Friday, March 6, 2015

Knowing Your Water Source - Ground Water Awareness Week

This coming week is Ground Water Awareness Week, and this is good time to understand where your water comes from, even if it is through a municipality, and what impact there would be for your product/process if there would be a water contamination event, such as brown water coming out of the spigots, bad test results,  or an announcement of a boil advisory by the municipal provider.

There have been a number of outbreaks associated with drinking water,  but the risk of contamination to a food establishment is dependent upon the types of processes run.  So it is important to conduct a risk analysis, considering you water source, the types of contaminates that can be present, and the impact of your processes on those contaminates.

The types of contaminates in water can be found on the EPA website (US Environmental Protection Agency. Drinking water contaminants.

General information on well water can be found on the CDC Websites:
Penn State Extension has a link on Preparing for a Water Emergency.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Recalls Due to Allergen Issues

There have been a number of recalls related to allergen issues over the past few weeks.  It is interesting to see the reasons why these recalls occur.

WhiteWave Foods recalled cheddar crackers due to undeclared peanuts.  The outer package is labeled as a cheddar sandwich cracker and the inner package contains the peanut butter sandwich crackers.
Packaging Error - wrong package

Old Home Kitchens is voluntarily recalling "Sock It To Me Crème Cake" under "the Bakery because they contain undeclared pecans.  Kitchens discovered that product containing pecans was distributed in packaging that did not reveal the presence of pecans. No illnesses have been reported to date
Packaging Labeling Error - Allergen not declared.

Hummingbird Wholesale in Eugene Oregon is recalling 110 jars of Hummingbird Brand Organic Chocolate Hazelnut Butter that may contain undeclared milk. The recall was initiated after it was discovered that a supplier had changed the ingredients without notice to include milk.
Ingredient Supplier Error - supplier changed formulation

Chocolate By Design Inc. of Ronkonkoma, NY, is recalling its Milk Chocolate “Assorted Character Icing Pops”, “Christmas Icing Pops” and “Triple Heart Icing Pops” because they contain undeclared eggs. The recall was initiated after it was discovered during the current FDA inspection that the Milk Chocolate Icing Pops were distributed in packaging that did not reveal the presence of egg and the certified food colors.
Packaging Labeling Error - Allergen not declared

Update - Con Yeager Spice Company has previously issued a voluntary recall for multiple sized packages under multiple brand names of ground cumin and multiple seasoning blends (containing ground cumin) due to undeclared Peanut allergens in the ground cumin.
Ingredient Supplier Error - supplier poor allergen control

Study - Wild Animal Poop Can Be a Source of E.coli Contamination

A recent study demonstrated that wild animal poop (aka scat) can serve as a source of E.coli O157:H7 for produce located in close proximity.   In the study, rabbit poop inoculated with E.coli was placed ina romaine lettuce field, the field was irrigated ("foliar irrigation by using typical commercial farming practices for central coastal California"), the lettuce was tested, and 38 of the lettuce had E. coli.  Some good news however, removing the out leaves of lettuce was effective at eliminating the contamination.

The Packer
Romaine study examines wildlife, E. coli
By Mike Hornick February 24, 2015 | 5:47 pm EST 

Growers’ removal of wildlife feces from their fields has gained confirmation from a study that supplies new data about how much E. coli O157:H7 can be transferred to romaine from that source by foliar irrigation.

The joint study by Western Center for Food Safety and Food and Drug Administration researchers, published in the February Journal of Food Protection, also aims to provide insights for emerging food safety strategies.

One Food Agency - Is Marginal Benefit Worth the Potential Costs?

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk involving one food agency, and with the recent Administration proposal, perhaps there is a little momentum...little being the key word.  And much of the media seems to think it would be a good idea, and perhaps it is, but as pointed out in a commentary by Froma Harrop, (below) many of the arguments for one agency have little to do with food safety.  I agree.    The media sensationalism of outbreak events has given the general public a very skewed view of risk associated with food.

Now if combining into one agency would help to any great degree, perhaps, but at what cost.  Pulling the primary facets of regulatory oversight out of two agencies and creating another is unlikely to be a cost saving proposition.  Rather, and more likely, it would be more, much more.  We only need to look at the health care overhaul to see that it is very difficult to add agencies without enormous cost escalations.

Columbus Dispatch
Froma Harrop commentary: In debate over food-safety system, let’s keep it honest

As things now stand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees steaks, chicken thighs and eggs out of their shells. The Food and Drug Administration keeps an eye on salmon, apples and eggs in their shells.

Fifteen government entities now supervise food safety, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (seafood).

President Barack Obama wants to consolidate all these food monitoring functions in a yet-to-be-created Food Safety Administration. Makes sense.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

CDC Report - Attribution of Foodborne Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths

The CDC issued a report that attributes foodborne illness cases to different foods. Calculations, based on known cases over the period from1998 to 2008, are used to estimate the number of cases caused by each disease causing agent as well as to attribute to one of 17 food types.

There are some big assumptions that are made in the report that I feel limits what headlines will report. 1) It applies known outbreaks to apply to sporadic cases. Because of this, it underestimates the number of cases caused by organisms that have illnesses which tend to be more sporadic in nature, such as Campylobacter. 2) Along those same lines, mass distributed product where a single contamination event results in a large number of illnesses, such as in bagged produce, outweighs foods that may are considered high risk for contamination. 3) In the cases where mixed food caused an illness, the blame is put on the item commodity that they determined to have caused the biggest
proportion of illnesses, rather than the real risk. 4) Some organisms don't even show up, such as Taxoplasma spp.. even though that organism is claimed to be one of the major pathogens associated with meat....(although owning multiple cats is probably a bigger risk).

The headlines from some of the major news outlets give the impression that certain foods are risky. - U.S. Officials Pinpoint Common Sources of Foodborne Illnesses
Reuters - U.S. government report outlines foods most prone to pathogens
Time - Here’s What Foods Are Most Likely To Have E. Coli or Salmonella

 It is hard to get a real sense of real risk there is no calculation associated with the units consumed. Without this, many will jump on items that show to have a caused a higher percentage of the number of illnesses caused, but not the real risk.

My takeaways:
  • Produce - Because of the way that produce is processed and distributed, a contamination event involving produce will impact many and thus gets seen as having a big impact in this report.  However, if we look at the number of units sold, produce is a much smaller risk than it appears to be in this report when compared to other commodities.  Not to say that there is not work that needs to be done, especially in preventing contamination events that can impact thousands of units.  However, people should not be discouraged from produce due to the potential for foodborne illness.
  • Dairy - raw milk should be considered the highest risk dairy product, and on the further processed side, cheese accounts for many of the cases of Listeria recently seen.
  • Mollusks - raw shellfish is a high risk item, especially when you consider the small number of people that eat raw shellfish (compared to produce)
  • Poultry - because it has a natural association with Salmonella and Campylobacter, there have been outbreaks.  Looking at USDA monitoring records, while the levels of Salmonella in whole chicken are low, for ground poultry and parts, it is higher.  So while the industry is working to lessen the prevalence of these pathogens in poultry products, elimination is unlikely.
  • Meat - ground meat is the primary source of STEC E.coli.  USDA testing indicates that about 0.5% of ground meat tested was positive. 
  • As for pathogens, Salmonella is a pathogen that seems to find its way to the consumer via a number of different food products.  As for Campylobacter, it has a high prevalence on chicken, but we don't necessary see the cases; probably, because most cases are sporadic. In recent outbreaks, raw milk has been the culprit.
Has the number of foodborne illness cases dropped recently?  While that seems to be the case, it is hard to tell in this report.  And if policy decisions are going to be made on this report, even using weighting the data from the last five years, there may be some issues.  For example, our ability to determine the agent (detection of Campylobacter as an example) has improved dramatically in the last few yeas.  Additionally, issues that occurred 2 to 5 years ago may not be as big as an issue today  Granted it is difficult to trend when working with  minimal data.  However, considerations must be taken if these calculations are used to set policy.

CDC - Emerging Infectious Diseases

Volume 19, Number 3—March 2013
Attribution of Foodborne Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths to Food Commodities by using Outbreak Data, United States, 1998–2008
John A. Painter( , Robert M. Hoekstra, Tracy Ayers, Robert V. Tauxe, Christopher R. Braden, Frederick J. Angulo, and Patricia M. Griffin
Author affiliations: Author affiliation: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA
Each year, >9 million foodborne illnesses are estimated to be caused by major pathogens acquired in the United States. Preventing these illnesses is challenging because resources are limited and linking individual illnesses to a particular food is rarely possible except during an outbreak. We developed a method of attributing illnesses to food commodities that uses data from outbreaks associated with both simple and complex foods. Using data from outbreak-associated illnesses for 1998–2008, we estimated annual US foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths attributable to each of 17 food commodities. We attributed 46% of illnesses to produce and found that more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity. To the extent that these estimates reflect the commodities causing all foodborne illness, they indicate that efforts are particularly needed to prevent contamination of produce and poultry. Methods to incorporate data from other sources are needed to improve attribution estimates for some commodities and agents.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ohio Establishment Recalls Fully Cooked Beef Patties for Listeria

An Ohio establishment is recalling fully cooked beef patties after a further-processor had reported that product tested positive for Listeria.

This is the type of product that is purchased by a foodservice supplier/distributor (further-processor) that takes the cooked burger, puts it on a bun, and sells it to vending machines companies to in convenience stores.  The item would be considered a 'heat and serve' product.  Any Listeria contamination that gets onto the product would likely be consumed.  Further, if the product is held at refrigeration temperature, it would have the opportunity to grow.

The further processor in this case would have tested this product as part of their supplier control program / ingredient receiving protocol.

USDA Recall Notice
Kenosha Beef International Recalls Beef Product Due to Possible Listeria Contamination
Class I Recall 034-2015
Health Risk: High Feb 19, 2015
En Español
Congressional and Public Affairs  Alexandra Tarrant  (202) 720-9113

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2015 – Kenosha Beef International, a Columbus, Ohio, establishment, is recalling approximately 21,427 pounds of ready-to-eat beefsteak patty product that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The fully cooked beefsteak patties were produced on Jan. 24, 2015. The following product is subject to recall:
35.3-lb. boxes of “Fully Cooked Black Angus Ground Beefsteak (chopped and formed)” with product number 87657 and “use thru” date of 01/24/16.

The product subject to recall bears the establishment number “EST. 10130” inside the USDA mark of inspection. This product was shipped to distributors in Illinois and North Carolina for further distribution to restaurants.

The problem was discovered by a customer of Kenosha Beef International. The customer, a further processor, tested a sample of product produced the same day as the recalled product, returning a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes. FSIS and the company have received no reports of illness due to consumption of these products.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

2014 Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Maryland Cucumbers

In a 2014 outbreak of Salmonella, cucumbers were linked to the outbreak that has resulted in 275 cases of illness.  The cucumbers were traced back to a farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  While environmental samples were negative, the CDC report states, "Records and interviews indicated that the farm applied poultry litter approximately 120 days before harvest, but it was not available for testing."  So there is no definitive answer was found on how the product may have become contaminated.
Outbreak of Salmonella Newport Infections Linked to Cucumbers — United States, 2014
February 20, 2015 / 64(06);144-147

Kristina M. Angelo, DO1,2, Alvina Chu, MHS3, Madhu Anand, MPH4, Thai-An Nguyen, MPH2, Lyndsay Bottichio, MPH2, Matthew Wise, PhD2, Ian Williams, PhD2, Sharon Seelman, MS, MBA5, Rebecca Bell, PhD5, Marianne Fatica, PhD5, Susan Lance, DVM, PhD5, Deanna Baldwin6, Kyle Shannon3, Hannah Lee, MPH3, Eija Trees, PhD2, Errol Strain, PhD5, Laura Gieraltowski, PhD2 (Author affiliations at end of text)

In August 2014, PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network for foodborne disease surveillance, detected a multistate cluster of Salmonella enterica serotype Newport infections with an indistinguishable pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern (XbaI PFGE pattern JJPX01.0061).* Outbreaks of illnesses associated with this PFGE pattern have previously been linked to consumption of tomatoes harvested from Virginia's Eastern Shore in the Delmarva region and have not been linked to cucumbers or other produce items (1). To identify the contaminated food and find the source of the contamination, CDC, state and local health and agriculture departments and laboratories, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory investigations. A total of 275 patients in 29 states and the District of Columbia were identified, with illness onsets occurring during May 20–September 30, 2014. Whole genome sequencing (WGS), a highly discriminating subtyping method, was used to further characterize PFGE pattern JJPX01.0061 isolates. Epidemiologic, microbiologic, and product traceback evidence suggests that cucumbers were a source of Salmonella Newport infections in this outbreak. The epidemiologic link to a novel outbreak vehicle suggests an environmental reservoir for Salmonella in the Delmarva region that should be identified and mitigated to prevent future outbreaks.