Friday, January 13, 2012

Venison and STEC E. coli

In this CDC report, high school students became infected with STEC E. coli from the mishandling / undercooking venison. Here, a group of students collected deer, processed them, and then prepared them as kebobs… school. 2 of them were hospitalized with STEC E.coli, (29 were ill, most were not E.coli related, rather some other type of illness). 

Studies have shown that deer do carry pathogenic E. coli. From the linked CDC report: “A study of white-tailed deer feces in Minnesota and Wisconsin found non-O157 STEC in 5% of samples (9). … Prevalence rates of E. coli O157 in deer have ranged from 0.25% to 2.4% (1012). Previous outbreak investigations and case reports have linked E. coli O157 infections to deer (1315).”
STEC E. coli is a very serious pathogen that can result in kidney failure and death. It is important for those processing, handling, and preparing venison to follow accepted practices of cooking, cleaning, chilling, and preventing cross contamination. In regard to cooking, wild game meat such as venison should be cooked o 165ºF.

Prevening Allergen Related Recalls Due to Mislabeling

The leading cause of recalls is allergens.  Case in point, 3 allergen-related recalls over the last two days due to mislabeling.  In two cases, the wrong preprinted label was placed on the food item, in the other, the wrong sauce mix packet added to the food package.

Prevention – making labeling a CCP – a critical control point to prevent a chemical hazard – allergens.  There are many companies that use multiple labels with varying allergens on each.  Having the additional attention that goes along with designating a process step as a CCP will require more thorough monitoring, verifying, and reporting.  For example, the label operator must sign-off on each pack or case of labels by reviewing the days production sheet as well as the formulation sheet in order to check for compliance with the label.  In addition, there would be verification of labels and formulation by QC and production supervisors, as well as daily sign-off by the HACCP coordinator.  All would be need to be trained in label review with an eye towards allergen identification.   I would argue that this step must be a CCP because based on industry history, hazards are not being prevented.  From a cost savings standpoint, although this added step will require operator time, it is cheaper than conducting a recall.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

CDC lists Multistate Foodborne Outbreaks for 2011

CDC has updated their Multistate Foodborne Outbreak listing for 2011 ( This is a nice reference page for reviewing major food outbreaks that have occurred over the past 6 years. (An outbreak, as defined by CDC is “When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink”)
 A few things to note:
  • This does not include recalled products – products recalled due to only the presence of pathogens (pathogens were detected in the product, but there were no illnesses reported). There have been many recalls that have occurred due to positive analysis for a pathogen, especially now with the Reportable Registry ( And so it follows, it does not include recalls for allergens – the major cause for companies to conduct recalls.
  • This list does not include single state outbreaks – so this list is manly large companies that produce products. This does not mean that smaller establishments do not have issues.
  • A few items were actually not food, but rather pets (frogs and chicks/ducklings in 2011, and water frogs and frozen rodents, which are used to feed slithering pets, in 2010). One item was dog food, which we will count as food – you dog food eaters know who you are.
  • There appears to be an increase in the number of entries each year on this listing. I don’t suspect things are getting worse, but rather detection and reporting are getting better.
  • Of the 41 entries over the 6 year period where a cause can be found (dropping the pet related entries and the laboratory entry), fresh ground meat had 6 entries, alfalfa sprouts had 5, leafy greens had 5, and cantaloupe had 3.
  • Salmonella related outbreaks accounted for roughly 2/3 of the entries. This is due to the wide prevalence of Salmonella in the enviornment.
  • FDA regulated product entries accounted for 25 entries, USDA for 11, and I suspect that two of the outbreaks were from facilities that had both USDA and FDA oversight.
  • Roughly 27 are what one would consider ready to eat (no required consumer cooking step). 14 entries were products would be considered products that required cooking, that if done sufficiently by the consumer, would have prevented illness (reasons why vary - cookie dough traditionally eaten raw, pot pies – poor cooking instructions, raw meat – no thermometer use).
  • As a consumer, I avoid alfalfa sprouts, use a thermometer to cook my ground meat, really wash my cantaloupes, pray my chopped lettuce was not harvested from a farm located next to a cow barn, cook my cookie dough to have crunchy cookies, and refuse to buy my kids turtles, frogs, and snakes (that have to fed frozen rodents.) I have also ceased from eating dog food.
 Multistate Foodborne Outbreaks
When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne outbreak. Public health officials investigate outbreaks to control them, so more people do not get sick in the outbreak, and to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future.
CDC and partners ensure rapid and coordinated surveillance, detection, and response to multistate foodborne outbreaks.
Outbreaks by Year
 · Ground Beef - Salmonella Typhimurium
 · Romaine Lettuce - Escherichia coli O157:H7
 · Kosher Broiled Chicken Livers - Salmonella Heidelberg
 · Turkish Pine Nuts - Salmonella Enteritidis
 · Jensen Farms Cantaloupes - Listeria monocytogenes
 · Ground Turkey - Salmonella Heidelberg
 · Whole, Fresh Imported Papayas - Salmonella Agona
 · African Dwarf Frogs - Salmonella Typhimurium
 · Alfalfa and Spicy Sprouts – Salmonella Enteritidis
 · Travel to Germany - Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O104
 · Chicks and Ducklings - Salmonella Altona and Salmonella Johannesburg
 · Microbiology Laboratories - Salmonella Typhimurium
 · Turkey Burgers - Salmonella Hadar
 · Lebanon Bologna - Escherichia coli O157:H7
 · Del Monte Cantaloupe - Salmonella Panama
 · Hazelnuts - Escherichia coli O157:H7

Friday, January 6, 2012

Regrouping after Listeria on Cantaloupe

One bad cantaloupe [farmer] can spoil the whole bunch….in the LA Times article (below), we see another example of negative impact on an entire industry caused by a producer using less-than-good practices. Interestingly stated, “…California shipped more cantaloupe in a day than Colorado[where the incident occurred] in their whole season. Millions and millions of cantaloupe, healthy and fine."  Now these California producers are not planting as much while trying to spin the story as best they can.

In this digital news age where any tragedy is reported instantly, and then pounded on for days, while often providing little or no information to the specifics, we can’t expect consumers to act much differently.  Consumers want to avoid risk, and if that means forgoing an entire commodity item, then so be it.  There are other, perceivably safer alternatives in the marketplace for consumers to choose.

The point that is hard to understand is how do producers or processors not choose to follow best practices.  Do they know what best practices are for their industry?  Do they truly understand the risks associated with their product and process?

Because of this gap in what is done and what should be done by a some less-than-good companies, and this is probably a small group, government steps in with regulations such as those to be enacted by the new Food Safety Modernization Act legislation.  And still, many companies and industry groups fight against new legislation or having to comply with the proposed regulation.  Granted, some components of the regulation may be initially overkill or not well thought out, but this is where the comment period provides a chance for those with issues to voice their objections.  And the better industry groups work with the agencies to iron out the rough spots within the proposed regulation.

In the news, we hear of companies who decide to get out of the business rather than comply with new regulations.  Some see this loss of a local employer at tragic.  Not me.  If companies are not willing to keep up, if they are not willing to continually update themselves and their employees on the science and technology associated with making safe food, then it is best for the industry that they leave it to those who are.  Certainly, there is a cost to continual improvement, but resources are available through industry groups, government agencies, and academic institutions (including Extension).  It’s not “get big or get out”, it’s “get smart or get out”.

California cantaloupe farms regroup after listeria outbreak

California's Central Valley is 1,300 miles from the Colorado farm linked to a deadly listeria outbreak. But that hasn't registered with the public. Cantaloupe growers hope to change that.
By Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times
January 5, 2012, 3:53 p.m,0,6658258.story?page=1&utm_medium=feed&track=rss&utm_campaign=Feed%3A%20latimes%2Fbusiness%20%28L.A.%20Times%20-%20Business%29&utm_source=feedburner

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Study: Cost of Foodborne Illness in US Estimated at $77 billion

This study gives us an idea of the costs related to foodborne illness, and is great to use in presentations, but as the author points out, the numbers are limited in their application to justify any particular action in reducing foodborne illness.