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USDA worries about high number of imported seafood shipment rejections

A new USDA analysis of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) import refusals report reveals that from 2005 to 2013 the FDA rejected nearly 18,000 imported seafood shipments because they were unfit for human consumption.

According to the FDA, these shipments were refused entry into the United States for containing unsafe levels of “filth,” veterinary drug residues and Salmonella, which is responsible for thousand hospitalizations per year and hundreds of deaths. “Filth” is a catchall term used to describe anything that shouldn’t be in food—like rat feces, parasites, illegal antibiotics and glass shards.

The USDA summarized their findings by saying: “The safety of imported seafood clearly continues to be of significant concern, based on the number of shipments refused by FDA.”

Currently, the majority of all food refusals are seafood products; while the FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of any food imported from foreign countries, they only have the manpower to inspect less than 1 per cent of the 1.2 billion pounds of shrimp entering into the country each year.

The American Shrimp Processors Association (ASPA), a group representing the US Gulf and Southeast Atlantic Coast shrimp fishing industry, has expressed great concern over the findings.

ASPA President Dr. David Veal pointed out: “This issue goes beyond the FDA; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect food suppliers to take some responsibility for the health and safety of their products. We hope shrimp exporters will take a more proactive role in assuring that suppliers adhere to laws designed to protect the people who buy their products.”

Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the United States, with the average person consuming more than four pounds of shrimp per year. Worryingly, 90 per cent, or 3.6 of those pounds, will be imports from countries like China, Indonesia and Thailand, who routinely distribute shrimp that the FDA ends up refusing.

According to the report, Indonesia and Thailand account for about a fifth of shrimp refusals, and they are also two of the largest exporters of shrimp to the United States.

Moreover, while the report contains information through 2013, in more recent years other countries like India have greatly increased the amount of shrimp they export; in 2015, 297 million pounds of Indian shrimp was turned away.

While information is unavailable on the total number of FDA seafood inspections performed yearly, it is safe to assume that with the extremely low rates of inspection, Americans are consuming imported shrimp that is fundamentally unfit for consumption.

Given the above, ASDA encourages Americans to purchase wild-caught domestic shrimp, which has demonstrably fewer bacterial and chemical contaminants, and is an important historic industry supporting millions of jobs in the country.

Downer Cows Banned in Mad Cow Regulations

madcowThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued a rule finalizing three previously-issued interim final rules designed to further reduce the potential risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), sometimes referred to as “mad cow disease,” in human food.

The final rule provides definitions for prohibited cattle materials and prohibits their use in human food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics, to address the potential risk of BSE. These materials include:

  • Specified risk materials (SRMs ): brain, skull, eyes, trigeminal ganglia, spinal cord, vertebral column (excluding the vertebrae of the tail, the transverse processes of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, and the wings of the sacrum), and dorsal root ganglia (DRG) of cattle 30 months of age and older, and the tonsils and distal ileum of the small intestine from all cattle.
  • The small intestine from all cattle unless the distal ileum has been properly removed,
  • Material from nonambulatory disabled cattle,
  • Material from cattle not inspected and passed, or mechanically separated (MS) (Beef).

The rule additionally confirms that milk and milk products, hides and hide-derived products, tallow that contains no more than 0.15 percent insoluble impurities, and tallow derivatives are not prohibited cattle materials. The FDA also finalized the process for designating a country as not subject to BSE-related restrictions applicable to FDA regulated human food and cosmetics.

Finally, the rule provides a definition of gelatin and clarifies that gelatin is not considered a prohibited cattle material if it is manufactured using the customary industry processes specified. Gelatin was never considered a prohibited cattle material, but FDA had never specifically defined gelatin in past IFRs.

The FDA is taking this action to minimize human exposure to certain cattle material that could potentially contain the BSE agent. It is important to note that the U.S. has long had measures in place to prevent the introduction and spread of BSE, including those affirmed in this rule; therefore the risk of human exposure to the BSE agent from FDA-regulated human food and cosmetics is negligible.

This rule finalizes three interim rules from 20042005, and 2008.

USDA Finalizes New Food Safety Measures to Reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in Poultry

New Standards to Help Prevent an Estimated 50,000 Illnesses Annually

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2016 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced the finalization of new federal standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products, as well as in raw chicken breasts, legs, and wings. Based on scientific risk assessments, FSIS estimates that implementation of these standards will lead to an average of 50,000 prevented illnesses annually.

As part of this move to make chicken and turkey items that Americans frequently purchase safer to eat, FSIS has also updated its microbial testing schedule at poultry facilities and will soon begin posting more information online about individual companies’ food safety performance.

“Over the past seven years, USDA has put in place tighter and more strategic food safety measures than ever before for meat and poultry products. We have made strides in modernizing every aspect of food safety inspection, from company record keeping, to labeling requirements, to the way we perform testing in our labs,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These new standards, in combination with greater transparency about poultry companies’ food safety performance and better testing procedures, will help prevent tens of thousands of foodborne illnesses every year, reaching our Healthy People 2020 goals.”

FSIS uses pathogen reduction performance standards to assess the food safety performance of establishments that prepare meat and poultry products. By making the standards for ground poultry tougher to meet, ground poultry products nationwide will have less contamination and therefore result in fewer foodborne illnesses. FSIS implemented performance standards for whole chickens in 1996 but has since learned that Salmonella levels increase as chicken is further processed into parts. Poultry parts like breasts, wings and others represent 80 percent of the chicken available for Americans to purchase. By creating a standard for chicken parts, and by performing regulatory testing at a point closer to the final product, FSIS can greatly reduce consumer exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter.

“This approach to poultry inspection is based on science, supported by strong data, and will truly improve public health,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “The new performance standards will complement the many other proactive, prevention-based food policies that we’ve put in place in recent years to make America’s supply of meat and poultry safer to eat.”

For chicken parts, ground chicken, and ground turkey, FSIS is finalizing a pathogen reduction performance standard designed to achieve at least a 30 percent reduction in illnesses from Salmonella. For chicken parts and ground chicken, FSIS is finalizing a pathogen reduction performance standard designed to achieve at least a 32 percent reduction in illnesses from Campylobacter. Because FSIS has found the prevalence for Campylobacter in ground turkey to be already low, the reduction for this product is estimated to be 19 percent.

After these standards were proposed in early 2015, FSIS began to use routine sampling throughout the year rather than infrequent sampling on consecutive days to assess whether establishments’ processes are effectively addressing Salmonella and Campylobacter. Once establishments have completed a full set of testing under the new standards, the agency will also begin posting online which facilities pass, meet or fail the new standards.

An estimated 1.2 million foodborne illnesses are thought to be caused every year by Salmonella, with approximately one-third or 360,000 of those illnesses attributed to FSIS-regulated products. In 2013, the agency released a Salmonella Action Plan, which created a blueprint for the agency to address this pathogen of significant public health concern. Today’s announcement fulfills the major steps that FSIS had outlined in its plan.

Over the past six years, USDA has collaborated extensively with other federal partners to safeguard America’s food supply, prevent foodborne illnesses and improve consumers’ knowledge about the food they eat. USDA’s FSIS is working to strengthen federal food safety efforts and develop strategies that emphasize a three-dimensional approach to prevent foodborne illness: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery.

Some of the other steps taken to improve the safety of meat and poultry include adopting a zero-tolerance policy for raw beef products containing six additional strains of shiga-toxin producing E. coli; ensuring that beef products that have been mechanically tenderized are labeled as such and include validated cooking instructions; implementing a new “test and hold” policy in 2012, which significantly reduces consumer exposure to unsafe meat products; and working closely with FDA and CDC to collectively form the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC), which focuses on projects related to foodborne illness source attribution and will try to improve the classification of foods implicated in foodborne disease outbreaks.

Blue Bell: What Did You Know and When Did You Know It?

Really, not a question that you want to be asked or to answer.

CBS News just reported that the Department of Justice has started an investigation into Blue Bell after their ice cream was linked to a deadly Listeria outbreak earlier this year that killed three people. Sources told CBS News that the Department of Justice is trying to determine what Blue Bell management knew about potentially deadly hazards in their plants, and when they knew it.

622x350-300x200Last May I wrote, “Paul Kruse, President and CEO of Blue Bell Ice Cream – My Advice, Get a Good Criminal Lawyer.” Seems like I was on the money.

After watching the Blue Bell Listeria Outbreak unfold over the last months – especially after reading the FDA’s 483’s, I think it is time for the President and CEO of Blue Bell to consult with criminal counsel.  True, perhaps he did not know that his Broken Arrow Plant had Listeria positives going back over years, but knowledge is not necessary for the FDA and a US Attorney to prosecute – just ask the Jensens and DeCosters.

Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1938 in reaction to growing public safety demands.  The primary goal of the Act was to protect the health and safety of the public by preventing deleterious, adulterated or misbranded articles from entering interstate commerce.  Under section 402(a)(4) of the Act, a food product is deemed “adulterated” if the food was “prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health.” A food product is also considered “adulterated” if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance, which may render it injurious to health.  The 1938 Act, and the recently signed Food Safety Modernization Act, stand today as the primary means by which the federal government enforces food safety standards.

Chapter III of the Act addresses prohibited acts, subjecting violators to both civil and criminal liability. Provisions for criminal sanctions are clear:

Felony violations include adulterating or misbranding a food, drug, or device, and putting an adulterated or misbranded food, drug, or device into interstate commerce.  Any person who commits a prohibited act violates the FDCA.  A person committing a prohibited act “with the intent to defraud or mislead” is guilty of a felony punishable by years in jail and millions in fines or both.

A misdemeanor conviction under the FDCA, unlike a felony conviction, does not require proof of fraudulent intent, or even of knowing or willful conduct.  Rather, a person may be convicted if he or she held a position of responsibility or authority in a firm such that the person could have prevented the violation.  Convictions under the misdemeanor provisions are punishable by not more than one year or fined not more than $250,000, or both.

The legal jargon aside, if you are a producer of food and knowingly or not sell adulterated food, you can (and should) face fines and jail time.  Mr. Kruse, I know you are a lawyer, but you should get another one.

The inspection observations of the most recent completed FDA inspections at the Blue Bell production facilities in Brenham, Texas, Broken Arrow, Okla., and Sylacauga, Ala. are available:

USDA Finalizes Rule to Enhance Consumer Protection, Ensure Retailers Can Track Sources of Ground Meats

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced a new measure that will improve the agency’s ability to determine the source of foodborne illnesses linked to ground beef, stopping foodborne illness outbreaks sooner when they occur.  Based on lessons learned from previous outbreak investigations, FSIS is requiring that all makers of raw ground beef products keep adequate records of the source material, so that the agency can quickly work with the suppliers to recall contaminated product.

Outbreak investigations can be hindered when retail stores produce ground beef by mixing product from various sources but fail to keep clear records that would allow investigators to determine which supplier produced the unsafe product. This new requirement complements expedited traceback and traceforward procedures announced in August 2014 that enhance the agency’s ability to quickly and broadly investigate food safety breakdowns in the event of an outbreak connected to ground beef.

“This is a common-sense step that can prevent foodborne illness and increase consumer confidence when they purchase ground beef,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “In the event that unsafe product does make it into commerce, these new procedures will give us the information we need to act much more effectively to keep families across the country safe.”

Under the new final rule, FSIS is amending its recordkeeping regulations to require that all official establishments and retail stores that grind raw beef products maintain the following records: the establishment numbers of establishments supplying material used to prepare each lot of raw ground beef product; all supplier lot numbers and production dates; the names of the supplied materials, including beef components and any materials carried over from one production lot to the next; the date and time each lot of raw ground beef product is produced; and the date and time when grinding equipment and other related food-contact surfaces are cleaned and sanitized. These requirements also apply to raw beef products that are ground at an individual customer’s request when new source materials are used.

“The traceback mechanism provided for in this final rule will facilitate recall efforts that could stop outbreaks and prevent additional foodborne illnesses,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm. “USDA is committed to providing resources and assistance to makers of ground beef to ensure they can be a part of this important and essential new public health measure.”

Retail stores regularly produce raw ground beef for consumer sales by mixing cuts of beef from various sources. A 2011 Salmonella outbreak in Maine and parts of the northeastern region of the United States resulted in illnesses that could have been prevented if establishments had kept records of suppliers on file. As a result of this outbreak, on July 22, 2014, FSIS published a proposed rule (79 FR 42464) to require official establishments and retail stores to maintain records of their suppliers and source materials received. After receiving and considering comments, FSIS is announcing this final recordkeeping rule that ensures that public health officials have the ability to quickly search records to identify the exact source of the raw beef products during outbreak investigations.

The final rule can be viewed at: www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulations/federal-register/interim-and-final-rules.

FSIS Releases Updated Guide to Help Poultry Processors Reduce Salmonella, Campylobacter Hazards

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today is publishing revised guidelines to assist poultry processors in controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw food products and prevent cases of foodborne illness. This updated document is the fourth edition of the “FSIS Compliance Guideline for Controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter in Raw Poultry” and is intended to offer poultry companies best practices for minimizing pathogen levels and meeting FSIS’ food safety requirements.

“These guidelines take into account the latest science and practical considerations, including lessons learned from foodborne illness outbreaks in the last several years, to assist establishments in producing safer food,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “This new guide is one piece of FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan and our effort to reduce Salmonella illnesses attributed to meat and poultry products by 25 percent in order to meet the nation’s Healthy People 2020 goals. By following the newer guidelines, poultry facilities can help us reach this important public health target.”

The new guide makes science-based suggestions for interventions that poultry companies can take on the farm (known as pre-harvest), sanitary dressing procedures, further processing practices, antimicrobial interventions, and other management practices. These prevention and control measures represent the best practice recommendations of FSIS based on scientific and practical considerations. This guidance is particularly important in light of Salmonella outbreaks involving poultry products.

FSIS is seeking comment on the guidelines, which were last updated in 2010. A downloadable version of the compliance guidance is available at: www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/compliance-guides-index. The guidelines are also posted at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at: www.regulations.gov where comments can be submitted. Comments may also be submitted by mail addressed to: Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Patriots Plaza 3, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Mailstop 3782, Room 8-163A, Washington, DC 20250-3700. FSIS will accept comments 60 days from the date of the guidance publishing in the Federal Register.

While rates of foodborne illness overall have fallen over the course of this century, Salmonella rates have remained relatively stagnant, prompting FSIS to take an all-hands on deck approach to addressing the pathogen in meat and poultry products. The guidance, along with development of new performance standards for raw chicken breasts, legs and wings as well as for ground and other comminuted chicken and turkey products unveiled in January, are a major step in FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan. FSIS’ science-based risk assessment estimates that implementation of the new performance standards will lead to an average of 50,000 prevented illnesses annually.

FDA: Produce Safety rule, Foreign Supplier Verification Programs rule and rule on Accredited Third-Party Certification

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today took major steps to prevent foodborne illness by finalizing rules implementing the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act that, for the first time, establish enforceable safety standards for produce farms and make importers accountable for verifying that imported food meets U.S. safety standards. The Agency also issued a rule establishing a program for the accreditation of third-party certification bodies, also known as auditors, to conduct food safety audits of foreign food facilities. These final rules will help produce farmers and food importers take steps to prevent problems before they occur.

An estimated 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year. Over the past few years, high-profile outbreaks related to various foods, from spinach to peanut products, have underscored the need to make continuous improvements in food safety.

The new rules released today – referred to as the Produce Safety rule, the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs rule, and the Accredited Third-Party Certification rule – are key elements of the comprehensive food safety overhaul envisioned in the 2011 bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FSMA directs the FDA and food producers to prevent problems across the entire food system, rather than waiting to act until illness occurs. The new rules formalize industry accountability and best practices for food importers and the produce community.

“The recent multistate outbreak of Salmonella in imported cucumbers that has killed four Americans, hospitalized 157 and sickened hundreds more, is exactly the kind of outbreak these rules can help prevent,” said Michael R. Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “The FDA is working with partners across the government and industry to prevent foodborne outbreaks. The rules will help better protect consumers from foodborne illness and strengthen their confidence that modern preventive practices are in place, no matter where in the world the food is produced.”

The Produce Safety rule establishes science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce that are designed to work effectively for food safety across the wide diversity of produce farms. The standards in the final rule include requirements for water quality, employee health and hygiene, wild and domesticated animals, biological soil amendments of animal origin (such as compost and manure), and equipment, tools, and buildings. When followed, the standards are designed to help minimize the risk of serious illness or death from consumption of contaminated produce. Public comments and input received during hundreds of farm visits, meetings and listening sessions have shaped the rule into one that will reduce the risk of harmful contamination while also allowing appropriate flexibility for farmers and producers.

The Foreign Supplier Verification Programs rule requires food importers to verify that foreign suppliers are producing food in a manner that meets U.S. safety standards and that they are achieving the same level of food safety as domestic farms and food facilities. In 2013, USDA estimated that imported food accounted for about 19 percent of the U.S. food supply, including about 52 percent of the fresh fruits and 22 percent of the fresh vegetables consumed by Americans. The final rule ensures that importers conduct verification activities (such as audits of a supplier’s facility, sampling and testing of food, or a review of the supplier’s relevant food safety records) based on risks linked to the imported food and the performance of the foreign supplier.

The FDA has also finalized a rule on Accredited Third-Party Certification, which is part of FSMA’s new food import safety system. This rule establishes a program for the accreditation of third-party certification bodies (auditors) to conduct food safety audits and to certify that foreign food facilities and food produced by such facilities meet applicable FDA food safety requirements. To prevent potentially harmful food from reaching U.S. consumers, the FDA can require in specific circumstances that a food offered for import be accompanied by a certification from an accredited third-party certification body.

“The ultimate success of FSMA depends on full funding of the President’s FY 2016 budget request,” Taylor said. “This will help us train FDA and state food safety staff on the new system, fund our state partners to work with farmers on produce safety, provide technical assistance to small farms and food businesses, and successfully implement the new import system that U.S. consumers deserve and Congress envisioned.”

The FDA has finalized five of the seven major rules that implement the core of FSMA. Today’s historic rules build on the preventive controls rules the FDA finalized in September 2015, which mandate modern preventive practices in food processing and storage facilities. These rules work together to systematically strengthen the food safety system and better protect public health.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by ensuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

Salmonella Lawsuits in Cucumber and Chipotle Outbreaks and New Food Safety Rules

At Marler Clark it was a busy week taking care of consumers sickened by Salmonella-tainted cucumbers nationwide, sickened with Salmonella at Minnesota Chipotle restaurants and Norovirus at a Simi Valley Chipotle.  In between we had the opportunity to weigh in with the press nationwide on some of the new food safety rules.

Cucumber recall: 285 sickened, 1 dead, 1 lawsuit after multistate salmonella outbreak

Attorney Bill Marler, who is representing the victim from Minnesota, said the recall didn’t come soon enough.

“One person has died eating what is usually a healthy food and hundreds have been sickened so far. As these cucumbers were sold to restaurants and home cooks, it’s possible the number of illnesses will rise,” said Marler, known nationwide as a food safety advocate.

Maricopa County residents sue tainted cucumber firm

Marler, whose Seattle-based law firm specializes in food contamination cases, said that there have been  large outbreaks tied to cucumbers each of the past three years. The source of the outbreak in the other two cases was contaminated water used to rinse the cucumbers.

Marler said he suspects that federal investigators likely will find tainted water as the contamination source of this outbreak, too. The Food and Drug Administration will conduct an investigation to identify the source of the contamination, though it could take several months before that is completed.

Lawsuit Filed Following Rare Salmonella Outbreak

Foodborne illness attorney, Bill Marler says while the cucumbers carried the bacteria in from Mexico the outbreak of sickness was first spotted in Montana.

“You know was it dirty wash water, was there a problem in the cleaning of the cucumbers in Mexico, was it in the storage of the cucumbers when they made it into the United States but in many respects it is trying to figure out why these things happen becomes a big focus of the lawsuit,” said Marler.

Twice-Hospitalized Salmonella Victim Sues Chipotle in Minnesota

On Thursday, Sept. 10, Beck sued Chipotle in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Represented by attorneys Joseph Flynn in St. Paul, MN, and William D. Marler in Seattle, Beck has filed a four-count federal lawsuit against the restaurant chain (Marler is also publisher of Food Safety News.). She is suing based on strict liability, breach of warranty, negligence and negligence per se.

Listeria outbreak in Colorado cantaloupe helped prompt new food safety guidelines

Food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler feels the rules are game changing. Marler led a lawsuit against Jensen Farms, the grower of the cantaloupes.

“These rules really are sort of the guts behind the enforcement mechanism of getting companies to pay attention to make food safer,” said Marler.

4-year-old girl sickened by E. coli remains hospitalized

Since the Jack In The Box outbreak, Marler says E. coli cases involving undercooked meat have declined. He says about 10 years ago there were issues with spinach and lettuce.

“In the last couple of years, the spinach and lettuce industry got it under control, now we are seeing is mishandling in restaurants where most of E. coli cases are coming from now,” said Marler.

He says the outbreaks have been smaller, between five and 15 people, rather than hundreds as in years past.

“The real problem is now convincing restaurants that there is still risk,” he said.

New FDA rules tighten requirements for food manufacturers

William Marler, a Seattle attorney who has represented victims of foodborne illness, said the new rules are, in many respects, modeled after preventative measures in the fish industry, as well as those for leafy greens, developed after the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach.

“I think the preventative controls go a long way to making manufactured food safer,” he told USA TODAY. “The good news for the public and business is that there will likely be fewer illnesses and fewer lawsuits — which is a good thing.”

FDA Moves On Food Safety A Mere Three Years Behind Schedule

“The real question is how do you enforce it,” said famed food safety lawyer William Marler. “We’re asking companies to implement the rules with very little oversight. Is that ultimately going to be sufficient to make our food supply safer? The jury is still out.”

Marler also noted that the FDA has become far more willing to harshly prosecute food safety violations since Obama came to office. This summer, executives of the Peanut Corporation of America were found guilty of knowingly selling salmonella-tainted peanut butter that sparked a food poisoning outbreak that killed at least nine people. The plant’s former owner now faces life imprisonment, which is unprecedented in the history of American food safety. Marler speculated that the looming threat of personal punishment for infractions could spur executives to take the rules seriously, even if the chance of inspection is low.

Who pays for the new FDA food safety rules?

This may be money well spent for food producers, if only because it may leave their customers feeling more confident about the food they eat. Many companies already have these rules in place, and they’re doing the trick, says attorney Bill Marler.

“In the ’90s, 90 percent of my law firm’s revenue was E. coli cases linked to hamburger. That’s now zero,” he says.

Marler says safer food means companies don’t have to worry about $100 million recalls and class action lawsuits. The question now is whether Congress will give the FDA what it needs to enforce the new rules. The Senate and House are proposing less than half of what the regulators have requested to improve food safety.

Norovirus to blame for illness outbreak at Chipotle

Marler told the Simi Valley Acorn that he filed a complaint Wednesday in federal court against Chipotle, which is headquartered in Denver, on behalf of two clients alleging negligence for serving contaminated food. The attorney said he’ll most likely add other clients to the complaint once he has the necessary evidence.

“Norovirus is something no one would wish on their worst enemy and . . . (my clients) were sick for three to seven days before recovering,” the attorney told the Acorn. “They . . . are entitled their medical expenses, any wages lost and any inconvenience and suffering during the time they were sick.”

Marler opened his firm in 1994 after working on the 1993 Jack in the Box case that left hundreds sick with e. Coli, including more than 100 people who were hospitalized for acute kidney failure and four children who died. He has also worked on some of the largest salmonella, E. coli and Listeria cases across the nation, including the spinach E. coli outbreak in 2006 and the Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe that killed 33 people in 2011.

“The number of norovirus cases we’re involved in has grown over the last five years primarily because it’s becoming more virulent and it’s more easily tracked to ill workers,” he said.

Senator Durbin: Today’s Aspen Foods recall due to possible salmonella contamination highlights need for increased vigilance

After the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill that fell short of providing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the resources it needs to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today vowed to continue working to fully fund the effort. An amendment – offered by Durbin – that would have increased funding for food safety activities by nearly $69 million failed along party lines to receive the votes needed to be included in the final bill.

“The food safety allocation in this bill, falls short of what is needed to reduce foodborne illness in this country,” said Durbin. “I am hopeful that as this funding bill moves through the appropriations process, we can work across the aisle to increase the funding for FDA’s implement the Food Safety Modernization Act – a law that enjoys broad support from a diverse group of stakeholders.”

An announcement this morning by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that Aspen Foods is recalling nearly 2 million pounds of frozen food that may be contaminated with Salmonella highlighted the need for increased vigilance. Every year, infections from deadly pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria lead to an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths in the U.S. – with an annual price tag of $70 billion.

FDA estimates that it needs a total of $276 million in additional funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act. The President’s budget, which requested an increase of $109.5 million over FY15, would help close this funding gap by enabling FDA to retrain thousands of inspectors in the new prevention-based oversight system; provide technical assistance to more than 300,000 industry stakeholders; and build a new food import oversight system. The spending bill approved today by the Appropriations Committee included only $45 million in additional funding for implementing FSMA.

Senate Legislation To Deem Salmonella An Adulterant

L-0044559In the wake of a devastating investigation aired last night by PBS’ Frontline of the American food safety system and the millions of preventable food-borne illnesses contracted each year, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act to finally provide the USDA mandatory recall authority over contaminated meat and poultry. The Frontline report documents the spread of dangerous contaminants through poultry processors and how regulators are failing to prevent the illnesses they cause. An estimated 3 million New Yorkers annually become sick from food they consume, and approximately one in six Americans annual become sick from foodborne disease.

“Our food safety system is failing to protect Americans, leaving thousands of people hospitalized every year with preventable illnesses,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Poultry and meat known to be contaminated should never end up in market fridges and freezers or our kitchens. The USDA must have the authority to recall products that test positive for contaminants, and consumers need to know when food has been recalled.”

“It is time to treat all bacteria and viruses that sicken U.S. consumers the same,” said Bill Marler, the nation’s leading foodborne illness attorney. “They should be banned from both imports and from food produced in the U.S.  Banning these bugs from our food supply would save both consumers and the food industry billions of dollars in medical and recall costs.”

The Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act would 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 (FSIS) 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.

In the event of food borne illness or the detection of an adulterated or unsafe product, Gillibrand’s proposal would allow the USDA to 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.

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.