loss is as staggering. The USDA’s own Economic Research Service reports Salmonella illnesses and deaths cost $3.6 billion yearly in medical costs, wage loss and premature death.

The Junior Senator from New York properly recognizes the long-standing dysfunction at the FSIS. This supposed public health agency, despite an 18 month Salmonella outbreak during 2013 and 2014, which sickened over 600 people – 40% who were hospitalized – and linked to one chicken supplier, felt powerless to close the plants or recall the chicken because, notwithstanding the illnesses linked to the chicken, FSIS presently does not consider Salmonella an adulterant – regardless of what commonsense might otherwise tell you.

As long as FSIS maintains that Salmonella is not an adulterant, it will continue to claim it lacks authority to protect public safety by recalling the tainted meat and shuttering the offending plants. This is why the Senator’s proposal has merit.

FSIS’s decades long position is as perplexing as it is wrong-headed – especially in light of a history of its own success with another fecal bacterial pathogen – E. coli O157:H7.

In 1993 as a new President was being inaugurated, a deadly E. coli outbreak was being linked to hamburgers. Four kids were dead, dozens suffered kidney failure, and hundreds were hospitalized – hamburger sales dropped.

The beef industry was on its knees and the public wanted answers. Haltingly at first, the Clinton administration found its backbone when FSIS Administrator Michael Taylor (now FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods) stood before the American Meat Institute and proclaimed that the deadly E. coli bacteria would no longer be tolerated in hamburger – it would now be considered an adulterant – a so called: “Zero Tolerance Rule.”

At first, the beef industry balked – even litigated against the new rule – arguing that consumers should just cook the bacteria out of the meat. However, over time, industry and government found that with E. coli banned, the numbers of outbreaks and recalls linked to hamburger fell from commonplace to infrequent. And as a lawyer whose firm benefited from the commonplace, I was pleasantly stunned to see the flow of new clients – mainly children – slow to a trickle.

It is hard to underestimate what the success that setting the E. coli bar low – with ongoing plant inspections by FSIS inspectors – has meant for consumers and the industry. All the fears of hamburger being regulated out of existence, or that the cost of production would be so high that hamburger would no longer be an American staple, never came to be. And it had the added success of less sickened by E. coli – tainted hamburger and resulting in fewer lawsuits.

The Senator’s proposal gives us a great opportunity to learn from the hamburger/E. coli experience. We can do more to move the needle down on the 48 million sickened, 125,000 hospitalized, and 3,000 deaths per year by food, which costs our economy over $15 billion annually.

I once penned an op-ed during the middle of an E. coli outbreak linked to hamburger centered in Colorado that sickened fifty, killed one, and caused a half-a-dozen children to suffer acute kidney failure urging action. Banking on the reality that trial lawyers are only slightly more popular than members of Congress, I suggested that something be done to “put me out of business.”

As it relates to hamburger, the plea has worked. And a few months ago I had my first hamburger in twenty-two years.

The Senator’s proposal gives FSIS the tools it feels it needs to keep the public a bit safer. Safer food should be non-partisan. Republicans and Democrats eat and drink, and they have parents, kids, grandkids, and constituents who are some of the most vulnerable to foodborne illness. We can do something to make our food just a bit safer. The Senator’s proposal is a step in the right direction.

SENATOR GILLIBRAND ANNOUNCES NEW PUSH TO IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY STANDARDS

Gillibrand Introduces Legislation to Consolidate Food Safety Agencies Under One Roof

Gillibrand Proposes New Legislation to Compel Stores with Customer Loyalty Card Programs to Call and Email Customers When Products They Purchased Get Recalled

Washington, DC – As an estimated 3 million New Yorkers get sick from the food they eat each year U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced a new push today to prevent foodborne illness and improve food safety standards. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year approximately 1 in 6 Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, nearly a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts are contaminated by Salmonella and another Consumer Reports study found that one third of all chicken breast with Salmonella carry a drug resistant strain of the disease.

Gillibrand is a pushing a new bill introduced last week, the Safe Food Act of 2015, which would consolidate food safety authorities into a single independent food safety agency called the Food Safety Administration. Under the current system, 15 different federal agencies oversee food safety functions including inspections, enforcement, recalls and restrictions on pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli. According to a Government Accountability Agency study, the fragmented and inefficient system is a high risk to the public’s safety.

The proposed consolidated agency would help prevent foodborne illness by allowing food recalls to happen more quickly once illnesses are confirmed, improving inspections, and enhancing enforcement against unsafe food. The Food Safety Administration would also protect and improve the public’s health by focusing resources to prevent and detect foodborne illness before it spreads rather than responding after New Yorkers have already fallen ill.

“Too many New Yorkers are getting sick and even dying from food they trusted was safe,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “New Yorkers should be able to walk into a grocery store and be confident that the food they are putting on their family’s kitchen table and serving at our schools or in our restaurants is properly inspected and safe to eat. We need to detect foodborne illness and stop it before it spreads rather than scramble to respond after New Yorkers have already fallen ill. My plan would give New York families more peace of mind when they sit down at the kitchen table by reducing bureaucracy and consolidating the 15 federal agencies that oversee food safety under one roof.”

Gillibrand is also proposing new legislation that would require stores to improve customer notification in the event of a food recall. Stores with customer loyalty card programs could use that data to call and email consumers when food they have purchased has been recalled. Gillibrand’s proposed legislation, the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act, would grant authority to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to require companies to recall dangerous food and notify consumers and local health officials. Gillibrand’s new legislation would also create a 1-page Recall Summary Notice that could be prominently displayed on the store shelf where the recalled food was sold or at the cash register for stores that lack customer loyalty card programs.

“We need to make sure that if dangerous food does end up at the grocery store that it gets recalled, pulled off the shelf and out of freezers faster,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Every time you swipe a loyalty card to save a few cents, the grocery store makes a record of what food you’re bringing home. When a recall happens, stores should use that information to call and email people to tell them to not eat the food they have purchased.”

The Safe Food Act of 2015

Senator Gillibrand introduced the Safe Food Act of 2015 to consolidate food safety inspections, enforcement, and labeling under a single independent food safety agency called the Food Safety Administration (FSA). The FSA would implement existing federal food safety law, including inspections, enforcement, standards-setting, and research.

The bill would also require more regular inspections of slaughterhouses and food processing plants; increase oversight of imported foods; establish enforceable performance standards for contaminants in food; require the tracing of foods to point of origin; and analyze new safety monitoring technology in our food system.

Building on the work of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) that was signed into law on January 4, 2011, the FSA would continue to modernize federal food safety laws to protect and improve public health by:

· Providing authority to require the recall of unsafe food;

· Requiring risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration;

· Authorizing enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards;

· Improving foreign food import inspections; and

· Requiring full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks.

Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act

Senator Gillibrand is proposing the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act to improve consumer awareness in the event of a high priority food safety recall of meat, poultry and egg products by:

· Giving USDA mandatory recall authority.

· Encouraging retailers’ use of frequent shopper/shopper reward cards that monitor purchases to notify customers who may have purchased recalled products.

· Creating a 1-page Recall Summary Notice that could be prominently displayed at points of sale in retail outlets that sold a recalled product or on the store shelf where a product was sold.

Gillibrand’s legislation will give the Secretary of Agriculture mandatory recall authority for meat, poultry, and some egg products currently under USDA jurisdiction. Under the proposed bill, the Food Safety and Inspection Service would be granted authority to require companies to recall contaminated food and notify all related persons to cease all activities related to the recalled food. FSIS would have the authority to notify consumers and state and local health officials of an ongoing recall.

Under Gillibrand’s proposal, in the event of food borne illness or the detection of an adulterated or unsafe product, USDA can recommend a voluntary recall of a product to a manufacturer, importer, distributor, or retailer. If the request is refused, the Secretary can issue a mandatory recall and notify affected processors, packers, retail outlets, and the public. USDA will issue a Recall Summary Notice to all retail outlets that sold a recalled product. This Notice would be displayed at all cash registers or at the shelf location where the recalled product was presented for sale. Those retail outlets that use customer card systems to track customer purchases and demographics could call or email each customer that purchased a recalled food product or make available to each customer a targeted coupon with information about the recalled product. Penalties can be assessed for refusal to comply with a recall.

DURBIN, DELAURO INTRODUCE LEGISLATION ESTABLISHING A SINGLE FOOD AGENCY

Foodborne disease impacts 48 million Americans every year

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today introduced the Safe Food Act of 2015, which would create a single, independent food safety agency. Currently food safety oversight is split up among 15 different agencies, resulting in a patchwork where no single voice guides industry, retailers and consumers. Durbin and DeLauro introduced similar legislation in 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2007.

“The fragmented nature of our food safety system has left us more vulnerable to the risk of foodborne illness. It has too often forced citizens to go it alone in the case of outbreak,” said Durbin. “The Safe Food Act that Congresswoman DeLauro and I are introducing today would transfer and consolidate food safety authorities for inspections, enforcement, labeling, and research into a single food safety agency. That would allow us to prioritize system-wide food safety goals and targets. It would also help families navigate the differing federal, state, and local food safety agencies to get the answers they deserve.”

“Government has a moral responsibility to keep our families safe from foodborne illness,” said DeLauro. “One reason we have not been able to do so is that our food safety system is hopelessly fragmented and outdated. Consequently, lives are unnecessarily put at risk and the need for reform becomes more urgent. I am proud to join Senator Durbin in introducing this bill to ensure that we have a single person being held accountable for food safety, research, prevention, inspections, investigations and labeling. We need a commonsense, 21st century way of ensuring food safety and a single food safety agency is it.”

The Safe Food Act would:

· Transfer and consolidate food safety authorities for inspections, enforcement and labeling into a single food safety agency

· Provide authority to require the recall of unsafe food

· Require risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration

· Authorize enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards

· Improve foreign food import inspections

· Require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks

Senate cosponsors of the Safe Food Act include U.S. Senators Dianna Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Cosponsors in the House of Representatives include Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), James Langevin (D-RI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

DeLauro and Durbin recently wrote an op-ed about the imperative for such legislation. DeLauro is a former chairwoman, and currently a senior member, of the subcommittee responsible for funding the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration. Durbin is the Senate’s Assistant Democratic Leader and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

DURBIN, DELAURO TO HOLD PRESS CALL ANNOUNCING BILL TO CREATE SINGLE FOOD SAFETY AGENCY

Foodborne disease impacts 48 million Americans every year

[WASHINGTON, DC] — U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will hold a press conference call tomorrow at 1:00 PM CT / 2:00 PM ET announcing their bill to create a single food safety agency. Durbin and DeLauro previewed their bill in an op-ed last week. The Safe Food Act of 2015 would create a single, independent federal food safety agency.

Currently food safety oversight is split up among 15 different agencies, resulting in a patchwork where no single voice guides industry, retailers and consumers.

Durbin is the Senate’s Assistant Democratic Leader and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. DeLauro is a former chairwoman, and currently a senior member, of the subcommittee responsible for funding the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration.

The Government Accountability Office first named our fragmented food safety system to its biennial High Risk List in 2007, and it has made repeated appearances on the list since then.

Who: Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)

What: Press conference call to Announce Bill Creating Single Food Safety Agency

When: Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 28, 2015

1:00 PM CT / 2:00 PM ET

Call-in: (202) 228-0808 or (855) 428-0808

Passcode: Please email christina_mulka@durbin.senate.gov

Another Sprout Outbreak – We need a Warning Label, says Marler

William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety, warns about the danger of sprouts and that they are not as “healthy” as they seem – Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania hardest hit.

Another sprout-related Salmonella outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts. Marler Clark specializes in cases involving foodborne illness.

As of December 15, 2014, a total of 111 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 12 states linked to Wonton sprouts. Illnesses have surfaced in Connecticut (8), Maine (4), Maryland (5), Massachusetts (35), Montana (1), New Hampshire (6), New York (21), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (17), Rhode Island (7), Vermont (3) and Virginia (1).  Twenty-six percent of ill persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. of New York are the likely source of this outbreak.

“According to the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” says William Marler, the firm’s managing partner. He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

As far back as September 1998, the FDA and CDC issued a warning against sprouts urging, children, pregnant women, and the elderly that they should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of E. coli. They also warned that any people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts as well.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting.

“Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all,” says Marler. “Most people don’t understand the risks. The reality is most assume that something so “natural” is healthy, but the opposite is true—people who eat sprouts are gambling with their health each and every time they add them to a salad or sandwich. A warning label would go a long way towards explaining the real risks of sprouts.”

My friends at Barf Blog document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found HERE.

Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years, Bill and his firm, Marler Clark, have become the leaders in representing victims of foodborne illness. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of hepatitis A outbreaks.

Bill spends much of his time traveling to address food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about foodborne illness, related litigation, and surrounding issues. He has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com. Bill also recently founded Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com) as a one-stop resource for global food safety news and information.

Cockroaches and Lizard Feces Prompts Hawaiian Sprouter Closure

The FDA announced last Friday that RZM Food Factory in Makawao, Hawaii agreed to stop processing and distributing food products until the company is in compliance with federal law. A federal judge signed a consent decree or permanent injunction and entered it in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii last Thursday.

The day before, the FDA filed a complaint for permanent injunction against RZM Food Factory, which manufactures, prepares, packs, holds and distributes ready-to-eat mung bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, clover sprouts and radish sprouts.

During the FDA’s most recent inspection of RZM Food Factory’s facilities in April, it found several different types of pests, including cockroaches. FDA investigators also saw lizard feces in the growing room and a slug on a growing bed of sprouts. It also found litter and waste in and outside the facility.

The FDA also alleges that the facilities and equipment were not maintained. During the inspection, rain leaked onto the growing beds. “The rainwater can be contaminated from birds and other animals and thus serve as a route for contaminating sprouts with pathogens,” the FDA said. It also said the irrigation tanks were rusty, corroded and uncovered.

In several inspections since 2001, the FDA found similar unsanitary conditions.

As another Salmonella “Sproutbreak” Grows, Marler Calls for Sprout Warning Label

William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety, warns about the danger of sprouts and that they are not as “healthy” as they seem – Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania hardest hit.

Another sprout-related Salmonella outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts. Marler Clark specializes in cases involving foodborne illness.

As of December 4, a total of 87 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 11 states. The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Connecticut (7), Maine (3), Massachusetts (35), Montana (1), New Hampshire (4), New York (14), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (10), Rhode Island (7), Vermont (3) and Virginia (1). The one ill person from Montana traveled to the Eastern United States during the period when likely exposure occurred.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. of New York are the likely source of this outbreak.

“According to the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” says William Marler, the firm’s managing partner. He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

Perhaps we even need to be a bit clearer:

As far back as September 1998, the FDA and CDC issued a warning against sprouts urging, children, pregnant women, and the elderly that they should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of E. coli. They also warned that any people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts as well.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting.

“Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all,” says Marler. “Most people don’t understand the risks. The reality is most assume that something so “natural” is healthy, but the opposite is true—people who eat sprouts are gambling with their health each and every time they add them to a salad or sandwich. A warning label would go a long way towards explaining the real risks of sprouts.”

My friends at Barf Blog document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found HERE.

Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years, Bill and his firm, Marler Clark, have become the leaders in representing victims of foodborne illness. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of hepatitis A outbreaks.

Bill spends much of his time traveling to address food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about foodborne illness, related litigation, and surrounding issues. He has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com. Bill also recently founded Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com) as a one-stop resource for global food safety news and information.

It is Time to Vaccinate Food Service Workers for Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is more than a “tummy bug” – it can be life altering – See Link.

Hardly a month passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak.  Yet another one was announced last night from New Jersey.

Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand-washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of food-service workers, especially those who serve the very young and the elderly.

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is the only foodborne illness that is vaccine-preventable. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since the inception of the vaccine, rates of infection have declined 92 percent.

CDC estimate that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many of these cases are related to food-borne transmission. In 1999, more than 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, four died, and nearly 10,000 people got IG (immunoglobulin) shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant. Not only do customers get sick, but also businesses lose customers or some simply go out of business.

Although CDC has not yet called for mandatory vaccination of food-service workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Hepatitis A continues to be one of the most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S., despite FDA approval of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995. Widespread vaccination of appropriate susceptible populations would substantially lower disease incidence and potentially eliminate indigenous transmission of hepatitis A infections. Vaccinations cost about $50. The major economic reason that these preventive shots have not been used is because of the high turnover rate of food-service employees. Eating out becomes a whole lot less of a gamble if all food-service workers faced the same requirement.

According to CDC, the costs associated with hepatitis A are substantial. Between 11 percent and 22 percent of persons who have hepatitis A are hospitalized. Adults who become ill lose an average of 27 days of work. Health departments incur substantial costs in providing post-exposure prophylaxis to an average of 11 contacts per case. Average costs (direct and indirect) of hepatitis A range from $1,817 to $2,459 per case for adults and from $433 to $1,492 per case for children younger than 18. In 1989, the estimated annual direct and indirect costs of hepatitis A in the U.S. were more than $200 million, equivalent to more than $300 million in 1997 dollars.  A new CDC report shows that, in 2010, slightly more than 10 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 49 got a hepatitis A shot.

Vaccinating an employee make sense.  It is moral to protect customers from an illness that can cause serious illness and death. Vaccines also protect the business from the multi-million-dollar fallout that can come if people become ill or if thousands are forced to stand in line to be vaccinated to prevent a more serious problem.