Thursday, June 30, 2011

Salmonella and Summer - Sprouts, Cantaloupes, and Baby Chicks

What would summer be like without some Salmonella…nice. However, Salmonella does not take a summer vacation. There are three current issues in the US related to Salmonella. (Links below).

1) Sprouts – The conditions for growing sprouts are also good for growing Salmonella. This outbreak has affected 20 or 21 people thus far. After the outbreak in Germany that was related to sprouts, people should probably rethink about their fondness of sprouts, especially if they have a condition that makes them more susceptible to foodborne illness.

2) Cantaloupes – Like sprouts, cantaloupe is another culprit with regard to carrying Salmonella. Harvested from the ground, it is subject to contaminants in the soil, especially when manure is used. The rough surface then makes removal of those contaminants, namely Salmonella, difficult. Consumers need to scrub those melons and be sure to refrigerate once sliced. There have been no reported illnesses to date.

3) Baby Chicks – As we know, poultry can carry Salmonella, and if a hatchery does not have Salmonella control procedures in place (remember the outbreak related to eggs from earlier this year), chicks will be infected with Salmonella. Pet reptiles pose the same risk regarding Salmonella. Why not get a puppy, a kitten, or a rabbit? 49 unlucky individuals have been diagnosed with Salmonella, 39% of those people are less than 5 years old.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are You Ready for Man-Made Meat?

I guess this is one way to eliminate the risk of E. coli in meat.

Man-made meat may be just around the corner, say scientists

By Nathan Gray, 28-Jun-2011 Food

Facing an ever-increasing population, and a growing demand for meat products, the world’s first in vitro meat may offer the beginning of a new solution to the problem, say researchers.

Researchers hope to produce a burger from lab grown meat within twelve month's.
Researchers hope to produce a burger from lab grown meat within twelve month's.
A team of scientists, led by Dr Mark Post, a professor of physiology at Maastricht University in The Netherlands, are currently developing meat products grown from stem cells extracted from cattle. The in vitro process involves growing muscle tissue from a small number of stem cells taken from healthy cows.
Researchers believe the so called ‘test tube meat’, which is grown from stem cells could eventually lead to the reliable, sustainable production of low cost food, without the need for livestock.
Growing population
The researchers said that as the global population grows over the next few decades, the world’s meat consumption is also expected to double by around 2050.
As a result, lab grown meats such as beef, chicken and lamb could become commonplace.
Man-made meat
The researchers are currently working on producing a burger from around 10,000 stem cells extracted from cattle. The cells are left to multiply by more than a billion times, producing muscle tissue that will then be used to make burgers.
In 2009 researchers from Maastricht University also grew strips of pork using similar methods, whilst fish fillets have previously been grown in a New York laboratory using cells taken from goldfish muscle tissue.
The research team said that the first in vitro burger could be ready to be taste tested in less than twelve month's time.
A study by researchers at Oxford University previously suggested that that the process of in vitro meat production could mean a 35 to 60 per cent reduction in energy consumption, in addition to requiring 98 per cent less land and producing between 80 and 95 per cent less greenhouse gas than conventional farming.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

FDA enacts new strategy to ensure safety of imported foods

The FDA’s news release regarding their new import strategy comes at the same time as a NY Times report that is critical of the FDA’s performance on handling of questionable food at port.  Clearly, the ever increasing level of imports into the US is challenging FDA’s ability to monitor and react to questionable food.  FDA will begin to focus on becoming a more global organization – extending its reach through developing partnerships with foreign regulators and developing systems to share real time information.  It will use information to focus on higher risk situations.

This is all fine and dandy, but still, someone in the US – a broker, a food company, or food retailer – has to bring that product into the US. These folks also need to be held responsible and pay the price of ensuring compliance of these imported foods to US standards…and I would argue that they are in a better position to do so than the FDA .  If that adds cost to the imported product (through the broker inspecting their foreign supplier), then so it should.  Why should foreign product have a price advantage over domestic product when it comes to questionable standards?   

FDA unveils new global strategy to help ensure safety and quality of imported products
Strategy calls for coalitions of international regulators, increased data sharing
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today unveiled a new strategy to meet the challenges posed by rapidly rising imports of FDA-regulated products and a complex global supply chain in a report called the "Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality."
“Global production of FDA-regulated goods has exploded over the past ten years.  In addition to an increase in imported finished products, manufacturers increasingly use imported materials and ingredients in their U.S. production facilities, making the distinction between domestic and imported products obsolete,” said Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.  "There has been a perfect storm - more products, more manufacturers, more countries and more access.  A dramatic change in strategy must be implemented." 
The FDA report calls for the agency to transform the way it conducts business and to act globally in order to promote and protect the health of U.S. consumers. Highlights of the report include four key elements needed to make the change:
1. The FDA will partner with its counterparts worldwide to create global coalitions of regulators focused on ensuring and improving global product safety and quality.
2. The coalitions of regulators will develop international data information systems and networks and increase the regular and proactive sharing of data and regulatory resources across world markets.
3.  The FDA will build in additional information gathering and analysis capabilities with an increased focus on risk analytics and information technology.
4. The FDA increasingly will leverage the efforts of public and private third parties and industry and allocate FDA resources based on risk.
"FDA regulated imports have quadrupled since 2000,” Hamburg said. "The FDA and our global regulatory partners recognize this new reality and realize we must work proactively and collaboratively to address the challenges we face.  The FDA must further collaborate and leverage in order to close the gap between our import levels and our regulatory resources. This report is an important step in ensuring we are able to fulfill our critical public health mission."
The change in strategy will address trends expected to be seen worldwide in upcoming years:
  • Western economies will increase their productivity to compete with emerging markets and economies, leading to more imports and increased pressure to reinvent manufacturing processes.
  • Money, goods, data and people will increasingly and more quickly cross borders. Today, a typical U.S. manufacturing company relies on more than 35 different contract manufacturers around the world.
  • Growing demand, constrained supply, and increased regulatory and social scrutiny will determine what resources are used, how they are used, and the cost. Manufacturers will adopt new manufacturing processes and emerging technologies in response.
  • Governments worldwide will increasingly be called upon to mitigate the sometimes negative impacts of globalization on their citizens, making the operating environment for companies more complex.
The new strategy also builds on changes already set in motion by the FDA. The FDA increased the number of foreign drug manufacturing inspections by 27 percent between 2007 and 2009 and has opened a series of international offices in key locations.  FDA has also collaborated with its counterparts in the European Union and Australia on drug inspections, worked to harmonize certain aspects of drug regulation via the International Conference on Harmonization, and joined the Pharmaceutical Inspection Cooperation/Scheme (PIC/S) which is an organization of the drug manufacturing inspectorates from 39 countries.  The FDA and other global leaders are also creating an expanded global regulators forum for medical devices. 
The FDA is also broadening its food safety efforts under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This new law creates a new foods safety system, in which FDA has a legislative mandate to require comprehensive preventive controls across the food supply chain and has new tools to hold players in the supply chain responsible.  There are also new inspection mandates, including a mandate leading to the inspection of more than 19,000 foreign food facilities in the year 2016.
The FSMA recognizes the importance of partnerships in the success of this new food safety system, particularly in the area of imports.  For example, importers now have an affirmative obligation to verify the safety of the food they bring into the United States.  In addition, the FDA will establish a program for qualified third parties to certify that foreign food facilities are in compliance with U.S. requirements and can require certification as a condition of entry into the United States.  And, FSMA explicitly encourages arrangements with foreign governments to leverage resources.
“In order to cope with the fundamental global shifts on the horizon, the FDA will have to substantially and fundamentally revise our approach to global product safety.  We can no longer rely on historical tools, activities and approaches,” said Acting Principal Deputy Commissioner of Food and Drugs John M. Taylor, J.D.  “Implementing this strategy is vital to the public health.”
For more information, visit:
FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring 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.

Recalls of Imported Foods Are Flawed, a Government Audit Reports

Published: June 21, 2011

Government food officials are often sloppy and inattentive in their efforts to ensure that contaminated foods from abroad are withdrawn promptly and completely from the nation’s food supply, according to government investigators.
In an audit of 17 recalls, investigators found that the Food and Drug Administration often failed to follow its own rules in removing dangerous imported foods from the market, according to Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The products included cantaloupes from Honduras contaminated with salmonella, frozen mussel meat from New Zealand infected with listeria and frozen fish from Korea that contained the bacterium that causes botulism.

(go to link for complete news story).

Friday, June 17, 2011

E. coli Outbreak in Germany, what are the implications for US?

With now over 3400 infected, 800 suffering from HUS, and 39 dead, the E.coli outbreak in Germany related to sprouts has us thinking about the implications for the US.  Penn State Department of Food Science faculty, Dr. LaBorde and Dr. Dudley, weigh in on the issue.

Deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany should be a warning, expert says
Friday, June 17, 2011
Not all strains of E.coli are harmful. However, the strain that has caused the German outbreak is very pathogenic.
University Park, Pa. -- There are important lessons to be learned in the United States from the recent eruption of foodborne illness in Germany -- which has turned out to be the deadliest E. coli outbreak ever -- according to a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
More than 3,300 people have been sickened since the outbreak began, including nearly 800 with a serious complication that can lead to kidney failure and death. German health officials finally were able to trace the illness back to bean sprouts grown on a farm in northern Germany, but not before at least 39 people died.
It's a sobering example of how vital it is for health officials to be able to trace food back to its origin on the farm when an outbreak of foodborne illness occurs, said Luke LaBorde, associate professor of food science. LaBorde conducts extension programs that train farmers to use "good agricultural practices" (GAPs) aimed at preventing contamination in products such as sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.
"The German officials simply were not able to trace the outbreak back quickly enough to determine where it started and what food was involved," he said. "That's why so many people got sick."
"The seeds that producers buy for growing sprouts can be contaminated without any indication that they are unsafe to use," he said. "So they are just going to continue using that seed until someone tells them, 'Hey, that is making people sick.'"
LaBorde said the new federal food-safety law recently adopted in this country contains provisions that will enable scientists and government food-safety agencies to quickly trace foods back to their origins on the farm.
Now, every package or container of produce must include information about where a food product was grown or created. And because contamination can happen in processing, transport and storage, information about those also are logged and preserved, LaBorde pointed out.
In retrospect, he's not surprised that sprouts were determined to be the cause of the German E. coli outbreak. "We've known for a long time that sprouts can be a problem," he said. "The seeds may become contaminated by bacteria in animal manure in the field or during post-harvest storage."
The process used to germinate seeds is ideal for growing pathogens, LaBorde added. "Abundant nutrients are present, along with high levels of moisture -- and the warm temperatures needed for the sprouting process help to ensure survival and growth of bacteria," he said.
"Mishandling of sprouts during production, packing or distribution has rarely been implicated as the source of sprout contamination. However, bacteria already present in the sprouting seed can continue to thrive if proper food-handling techniques are not practiced during harvest, processing and preparation."
In the United States, the seeds usually are pre-treated with concentrated bleach solutions, and wash water that flows through the sprouts is collected and tested for bacteria such as E. coli, LaBorde explained.
"Perhaps that has not been done in Germany," he said. "Increasingly in this country, we are testing irrigation water and wash water for contamination. There typically is a lot more surveillance here."
LaBorde noted that increasing government testing and regulation is controversial in some circles because it adds costs and makes food more expensive, but politics and food safety aren't compatible when people start getting sick due to foodborne illness.
"There was all sorts of hysteria before the new federal food-safety law came out about how small farmers would be unable to come up with new systems to handle the testing and reporting it required -- record keeping was a real concern," he said.
"And so there were some exceptions put into the bill that exempted growers with less than $500,000 in sales who sell direct to consumers or food stores."
But regulation is a moot point in the marketplace, LaBorde contended, because food safety has been pushed onto the buyers. Each buyer -- such as a huge supermarket chain -- has their own standards that they impose on producers, and they are getting tougher and tougher. Small farmers and huge operations alike must abide by them.
"The private companies are way ahead of the government, and many now are requiring a third-party inspection of produce," he said. "There are no politics in the private food industry -- it is the bottom line that drives things.
"The large grocery store companies have simply decided they don't want to deal with multimillion-dollar lawsuits against them involving contaminated foods. So they are requiring suppliers to put into place processes, tests and requirements -- such as produce being GAPs certified -- that guard against pathogens being present in their products."
But LaBorde advises people to be aware that sprouts are just inherently more risky. "Even the Food and Drug Administration has said you can soak sprouts in bleach and still not kill every pathogen," he said.
"You can't reverse contamination, and the way sprouts are grown, if there is even the smallest amount of contamination present, it can multiply greatly and make people sick."

Threat to United States from new European E. coli strain unclear

Monday, June 13, 2011

University Park, Pa. -- Over the centuries, many unexpected things have come to the United States from Germany and caught on -- lager beer, sauerkraut, bratwurst and the Volkswagen Beetle are a few that come to mind -- but don't necessarily expect the novel strain of E. coli that is responsible for more than 2,800 cases of illness and 27 deaths in Germany to show up immediately in this country, advises a foodborne-disease expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
Because the United States imports just 2 percent of its food from Europe, and because outbreak-related export bans of fresh foods are in place, it is unlikely that the current outbreak strain of bacteria will arrive here from Germany said Edward Dudley, an assistant professor of food science at Penn State who studies the biology and evolution of pathogens that contaminate food.
"But that doesn't mean we won't see something similar at some point in time," he said. "The E. coli strain that is causing the outbreak of illness in Germany has been called a 'superbug,' but I don't like that term because it is sensationalistic. This is not something that was completely unexpected, in retrospect, and it is not accurate to say that we don't understand it."
The most notable aspect of the German outbreak is that it is caused by a new strain of E. coli that possesses genetic material and traits of two well-known pathogens, making this organism extremely pathogenic, Dudley noted.
"One is EAEC -- enteroaggregative E. coli -- which has the capabilities of sticking to the intestinal lining and producing a mucoid film that protects it," explained Dudley, who has been studying E.coli for a decade. "EAEC normally results in prolonged diarrheal illness.
"The other is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC, which causes illness characterized by severe bloody diarrhea and can result in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening condition that may result in the loss of kidney function."
Scientists know that E. coli, like many pathogens and nonpathogens alike, has the ability through a variety of mechanisms to move pieces of DNA to other bacteria and E. coli strains, said Dudley.
"The most likely scenario is that an EAEC strain acquired the ability to produce Shiga toxin from a STEC strain. What has occurred from an evolutionary standpoint is no surprise to those of us in this field and provides yet another example of the genetic flexibility of the bacterium that is E. coli."
Dudley said what is surprising about the German outbreak is that this novel E. coli strain is causing an unusually high number of HUS cases.
"Most STEC outbreaks in the past caused HUS in approximately 5 percent of patients, and some outbreaks have seen prevalence as high as 15 percent," he said. "But this German strain is causing HUS in more than 30 percent of patients."
Though nobody knows yet why this strain has caused a greater number of cases of HUS -- more than 700 -- Dudley speculates that the strain's ability to persist in the intestinal tract longer increases the risk for HUS.
"This outbreak is the first evidence that such a strain can cause a devastating illness," he said. "This is a terrible tragedy for all those involved, and we need to understand the reason behind it."
Dudley studies enteroaggregative and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli with an eye toward developing improved methods of tracking the spread of these organisms from farm-to-fork. He has concentrated on understanding the mechanisms that cause certain bacteria to become human pathogens.
"E. coli related to the German strain undoubtedly exist elsewhere in the world, so the big question is whether this outbreak is just a random, isolated case," he said. "It's a very big world out there, and we have a huge food supply. Is this something we won't see for 20 or 30 more years, or is this something we will be seeing with increased regularity?"
Almost nothing is known about where this novel strain of E. coli exists in agricultural settings in Europe or in the United States, Dudley noted. He emphasized the importance of finding out where the German outbreak originated, and with what kind of food.
"In order to understand how to prevent possible future outbreaks, we first must know where this strain originates from, and the routes by which it might transmit to the food supply. We must find out if this is something that is prevalent in our farm environments.
"This is a significant event -- it's the third largest outbreak ever recorded by an E. coli that produces Shiga toxin," he said. "We need to know, was this a one-time event, or is some change in agricultural or other practices heightening our risk for this novel strain?"

Friday, June 10, 2011

Food Safety News - Germany: Sprouts cause of E. coli outbreak

They have determined that Spouts are to blame for the E. coli outbreak that caused illness in nearly 3000 and killed approximately 30 people.  This has been a particularly virulent strain resulting in nearly 800 cases of HUS, which is over 25%, higher than seen in past outbreaks involving E. coli O157:H7 .
The source has been difficult to determine, changing from item to item over the last weeks.   Initially, cucumbers were identified as the source, but then it switched to sprouts.  Then they said it was not the sprouts, but now it is the sprouts again.  Much of the issue was related to the low percentage of people actually claiming to eat sprouts, only 28%. But if you handle sprouts, you know how they get over everything when you handle them.  Plus, they slide them into dishes and you really don’t know that they are there.  I think it also speaks to the level of contamination that must have been present.  Thinking further, we know that sprouts are a big issue in the way they are grown -  warm water spayed over seeds for days while the seeds sprout and those sprouts grow.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CDC: No Progress in Salmonella During Past 15 Years

According to the CDC, the US has not made progress on reducing the incidence of Salmonella infections over the past 15 years. In fact, there has been an increase of 10% over recent years. Illnesses from other foodborne pathogens, namely E. coli, have decreased.
·      There are numerous sources of Salmonella – from wild birds to reptiles to farm animals.
·       It has the ability to survive in dry environments. 
·      Many strains have a low infectious dose. 
·      Infection can result in severe diarrhea, lasting for days, and in some cases, leading to life threatening situations.
In all, this organism has a higher likelihood of being present to take advantage of any lapses in our handling and preparation of food -  from the farm, to processing, to retail or foodservice, and to the consumer’s home.  Increased regulatory presence may be one part of the picture, but there also needs to be compliance all along the food chain -  Good Agricultural Practices in the field, GMPs and HACCP in the processing sector, and proper handling and preparation by retail and foodservice establishment employees as well as by the consumer.
There is still an amazing amount of people who don’t use a thermometer or know proper cooking temperatures, or that don’t properly clean to prevent cross contamination, especially washing fruit and veggies from the field (where birds poop).  Salmonella is adapted to take advantage of these miscues, whether it is a tub of peanut butter open to cross contamination,  a cantaloupe from a field where manure was improperly applied, or a chicken that was improperly cooked on the grill.
No Progress in Salmonella During Past 15 Years
Food safety annual report card targets hard-to-prevent infection
Salmonella infections have not decreased during the past 15 years and have instead increased by 10 percent in recent years, according to a new Vital Signs report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the same time period, illnesses from the serious Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 have been cut nearly in half and the overall rates of six foodborne infections have been reduced by 23 percent, the report said.
The Vital Signs report summarizes 2010 data from CDC's Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), which serves as America's report card for food safety by tracking whether nine of the most common infections transmitted through foods are increasing or decreasing.
"Although foodborne infections have decreased by nearly one-fourth in the past 15 years, more than 1 million people in this country become ill from Salmonella each year, and Salmonella accounts for about half of the hospitalizations and deaths among the nine foodborne illnesses CDC tracks through FoodNet," said 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."
Salmonella, which is responsible for an estimated $365 million in direct medical costs each year in the United States, can be challenging to address because so many different foods like meats, eggs, produce, and even processed foods, can become contaminated with it and finding the source can be challenging because it can be introduced in many different ways.
In response to that challenge, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates eggs, produce and many processed foods, has developed new rules for the egg industry to follow under its recently expanded regulatory authorities.
"Last summer, FDA began implementing new shell egg safety requirements that should significantly reduce illnesses caused by Salmonella enteritidis in eggs," said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael R. Taylor. "The recently enacted Food Safety Modernization Act wisely mandates a comprehensive approach to preventing illnesses from many types of Salmonella and a wide range of other contaminants that can make people sick. The current outbreak of E. coli in Europe demonstrates the importance of the new law, and FDA is committed to implementing the new law as fully as possible within available resources."
In 2010, FoodNet sites, which include about 15 percent of the American population, reported nearly 20,000 illnesses, 4,200 hospitalizations and 68 deaths from nine foodborne infections. Of those, Salmonella caused more than 8,200 infections, nearly 2,300 hospitalizations and 29 deaths (54 percent of the total hospitalizations and 43 percent of the total deaths reported through FoodNet). CDC estimates that there are 29 infections for every lab-confirmed Salmonella infection.
The rate of E. coli O157 cases reported by FoodNet sites was 2 cases per 100,000 people in 1997 and, by 2010, had decreased to .9 cases per 100,000 people. The nearly 50 percent reduction in E. coli O157 incidence is considered significant when compared to the lack of change in Salmonella incidence. CDC credits the reduction in E. coli 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. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that regulates meat, has led these efforts.
"Thanks to our prevention based approach to food safety, as well as industry and consumer efforts, we have substantially reduced E. coli O157 illnesses," said Elisabeth Hagen, M.D., Under Secretary for Food Safety in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "This 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."
The pathogens included in the overall 2010 rate reduction of 23 percent when compared to 1996-1998 are: campylobacter, E. coli STEC O157, listeria, Salmonella, vibrio and yersinia. Rates of vibrio infection were 115 percent higher than in 1996-1998, and 39 percent higher than in 2006-2008. Most vibrio infections are the result of eating raw or undercooked shellfish.
People who want to reduce their risk of foodborne illness should assume raw chicken and other meat carry bacteria that can cause illness and should not allow them to contaminate surfaces and other foods, such as produce. While it's important to wash produce thoroughly, they should never wash meat and poultry. They should also cook chicken, other meats, meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly well, avoid consuming unpasteurized milk and juice as well as and unpasteurized soft cheese, and make sure shellfish are cooked or treated for safety before eating.
About FoodNet
FoodNet is a collaboration of CDC, ten state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the Food and Drug Administration. FoodNet collects information to analyze foodborne disease trends and track rates of laboratory-confirmed illnesses caused by Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 and non-O157, Shigella, Vibrio and Yersinia. Annual data are compared with data from 2006-2008 and with data from the first years of surveillance (1996-1998) to measure progress. FoodNet covers 46 million people, or about 15 percent of the American population. The sites are the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Tennessee, and selected counties in California, Colorado, and New York.
About Vital Signs
CDC Vital Signs is a report that appears on the first Tuesday of the month as part of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Vital Signs is designed to provide the latest data and information on key health indicators—cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, alcohol use, HIV/AIDS, motor vehicle safety, health care-associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, asthma, and food safety.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Update on E. coli Outbreak in Germany

Update 7/26/12
Research done by MSU indicates that this strain of E. coli's toxin production is linked to its biofilm formation, and this is the basis for how it affected so many, in this case 3800 people with 54 deaths.

UPDATE 6/7/2011 - A reported 2300 illnesses and 23 deaths now related to E. coli O104 in Germany.  Unfortunately, the cause still eludes investigators.  At first, cucumbers were suggested, and then sprouts.  But there is insufficient evidence to say either is the cause. 

In Germany, a novel strain of E.coli is now responsible for approximately 2000 cases of illness with approximately 500 having HUS (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome) and has resulted in 19 deaths.  This strain, E. coli O104, is a novel strain that posses the traits of two different pathogenic E.coli. 
·         One is EAEC (Enteroaggregative E. coli) which has the capabilities of “sticking’ to the intestinal lining, and producing a mucoid film that protects it.  EAEC normally results in prolonged diarrheal illness.
·         The other is STEC E. coli that produces a shiga toxin.  The illness is characterized by severe bloody diarrhea and can result in HUS, a life threatening condition that results from the loss of kidney function.
·         Put together, through having genes from both, this organism is extremely pathogenic.  By being able to persist in the intestinal tract longer, there is increased risk for HUS.

The illness appears to have started in Northern Germany.  People have been asked to avoid cucumbers, leafy greens, and raw tomatoes, although the exact source of contamination is not known at this point.

Penn State’s resident expert on EAEC, Dr. Edward Dudley, has supplied some excellent reviews of EAEC. Contact me if interested.

While there is no apparent risk at this time in the US, except perhaps for those that have traveled to Germany in the past month, it is always important to follow good personal hygiene with preparing and handling food.
·         Wash hands thoroughly before preparing food, especially after using the restroom.
·         If you have diarrhea, avoid preparing food.  If you work in a foodservice, retail or food manufacturing facility, stay home.
·         Farmers and gardeners should always practice Good Agricultural Practices, especially when using manure as a fertilizer.  Fertilizers should be properly composted prior to application.