An email from the Nature Conservancy landed in my inbox earlier this evening touting that the FDA will release their long awaited proposed rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) tomorrow and it will be in the Federal Register on Monday (damn, no weekend reading).  There will be a 120-day public comment period.

My guess is that someone (Nature Conservancy perhaps) breached an embargo on the news or simply ignored it because it wanted to be the first to be seen in the know.

However the rules come out, they are long past due – like 70 plus years.

Good job Michael Taylor and the hardworking folks at FDA and OMB, and all the other acronyms that help make our food just a bit safer.  And, a hat tip to the Senate and House for passing the original legislation and President Obama for signing it.

Welcome to outbreakdatabase.com, a searchable database of illness outbreaks caused by one or more of the following

  1. consumption of contaminated foods or beverages,
  2. exposure to animals,
  3. exposure to contaminated recreational water,
  4. person-to-person contact with someone whose illness initiated from animal exposure or consumption of contaminated foods and beverages.

Here is May and June 2012:

Listeriosis in Westmoreland County (PA) Patient Linked to Cheese Sold by Whole Foods, 2012

The Allegheny County Health Department and Whole Foods Market announced that Jean Perrin Edel de Cleron cheese sold in the East Liberty Whole Foods Market store was linked to listeriosis in a 69 year old Westmoreland County man. The man fell ill on …Read More »

Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Bredeney Linked to Sunland, Inc. Nut Butters, 2012

On September 22, 2012 the CDC announced a multistate outbreak of Samonella serotype Bredeney linked to Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter. Collaborative efforts by local, state and federal public health and regulatory officials traced…Read More »

North Carolina Restaurant 2012

75 people fell ill after eating at Ribeye’s Steakhouse in Nashville, North Carolina. The exact cause of the outbreak was not determined.…Read More »

George Mason University Norovirus Outbreak, June 2012

Approximately 40 students participating in a program sponsored by the Congressional Award Foundation became ill with norovirus during their stay at George Mason University located in Fairfax, Virginia. Illness onsets began on Thursday, June 21. Mor…Read More »

2012 Outbreak of Cryptosporidium, unspecified source, Oneida County, NY

In mid-June 15, 2012 the Oneida County Department of Health announced that 6 cases of Cryptosporidium had been reported to the health department. County officials advised school nurses and the administrations of all school districts that illness may…Read More »

California Pizza Kitchen Norovirus Outbreak, June 2012

A California Pizza Kitchen located in Walnut Creek, California was temporarily shut down after a norovirus outbreak made more than 60 diners sick according to Contra Costa County Health Department officials. Ill persons ate at the restaurant between…Read More »

Outbreak of Norovirus Among Notre Dame Sports Camp Attendees, June 2012

More than 100 middle and high school aged children attending a sports camp on the Notre Dame campus were ill with suspected norovirus in June 2012. Twenty-nine campers were seen at area hospitals. Dr. Thomas Felger at the St. Joseph County Health D…Read More »

Salmonella Enteriditis Due to Contaminated Cargill Ground Beef, June 2012

On July 22, 2012 Cargill Meat Solutions announced a recall of 29,339 pounds of fresh ground beef products due to possible contamination with Salmonella Enteriditis. Using epidemiologic and tracback data public health investigators in 8 states (MA, M…Read More »

July is coming.

Kleenex-brand Luxury Foam Hand Sanitizer is under recall because of microbial contamination.

Health Canada said Thursday that product tests by manufacturer Kimberly-Clark Professional Corporation detected bacteria that may pose health risks to people with weakened immune systems, especially those with cystic fibrosis.

The recalled Kleenex-brand Luxury Foam Hand Sanitizer is sold in 1 litre and 1.2 litre containers.The recalled Kleenex-brand Luxury Foam Hand Sanitizer is sold in 1 litre and 1.2 litre containers. (Courtesy Kimberly-Clark Professional Corporation )

The product is sold in 1 litre and 1.2 litre containers and is used in large dispensers in public areas and workplaces.

The bacteria in the tested samples were Burkholderia cepacia, which pose little risk to healthy people but can cause serious problems such as pneumonia and blood infections in people with weakened immune systems.

The recall affects about 430 containers that were distributed to retail stores and wholesalers across Canada.

Health Canada said companies or individuals who’ve bought the affected product should remove it from use.

Consumers with compromised immune systems should not use the affected Kleenex sanitizer or any sanitizing product that can’t be identified from its dispenser, the regulator advised.

The affected products are:

Kleenex Luxury Foam Hand Sanitizer (Benzalkonium Chloride,0.1%), 1,000 ml manual cassette (used in manual dispensers) with Drug Identification Number: 02366045; lot number SA1229ANB.

Kleenex Luxury Foam Hand Sanitizer (Benzalkonium Chloride, 0.1%), 1,200 ml E-Cassette (used in electronic dispensers) with Drug Identification Number: 02366045; lot number SA1229ANA.

We the undersigned are writing to offer another perspective on Michael Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, and the subject of a petition that SignOn.org, which is sponsored by MoveOn.org, is circulating on the Internet. The petition attacks Taylor based on his former employment at the controversial agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto. The undersigned have diverse views regarding genetically engineered foods, but we are unanimous in our belief that Taylor is a valued deputy commissioner, and we regret that a factually untrue Internet smear campaign has attracted so much support.

Several of us have been representing consumer interests on food safety and nutrition issues for most of our careers. All of us have known Michael Taylor for many years, including when he occupied previous high‐level positions in the federal government, taught at George Washington University School of Public Health, and even when he worked at Monsanto.

We acknowledge that Monsanto symbolizes a lot of things that many people (including some of us) don’t like about modern, industrial agriculture. But Mr. Taylor’s résumé is not reducible to his work at that company. It is far more relevant that in the Clinton Administration he headed the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he stood up to the meat industry and fought for strict controls that help keep E. coli and other pathogens out of meat and poultry. Since joining the Obama Administration, Taylor has been working extraordinarily hard to transform the FDA from a reactive agency that chases down foodborne‐illness outbreaks after people fall ill, to a proactive public‐health‐based agency focused on preventing foods from becoming contaminated in the first place. We are confident that his leadership, formerly at USDA and now at FDA, has and will continue to reduce the number of Americans sickened, hospitalized, and killed by foodborne pathogens.

Also, the attack on Taylor includes statements about genetically engineered foods that are simply without any basis in fact. The petition states that since the introduction of GE foods, the “diagnosis of multiple chronic illnesses in the U.S. has skyrocketed,” and that the industry’s products “may also be contributors to colon, breast, lymphatic, and prostate cancers.” Reasonable people can disagree about Monsanto’s corporate policies (often bad), or the quality of government oversight of GE foods (inadequate), or the appropriateness of genetically engineering food crops in the first place. But all of us agree that there is no foundation for the outlandish statements made in the petition.

Undermining MoveOn’s credibility is that the petition’s author, Frederick Ravid, self‐ identifies as the “the 21st generation descendent from father‐to‐son of the famous 12th century Kaballistic [sic] Master Rabbi Abraham ben David, of Posquierres, known as the RaVaD.” Ravid’s web site claims that President Barack Obama is the reincarnation of a Civil War‐era Senator, Lyman Trumbull. It also indicates his belief that various events, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the founding of the League of Nations, are linked to solar eclipses. We mean no disrespect for Mr. Ravid’s religious beliefs, but we do question his respect for science.

We are disturbed that SignOn.org/MoveOn.org and other organizations have spread Mr. Ravid’s uninformed statements so far and wide, seemingly without any apparent concern about their veracity or of its author’s bona fides. Frankly, the petition represents the baldest sort of character assassination and plays right into the hands of those who are bent on convincing the public that all government officials are corrupt.

Michael Taylor has been an important part of an impressive food safety team that has accomplished an enormous amount in a short time. While the Administration has not accomplished everything we food safety advocates would like to see done, Mike Taylor, along with President Obama, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen, and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, have made great progress on food safety in a rather short period of time. They deserve the chance to keep on doing it, despite the conspiracy mongering to which Mr. Taylor is now being subjected.

We urge MoveOn to inactivate the petition, send an email to everyone who has signed the petition correcting its factual misstatements and offering instructions for people to unsign, and apologize to Mr. Taylor.

Sincerely,

Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director Center for Science in the Public Interest

Shaun Kennedy, Director, National Center for Food Protection and Defense Director, Partnerships and Programs, College of Veterinary Medicine Assistant Professor, Veterinary Population Medicine University of Minnesota

William D. Marler, Esq. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm

J. Glenn Morris, M.D., Director, Emerging Pathogens Institute University of Florida

Michael Rodemeyer, Lecturer, Department of Science, Technology and Society University of Virginia, Former Executive Director, Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology

Donald W. Schaffner, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor Director of the Center for Advanced Food Technology Rutgers University

Deirdre Schlunegger Chief Executive Officer STOP Foodborne Illness

Carol L. Tucker‐Foreman, Distinguished Fellow, The Food Policy Institute Consumer Federation of America, Former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture

Laboratory test results show that the Campylobactor jejuni bacteria that caused diarrheal illness among 16 individuals who drank unpasteurized (raw) milk at a school event early this month in Raymond, Wisconsin was the same bacteria strain found in unpasteurized milk produced at a local farm, according to officials from the Department of Health Services (DHS) and Western Racine County Health Department (WRCHD).  A parent had supplied unpasteurized milk from the farm for the school event.

Stool samples submitted to the WRCHD by ill students and adults were sent to the State Laboratory of Hygiene where they tested positive for the bacteria. Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) food inspectors collected milk samples from the bulk tank at the farm, which tested positive for Campylobacter jejuni. Further testing by the State Hygiene lab showed the bacteria strain from the stool samples and the milk samples matched. Additionally, interviews with event attendees revealed that consuming the unpasteurized milk was statistically associated with illness. Health officials said that this combination of laboratory and epidemiologic evidence indicates that the illnesses were caused by the unpasteurized milk consumed at the school event.

Campylobacter jejuni bacteria can cause diarrhea, which can be bloody, abdominal cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting. Rarely, an infection may lead to paralysis after initial symptoms have disappeared.  Campylobacter can be transmitted by consuming food contaminated directly or indirectly by animal feces or handled by someone with the infection who has not adequately washed hands after using the bathroom.

The farm did not sell the unpasteurized milk and there was no legal violation associated with the milk being brought to the school event. The farm is licensed and in good standing with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

For more information on the risks associated with raw milk consumption, see www.realrawmilkfacts.com.

In addition to the news that a new, highly dangerous strain of E. coli is to blame for 18 deaths and over 1,600 sickened in Europe, today it was announced that a new and dangerous strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been found in cow’s milk and numerous human samples.  As reported by Kate Kelland of Reuters London, this new MRSA strain was found by Cambridge University scientists while researching S. aureus, a pathogen known to be potentially deadly to dairy cows.

“To find the same new strain in both humans and cows is certainly worrying. However, pasteurization of milk will prevent any risk of infection via the food chain,” said Laura Garcia-Alvarez, who worked on Holmes’ team.

MRSA is estimated to kill 19,000 people each year in the United States — far more than HIV and AIDS — and a similar number in Europe.

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics in recent decades have fueled a rise in drug-resistant “superbug” infections such as MRSA and C-difficile.

Last year, scientists warned that a new so-called superbug from India known as New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) was rapidly spreading around the world.

This new MRSA strain, however, is not detectible by standard testing methods, making its presence even more concerning.

During this study, Holmes team found that the new MRSA strain was resistant to some drugs, like normal MRSA, but it was also impossible to identify using standard molecular tests. These tests work by detecting the presence of the gene which makes the bug resistant to methicillin, called the mecA gene.

 When another team of researchers decoded all the genes in the bacteria’s DNA, they found that the new strain does have a mecA gene, it is only 60 percent similar to the “normal” MRSA mecA gene, meaning it can’t be detected with standard tests.

Pork chops.jpgToday the USDA announced that the minimum safe cooking temperature for pork has been lowered from 165 °F to 145 °F.  In addition, a 3 minute resting period after removing the meat from the grill has been added to the recommendation.  The new lower temperature recommendation and resting period comes after several years of research and consultation with food producers and food safety experts.

“Dr. James McKean, associate director of the Swine Industry Center at Iowa State University, said 145 degrees is higher than the kill temperature for bacteria and parasites that could make people sick.”

Despite the lowered temperature for pork, the minimum recommended cooking temperature for other cuts of meat remains the same.  To recap, the minimum safe cooking temperatures for common cuts of meat are as follows:

  • 145 °F – fish, shellfish, beef steaks and roasts, and (now) pork
  • 160 °F – ground beef, veal, and lamb
  • 165 °F – chicken and turkey

It is important to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, placed into the thickest part of the part, to test whether it has reached the proper temperature.  Color and firmness are NOT good indicators of doneness or internal temperature.

Summer Camp.jpgThe Ukranian Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, announced recently that the regional heads of state administrations would be held personally responsible if any violations lead to food poisoning of children at this year’s summer camps.  The regional heads are those tasked with oversight of youth summer camps.  The camps host nearly 18,000 children during the summer holidays.  Personal responsibility for poisoning people–now there’s a unique idea.

Apparently last year there were numerous violations at the summer camps which led to food poisoning among the young campgoers.  “We do not have the right to allow violations of the regulations of children’s food provision, [or] the quality of food. Such cases occurred last year. I would like to personally warn governors and all those who at the Health Ministry are responsible for this sphere: they will be held personally responsible for every such case,” the premier said.

Children and those with weakened immune system are especially vulerable to bacteria and viruses that can cause foodborne illness, making it especially important to prevent food contamination in the first place.

Listeria deli meat.jpgThe Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been pushing for over a decade to get out the message on the risk to at risk-populations of contracting the Listeria bacteria from cold cuts of meat, such as hot dogs and deli meat.  The CDC urges those over the age of 50, and especially those over 65, pregnant, or with compromised immune systems, to avoid eating cold cuts of meat unless they have been heated to at least 165 degrees. 

As reported by food safety writer Elizabeth Weise at USA Today, the risk of listeriosis is very real:

But food-safety officials mean business about the warning. “When it comes to food safety, we’re serious: People at risk for listeriosis should not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot. Thoroughly reheating food can help kill any bacteria that might be present. If you cannot reheat these foods, do not eat them,” says Neil Gaffney, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service.

The recommendation is because of a food-borne bug by the name of listeria monocytogenes which causes an uncommon but potentially fatal disease called listeriosis. About 85% of cases are linked to cold cuts or deli meats, says Mike Doyle, a professor of food microbiology at the University of Georgia.

And based on FSIS risk-assessment data, meats sliced at the store pose a greater risk than meats pre-sliced at federally inspected establishments, Gaffney says.

The threat from listeria is real and not to be ignored, CDC and USDA emphasize.

“About one of five patients with listeriosis dies,” says Benjamin Silk, with CDC’s Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch. That’s why CDC is concerned about it, although the numbers that fall ill are still relatively low. The CDC estimates there are about 1,600 cases of listeriosis and 260 related deaths each year, only half of which are diagnosed and reported — so people are getting sick, but may not know what sickened them.

Just last year, in August, 2010 the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry announced a recall of 500,000 pounds of Veron Food Inc. meat products, including ready to eat hog head cheese and sausage after as many as 14 Listeria illnesses were linked to the company’s products. In April, 2011 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that of those sickened seven had been hospitalized and two had died as a result of their listeriosis infections. Despite its name, hog head cheese is a meat jelly made from swine heads and feet.

It’s not just the CDC raising the concern. listeriosis and cold cuts were ranked just last week as the third worst combination of a food and a pathogen in terms of the burden they place on public health, costing $1.1 billion a year in medical costs and lost work days, according to a study by the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogen Institute.

Pregnant women are one of the highest risk groups. About one in six cases of listeriosis occurs in pregnancy and when a pregnant woman gets it, there’s a 30% chance of a miscarriage, studies show.

China has had its fair share of food safety issues over the past several years (remember the 300,000 kids sickened and at least 6 killed by melamine-tainted milk?), resulting in a global negative perception over the safety of Chinese-made food products.

In response to concerns over the safety of its food supply, it was announced that China would be strengthening its food safety system by, in part, adopting a new efficiency measurement system to assess the quality of supervision and inspections being conducted by local governments tasked with food safety oversight.

At a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and the China Association for Quality announced that they consider the adoption of such an assessment system to be their primary task in 2011.

The announcement said the country will also establish a means this year of reporting the results of quality analyses in a timely manner.

Speaking at a national conference in January, Zhi Shuping, director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, became the first to propose the creation of a system to be used to assess the attempts of local governments and officials to ensure food safety and quality.

It is being reported in the media, however, that fewer than half of the 2,862 county quality inspections centers in China, which amount to about 1,100 centers, are capable of carrying out food safety inspection tests.  A new food safety assessment system may thus be difficult to implement if over half of the centers lack the equipment necessary to conduct food safety testing.

Wu Jinsheng, director of the technology department with the administration, said in January that the government will spend enough to double in the next five years the number of counties that are capable of conducting food safety tests.

China’s announcement comes only two weeks after the latest food safety scandal to hit China became public.  China Central Television reported that Jiyuan Shuanghui Food Co Ltd, an affiliate of the country’s largest meat processor, Shuanghui Group, had purchased pigs fed with clenbuterol, an illegal additive used to produce leaner pork, but which is poisonous to humans if ingested.

The report said tarnished meat was able to enter the market in part because local quarantine officials allowed pig farmers to choose which pork samples they would submit for testing.

Sang Liwei, a food safety lawyer in Beijing and a representative of the Global Food Safety Forum, a non-government organization, praised the punishments meted out to the responsible officials and said such actions effectively remind officials of their duties.