Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NIH Study - Children with Food Allergies Often Suffer Allergic Reactions

This study, conducted by NIH, shows that a large percentage (72%) of children who have food allergies suffer from an allergic reaction each year, with 11% of those being serious reactions. Often times, the child’s caregiver did not administer epinephrine (didn’t have it, didn’t know how or when to do it). Exposure to allergens was because the child accidently ate a food containing the allergen, but in a limited number of cases, the caregiver intentionally provided the food to the child.

This study demonstrates that parents / caregivers must be more diligent with regard to their child’s food allergies, including knowing the foods children are eating and how to react when an allergic reaction occurs.

Rate of Severe Reactions Higher Than Thought in Young Children with Food Allergies
NIH-Funded Study Finds Some Caregivers Unsure About When to Give Epinephrine
National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Young children with allergies to milk and egg experience reactions to these and other foods more often than researchers had expected, a study reports. The study also found that severe and potentially life-threatening reactions in a significant number of these children occur and that some caregivers are hesitant to give such children epinephrine, a medication that reverses the symptoms of such reactions and can save lives. 

“This study reinforces the importance of doctors, parents and other caregivers working together to be even more vigilant in managing food allergy in children,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. 

The study results appear online in the June 25 issue of Pediatrics and are the latest findings from the Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR), a network established by NIAID to conduct clinical trials, observational studies and basic research to better understand and treat food allergy. 

The research is part of an ongoing CoFAR observational study that enrolled 512 infants aged 3 to 15 months who at study entry were allergic to milk or egg, or who were likely to be allergic, based on a positive skin test and the presence of moderate-to-severe eczema, a chronic skin condition. The investigators are carefully following these children to see whether their allergies resolve or if new allergies, particularly peanut allergy, develop. The study is ongoing at research hospitals in Baltimore; Denver; Durham, N.C.; Little Rock, Ark.; and New York City.

CoFAR investigators advised parents and caregivers to avoid giving their children foods that could cause an allergic reaction. Study participants also received an emergency action plan, describing the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to food and what to do if a child has one, along with a prescription and instructions on how to give epinephrine if a severe reaction occurred.

Data compiled from patient questionnaires and clinic visits over three years showed that 72 percent of the children had a food-allergic reaction, and that 53 percent of the children had more than one reaction, with the majority of reactions being to milk, egg or peanut. This translated into a rate of nearly 1 food-allergic reaction per child per year. Approximately 11 percent of the reactions were classified as severe and included symptoms such as swelling in the throat, difficulty breathing, a sudden drop in blood pressure, dizziness or fainting. Almost all of the severe reactions were caused by ingestion of the allergen rather than inhalation or skin contact.

In only 30 percent of the severe reactions did caregivers administer epinephrine, a drug that alleviates the symptoms of severe reactions by increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels and opening the airways. Investigators found that caregivers did not give children epinephrine for a number of reasons: the drug was not available, they were too afraid to administer it, they did not recognize the symptoms as those of an allergic reaction, or they did not recognize the reaction as severe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Issues with meat processing availability as local demand increases

This USDA-ERS report, Slaughter and Processing Options and Issues for Locally Sourced Meat, (, points out what we have seen for some time - the lack of ‘local’ animal processing capabilities. This has become more of an issue as the trend to local food increases. An important point made in the report is whether a local facility can be viable when taking into account potential inconsistency in supply and the difficulty of determining actual consumer demand. Not discussed to any great extent are the regulatory challenges.

Demand for locally sourced meats has increased in recent years, although it remains a small share of total demand. This report evaluates the availability of slaughter and processing facilities for local meat production and the extent to which these may constrain or support growth in demand for locally sourced meats. Types, number, location, and other salient characteristics of slaughter and processing facilities are outlined by State. Further disaggregation of facilities by capacity and annual volume by species also provides information on slaughter and processing options for local meat producer/marketers. Findings suggest that access to Federal or State-inspected slaughter and processing facilities is limited in some parts of the country. In addition, alternative small-scale slaughter and processing facilities may not be economically feasible in all areas due to a lack of consistent throughput. Alternative methods for slaughter and processing geared toward local markets—such as the use of mobile slaughter units (MSUs) and local and regional market aggregators—can help meet some of the need for increased slaughter and processing capacity in localized areas and enable the growth of small livestock producers marketing product to consumers in their region or community. However, growth in small-scale slaughter and processing facilities depends on whether producers in need of these services can provide enough throughput, for enough of the year, and pay a high enough fee for the services to make such facilities economically viable. This, in turn, depends on the strength of consumer demand for local meats in the coming years.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

EWG's Dirty Dozen of Fruit and Vegetables Overstates Real Risk

Each year the Environmental Working Group, a consumer activist organization, releases a list it calls the ‘Dirty Dozen’ - the fruits and vegetables found to that were found to have residual pesticides based upon USDA and FDA analysis. Then the news outlets churn this report out, making consumers worry about the apples and strawberries in their refrigerator.

However, this report does not communicate the real risk. First, the levels found are well below anything that would pose an appreciable risk. Further, this ranking does not have any scientific basis. In a research article published in Journal of Toxicology (abstract below) by Winter and Katz (2011), they state:
In summary, findings conclusively demonstrate that consumer exposures to the ten most frequently detected pesticides on EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” commodity list are at negligible levels and that the EWG methodology is insufficient to allow any meaningful rankings among commodities. We concur with EWG President Kenneth Cook who maintains that “We recommend that people eat healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic” [1], but our findings do not indicate that substituting organic forms of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities for conventional forms will lead to any measurable consumer health benefit.
It is important that consumers include fruits and vegetables as part of their diet. They should not be deterred by headlines that would make them think otherwise.

Dirty Dozen: EWG Reveals List Of Pesticide-Heavy Fruits And Veggies
Huffington Post 06/19/2012 8:05 am Updated: 06/19/2012 8:17 am

What could be purer than a single ingredient?

As health-minded consumers work to avoid processed meals and turn their focus to whole foods, we may find ourselves picking up fruits and veggies more often. The average American currently eats about 100 pounds of fresh produce per year, but that number could be a lot higher. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adults eat two to three daily servings of fruits and veggies, only one-third of us meet that recommendation. 

Clearly, nothing should deter efforts to consume more fresh produce, the healthfulness of which is undeniable. But, as the latest iteration of an annual report reveals, there are some other considerations that health-conscious consumers must face from the supermarket aisle.

For the eighth year in a row, the nonprofit advocacy organization Environmental Working Group has released their list of the twelve most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables on the market as part of their 2012 Shoppers Guide. Overall, they found that 68 percent of the food samples tested had detectable pesticide residues -- even after they had been washed or peeled. Many of the fruits and vegetables listed this year will look familiar to those who follow the yearly report -- apples and bell peppers once again top the list.

Certain pesticides have been identified as potential carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and have been associated with learning and developmental delays in children.

"Organophosphate pesticides are of special concern since they are associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children,” said EWG toxicologist Johanna Congleton
in a statement. “Infants in particular should avoid exposure to these pesticides since they are more susceptible to the effects of chemical insult than adults."

Indeed, new research into the pesticide loads of baby food purees made with green beans, sweet potatoes and pears showed high contamination rates in both green beans and pears. Sweet potatoes, by contrast, had virtually no trace of pesticides. 

To learn more about individual pesticides and health risks, check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
report on human exposure. 

To compile the rankings, EWG researchers looked at 45 popular fruits and vegetables based on pesticide-load reports conducted by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. The database includes 60,700 samples taken over a 10 year period, beginning in 2000. It's important to note that all of the testing is conducted on fruits and vegetables that have been washed and/or peeled -- the typical precautions taken by American consumers.

The researchers factor in how many of the samples test positively for detectable pesticides, how many have more than two discrete pesticides, the concentration (measured by parts per million) of the pesticides found and the highest number of pesticides found in any single sample. The researchers also looked at the total pesticide load of the fruit or vegetable crop as a whole.

And while the list is comprehensive, the ranking doesn't capture all information: For example, though apples were ranked as the most contaminated overall, imported nectarines had the unique distinction of having a full 100 percent rate of positive pesticide test results, above any other product. Bell peppers and grapes were both commonly contaminated with 15 different pesticides in a single sample -- the highest overall diversity of contamination. 

Still, even the researchers who conducted the pesticide exposure studies don't recommend giving up the "Dirty Dozen" outright. 

"The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh [sic] the risks of pesticide exposure," they wrote, recommending instead that consumers purchase organic options wherever available and then choose items from the concurrent
"Clean 15" list that details which fruits and veggies have the lowest pesticide loads and residues.

Lots of confusion when it comes to pesticides

BY PHIL LEMPERT June 19, 2012 9:55AM

Are you concerned about pesticides?

Sixty percent of consumers express a high concern about pesticide residues, much of which is based on misleading information, according to The Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit organization that represents organic and conventional farmers and farms of all sizes. Established in 1989, the Alliance’s goal is to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables. Teresa Thorne, Alliance spokesperson, reported to us that recent surveys show that 29 percent of consumers are buying less fruits and vegetables due to concerns about pesticide residues.

The issue of pesticide residues can be very complex and terms often are used that are unfamiliar to many of us.

The Alliance’s website,, is a chance for shoppers to explore science-based information about pesticide residues. The mere “presence” of a pesticide does not mean that the food is harmful, and to demonstrate this fact, the Alliance has provided a pesticide calculation tool, developed by Dr. Robert Krieger, toxicologist with the Personal Chemical Exposure Program at the University of California, Riverside, to see how many servings a man, woman, teen or child could consume and still not have any adverse effects from pesticide residues. Because of the complexity of the residue issue, the calculator was designed to be an easy way to show the very minute levels of pesticide residues that are found (when and if present at all).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rachael Ray, the Scourge of Food Safety

If you care about the safety of food in any way, you must agree that Rachael Ray is one of the most dangerous of the food show personalities. In the event you don’t watch The View, (and I don’t, but saw this story on the Meatingplace blog, Ms. Ray claims that pink ground meat is safe as long as it is local/organic….that you know the source of your meat. However, research has shown that organic or local foods are not inherently safer than conventional products. That is, they can and will contain the pathogens…if not more. So where does she get her misguided information? And how can ABC televise this?

Maybe it is time for a lawyer guy like Bill Marler to put a little courtroom smack-down on ABC and Rachael Ray. Not likely to happen. But it is certainly criminal that a show can espouse such dangerous, misguided practices to the public. Shame on her for pretending to know something about food and ABC for broadcasting it.

Undercooking beef, pork, or chicken, regardless of the source, poses a risk. If you want your burger pink inside, either understand and accept the risk of foodborne illness or buy irradiated ground beef. Otherwise, use a thermometer to ensure that the center point reaches 160ºF for beef.
So if you must,

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Increased Risk of T. gondii in Free Range Animals

There has been some recent press surrounding Toxoplasmosis gondii, a parasite that has been identified as one of the leading causes of foodborne related deaths and hospitalizations. This parasite is acquired when individuals consume undercooked meat that is infected with the cysts imbedded in the tissue or when people come in contact with contaminated cat feces (cats are a natural host organism and they excrete/poop the more resistant oocyte). It can be a major health issue in immunosuppressed individuals including pregnant women with the infection being passed on congenitally, and it can cause mild illness in healthy individuals. (CDC link below) It can cause acute ocular disease. (Other studies have linked T. gondii infection with schizophrenia - citation below). 

The concern proposed in this journal article is that organically raised meat is more likely to be a source of T. gondii. Free range pigs (organically raised) are more likely to be contaminated with the organism in that their diet is less controlled and so they are more likely to eat in places contaminated by cat feces. In one study, 17 of 33 organically raised pigs from Michigan were contaminated with T. gondii (in another study, the level in commercial pork was much lower ~0.3%). In free range chickens, the prevalence was higher (est greater than 17%) compared to commercially raised poultry (0%). The organism or the antibodies to the organism have also been found in sheep, goats (and unpasteurized goat milk), and venison.

Adequate cooking and freezing are important to prevent infection, especially free range/organically raised pork (as well as goat and sheep). Of course, preventing contaminated by infected cats is important. (Outdoor cats are more likely to become contaminated than indoor cats.)

(Free range animals may also be a higher risk for other pathogenic paracites such as Trichinella).

Foodborne Toxoplasmosis
Jeffrey L. Jonesa and J.P. Dubeyb
Clinical Infectious Disease. (2012)
Toxoplasmosis can be due to congenital infection or acquired infection after birth and is one of the leading illnesses associated with foodborne hospitalizations and deaths. Undercooked meat, especially pork, lamb, and wild game meat, and soil contaminated with cat feces on raw fruits and vegetables are the major sources of foodborne transmission for humans. The new trend in the production of free-range organically raised meat could increase the risk of Toxoplasma gondii contamination of meat. Foodborne transmission can be prevented by production practices that reduce T. gondii in meat, adequate cooking of meat, washing of raw fruits and vegetables, prevention of cross contamination in the kitchen, and measures that decrease spread of viable oocysts into the environment.

Monday, June 11, 2012

High number of product recalls lowering consumers attentiveness

Interesting story in USAToday on the high number of product recalls and the impact on consumers. 

Last year there were 2,363 product recalls. Are things worse…probably not. Rather, the high number is due to an increased amount of testing and better regulatory oversight as well as the impact of social media (reporting by consumers).   However, the negative impact of the high number of recalls is that people are probably not paying as much attention…there is no shock value. This can become an issue if a recall is due to a significant hazard that can impact consumer’s health. 

This increasing lack of concern by consumers puts additional burden on manufacturers and retailers on ways to ensure that people take appropriate action when a recall occurs….or to make it right the first time.  

Surge in products being recalled may be numbing consumersBy Christopher Doering, Gannett Washington Bureau  
USA Today 6/10/12

U.S. regulators, retailers and manufacturers are growing increasingly concerned that a surge in the number of products being recalled is resulting in "fatigue" by the public — increasing the chance that consumers could ignore or miss a recall that could ultimately endanger their health.

Consumers last year were deluged with 2,363 recalls, or about 6.5 recalls each day, covering consumer products, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and food, according to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The recalls announced mark a nearly 14 percent increase from 2,081 in 2010 and compare with about 1,460 in 2007.

Experts say the increase is the result of a combination of greater oversight by regulators, better testing procedures and the use of social media where consumers can quickly point out and discuss problems with other people.

"We're experiencing recall fatigue in my mind at the consumer level and also perhaps at the business level, and we all have to worry about that," said Mike Rozembajgier, vice president of recalls for Stericycle ExpertRecall, an Indianapolis-based firm which has provided advice and helped major U.S. companies, including Merck, General Electric and Wendy's, carry out recalls.

"We have this growing concern for safety, but with there being so many recalls going on (is the public) paying attention to them and responding to them in a manner that is necessary for the recalls to be handled effectively?" he said.

This year alone hundreds of recalls have already been announced. Pfizer recalled birth control pills after it was found there may have been an inexact number of pills that also could have been out of sequence, increasing the chance of an unintended pregnancy. IKEA asked its customers to return about 169,000 high chairs because the restraint buckle could open unexpectedly. And Dole warned the public not to eat a lettuce salad mix because of a possible health risk from salmonella.

Retailers and government regulators are increasingly struggling to reach people who may not know about a recall, or choose to ignore it despite the potential dangers. A 2009 study conducted by Rutgers found 12% of Americans ate food they knew had been recalled and 40% admitted never having looked for recalled products in their homes.

Increasingly, retailers and government agencies are expanding the methods they use to communicate with the public — from social-media technologies such as Twitter and Facebook to more traditional methods such as phone calls and postings within their stores. But the same methods that prove successful in reaching one customer could just as easily be ignored by another.

"We don't feel that our members are getting bombarded but certainly the general public is and sooner or later you don't know what to believe," said
Craig Wilson, vice president for quality assurance and food safety at the warehouse giant Costco.

The 602-store warehouse chain uses data supplied from its estimated 60 million members and notifies them within 24 hours if they've purchased a recalled item. It then follows up with a letter. The result is that customers return about 90% of recently recalled products and, in the case of major recalls such as when a food product could cause serious health problems or death, Costco gets "the majority of everything that was sold back."

But Wilson says the national recall system "doesn't work as designed" and that consumers and retailers alike would benefit from a single, uniform network. He says the CPSC,
USDA and FDA each have a different recall system with unique requirements, making it more difficult for companies like his to make sure they are complying with the rules.

At Rochester, New York-based Wegmans, the grocery chain has a detailed recall plan that can require hundreds of people to carry out. The 81-store East Coast chain follows a recall protocol increasingly common among retailers: posting recall information on its web page and within stores for customers, notifying its followers using social media tools and, when possible, calling individuals who may have used a store card for the purchase.

"We do what we can to protect our customers but then our customers have to protect themselves and they can't do that unless they have the information," said Jeanne Colleluori with Wegmans. Last year alone, Colleluori said Wegmans participated in about 40 recalls, and the retailer was ahead of that pace in 2012 with about 16 recalls as of early May.

Businesses can ease the burden of a recall on their reputation and bottom line by being honest and upfront with their customers and crafting a response plan before any recall occurs that outlines what they will do with the public, media and regulators, industry watchers say.

"Many companies are being criticized not because they are not doing the right thing but because they are taking too long," said Sophie Ann Terrisse, chief executive of STC Associates, a brand-management firm.

She said some firms fail to estimate the work needed to conduct a recall and quickly become overwhelmed, leading to slow responses or poor customer service from representatives who don't have the time or know how to respond properly. "Things can get out of hand very quickly and it's hard to recover from that" for the brand and the company's core audience, said Terrisse.

Companies involved in recalls all say their primary concern is protecting the public — but they also have a business interest as well. "Our concern is for our customers but we have to protect our name as well, and we are very much aware that when there is a recall if it is a Wegmans brand product our reputation is at stake," said Wegmans' Colleluori.

Changing Times for Risk Management in the Food Supply Chain

How much do you know and trust your food supply chain? David Acheson’s fine opinion piece (below) discusses the impact of the lawsuit against Jensen Farms in the cantaloupe related listeria outbreak and the need for managing risk in an establishment’s food supply chain. The cantaloupe related lawsuit is posed to go beyond Jensen Farms and pursue those who handled or sold the contaminated produce as well as the company that inspected the processing facility. Is this the next development in requirements for the food industry?

A few comments on a few of the impactful points he makes:

The need for tighter control of suppliers, going beyond the third party audit, especially for high risk food products. Companies have become too reliant on third party audits to evaluate suppliers. As those who may be familiar with this process know, the value of that audit all comes down to the inspector’s ability to identify critical issues within a company’s food safety system. As past recalls have shown, there are knowledgeable auditors and those that are not so. And then there has been the issues with the supplier paying for the audit, that potential trade-off between the achieving a good score and providing an accurate assessment. A third party audit is just a part of the food safety system, but not the only component. And like any food safety program, it must be managed.

The potential negative impact on small suppliers. Many retailers and foodservice companies rely on small companies to create and manufacturer private label products. There is also a movement to use local farmers to supply produce. If food companies must take a higher level of responsibility for everyone that is producing, processing, and delivering products, there can be a trend for companies to either integrate operations or for them to use few suppliers that they can better manage. This consolidation would potentially result in the use of a few larger establishments that can provide all companies needs instead of using a patchwork of smaller suppliers.

We have come to a confluence of somewhat opposing trends – the desire of consumers to have fresher foods that require less preparation and are available year round (w/ the subsequent increase in the amount of imported foods), the movement towards local foods (and smaller firms that may or may not have the required level of food safety systems in place), an ever improving foodborne-disease-detection system, and a lawsuit-driven punishment system that appears ready to go beyond the responsible party and collect retribution from the linked food chain. Is it possible to develop trust through validation and verification of the supply chain?

Today: Walmart, Kroger, Primus. Tomorrow: You?by David Acheson on June 7, 2012 in Food Safety

Last week, Jensen Farms, the grower of the cantaloupe implicated in the Listeria outbreak of 2011, filed for bankruptcy. Prominently listed in the filing were lawsuits associated with the outbreak, from which 146 people were sickened and 36 died. According to the Denver Post, Jensen’s attorney said the filing should free up millions of dollars in insurance and other funds.

Foodborne illness attorney Bill Marler has filed at least 11 lawsuits and is representing almost 40 families or persons said to have been sickened or killed because of the contaminated cantaloupe. According to an article in Marler-published
Food Safety News, the bankruptcy filing means that his clients “can move on to file lawsuits against companies further down the supply chain: Frontera Produce, the cantaloupe distributor; retailers such as Walmart and Kroger; and Primus Labs, the third-party auditor whose subcontractor, Bio-Food Safety, gave Jensen Farms facilities a ‘superior’ inspection rating just six days before the outbreak began.”

“Bankruptcy of Jensen Farms was a necessary prerequisite to allowing families of those who died and those who were injured to seek compensation against Frontera, Primus, suppliers and retailers,” Marler said.

If Mr. Marler is successful in bringing and winning these cases, it is telling us that someone as distant from the farm as the retailer is highly vulnerable to being sued if a farmer’s product makes someone sick and that farm then declares bankruptcy. If you sell adulterated food – or have some role in handling, distributing, or maybe even transporting anywhere along the food chain of that adulterated food, you would be liable to some extent – regardless of the cause or origination of the contamination.

What does this mean to you and the industry?

We are back to that old issue of controlling risk in the supply chain. It is becoming increasingly important that you spend time assessing and addressing risk across your product line supply chains. As we’ve seen in recent outbreaks, it is not enough to focus on historical incidents – cantaloupe was not known to carry Listeria; raw egg has long been a factor in Salmonella outbreaks, but it was likely the cookie dough flour that caused that 2011E.coli O157:H7 outbreak.

Risk assessment is not only critical for consumer and brand protection, it is a key aspect of the preventive provisions of FSMA. In fact, the pending rule, Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls
(Section 103) focuses directly on this area. As we stated in a previous newsletter, preventive controls should be tied to preventing foodborne illness, not just decreasing product contamination.

The vulnerability of not knowing and validating your entire supply chain is becoming more evident. One forward, one back may still be law for product tracking, but back to the farm is fast becoming the legal definition of responsibility. And without continuing the barrage against
third-party auditors too heavily, it is a responsibility that processors and retailers are becoming leery of outsourcing, especially for high-risk products. And should these companies decide to conduct all their own supplier assessments and audits because they no longer trust outsourced audits, it could force food-industry consolidation and will fly in the face of robust programs like GFSI. I would like to bet that a Kroger or a Walmart would rather conduct 50 audits of large farms than be forced to audit 500 small farms. It is a potential that does not bode well for small suppliers, and could literally cut them out of the loop for many retailers.

In addition, whether or not such potential would come to fruition, supply chain management is specifically listed as an area for which risk-based preventive controls are required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As noted in a previous newsletter on
FSMA key provisions, as part of its food safety plan, a facility may be required to document sanitation procedures, a recall plan, a food allergen control program, supplier verification activities, and environmental sampling testing.

Friday, June 8, 2012

E. coli 0145 Outbreak, 14 Cases, Source Currently Unknown

According to news reports (link below), health officials from Georgia and CDC are investigating an outbreak of E. coli O145 that has made 14 ill across 6 southern states (GA, AL, TN, FL, CA and LA). One 21-month-old girl from New Orleans has died as a result of complications of infection. The source of this outbreak is not yet known.

E. coli O145, like the E. coli O157:H7 strains can cause severe diarrhea as well as damage kidney function. It has not been linked to as many outbreaks as the O157 strain, but was responsible for the 2010 outbreak linked to shredded romaine lettuce where there 26 confirmed cases and 7 probable.

USDA identifies this O145 strain along with O157 and 5 other STEC strains as adulterants and began testing for these strains on meat trimmings on June 4, 2012. From the USDA May 31st news release (below): “ The additional strains that will be treated as adulterants beginning today are Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) serogroups O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145. Like E. coli O157:H7, these serogroups can cause severe illness and even death, and young children and the elderly are at highest risk.”

E. coli outbreak in six states sickens 14, kills childJune 8, 2012 1:21 PM CBS News Staff
(CBS/AP) - Health officials are investigating a mysterious and scattered outbreak of the E. coli bacteria linked to 14 illnesses and one death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said no form of contaminated food or other cause has been identified in the illnesses, which occurred in April and May. They are spread among six states. 

Three people were hospitalized. One - a child in the New Orleans area - died last week. The Georgia Department of Public Health on Wednesday confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the state has five confirmed cases with one sufferer needing hospitalization.

The outbreak strain is E. coli 0145, a dangerous but not well-known type of bacteria. The strain was fingered in a 2010 outbreak that sickened more than two dozen people in at least five states. The most commonly identified strain in North America is E. coli O157, and has been responsible for numerous outbreaks.

Some strains of E. coli are harmless, but others can cause serious and potentially lethal illnesses, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. E. coli infection typically causes stomach cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, and mild fever. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. 

Symptoms typically appear within four days, though sometimes the "incubation period" can last a week.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Insurance and Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

When a foodborne illness outbreak occurs, having insurance, and enough insurance, can be the difference between a company surviving or not. Below is an article on liability insurance with regard to Jensen Farms and the cantaloupe outbreak.

Many firms carry liability insurance, which helps to cover claims in the event of a foodborne illness case. In some cases, such as with the cantaloupe outbreak, Jensen Farms had an insufficient amount of insurance to cover the deaths resulting from Listeria infection.

Liability insurance is different from recall insurance, which is needed to cover the cost of a recall. Recalls can be extremely costly, especially when large amounts of product must be recalled. Topps Meats (E. coli O157:H7) had insufficient recall insurance to cover the massive recall (21.7 million pounds of ground meat) after their product was linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.

It is hard to plan for the worst, and even to plan for the unthinkable. Of course, investing in the company’s food safety program could go a long way in preventing issues like this in the first place.

Liability insurance: How much is enough? by Tim Linden The Produce News
Colorado-based Jensen Farms, which was the source of the Listeria-tainted cantaloupes that sickened and killed scores of people last year, recently filed for bankruptcy protection as there is no way its liability insurance coverage will cover the claims arising from the case.

 Bill Marler of Marler Clark, a well-known Seattle-based attorney who specializes in foodborne illness cases, said that if all 146 people sickened or killed file claims, the damages would be in the neighborhood of $150 million. Though it baffles him as to why, in these types of cases, typically less than half of the victims do file claims.

 In this case about 50 claims have been filed so far, representing about two-thirds of the deaths and only about 25 percent of the illnesses. Virtually everyone who fell ill was hospitalized, he said, so basically every one of the 146 people have legitimate expenses caused by the eating of those cantaloupes.

Still, he estimates that the total damages for the 55 or so claims that will be filed would be about $75 million — only half of the potential damages but still much more than the $2.5 million liability insurance coverage that Jensen owns.

Mr. Marler said that as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, Jensen Farms will put that $2.5 million in a trust fund that will be administered by a special master and distributed to the claimants in some equitable way.

In this case, Greg Nelson, director of commercial lines for Western Growers Insurance Services, based in Irvine, CA, said it was virtually impossible for the Colorado firm to have enough liability insurance to cover the damages.

“In the first place, it would be very difficult to find an insurance company to write that large of a policy for a company of that size,” he said. “And secondly, it would be very expensive.”

Mr. Nelson said that general business liability insurance, which covers product liability, costs about $1,000 to $2,000 per year for each $1 million in coverage. So even if Jensen Farms could have found a policy for $100 million, it would have cost them between $100,000 and $200,000 per year.

The Western Growers executive said that for most companies of that size, it would not be a prudent business decision. “How much a company buys is strictly a business decision,” he said.

While he said that there is no rule of thumb, most produce firms have policies in the $1 million to $2 million range, though it is not uncommon for some of the mid-size or larger companies to have $5 million to $10 million in liability coverage.

And Mr. Nelson said that the largest companies in the industry might have $25 million to $50 million policies, especially if they sell to the larger retailers, which demand that type of coverage from some of their customers.

He said that the average company should start with the value of their firm when determining how much coverage to buy. A firm with about $10 million in assets might have a $10 million general business liability policy. More coverage than that might be difficult to justify as a business decision when what is being protected against is a very rare occurrence.

After all, a catastrophic event like the Listeria outbreak tied to cantaloupes is almost a one-in-a-million occurrence.

 “I’d rather see them spend the money on prevention so that they don’t have a problem,” he said.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hotel Chain uses UV ligh to clean?

Will you choose your next hotel because they use UV light to protect you from bacteria and viruses? You can say that using UV light is probably better than not using it, all things being equal. UV light will sanitize (not clean) surfaces, however, if that surface is not first cleaned (water, soap) and that surface is dirty, that dirt can block the killing effect of UV light. UV light will not penetrate solids and can be absorbed by plastics and glass. While UV has a history of use for sanitizing room air and drinking water, it can be next to useless against bacteria down in a carpet, or situated inside of a poop particle. Cleaning with water and detergent is still key, especially where soils (food, human waste particles, dirt or grime) have built up.

Certainly a positive is that the UV light will may help the maid see urine stains or organics such as poop particles, provided they are big enough and the person is looking closely.

As for me, I will take a clean carpet, freshly laundered sheets, a bed lacking extra-ordinary smells that challenge the olfactories, and the absence of Cimex lectularius.

CSI hotel room: Best Western goes high-tech to cleanBy Barbara DeLollis, USA TODAY

Don't be surprised if the housekeepers look like characters out of CSI the next time you stay at a Best Western hotel.
In response to what it says is travelers' insistence on cleanliness, Best Western is equipping its housekeeping crews with equipment you'd most likely see on the forensic investigation TV series: black lights to detect biological matter otherwise unseen by the human eye, and ultraviolet light wands to zap it.

For possibly the dirtiest object in your room — the TV remote control — there will be disposable wraps.
Best Western says it's taking the steps partly because research from Booz & Company shows that travelers desire a hotel's cleanliness over customer service, style and design.

But it's also reacting to the times, in which hotels and supermarkets place hand sanitizer in visible places for germ-obsessed customers

People also have become more skeptical about cleanliness because of headlines about e-coli, norovirus and bird flu, says Ron Pohl, a Best Western vice president. 

"It used to be that you walked into a guest room and saw a stain on carpet, you'd think the room's dirty," Pohl says. "Today, guests don't see any stains, but they still question how clean the room is."

Best Western plans to have its new cleaning techniques in all its 2,200 hotels in
North America by year's end. Today, about half the hotels — including properties in Tempe, Ariz., and Boston — have adopted it, Pohl says.

Best Western is ahead of the other hotel groups in its price range with its cleanliness approach, says Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University'?s hospitality school. And, he says, "it can have an effect on market share."

The program has already made guests happier, according to Best Western's internal measures. For hotels already using the wands, Pohl says, guest satisfaction for cleanliness of the room rose by 12% and for the overall experience, by 13%. Guests are also 12% more likely to recommend their hotel, he says internal surveys show.

At the Best Western Plus in Tempe, the black lights have changed the way housekeepers clean, because they highlight bacteria in places that may not otherwise be cleaned, says owner Rich Schnakenberg. The corner of a bathroom vanity, for instance, may now get extra attention.

"That's very important to a woman who is putting on her makeup," he says.
Schnakenberg says the hotel has prided itself on cleanliness. But "while we felt it was clean, in some customers' minds, maybe it wasn't," he says.

He credits the program with travelers staying longer, an increase in the average length of stay increasing to 2.3 days vs. 1.6 days. "If they like it here, they stay a little longer," he says.

The anti-microbial properties of the ultraviolet light have been used since the 1930s to kill germs. While it's invisible, it's intense enough to kill 99.9% of the germs responsible for causing illness, including E-coli,
H1N1, salmonella and norovirus.