Friday, November 30, 2012

Fear the Grocery Carts?

Here is a study just released in Food Protection Trends. The study shows that grocery carts are a bit unsanitary as indicated by the presence of bacterial indicators (APC, coliforms, generic E. coli). While the study is a bit soft in the methodology (should have actually checked for pathogens, should have used better methods for testing), it does show that shopping carts are not the cleanest things in the world, and there is the possibility that carts can be a source of contamination, primarily children riding in those carts (putting their fingers on the cart seat and then sticking those same fingers in their mouth).  

But before we all go crazy worrying about grocery carts, it is important to point out this is just one of many risks that we all face each day. How about that grass where the kid is crawling….might that be a place where birds, dogs, or cats may have pooped? The refrigerator where juices from raw meats may have dripped…did it get on the apples?. That grocery store conveyor, where the packs of raw meat may have dripped…could those drops contaminated your other food packages?. How about those reusable grocery bags that never get washed after being used to carry raw meat? Where did you put your hands while eating lunch on a park bench where earlier, a group of the pigeons deposited their load as they flew by? Certainly it is important that we take precautionary measures such as washing our hands, cooking our food, and washing our grocery bags, but for each study that comes out that demonstrating the somewhat obvious, we cannot let the potential of contacting a contaminated surface become the bane of our lives. As they say, the key to a healthy immune system is a constant challenge.

Bacterial Contamination of Shopping Carts and Approaches to Control

Charles P. Gerba* and Sheri Maxwell
Dept. of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
Food Protection Trends, Vol. 32, No. 12, Pages 747–749


Placing children in grocery shopping carts has been implicated recently as a source of infection with Salmonella and Campylobacter in young children. This study was conducted to assess the occurrence total bacteria, coliform bacteria and Escherichia coli on grocery shopping cart handles and seats. A total of 85 shopping carts in parking lots of grocery stores were tested in five major metropolitan areas across the United States. The total numbers of heterotrophic bacteria were as great as 1.1 × 107 on the handle and seat. Coliforms were detected on 72% (62) of the carts. E. coli was identified on 18 of 35 carts (51%) on which coliform identifi­cation was conducted. The results of this study suggest the need for improved sanitation of shopping cards/baskets to reduce exposure to pathogens and potential transmission of microbial infections among shoppers.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Antibiotic-resistant pathogens in pork - reviewing the CR news release

Perhaps you have seen the latest food safety news to hit the mass media - antibiotic resistant bacterial pathogens in pork.

Is there need to worry - No.

1) Is pork that bad? No, all raw meat products - whether pork, beef, poultry, or fish - have the potential to carry bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella, or E. coli. Therefore, one just needs to properly cook (to eliminate those organisms) and properly hande (to prevent cross contamanation) raw meat products to prevent any potential for illness. Remember, use a thermometer.

2) What about the antibiotic resistance? Antibiotic resistenace adds no special ability for these organisms to resist heating and sanitizers, so these bacteria will be controlled the same as any other bacteria though proper cooking and cleaning. The biggest concern with these types of organsims are with high risk groups, so it is especially important to ensure the use of good practice when preparing food for these groups (including the elderly and young children).

 It is true that there is a link between the use of antibiotics in livestock and a higher level of antibiotic resistant organisms that can be found in that meat. And it is true that anitibiotics have been overused in livestock as well as for humans (have you been given antibiotics for a viral infection?). However, the epidemiolgical evidence is lacking in showing a tie between those organisms and increased human illness. To combat the concern, FDA recently released a guidance to promote the judicious use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals (

It is also important to note that one can find antibiotic resistant organsims in organically grown meat. So I do not agree with the assertion that is made that one should buy organically certified meat. If you feel that there are quality aspects related to organic meat, than that is one thing. But the fact that the meat is organic does not provide any real benefit regarding safety.

What’s in that pork?
 We found antibiotic-resistant bacteria and traces of a veterinary drug

Consumer Reports magazine: January 2013

 Our analysis of pork-chop and ground-pork samples from around the U.S. found that yersinia enterocolitica, a bacterium that can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, was widespread. Some samples harbored other potentially harmful bacteria, including salmonella. And there are more reasons to be concerned about “the other white meat.”
Some of the bacteria we found in 198 samples proved to be resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat people. The frequent use of low-dose antibiotics in pork farming may be accelerating the growth of drug-resistant “superbugs” that threaten human health.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

FDA Prevents Sunland Foods from Reopening

FDA flexed its new regulatory muscle as granted through FSMA and shut down Sunland Foods, the maker of contaminated Trader Joe's Peanut Butter.  Sunland was planning to reopen the processing facility this week, but FDA suspended the facility's registration due to a 'reasonable probability' that their product could cause serious health problems.  Numerous issues in the facility had been cited ( including FDA's assertion that Sunland knowingly shipped contaminated product.  Sunland denies this claim.  

Now it is up to the company to prove its case in court in order to resume operations.

FDA's decision to shut a facility down begins a new chapter for food processors and their interaction with FDA under FSMA.  Most consumers would probably agree that this facility deserved to be closed.  But we don't know to what degree the facility had made steps to improve since the initial recall back in late September.  (  Was Sunland Foods unable to get up to standard in the last 2 months, or were there issues so numerous and/or bad that FDA still deemed the facility a risk to consumers?   What will be interesting moving forward is how FDA will use this new power.  Will it be used as a preventive tool, shutting plants down before the products they produce causes illness?  And if so, to what degree of risk will federal inspectors be willing to accept?  Listeria in a drain?  Salmonella in a product that is not fully cooked?  Or will it be used as a punitive action - a way to make a facility involved in an outbreak prove that it has made the necessary changes?


FDA halts company's peanut butter operations

The FDA suspended Sunland's registration over salmonella concerns.

USAToday Health and Wellness  6:17PM EST November 26. 2012 -
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration halted operations of the country's largest organic peanut butter processor Monday, cracking down on salmonella poisoning for the first time with the new enforcement authority the agency gained in a 2011 food safety law.
FDA officials found salmonella all over Sunland Inc.'s New Mexico processing plant after 41 people in 20 states, most of them children, were sickened by peanut butter manufactured at the Sunland plant and sold at Trader Joe's grocery chain. The FDA suspended Sunland's registration Monday, preventing the company from producing or distributing any food.
The food safety law gave the FDA authority to suspend a company's registration when food manufactured or held there has a "reasonable probability" of causing serious health problems or death. Before the food safety law was enacted early last year, the FDA would have had to go to court to suspend a company's registration.
Sunland had planned to reopen its peanut processing facility on Tuesday and a spokeswoman said before the

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dumb Ways to Die - Eating Poisonous Mushrooms

3 people died from eating wild mushrooms.  As you read the story below, please click on youtube link below for a little ditty that provides a nice accompaniment to the story.

Nov 21, 7:30 PM EST
3rd person dies in Calif. from mushroom poisoning

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

FDA Investigation Report on Sunland Foods - Findings Very Troubling

FDA released the findings from the Sunland Food investigation.  This investigation was conducted after Trader Joe's peanut butter, which was made by Sunland, was linked to 41 cases of Salmonella in 20 states.
The findings are very troubling. (Each numbered bullet point references a spot in the report).
  1. Company shipped product after their own testing found it to contain Salmonella.  Occurance in 11 lots.
  2. Five lots tested and found to be negative by company were actually positive when tested by FDA.
  3. 28 environmental samples were found to be positive for Salmonella.
  4. The FDA tested and found shelled peanuts contaminated which resulted in Sunland expanding the recall to that product line.
  5. Poor employee practice including the lack of hand washing.
  6. No records for the documentation of cleaning processing equipment.
  7. Reuse of sacks for both raw and finished product without cleaning.
  8. Poor plant drainage systems that prohibited good cleaning.
  9. Storage of raw peanuts allowed for cross contamination (birds were flying into the uncovered trailers.  Storage conditions also allowed for moisture and pest entry).

FDA Investigates Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Bredeney Infections Linked to Peanut Butter made by Sunland Inc.

Posted November 21, 2012


November 14, 2012 - FDA posts observations from recent inspection at Sunland Inc.  
The FDA has made the observations from its recent inspection of Sunland Inc.1 publicly available.  This inspection was conducted between September 17 and October 16, 2012, and became part of the investigation of the Salmonella Bredeney outbreak linked to peanut butter made by Sunland Inc.
During this inspection investigators found that conditions in the company’s facility, the company’s manufacturing processes, and the company’s testing program for Salmonella may have allowed peanut butter that contained Salmonella to be distributed by the company.

[1] The FDA found that between June of 2009 and August of 2012, Sunland Inc. had distributed, or cleared for distribution, portions of 11 lots, or daily production runs,  of peanut or almond butter after its own testing program identified the presence of at least one of nine different Salmonella types (Arapahoe, Bredeney, Cerro, Dallgow, Kubacha, Mbandaka, Meleagridis, Newport, and Teddington) in those lots.  Two of these lots showed the presence of the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney.

[2] Equally important, five product samples collected and analyzed by FDA from Sunland Inc. showed the presence of Salmonella, but had not been identified as containing Salmonella by Sunland Inc.’s internal testing.  Among those products were peanut butter and shelled raw peanuts.  Two of these samples showed the presence of the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fresh Express Recalls Bagged Greens..Again

Fresh Express is recalling bagged spinach for Salmonella after a sample, as part of USDA sampling program, came up positive.  There were no illnesses reported.

This is a reported fifth time a Fresh Express product has been recalled due to a pathogen positive test.  Why so many, the Oregonian Newspaper asks.  To be fair, there seems to be an increase in these type of recalls in produce overall.  Has the amount of testing increased?  Perhaps a government agency that was just a moment from being eliminated has picked up their game.  Or is it that bagged produce more likely to contain pathogens when compared to unprocessed greens?  But are unprocessed greens tested at the same level as bagged greens?  We do know that bagged chopped greens are considered a TCS food (temperature control for safety, or what used to be known as PHF, or potentially hazardous food).  This is because pathogens, if present, have better growth potential in the chopped greens compared to whole greens. So, there is a greater need to have no pathogens present in those products.  But to what degree is it possible to completely eliminate all pathogens while still maintaining a product that does not taste like sanitizer?  Remember, these greens are grown in fields, and birds and other critters will poop there.  So without a silver bullet to completely eliminate this bacterial risk, testing is bound to discover a positive from time to time thus resulting in a recall, and hopefully not an illness.  Processors of this type of product, therefore, need to put in controls and then manage those controls to minimize the risk. Retailers and consumers must control that product through proper refrigeration.

Salmonella in spinach: fifth Fresh Express recall in three months

Published: Friday, November 09, 2012, 9:12 AM Updated: Friday, November 09, 2012, 1:09 PM
Lynne Terry, The Oregonian
Fresh Express, which sells a variety of bagged greens, is recalling packaged spinach over salmonella.

This is the company's fifth recall of bagged greens since August over bacterial contamination. This time it is pulling spinach with a use-by date of Nov. 7 sold in 9 oz. packages. The potentially tainted spinach was sold to stores in 18 states, including Oregon, Washington Idaho and California.
Fresh Express, owned by Chiquita Brands International Inc. in North Carolina, said in its recall notice on the Food and Drug Administration website that the contamination was spotted in a test by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Tiffany Breaux, a Chiquita spokeswoman, said in an email that the company reviewed its records and conducted an “intensive investigation" into the contamination. Apparently, its staff was unable to trace the source of the pathogens.

It's unclear where the greens were grown and where and how they were packaged. Breaux indicated that the recalls have not prompted any change in the company's food safety system.

In the past three months, Fresh Express has pulled bagged greens after positive bacterial tests by federal authorities. In October, the company recalled hearts of romaine salad tainted with salmonella. In September, it again pulled hearts of romaine salad but over listeria contamination. Also in September, it pulled leafy green romaine salad over listeria, and in August it recalled hearts of romaine over listeria.

Both salmonella and listeria can cause serious gastro-intestinal symptoms and even death. Listeria poses a particular threat to pregnant woman, causing still births and miscarriages.

Both bacteria can end up in a variety of food but bagged greens are considered high risk because of the possibility of contamination spreading when one tainted leaf of lettuce, for example, is mixed with other greens and packaged.

But so many recalls by one company in such a short time frame is unusual. The last time before August that Fresh Express pulled contaminated greens from the market was in April 2011 when it recalled 9 oz. bags of spinach tainted with salmonella.


Fresh Express Recalls Limited Quantity of 9 oz. Spinach Due to Possible Health Risk

1 - (800) 242-5472

Tiffany Breaux 1 - (704) 280-5938
Barbara Hines 1 - (972) 724-3049

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 7 , 2012 - Charlotte, North Carolina - Fresh Express Incorporated is conducting a voluntary, precautionary recall of a limited quantity of Fresh Express Spinach with a Use-by Date of November 7 and Product Code of S299B25 due to a possible health risk from Salmonella.

No illnesses or consumer complaints have been reported to Fresh Express at this time in association with this recall. No other Fresh Express products are subject to this recall.

The recall notification is being issued out of an abundance of caution due to an isolated instance in which a random sample yielded a positive result for Salmonella under U.S. Department of Agriculture's random sample testing program. Fresh Express is coordinating closely with regulatory officials.

Fresh Express customer service representatives are already contacting relevant retailers to confirm the recalled product has been removed from store shelves and inventories and that none is available for consumer purchase. Customers with questions are instructed to contact their usual Fresh Express customer service representative. The recalled salads were distributed primarily in the Western region of the U.S.

Consumers who may have purchased the recalled salad are asked not to eat it, but to throw it out instead. Fresh Express is offering a full refund. Consumers with questions or who would like to secure a refund may call the Fresh Express Consumer Response Center at (800) 242-5472 during the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Specific recall information follows:

  • Product Being Recalled: Fresh Express Spinach in 9 oz. package
  • Product Code: S299B25 (located in upper right corner on front of package)
  • Use-by Date: November 7 (also located in upper right hand corner of package)
  • Distribution: Primarily in the Western region of the U.S.

Salmonella is an organism that may cause fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and possibly bloody diarrhea in healthy individuals. It can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Consumers with these symptoms should consult their health care provider.

Fresh Express Precautionary Salad Recall-11/7/12
(No other Fresh Express Salads are included in this recall)

Brand Product Name Size UPC Production Code Best If Used By Date POSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
Fresh Express Spinach 9 OZ. 0 71279-13204 4 S299B25 NOV7 AZ, CA, CO, HI, I D, KS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NM,OK,OR,SD, TX, UT, WA,WY

Nestle recalls Nesquick Chocolate Powder

Nestle is recalling Nesquick Chocolate Powder after the supplier of one the product’s ingredient issued a recall.  The ingredient, calcium carbonate, was being recalled due to the possible presence of Salmonella.  There have been no reports of illness.


Nestlé USA Announces Voluntary Recall of NESQUIK® Chocolate Powder

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 8, 2012 - Nestlé USA announced the voluntary recall of limited quantities of Nestlé NESQUIK® Chocolate Powder in the 10.9, 21.8 and 40.7 ounce canisters. The voluntary recall is limited to only NESQUIK Chocolate Powder, which was distributed nationally. No other varieties of NESQUIK powder or any sizes or flavors of NESQUIK ready-to-drink are affected by this recall.

Nestlé is removing the canisters from distribution because the company was notified by an ingredient supplier, Omya Inc. that it has issued a recall of certain lots of its ingredient, calcium carbonate due to possible presence of Salmonella. Calcium carbonate is used in NESQUIK as an ingredient. There have been no reports of any illnesses or adverse health effects associated with the affected product.

To ensure the safety of consumers, Nestlé is recalling selected NESQUIK Chocolate Powder. The recall is limited to the following sizes, UPC and production codes of NESQUIK Chocolate Powder:

UPC Code
Production Codes
40.7 oz. Chocolate (72 servings)
0 28000 68230 9
21.8 oz. Chocolate (38 servings)
0 28000 68090 9
10.9 oz. Chocolate (19 servings)
0 28000 67990 3

The affected NESQUIK Chocolate Powder was produced during early October, 2012. To locate the production code, consumers should look on the bottom of the canister, adjacent to the consumer expiration date. All affected products have an expiration date of BEST BEFORE Oct 2014.

Consumers who may have purchased the affected NESQUIK Chocolate Powder should not consume it, but instead should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund or contact Nestlé Consumer Services at (800) 628-7679.

The most common symptoms of Salmonella infection are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever, which develop within eight to 72 hours of eating or drinking contaminated food. The illness usually lasts for four to seven days and most people recover without treatment. However, salmonellosis can be severe or even life threatening for infants, older people, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. Individuals experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention.

Nestlé is dedicated to the health and safety of its consumers. For these reasons, the company initiated this voluntary recall. We apologize to our consumers and sincerely regret any inconvenience created by this incident.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wegmans spinanch salad mix and Bolthouse sliced carrots recalled

There are two produce related recalls.

 - Wegman’s is recalling it Organic Spinach and Spring Mix Blend after it was linked to now 19 cases of E. coli O157:H7 cases in New York. The product was co-packed for Wegman’s by Massachusetts based Spring Garden. The product was sold between Oct 14th and Nov 1st.

 - Bolthouse Foods of Bakersfield CA is recalling carrot chips. A sample of the carrot chips were tested by NC Health and found to be positive for Salmonella. There have been no reported illnesses. Product was co-packed for store brands including Safeway Farms and Supervalu’s Farm Stand.

Three more E. coli cases added to outbreak
Wegmans recalled spinach and spring mixes due to outbreak

Democrat and 10:05 PM, Nov 5, 2012

Three additional cases of E. coli have been linked to organic spinach and spring mix blends sold by Wegmans Food Markets.