Friday, February 10, 2012

Expanding the list of bad [foodborne disease causing] bacteria?

There is currently a push to put a zero tolerance on four strains of drug-resistant salmonella in uncooked meat (link below). This comes after the 2011 outbreak of Salmonella linked to ground beef where 20 people were reported to become ill. ( The responsible organism was a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella Typhimurium.

Another recent expansion was the addition of 6 strains of E. coli non-O157 STEC. Although the testing program was to go into effect in March of 2012, it was pushed pack to June of 2012. The reason relates to the lack of validated test methods to detect the specific pathogenic strains (link below).

Looking for a given bacterial species is difficult enough, but when we have to look for strains of bacteria containing specific genes, reliable testing is not always easy. Throw in the fact that the product being tested is raw, and that the prevalence of bacteria is very low, and it makes one question to what degree can we track and eliminate the sources. (For example, FSIS reports the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef is about 2% (, and in a 2009 study by ARS, the level for MDR Salmonella was only 0.6% (  

Will consumers benefit? Will public health be better served? Will regulatory requirements for zero tolerance be enforceable or achievable?

Interesting note, a consumer group recently requested that FDA put a zero tolerance of Vibrio vulnificus on oysters ( to help protect those who choose to consume raw oysters. Vibrio vulnificus is a natural contaminate in waters where oysters are harvested, especially in the warmer months. In most all cases, the organism affects those who have underlying medical condition, primarily past or present alcohol abuse. Are oyster fisherman going to start testing oysters before delivering to the local shuck house? Why not just make it illegal to consumer raw oysters?

Salmonella Outbreak Spurs Call to Expand List of Banned Bacteria
February 08, 2012, 1:59 PM EST
Bloomberg Businessweek
By Stephanie Armour

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- A public health group is pressing the Obama administration to ban sales of uncooked meat containing drug-resistant salmonella after an outbreak sickened 20 people in seven states.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture now allows sales of unprocessed food with the bacterium because it’s usually killed in cooking. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington nonprofit, says consumers who may not cook meat properly can’t be responsible for maintaining food safety, noting foodborne outbreaks involving “superbugs” resistant to antibiotics sickened 19,897 and killed 26 between 1973 and 2009.

The center is petitioning the USDA to ban four strains of salmonella, including one type found in ground beef sold by the Hannaford Bros. Co. supermarket chain that were recalled in December after sickening people in the U.S. northeast. Drug- resistant and normal salmonella causes about 1 million illnesses a year in U.S. at a cost of about $365 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“We want to think of microbial resistance in food as an emerging issue, but it’s here now,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the consumer group, in an interview. Her group first petitioned the agency last May.

A spokesman for the agency, Neil Gaffney, declined to comment on the petition in an e-mail. Efforts to prevent salmonella contamination -- including drug-resistant strains -- are being strengthened by encouraging food processors to increase testing, he said.

E. Coli Ban
The government now bans a single pathogen in unprocessed meat: a strain of E. coli called O157:H7 that triggered a 1994 outbreak involving Jack in the Box hamburgers that killed four children and sickened another 700 people. Federal officials plan to add six more E. coli strains this year under a 2011 rule the American Meat Institute in Washington estimates will cost processors as much as $300 million annually. E coli is so toxic that even a few microbes that get on meat during processing can make people violently ill, the government said.

Several outbreaks from superbugs occurred last year. Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. in August recalled nearly 36 million pounds of ground turkey in an outbreak of multidrug salmonella that sickened 136 people in 34 states, according to the CDC.

Hormel Foods Co.’s Jennie-O-Turkey Store in Willmar, Minnesota on April 1 recalled nearly 55,000 pounds of raw turkey traced to drug-resistant salmonella that infected 12 people in 10 states, according to the CDC.

The U.S has been unable to identify ground beef suppliers that may be subject to recall after examining Hannaford’s “limited” records, according to the USDA. Seven of the 20 victims were hospitalized. The supermarket recalled products on Dec. 15.

“We’re cooperating fully with government officials,” said Eric Blom, a Hannaford spokesman, in an interview. “We’ve worked closely with investigators on this matter.”
Kidney Damage
Brian DiGeorgio went into a coma that affected his kidneys after eating ground beef purchased from Hannaford, Donald Boyajian, an Albany, New York lawyer representing him in a Dec. 21 lawsuit against Hannaford, said in an interview. He sued the company seeking more than $75,000 in federal district court in Syracuse, New York.

Hannaford declined to comment on the lawsuit or the USDA’s assessment of its record-keeping, said Hannaford’s Blom.

“The time to address this problem is long overdue,” Susan Vaughn Grooters, director of research and education at Chicago- based STOP Foodborne Illness, an advocacy group, said in an e- mail. “How many more cases are needed before someone in our government shows some leadership and acts to protect us?”

Mutating To Survive
Drug resistance linked to inappropriate antibiotic use is a growing concern in public health circles. Since drug-resistant pathogens are constantly emerging, doctors often switch medicines to thwart resistance as new treatments become available.

Antibiotics are given to livestock to encourage growth or cure or prevent illnesses. The drugs kill bacteria or thwart their ability to reproduce.

In a battle to survive, bacteria can mutate in ways that make them resistant to a drug and can then pass those traits to offspring or to other microbes. The pattern can create a pathogen with multiple immunities that takes more time and medicine to put down, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A lawsuit filed by public-health groups against the FDA last May seeks restrictions on penicillin and most tetracyclines fed to animals that aren’t sick.

‘Free-Range Society’
“Everyone out there wants to live in this free-range society, but the cost of everything will go up and increase the final cost to consumers,” said Jay Wenther, executive director of the Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania-based American Association of Meat Processors, North America’s largest meat trade organization, in an interview. “There’s this perception that animals are being overmedicated. It’s sensationalism.”

Federal regulation of food is largely split between the USDA overseeing meat and the FDA responsible for fruit, vegetables and seafood.

The FDA is developing final guidelines on limiting the use of newer drugs in animals to prevent resistance, said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, in an interview. Rescinding approval for drugs used in livestock is a laborious process, he said. Voluntary guidelines will lead to faster results and will be more effective, he said.
Limiting Antibiotics

A May lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council in federal district court in New York sought to limit certain antibiotics in the food of animals that aren’t ill, known as subtherapeutic use.

Experience shows that a voluntary approach doesn’t work for reducing antibiotic use in livestock, Avinash Kar, a lawyer with the Council, said in an interview.

“The FDA is expecting the industry to solve the problem,” he said. “Why would they suddenly stop out of the goodness of their hearts?”

Producers are voluntarily curtailing the use of drugs linked to antibiotic resistance, Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council, which represents 43 state associations, said in an interview. Steps include heating barns and improving ventilation to reduce illnesses or need for medications, she said.

“The industry has had ongoing awareness of antibiotic use and responsible use,” said Wagstrom. “They say they are using less antibiotics than they used to.”
--Editors: Adriel Bettelheim, Reg Gale

FSIS to Extend Implementation Date on Testing Program for Non-O157:H7
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
(American Meat Institute)
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced that it is extending for 90 days the implementation date for sampling of six additional STEC serogroups (O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145).

FSIS stated that the purpose of the extension is to provide additional time for establishments to validate their test methods and detect these pathogens prior to entering the stream of commerce.
In a statement, AMI Executive Vice President Jim Hodges commended FSIS for the delay, but argued that research should proceed public policy.

“Even with a 90 day delay, imposing this new regulatory program in June puts the cart before the horse and will needlessly cost tens of millions of federal and industry dollars – costs that likely will be borne by taxpayers and consumers. In short, the policy is not likely to yield a significant public health benefit and given that research should precede and dictate the policy, the process that FSIS has followed in this matter is no way to develop good public policy.”

To view the FSIS update click here:

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