Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) today released the following statement regarding the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) response to the ongoing antibiotic resistant Salmonella outbreak linked to raw turkey products, which has caused more than 160 illnesses and one death across 35 states.

“The public entrusts the USDA to keep our nation’s meat and poultry products safe. That is what makes the ongoing Salmonella outbreak so troubling. Congress and the public have no indication that the USDA is any closer to resolving this outbreak today than they were nearly one year ago when the first illness was reported. Instead of providing more information—like naming implicated plants—the USDA has attacked consumer safety advocates for seeking answers. That is wrong, and it is not the type of behavior a government agency or its employees should be engaged in.”

“This outbreak is just another example of the USDA putting corporate interests over the health of American families. That is why I have long advocated for changes to food safety law that would define antibiotic-resistant Salmonella as an adulterant in poultry products. Congress needs to act on this bill immediately. More than that, with Thanksgiving just one week away, the public deserves transparency from the USDA and to know if their families are being put at risk.”

DeLauro’s legislation, the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act, would strengthen the ability of the USDA to keep Americans safe from contaminated meat, poultry, and eggs. Among other reforms, the bill would define Salmonella strains that are associated with serious illness or death, or that are drug-resistant, to be an adulterant in poultry. This change in definition would subject such contaminated products to the USDA’s mandatory recall authority.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state health departments are working together to investigate and bring to an end the outbreak of Salmonella Reading in raw turkey products.

We know that there are currently 164 people from 35 states ill from this strain of Salmonella. However, the outbreak strain has been identified in a wide range of samples including raw turkey pet food, raw turkey products, and live turkeys. Our public health partners have interviewed case patients, and 64% of those patients report eating turkey products. Of the patients who report eating different types and brands of turkey products purchased from different stores, some couldn’t be certain they ate turkey products while others reported handling raw turkey pet food and/or raw turkey or working with live turkeys or living with someone who handled live turkeys. We have interviewed patients, looked at receipts and shopper card data, and tested any product that case patients still have.  All this information is necessary to link back to a supplier or establishment. Despite these ongoing efforts, we do not have the evidence to pinpoint a single common supplier of turkey products. Like any investigation, we are chasing down leads and looking for evidence.

If FSIS had the ability to identify the source of this Salmonella strain, then the agency would immediately recall the items. If we had specific products that we could alert consumers to with a Public Health Alert, we would issue one. At the moment, there is no actionable information for consumers, other than to remind them that this is an ongoing investigation and that consumers should always handle raw turkey carefully and cook it thoroughly to prevent food poisoning. This outbreak is a reminder that raw turkey products can have germs that spread around food preparation areas and can make you sick.

That brings us to the recent demands by special interest groups regarding their accusation that FSIS is withholding information that consumers need to make informed decisions.  FSIS takes more than 40,000 raw poultry samples a year in over 6,400 regulated establishments.  The agency makes millions of data points available every year, and every month is adding additional reports related to sampling results and individual establishment food safety results – all in an effort to satisfy stakeholder appetite for a more accessible regulatory agency.  We will continue to do so.  In fact, special interest groups would have no window into the federal government investigation into this outbreak if FSIS hadn’t shared information with them.  However, it would be grossly irresponsible and reckless to associate producers with an outbreak investigation, when a link from an establishment to an illness has not been made.   It’s also not helpful to consumers.  Trace back investigations are conducted in the field through on the ground work, not Monday morning quarterbacking from the comforts of an urban high rise in New York City or K Street in Washington, D.C., with fundraising pleas attached.

To be abundantly clear, FSIS has NOT identified a source or supplier of the product or products that are making consumers ill, but we continue to work around the clock with our federal and state public health partners to solve this.  It is insulting to suggest that the agency would not move forward if we had actionable information. FSIS is a public health agency that moves forward when science can serve as the foundation of our action plan—not when emotion or pressure from for-profit industry or special interest groups demand it.

As families start their holiday plans they may be wondering what this means for them.  The answer is simple. Salmonella is prevalent and can be present in raw meat and poultry and in live poultry – no raw meat or poultry is sterile. Consumers can protect themselves by cooking their turkey, other poultry products, and meat thoroughly.  The cooking process kills the Salmonella.  No one should be eating partially cooked or raw turkey.  Additionally, it is essential that people wash their hands after handling raw poultry, meat and pet food to avoid cross contamination of other foods, spice containers, or kitchen surfaces.

FSIS will continue to work with our public health partners to release information as it becomes available and will take action when we have the evidence. We are following up on every lead and working with our public health partners to find the source of the Salmonella Reading. In the meantime, it’s important that consumers know they can purchase and safely consume these products. The U.S. has the safest food supply in the world and USDA works every day to ensure it.”

Consumer Reports urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture today to identify the brands of turkey that have been linked to a drug-resistant strain of Salmonella in turkey that has sickened consumers across the nation. The outbreak in raw turkey products has been going on for a year, but neither the turkey industry nor the USDA has released any information about which brands are making people sick.

“The USDA should immediately make public which turkey producers, suppliers, and brands are involved in this outbreak — especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumer Reports. “This information could save lives and help ensure consumers take the precautions needed to prevent anyone in their home from getting sick.”

The outbreak of the drug-resistant Salmonella strain, known as Salmonella Reading, has been linked to 164 illnesses in 35 states, including one death in California, and about half of those sickened have been hospitalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak has been found in live turkeys and many kinds of raw turkey products, and that it “might be widespread in the turkey industry.” The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has identified the Salmonella strain in samples of raw turkey products collected from 22 slaughterhouses and seven processing plants but has not disclosed these facilities or the names of the companies that operate them.

“Just one week from now, a majority of Americans will be sitting down with their families for a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey on their plates,” said Halloran. “The USDA must take more aggressive action to make sure the turkeys served this year aren’t contaminated with a potentially deadly strain of Salmonella.” Consumer Reports has called on USDA to classify dangerous strains of Salmonella like this one as an adulterant, so that foods containing them cannot be sold.

Consumer Reports encourages the public to be alert to the symptoms of a Salmonella infection. It usually takes 12 to 72 hours after you have ingested something contaminated with Salmonella to get sick. The key symptoms are diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and sometimes vomiting. Most people recover from Salmonella without treatment, but in some cases, treatment with antibiotics is required. Young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.

Dangerous bacteria can be killed by cooking a turkey thoroughly. Consumer Reports has the following recommendations for preparing and cooking turkey safely:

  • Cook all turkey to an internal temperature of 165° F before eating. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature throughout the turkey and in any stuffing.
  • Wash your hands frequently, both during and after handling raw turkey.
  • Avoid washing raw turkey before preparing it, because this may spread the germs around your kitchen.
  • Be sure to thoroughly wash all countertops, cutting boards, utensils, and any other kitchen items that come into contact with raw turkey.
  • Don’t give your pets raw turkey. You can get sick if you handle raw pet food and don’t wash your hands properly — and your pets can get sick from Salmonella, too.

Not  to be confused with the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth, although, perhaps some of these outbreaks were sinful.  I had the honor to represent many of the ill and the families of those who died.

Jack-in-the- Box E. coli Outbreak – 1992 – 1993

708 ill, 171 hospitalized and 4 dead

An outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was linked to the consumption of hamburgers from the Jack-in-the-Box Restaurant chain. Cases were reported from the states of Washington (602 cases/144 hospitalizations/3 deaths), Idaho (14 cases/4 hospitalizations/no deaths), California (34 cases/14 hospitalizations/1 death), and Nevada (58 cases/9 hospitalizations/no deaths). A case control study implicated the chain’s hamburgers resulting in a multistate recall of the remaining hamburgers. Only 20 percent of the product remained at the time of the recall; this amounted to 272,672 hamburger patties. Subsequent testing of the hamburger patties showed the presence of E. coli O157:H7. The strain of E. coli O157:H7 found in ill people matched the strain isolated from uncooked hamburger patties. The outbreak illustrated the potential for large, foodborne illness outbreaks associated with restaurant chains receiving shipments of contaminated food. At the time, many clinical laboratories in the United States were not routinely culturing patients’ stool for E. coli O157:H7 by using the correct culture medium. Additionally, many local and state health departments were not actively tracking and investigating E. coli O157:H7 cases.


Chi Chi’s Green Onion Hepatitis A Outbreak – 2003

565 ill, 130 hospitalized and 3 dead

Pennsylvania State health officials first learned of a hepatitis A outbreak when unusually high numbers of hepatitis A cases were reported in late October 2003. All but one of the initial cases had eaten at the Chi Chi’s restaurant at the Beaver Valley Mall, in Monaca, PA. Ultimately, at least 565 cases were confirmed. The victims included at least 13 employees of the Chi Chi’s restaurant, and residents of six other states. Three people died as a consequence of their hepatitis A illnesses. More than 9,000 people who had eaten at the restaurant, or who had been exposed to ill people, were given a post-exposure injection as a prevention against developing hepatitis A. Preliminary analysis of a case-control study indicated fresh, green onions were the probable source of this outbreak. The investigation and tracebacks by the state health department, the CDC, and the FDA, confirmed that the green onions had been grown in Mexico.


Dole Baby Spinach E. coli Outbreak – 2006

238 ill, 103 hospitalized and 5 dead

On Sept. 13, 2006, public health officials in Wisconsin, Oregon and New Mexico noted E. coli O157:H7 infections with matching pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns. These illnesses were associated with eating fresh, bagged spinach produced by Dole Brand Natural Selection Foods. By Sept. 26 that year, infections involving the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 had been reported from 26 states with one case in Canada. A voluntary recall was issued by the company on Sept. 15. E. coli O157: H7 was isolated from 13 packages of spinach supplied by patients in 10 states. Eleven of the packages had lot codes consistent with a single manufacturing facility on a particular day. The PFGE pattern of all tested packages matched the PFGE pattern of the outbreak strain. The spinach had been grown in three California counties – Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara. E. coli O157:H7 was found in environmental samples collected near each of the four fields that provided spinach for the product, as designated by the lot code. However, E. coli O157:H7 isolates associated with only one of the four fields, located on the Paicines Ranch in San Benito County, had a PFGE pattern indistinguishable from the outbreak strain. The PFGE pattern was identified in river water, cattle feces and wild pig feces on the Paicines Ranch, the closest of which was less than one mile from the spinach field.


Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella Outbreak – 2008 – 2009

714 ill, 171 hospitalized and 9 dead

Beginning in November 2008, CDC’s PulseNet staff noted a small and highly dispersed, multistate cluster of Salmonella Typhimurium isolates. The outbreak consisted of two pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) defined clusters of illness. Illnesses continued to be revealed through April 2009, when the last CDC report on the outbreak was published. Peanut butter and products containing peanut butted produced at the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, GA, were implicated. King Nut brand peanut butter was sold to institutional settings. Peanut paste was sold to many food companies for use as an ingredient. Implicated peanut products were sold widely throughout the USA, 23 countries and non-U.S. territories. Criminal sanctions were brought against the owners of PCA.


Jensen Farms Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak – 2011

147 ill, 143 hospitalized and 33 dead

A multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes involving five distinct strains was associated with consumption of cantaloupe grown at Jensen Farms’ production fields near Granada, CO. A total of 147 ill people were reported to the CDC. Thirty-three people died, and one pregnant woman miscarried. Seven of the illnesses were related to pregnancy – three newborns and four pregnant women. Among 145 ill people with available information, 143 – 99 percent – were hospitalized. Source tracing of the cantaloupes indicated that they came from Jensen Farms, and were marketed as being from the Rocky Ford region. The cantaloupes were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10, 2011, to at least 24 states, and possibly distributed elsewhere. Laboratory testing by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment identified Listeria monocytogenes bacteria on cantaloupes collected from grocery stores and from ill persons’ homes. Laboratory testing by FDA identified Listeria monocytogenes matching outbreak strains in samples from equipment and cantaloupe at the Jensen Farms’ packing facility in Granada, Colorado.  Criminal sanctions were brought against the two owners of Jensen Farms.


Bidart Caramel Apple Listeria Outbreak

35 ill, 34 hospitalized and 7 deaths

On December 19, 2014, the CDC announced a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes linked to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples. A total of 35 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes were reported from 12 states. Of these, 34 were hospitalized. Listeriosis contributed to at least 3 of the 7 deaths reported. Eleven illnesses were pregnancy-related with one illness resulting in a fetal loss. here invasive illnesses were among otherwise healthy children aged 5-15 years. Twenty-eight (905) of the 31 ill persons interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill. The Public Health Agency of Canada identified one case of listeriosis that was genetically related to the US outbreak. The investigation was assigned Cluster ID #1411MNGX6-1. On December 24, 2014, Happy Apples issued a voluntary recall of Happy Apple brand caramel apples with best use by date between August 25th and November 23rd, 2014 due to a connection between the apples and outbreak associated cases. California Snack Foods brand caramel apples issued a similar recall on December 27th. Both companies used apples supplied by Bidart Brothers. On December 29 Merb’s Candies recalled Bionic Apples and Double Dipped Apples. On January 6, 2105 Bidart Bros. of Bakersfield, California recalled Granny Smith and Gala apples because environmental testing revealed contamination with Listeria monocytogenes at the firm’s apple-packing facility. On January 8, 2015 FDA laboratory analyses using PFGE showed that environmental Listeria isolates from the Bidart Bros. facility were indistinguishable from the outbreak strains.


Andrew and Williamson Cucumber Salmonella Outbreak – 2015

907 ill, 204 hospitalized and 6 dead

On September 4, 2015 the CDC announced an outbreak of Salmonella Poona linked to consumption of cucumbers grown in Mexico and imported by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. On March 18, 2016 the outbreak was declared to be over. A total of 907 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Poona were reported from 40 states. Among people for whom information was available, illnesses started on dates ranging from July 3, 2015 to February 29, 2016. Two hundred four ill people were hospitalized and six deaths were reported. Salmonella infection was not considered to be a contributing factor in two of the 6 deaths. Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations identified imported cucumbers from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce as the likely source of the infections in this outbreak.

Eagles-Roost-Sports-BarWKYT reports that the Estill County Judge Executive says the state has identified what they believe the source of a Salmonella outbreak that left nearly 100 in the county sick.

Judge Executive Wallace Taylor says the state’s investigation found that an employee at Eagle’s Roost had contracted the illness, most likely without knowing they had it.

State officials told Taylor that they believe that is what led to the spread which they say left nearly 100 sick in the county.

At last check health officials say over 70 Estill County residents reported gastrointestinal illness and 51 of them tested positive for Salmonella. Taylor tells WKYT they believe the number of those who got sick may have been higher than the numbers they recorded. Nearly a dozen people were hospitalized.

Salmonella:  Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Salmonella outbreaks. The Salmonella lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Salmonella 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 Salmonella lawyers have litigated Salmonella cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as cantaloupe, tomatoes, ground turkey, salami, sprouts, cereal, peanut butter, and food served in restaurants.  The law firm has brought Salmonella lawsuits against such companies as Cargill, ConAgra, Peanut Corporation of America, Sheetz, Taco Bell, Subway and Wal-Mart.

If you or a family member became ill with a Salmonella infection, including Reactive Arthritis or Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Salmonella attorneys for a free case evaluation.

cc26e818-a562-45e7-867f-a7f75d7080f2-large16x9_34luckysDayton & Montgomery County has concluded its investigation into an outbreak of illness associated with eating at Lucky’s Taproom & Eatery in Dayton between the dates of February 22 through February 28. As of Tuesday, March 8, we have the following update:

•    Public Health has received a total of eighty (80) reports of illness. Symptoms reported include stomach cramps, diarrhea, headache, nausea and vomiting

•    Five (5) individuals were admitted to area hospitals

•    Twenty (20) individuals received positive test results for Salmonella

•    Mayonnaise tested positive for Salmonella; the avocado and goat cheese were both negative for Salmonella

Salmonella is a bacteria that makes people sick. Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most individuals recover without treatment. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

Pubic Health obtained stool samples from ill patrons and employees and three food samples from the restaurant. These samples were submitted for testing to the Ohio Department of Health Laboratory to determine if there is a link between the people who ate at the restaurant and became sick and the food that was consumed. The epidemiological evidence, the positive food sample and the positive human samples are consistent with a foodborne outbreak.

Public Health’s Environmental Health Director, Jennifer Wentzel explained, “Although we can’t say with certainty how this unfortunate outbreak happened, it underscores the importance of all aspects of practicing proper food safety, both in restaurants and at home. We are notifying all positive cases and providing follow-up instructions. Public Health will do a walk through of the facility before Lucky’s reopens to make sure the facility is clean, sanitized, and safe for the public going forward.”

To prevent foodborne illness, never prepare food or serve food to anyone if you have been sick, especially with a diarrheal illness. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing food, after using the bathroom, after caring for someone who is sick, and after changing diapers. Always cook foods to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. And avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from foods that will be eaten uncooked.

Salmonella:  Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Salmonella outbreaks. The Salmonella lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Salmonella 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 Salmonella lawyers have litigated Salmonella cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as cantaloupe, tomatoes, ground turkey, salami, sprouts, cereal, peanut butter, and food served in restaurants.  The law firm has brought Salmonella lawsuits against such companies as Cargill, ConAgra, Peanut Corporation of America, Sheetz, Taco Bell, Subway and Wal-Mart.

If you or a family member became ill with a Salmonella infection, including Reactive Arthritis or Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Salmonella attorneys for a free case evaluation.

illegal cheese.pngEarlier this year, a Miami couple and their company, Naver Trading Corp., were facing federal charges of importing cheese and other dairy products into the U.S. that were contaminated with Salmonella, E. coli, and Staphylococcus aureus. Yuri Izurieta, 41, and Anneri Izurieta, 46, were charged with smuggling and conspiracy. Prosecutors argued that the couple knowingly sold cheese contaminated with bacteria.

On May 11, 2011, the defendants were convicted of one charge of conspiracy to smuggle goods into the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and five counts of smuggling goods into the United States. According to the evidence produced at trial, the Izurietas operated Naver Trading, Corp., a licensed importer engaged in the importation and sale of dairy products. Over several years, the Izurietas and Naver Trading, Corp. repeatedly imported multi-ton shipments of cheese and other dairy products into the United States. Although these dairy products were released from the port into the custody of the Izurietas and Naver Trading, Corp., the defendants were not authorized to sell and distribute the dairy products pending successful completion of an examination by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but they did so anyway.

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida:

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore sentenced Anneri Izurieta to 30 months in prison, to be followed by an additional 10 months imprisonment because she committed some of the smuggling while on probation from a conviction for similar offenses. Yuri Izurieta was sentenced to 27 months’ imprisonment, and Naver Trading, Corp. was sentenced to two years’ probation.

raw-chicken.jpgEsther French, Mattea Kramer and Maggie Clark, fellows with News21, a national university reporting project at the University of Maryland, recently conducted an investigation into the safety of poultry sold at certain farmers’ markets in Washington D.C. Their report appeared in today’s issue of the Washington Post. The investigation revealed some unsettling results and appears to indicate that food grown locally by smaller producers does not necessarily mean it is safer.

News21 sent samples of raw poultry to a microbiological laboratory for testing and analysis. The commercial tests detected the presence of Salmonella bacteria on raw chickens sold by a Virginia farmer at the market located outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) headquarters on Independence Avenue. In addition, tests showed that poultry sold by a Pennsylvania farmer at another nearby market was contaminated with campylobacter. A USDA spokesperson said the department has suspended poultry sales by the vendor at its market as it conducts an investigation.

Importantly, News21 pointed out that both farmers, whose raw poultry tested positive for pathogens, are exempt from USDA inspections because they process fewer than 20,000 chickens a year. Accordingly, the USDA agency generally reviews exempt operations only if it receives a complaint.

According to the News21 article:

The findings from both markets highlight seams in the federal government’s efforts to keep the country’s food supply safe through a maze of federal, state and local laws that can be confusing even for the people charged with enforcing them. They also illustrate the danger for consumers who think they can find refuge in markets selling food grown locally.

Despite the interest in food from local growers, scientists say small does not mean safe. “From a food safety point of view, there’s no inherent reason why large production is, on balance, more dangerous than a small family farm,” said Bill Keene, senior epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division.

Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, said in some cases small farms may be less safe. “We’re finding that there’s less pressure on a vendor at a [farmers’] market to implement risk reduction because the perception is that the product is safe already,” he said. “At a grocery store, growers have all these specifications they have to hit, but that’s absent in the farmers’ market.”

These findings come at a time when public health agencies report that they have failed to reduce the number of Salmonella infections in 15 years, even as other foodborne illnesses have dropped.

Although it is not necessarily against the law to sell raw chicken harboring salmonella or campylobacter, those pathogens can cause serious illness and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.8 million people are sickened, 27,000 are hospitalized and 400 die each year from Salmonella and campylobacter combined.

—–

Esther French, Mattea Kramer and Maggie Clark are fellows with News21, a university journalism program run in cooperation with the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

cdc_logo.jpg“Foodborne infections can be prevented,” according to the Vital Signs report in the most recent issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a series of weekly reports prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) containing important public health information. Yet despite that conclusion, the CDC reports that contaminated food consumed in the United States causes an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths annually. Based on the Vital Signs report, which has summarized the 2010 data from CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), the pathogen responsible for those continued high numbers appears to be Salmonella.

In a press release issued today by the CDC in conjunction with the Vital Signs report, the agency noted that “Salmonella infections have not decreased during the past 15 years and have instead increased by 10 percent in recent years.” Shockingly, more than 1 million people in this country become ill from Salmonella each year. According to the CDC, among the reasons why the number of Salmonella infections continues to grow are the following:

  • It is found in many different types of foods: meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and even processed foods such as peanut butter.
  • Contamination can occur anywhere: from fields where food is grown to cutting boards in kitchens.
  • What we eat and how we eat have changed: foods coming from one central location are widely distributed, meaning that sickness can spread quickly; we eat more meals outside the home; and more foods and ingredients come from all over the world.
  • Some policies and procedures that can make a difference in reducing contamination take years to put into place.

However, these challenges should not hinder the efforts of our food regulatory agencies, urged CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Salmonella costs hundreds of millions of dollars in direct medical costs each year. Continued investments are essential to detect, investigate, and stop outbreaks promptly in order to protect our food supply,” he said.

Echoing Dr. Frieden’s sentiments, the Vital Signs report concluded that “Salmonella infection should be targeted because it has not declined significantly in more than a decade, and other data indicate that it is one of the most common foodborne infections, resulting in an estimated $365 million in direct medical costs annually.” Specifically, the Vital Signs report found the following:

In 2010, a total of 19,089 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection, 4,247 hospitalizations, and 68 deaths were identified by FoodNet sites. Salmonella infection was the most common infection reported (8,256 infections; 17.6 illnesses per 100,000 persons) and had the largest number of hospitalizations (2,290) and deaths (29).

The statistics indicate that Salmonella is the cause of nearly half of the hospitalizations and deaths CDC tracks through FoodNet.

Significantly, however, progress has been made in other areas. Although rates of Salmonella infection remain high, the CDC announced that in the past decade, “illnesses from the serious Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 have been cut nearly in half and the overall rates of six foodborne infections have been reduced by 23 percent.” In fact, the incidence of STEC O157 infection has declined to reach the 2010 national health objective target of ≤1 case per 100,000.

The CDC credits the reduction in E. coli infections to “improved detection and investigation of outbreaks through CDC’s PulseNet surveillance system, cleaner slaughter methods, testing of ground beef for E. coli, better inspections of ground beef processing plants, regulatory improvements like the prohibition of STEC O157 in ground beef and increased awareness by consumers and restaurant employees of the importance of properly cooking beef.” Perhaps the progress made in reducing STEC O157 infections will serve as a lesson that the same can be accomplished with Salmonella.

farm-table_950px.jpgThe Vital Signs report acknowledges that accomplishing similarly significant reductions in Salmonella infections “will require strong action to prevent food contamination at multiple steps along the farm to the table chain. Farmers, the food industry, regulatory agencies, food service, consumers, and public health authorities all have a role.” Importantly, though, it is not an unachievable goal.

Elisabeth Hagen, M.D., Under Secretary for Food Safety in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, underscored that the Vital Signs report “demonstrates that we’ve made great progress. However, far too many people still get sick from the food they eat, so we have more work to do. That is why we are looking at all options, from farm to table, in-order to make food safer and prevent illnesses from E. coli, Salmonella, and other harmful pathogens.”

As of today, the new national health objectives target a 25 percent reduction in Salmonella infections by 2020 and 25 percent – 50 percent reductions for five other infections and HUS. The CDC projects that “[a]chieving the targets could prevent an estimated 4.6 million illnesses, 68,000 hospitalizations, and 1,470 deaths by 2020. It also could save $421 million in direct medical costs associated with Salmonella infection alone.”

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael R. Taylor is hopeful that the implementation of FDA’s new shell egg safety requirements will aid in reducing illnesses caused by Salmonella enteritidis in eggs. Moreover, he believes that FDA’s expanded regulatory authorities under the recently enacted Food Safety Modernization Act will allow for “a comprehensive approach to preventing illnesses from many types of Salmonella and a wide range of other contaminants that can make people sick.”

Second Image Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

An important, but little known, component to the newly enacted Food Safety and Modernization Act provides whistleblower protection for workers at Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated food companies. As reported by Steve Karnowski at the Associated Press, the law protects workers from being fired, demoted or denied promotions or raises if they speak up about what they think are violations.

"Whistleblowers are the informational lifeline to warn the public when government-approved food might be a public health hazard," said Tom Devine, the group’s legal director. "It occurs frequently because the regulatory system can’t hope to catch all the violations through spot checks."

One person with personal experience on the repercussions of whistleblowing is Kenneth Kendrick, who provided important information about unsanitary conditions at a Texas plant owned and operated by the Peanut Corporation of America, the same company responsible for a nationwide Salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009 that killed nine and sickened over 700 others.

Kendrick, the Texas plant’s assistant manager for part of 2006, said he sent state regulators anonymous e-mails about a rat infestation at the plant and bird droppings getting into products, but his complaints were ignored. He was working for a different FDA-regulated company when he spoke publicly about the problems, and he believes that’s why he was fired from his new job and why he’s had trouble finding work since.

"Me coming forward has pretty much ruined my life, and had this stuff been in place ahead of time, maybe it would not have," the Lubbock, Texas, man said. "I’ve had a difficult time finding a job that pays more than nine bucks an hour."

The new law protects workers against retaliation for telling their employers or governmental officials about anything they reasonably believe violates the food safety act and for objecting to performing work they reasonably believe is illegal. The Department of Labor and federal courts can reinstate fired employees and award back pay, interest, attorneys’ fees and other damages.

The burden of proof favors workers. All workers need to do initially is show their participation in protected activity may have contributed to repercussions. Employers face a heavier burden because they must then show with clear and convincing evidence that the company would have taken the same action even if the worker hadn’t been a whistleblower.