Thursday, December 19, 2013

MMWR case study- Staph enterotoxin outbreak from food served at office party

In the Dec 20th edition of MMWR, a case study of a 2012 incident of staphylococcal enterotoxin poisoning is presented. The outbreak occurred at a military base where 13 individuals were admitted to the hospital after eating contaminated perlo (a chicken, sausage rice dish). According to the report, the 22 individuals became ill 2 to 3 hours after eating at a work lunch party. Symptoms included nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. While there were a number of dishes served, the investigation determined the perlo was the culprit. This item had been prepared the previous day, kept warm in an unheated oven overnight (8 hrs), and then reheated the next day.

Staphylococcus is commonly found on people and can contaminate food when properly handled. However, the key factor in this case was the temperature abuse, in this case, holding the food overnight in the unheated oven. During this time at the elevated temperature, the organism grows and produces the heat stable enterotoxin that is not destroyed during reheating. When the contaminated food is eaten, symptoms are usually seen within a few hours. If the perlo had been properly cooled, the organism would not have grown and would not have formed the toxin.

Keep this story in mind as you attend the various holiday parties this holiday season. It will make you wonder about who cooked each of the dishes and how good their food safety practices are.

 Outbreak of Staphylococcal Food Poisoning from a Military Unit Lunch Party — United States, July 2012
December 20, 2013 / 62(50);1026-1028

On July 30, 2012, the emergency department at a military hospital was visited by 13 persons seeking care for gastrointestinal illness with onset 2–3 hours after a work lunch party. The hospital responded by opening up temporary evaluation and treatment capacity in primary-care clinics and a progressive-care unit and by diverting one patient to a local civilian hospital. An immediate outbreak investigation was conducted by local military public health personnel with assistance from CDC. Initial epidemiologic analysis implicated "perlo" (a chicken, sausage, and rice dish) and bacterial intoxication as the outbreak mechanism. This enabled public health personnel to 1) recommend no further consumption of perlo and 2) reassure appropriate authorities that no additional ill persons likely would be seeking care and advise that nothing more than supportive care of ill persons likely would be required. After interviewing party attendees, investigators found nine additional persons who met their case definition. Subsequent CDC laboratory analysis of a sample of perlo detected staphylococcal enterotoxin A, supporting the epidemiologic findings. Improper food handling and preparation measures were identified and addressed by the appropriate authorities, who provided additional detailed education on food preparation safety for the persons who prepared the meal.

Epidemiologic and Environmental Investigation

Consumer Reports Chicken Report - Fear your chicken or Cook your chicken

Consumer Reports has just released a report on the safety of chicken, “The High Cost of Cheap Chicken”. This report is bound to get a lot of airplay.

There is little dispute over the fact that chicken can contain pathogenic bacteria…in fact, USDA on-going testing shows similar numbers. And while this report deals out some harsh treatment of your common grocery store chickens, it is important to note that even small farmed raised chicken can have pathogenic bacteria. In the Penn State study by Dr. Cutter and Josh Scheinberg where farmers’ market chicken were found to have a high prevalence of pathogens .

The CR report does point out good information: 1) no type/brand of chicken tested was really any better than any other in terms of the prevalence of pathogenic bacteria, and 2) that it is important for people to properly handle and prepare their poultry. This includes cleaning of surfaces that may have come in contact with raw poultry or their juices and that poultry be properly cooked to a temperature of 165ºF or higher.

But in this report, as well as in the mass media reports that followed, there is there over-the-top titles or commentary that will cause confusion among consumers. In the Chicago Tribune, there is “Superbug bacteria widespread in U.S. chicken: consumer group” and in Huffington Post, “Half of Supermarket Chicken Harbors Superbugs, Consumer Reports Finds”. Superbugs in my chicken…OMG!. The term ‘superbug’ is a loosely used term that generally is applied to organisms that are resistant to multi-antibiotics. The biggest concern for multi-antibiotic resistance organisms is in hospitals, where they can cause severe infections especially during surgery. But many of these species have not been shown to be a concern in food, outside of Salmonella. Antibiotic resistance is nothing new….it has been found in microorganisms that have never been exposed to antibiotics, so superbug status could have been applied to organisms long before antibiotics were used by people. And just having resistance to a few antibiotics is not as important as to which antibiotics the organisms are resistant. So the study, which is not a scientifically peer reviewed research (as far as we can tell), does not provide detail on these particulars, but rather throws out a generalized number that is latched on by the media without providing any qualifiers. So this nebulous term ‘superbug’ used in these reports does not advance the understanding of the general public, but rather serves to grab headlines through fear.

This is not to say that antibiotics should be used judiciously for animals. In fact the FDA is looking to put tougher restrictions on antibiotic use in food producing animals. As many farmers will point out however, antibiotic use is a lot lower than portrayed in the news media.

So yes, chicken can contain pathogenic bacteria. That is why it is important to properly handle it as well as cook it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Deer hunters, be sure downed animal was healthy before eating venison

November 22, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Food-safety specialists with Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences annually issue warnings to deer hunters to keep food safety in mind if they are fortunate enough to get a buck or a doe, and this fall is no exception.

However, this year because of the discovery of chronic wasting disease in wild Pennsylvania deer, they are cautioning hunters to be sure their animal appears healthy.

Chronic wasting disease -- often called CWD -- is a chronic, degenerative neurological disease affecting the central nervous system of animals such as deer and elk. The disease has been moving east in recent decades.

"In the past year, three free-ranging deer harvested by hunters in Blair and Bedford counties were found to have the disease," said Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate in the college's Department of Food Science. "While there is no evidence that supports CWD being linked to human illness, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does recommend against eating meat from deer infected with the disease."

Bucknavage noted that it is best to take precautions, such as making sure the deer you killed appears to have been healthy, and to follow best practices for handling and processing deer, such as wearing rubber gloves and minimizing contact with brain and spinal cord material.

"While the risk of CWD is very low, hunters need to focus on the overall safety of the meat. This starts from the time the deer is downed until it is processed and cooked for eating," he said.

"Each year we hear stories of people who get sick a day or two after getting a deer, most often from cross contamination, the result of not handling the raw meat properly."

Bucknavage urges hunters to do the following:

-- Carry a pair of rubber gloves with you when hunting and then be sure to wear them when field dressing the deer.

Deer carry pathogenic bacteria, and so precautions are needed to prevent cross contamination, he pointed out. "Whether you get blood on your hands or clothes or not, be sure to wash thoroughly in soap and water after handling the carcass or the meat."

-- Eviscerate the animal as soon as possible. This helps the carcass dissipate heat and removes internal organs where spoilage can occur more quickly.

Be sure to avoid cutting into the internal organs, especially the intestines. There are large numbers of bacteria -- including pathogenic bacteria -- in the intestines. "Tie off the anus," he said. "This can be done with a string or rubber band."

-- Evaluate the internal organs of the deer during field dressing. If any of the internal organs smell unusually offensive, or if there is a greenish discharge, black blood or blood clots in the muscle, do not consume the meat.

"If you kill a deer and question the safety and quality of the meat, immediately contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission," Bucknavage said. "The agency has policies for authorizing an additional kill."

-- The brain, spinal cord, spinal column and lymph nodes of deer are considered high risk for CWD, so avoid cutting into those tissue when butchering. If possible, hang deer by hind legs with head down when aging or butchering.

"Most cattle and livestock processed in this country are hung with the head down," Bucknavage said. "That prevents brain and spinal fluids from contacting the meat."

-- Remove all visible hair, dirt, feces and bloodshot areas from the internal cavity. Wipe the inside of the body cavity with a dry cloth or paper towel. If you rinse the cavity, be sure to dry thoroughly. Excess moisture will encourage bacterial growth.

-- Be sure to clean residues from knives and equipment, then sanitize with a chlorine bleach solution. It is wise to carry sanitary wipes with you to clean knives in the field.

If the outside temperature is greater than 40 Fahrenheit (F), you can help to chill the carcass by inserting plastic bags of ice or snow into the body cavity. Once out of the field, get the carcass into a cooler or refrigerator as soon as you can. If the temperature is below 40 F, prop open the cavity with sticks to promote cooling.

Don't tie the deer to the hood of your car. This will serve only to heat the carcass.

Because of the possibility of pathogens on the meat, such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, it is important to properly cook the meat to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees F or higher before eating.

The USDA guidelines are available online through Penn State's Food Safety website. The Department of Food Science offers hunters a wealth of information on the preparation of wild game from the field to the table.

The Field Dressing Deer Pocket Guide explains how to field-dress a deer safely. Extensively illustrated in full color, it explains the process of field dressing and also covers important food-safety information for hunters. See it online.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Updates on Sliced Apple Recall, Jensen Brother Lawsuit against Auditors, and Foster Farm Salmonella Outbreak

Here are some quick updates of food safety issues of ongoing food safety issues.

Sliced Apple Recall Due to Listeria - As reported by the Packer (link/story below) FDA did not find any deficiencies at the sliced apple facility that produced the pack of apple slices that tested positive for Listeria. Further, samples taken by FDA and the state were all negative. This indicated either a very low level contamination on the product. Or, should it be considered that there was the potential for lab error at the state lab?
Jenson brothers and Lawsuit Against Auditing Firm – The Packer (link/story below) is reporting that the Jensen’s have signed over a lawsuit they filed against Primus Labs to the victims. It is probably easier for the victims to extract money from the auditing firm that it is for the convicted brothers.

Foster Farms outbreak of Salmonella – CDC is reporting (link/story below) that as of November 15, 2013, a total of 389 persons infected with seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 23 states and Puerto Rico. USDA did not push for the company to conduct a recall.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Don't overlook safe turkey-handling practices for a happy holiday

Penn State News - November 20, 2013

 UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Thanksgiving is a time for sharing: good food, family time, friendship and memories. But one thing you don't want to share, warns a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, is pathogenic bacteria.

"As you prepare your Thanksgiving dinner, it is important to remember some key food-safety rules when it comes to cooking and serving turkey," said Martin Bucknavage, extension food-safety specialist. "We don't want to spread pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter."
He offers some advice to keep cooks, helpers and guests safe when preparing a turkey:

--There is no need to wash the outside of your turkey. Proper cooking will take care of any pathogenic bacteria that may be present.

"The only thing you will achieve by washing the outside of the turkey is spreading bacteria in your kitchen. This can occur as the water splashes or drips across your kitchen counter, potentially carrying bacteria with it," Bucknavage said.

--Clean as you go when handling raw turkey.

"As people move the raw turkey around in the kitchen, they treat it more like a football than a raw piece of meat, in that it touches a lot of surfaces including the hands," he said. "Because of this, there is the potential to get pathogenic bacteria on our hands, on the counter and on the cutting board. Therefore, clean these surfaces immediately after coming in contact with the raw bird."

-- Cook it to the right temperature. UDSA suggests that the bird gets to at least 165 F, (best if over 172 F for chewing). So Bucknavage recommends the use of a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

"Check the temperature of the bird in a number of spots, including the breast meat and the thickest part of the thigh," he said. "Allow time for further cooking if the temperature is not met."

-- Cook your stuffing separately. If you stuff the bird, the temperature of the stuffing must also get to 165 F.

"In order to get the stuffing to the right temperature, the bird will reach much higher temperatures, often over 185 F, making it very dry. Too often, people will stop cooking once the bird is at the right temperature, but unfortunately, they end up having undercooked stuffing," Bucknavage said.

"Because this stuffing was inside the raw bird, it absorbed turkey juice potentially carrying pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. Undercooking the stuffing lets those bacteria survive. It is much better, and safer, to cook them separately. You will get the right temperature in the turkey without having to overcook it, and you'll get the right temperature in the stuffing."

If you want the look of a stuffed turkey on your table, stuff it before serving, after both have been properly cooked, he advised.

-- Handle leftovers immediately after dinner. Do not allow the turkey to sit on the table for hours after everyone is done eating.

"Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus can grow on meat items if left out for a long period of time," Bucknavage said. "To prevent that from occurring, it is important to handle leftovers right away. Cut up the turkey, put it in a container or sealable bag, and then refrigerate or freeze."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sliced Apples Recalled Due to Potential for Listeria After State Lab Finds Positive Sample

A Washington state company is recalling sliced apples due to the potential for Listeria contamination. The contamination was discovered by testing conducted by Minnesota Health Department. A sample tested was found to be positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

There have been no know Listeria outbreaks associated with sliced apples, however sliced apple product had been recalled in the 2012. Perhaps this is why MN Dept. of Health decided to pull this sample…perhaps it was just somebody pulling samples. Was the level of contamination significant? Studies have shown that Listeria can survive on apples and that it has grown on sliced apples when that product was temperature abused.

How we view risk of an item may not be constant over time.  This was the case with cantaloupes, where Listeria was probably not on the radar of those conducting a risk analysis, until the Jensen related outbreak in 2011. And so now for companies packing fresh apple slice, they too will need to include Listeria as part of their hazard analysis, and with this, they will need to implement environmental control measures in the processing environment.

The Packer
Crunch Pak recalls apple slices

 11/15/2013 10:10:00 AM  Coral Beach

Possible listeria contamination spurred Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash., to voluntarily recall almost 5,500 cases of apple slices that had been distributed nationwide.

A random sample of a 14-ounce package of Crunch Pak brand Tart Apple Slices that was collected by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture tested positive for listeria monocytogenes, according to Crunch Pak spokeswoman Amy Philpott.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

FDA Issues 2013 Food Code

The FDA issued the new 2013 Food Code, the model for handling and preparation of food offered to consumers. This model establishes the most up-to-date food safety practices based on current scientific thinking The Food Code applies to retail and foodservice operations and the agencies who inspect those facilities. The food code is adopted in full or in part the states and local jurisdictions in developing their own regulations. Pennsylvania adopts the entire Food Code as it is updated. The Food Code is also used by the food processing industry in that it provides support documentation for practices used within FDA food operations (cooking, cooling, etc). Click here for summary of changes.

There are only a few significant changes from the 2009 version, however there are many minor changes that update the language of the previous version.

  • Language changes include:
o PHF or Potentially Hazardous Food is now Temperature Control for Safety Food (TCS), and the Potentially Hazardous Foods is completely eliminated.
o Defines Shiga Toxin Producing E. coli (STEC) to include all E. coli that are capable of producing Shiga toxin. 
  • One of the biggest changes is the inclusion of non-typhoidal Salmonella in the list of reportable illnesses. In the past versions, from all the Salmonella species, only the highly contagious Salmonella typhi was considered in the list. So now all species of Salmonella that cause illness are reportable, and thus require to be addressed in employee health controls (exclusion from the operation, return to work requirements, etc). (In Annex 3 – Table 2-20112 provides a table on exclusion and return to work for this and the other reportable pathogens).
  • A section was added to provide provisions for refilling containers brought from home from refill. (Of course, this would cover the refilling of growlers).
  • Section 3-501.11 requires that frozen fish package in ROP packaging be removed from that packaging PRIOR to starting the thawing process.
  • With regard to ROP packaging - All TCS foods packaged in ROP packaging require a HACCP plan, but only TCS food that is ROP packaged that do not control for growth of and toxin formation by C. botulinum and growth of Listeria monocytogenes needs a variance. Note that ROP packed non-TCS foods are not included (so if one is vacuum packing hard candy or dried beans, no requirement for a HACCP plan...outside of FSMA).
  • More on ROP Packaging - Section 3-502-12 Reduced Oxygen Packaging without a Variance – Criteria - this whole section discusses ROP packaging and should be referenced by anyone who is planning to vacuum pack product. Additional support information is provided in Annex 3 - Section 3-502-12 . Along with 3-502-12, section 8-201.14 requires the permit holder to submit a properly prepared HACCP plan before engaging in processing Reduced Oxygen Packaging foods.
In FDA's Constituent Update, there post some additional changes.
These include
  • Restaurants and food stores must post signs notifying their customers that inspection information is available for review.
  • Revisions to the minimum cooking temperatures associated with procedures such as non-continuous cooking and circumstances under which bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods is permitted.
  • Stronger requirements for cleaning and sanitizing equipment used in preparing raw foods that are major food allergens.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Baby Food Pouches Recalled Due to Spoilage Issues

Plum Organics, a California company, is recalling its baby food pouch products due to the spoilage issues. The reason for the spoilage was blamed on a manufacturing issue and resulted in swollen pouches. The product has national distribution including distribution through outlets such as Target. 

While this is not claimed to be a pathogen issue, eating spoiled product can still result in gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea, stomach pain, etc), which can be especially troublesome in infants and preschool-aged children. 

Looking at the variety of products in pouches, there may be some difficulty in determining which pouches are affected. Click here for a listing / pictures of the affected products.

The company also issued a recall in 2009 when it was determined the proper acidity was not achieved thus resulting in a Clostridium botulinum risk. 

Plum organics is a subsidiary of Campbell Soup Company.

FDA News Release
Plum Organics Voluntarily Recalls a Range of Pouch Products

Plum Organics Consumer Hotline:

Kara Flynn
Plum Organics

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE —November 8, 2013 – Plum Organics is voluntarily recalling pouch products within its Baby Stage 2, Tots Mish Mash and Kids lines after discovering a manufacturing defect that may cause spoilage in some pouches. Recalled products can be identified by the “Best By” dates ranging from 08/05/14 to 12/08/14 and the letters “AT.” Consumers can find a list of affected products at

RTE Salad and Sandwich Wrap Products Recalled Due to Potenial Link with an E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak

UPDATE 11/13/13 - From CDC (below), as of 11/10/13, there are a total of 26 cases of people infected with E. coli O157:H7 with 2 cases of HUS.  Traceback analysis conducted by government agencies indicates that Field Fresh Chopped Salad with Chicken and Mexicali Salad with Chili Lime Chicken produced by Glass Onion and sold by Trader Joe's is the likely source.

Initial Report 11/11/13
USDA and FDA are reporting that a California company is recalling approximately 180,000 lbs of ready-to-eat salad and sandwich wrap products due to being linked to an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak (news releases below). FDA and CA Dept of Health have identified a cluster of 26 cases of E.coli infection where patients had consumed pre-packaged items produced by Glass Onion Catering / Atherstone Foods. The recalled product was produced from Sept 29 through Nov 6. This product was shipped to distribution centers in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Texas. This company co-packed product for brands including Trader Joe's and Super Fresh which are included in the recall.  Retailers included Walgreen and Whole Foods.
A few interesting items to note:
  •  The company produces salad items with and without chicken. E. coli O157:H7 has not been an issue with chicken. Produce items have been linked to E. coli outbreaks in the past (including the 2007 spinach outbreak). The question regarding the chicken is whether they were they cooking their own chicken or was the chicken purchase precooked from another company that could have handled other meat products. Also, the recall was issued based upon an epidemiological field investigation that showed a high correlation to consumption of this company’s product, but at this point, there has not been test positive product samples with the pathogen.
  • Glass Onion Catering is a growing business, recently expanding operations, purchasing and retrofitting a 42,500 sq ft facility in 2011, so have only been producing from that facility within the last year or two. The facility was previously owned by a manufacturer of paper rolls (non-food). It will be interesting to see if facility issues had any impact in light of the fact that the operation was retrofitted for food production. Along with moving into a new facility, there is also the rapid expansion in the operation to meet a growing market. When small companies rapidly increase production volume, such as when they pick-up national accounts (in this case, Trader Joe's), an important question is whether they have the necessary systems in place to control quality and ensure safety?
  • As for Trader Joe's, here again we have another small co-packing facility (Glass Onion) whose food safety issues have impacted the Trader Joe's brand. Two previous issues where co-packers have negatively impacted the Trader Joe’s brand were peanut butter with Salmonella and frozen chicken dinners with Listeria. While many retailers, including Trader Joe’s, have a model for finding those unique products made by small companies and then bringing those products to a larger market, there can be increased risk to their brand if these smaller companies have a food safety issue.

CDC News Release
Posted November 12, 2013 7:00 PM ET
  • As of November 10, 2013, a total of 26 persons infected with the outbreak strain of STEC O157:H7 have been reported from three states.
  • The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Arizona (1), California (22), and Washington (3).
  • 28% of ill persons have been hospitalized. Two ill persons have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and no deaths have been reported.
  • The STEC O157:H7 PFGE pattern in this outbreak is new to the PulseNet database.
  • Epidemiologic and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicate that consumption of two ready-to-eat salads, Field Fresh Chopped Salad with Grilled Chicken and Mexicali Salad with Chili Lime Chicken, produced by Glass Onion Catering and sold at Trader Joe’s grocery store locations, are one likely source of this outbreak of STEC O157:H7 infections.
  • On November 10, 2013, Glass Onion Catering voluntarily recalled numerous ready-to-eat salads and sandwich wrap products that may be contaminated with STEC O157:H7.
  • Read the list of recalled products regulated by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
  • Read the list of recalled products regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Consumers should check their homes and refrigerators for recalled ready-to-eat salad products and wraps.
  • Do not eat the recalled products and dispose of any remaining product.
  • People who have eaten a recalled product should look for signs of STEC infection.


USDA News Release
 California Firm Recalls Grilled Chicken Salad Products Due To Possible E. Coli O157:H7 Contamination
Class I Recall 065-2013
Health Risk: High Nov 10, 2013
Congressional and Public Affairs
Richard J. McIntire
(202) 720-9113
WASHINGTON, November 10, 2013 – Glass Onion Catering, a Richmond, Calif. establishment, is recalling approximately 181,620 pounds of ready-to-eat salads and sandwich wrap products with fully-cooked chicken and ham that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

FDA Issues Risk Analysis of Spices and the Related News Stories from the Mass Media

With the release of FDA’s Risk Analysis of Imported Spices document, the vast majority of news outlets released similar eye catching headlines stating ‘12% of Imported Spice Contaminated’.

Should consumers worry when they are putting pepper on their hamburger, pizza, or as for me, everything – NO, there is essentially no risk when purchasing branded spices from the grocery store.

From a consumer standpoint, are these news articles misleading? – while it is correct in that imported spices sampled by FDA do have contaminates, it is misleading in that FDA was evaluating spices at the point of entry and not at spices at the supermarket. The branded spices that the consumer purchases has been treated and then tested for safety by processors such as McCormick. 

The FDA data was based on bulk imported product at the point of entry. Companies purchasing these products for sale will treat before packaging. As posted on McCormick’s website as well as detailed in the NPR piece below, McCormick who has been importing spices for more than a century, has had little to no issues. This is spice companies, including McCormick, clean and treat their spices to eliminate pathogens such as Salmonella. Then those spices are extensively tested to verify safety.

But the report poses an important risk to consider for food companies who are directly importing spices, especially for use in applications where these spices are applied to RTE product without any further processing. In these cases, spices treated oversees may not have the level of safety needed for application, especially in to RTE applications – whether the foreign supplier does not adequately treat/clean the spice, or the spice is contaminated after treatment. Foodborne disease outbreaks have occurred in a few instances when food companies have used contaminated imported spices on RTE spices. They failed to verify safety of those spices before using. Examples – salami with Salmonella contaminated pepper and snack chips with a contaminated seasoning.

Washington Post
Filth taints 12 percent of imported food spices, FDA reports

By Anna Edney and Bloomberg News, Published: November 4

Insect fragments and animal hairs taint 12 percent of imported spices, the Food and Drug Administration said last week.

The FDA said it looked at the safety of spices after outbreaks of illness involving the seasonings. The agency also found pathogens in the spices, including salmonella, and suggested that the spice industry look at training that stresses preventive controls.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reser's Expands Salad Recall Again

Reser’s is again expanding its recall of refrigerated salad items due to the potential for Listeria contamination to include products made up include product made between Oct 10 and Oct 25,. The initial recall on October 23rd/26th, included product made between Sept 5 and Oct. 9.

Both FDA and USDA issued recalls in the the responsible plant in Kansas is a dual jurisdiction facility (having both FDA and USDA related products). Affected brands include Safeway, Sysco, US Food Service, and Walmart, and encompass both retail and foodservice sizes. 

Like other recalls, there seems to be this ever on-going reissuance of the recall to include additional product. In defining the time limits of what production dates should be included in this recall, initially there must have been sufficient evidence to say after October 9th, conditions were different that would have prevented contamination on product made on October 10th and after. Was something found that refuted that and thus additional product also posed a risk…or was the decision based upon other factors? Regardless, continual reissuance of the recall had kept the company’s negative issue in the news.

USDA Recall Notice
Kansas Firm Recalls Chicken, Ham and Beef Products Due To Potential Listeria Monocytogenes Contamination

Class I Recall 059-2013
Health Risk: High Nov 4, 2013
Distribution List PDF

WASHINGTON, Nov. 04, 2013 – Reser’s Fine Foods, a Topeka, Kan. establishment, is expanding its recall of chicken, ham and beef products to include all products produced between Oct. 10 and Oct. 25, 2013. The company previously expanded its recall on Oct. 26, 2013, to include product produced between Sept. 5 and Oct. 9, 2013. This is in addition to the 22,800 pounds of product recalled on Oct. 22, 2013. The products are being recalled due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The company announced that these products are being recalled in conjunction with other foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A full list of products being recalled in this expansion can be found on FDA’s website here. Products regulated by FSIS bear the establishment number “EST. 13520” or “P-13520” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Only products made at the Topeka, Kansas salad facility, also designated by the plant code #20 after the code date “Use By Nov 03 13 #20” are affected by this recall. No other Reser’s facilities are involved in this action.

USDA Product Recall List This release is being reissued to reflect additional products produced on dates not included in the Oct. 22, 2013, or Oct. 26, 2013, releases.
FDA Product List

The products were distributed to retailers and distributors nationwide.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Children become infected with E. coli at a farms petting zoo

Three children, ages 15 months to 7 years, are ill from E. coli O157:H7 contracted through contact with farm animals at a pumpkin patch in MN. One of the children has been hospitalized with HUS, a very serious condition. Dehns Family Farm and Pumpkin Patch ( is your typical family farm that offers hay rides, a corn maze, wine tasting, and a small petting zoo with farm animals.

As we know, STEC E. coli, as well as other enteric pathogens such as Salmonella, can get onto the hides of farm animals such as cows, sheep, and goats, and these contaminants can be transferred to kids hands. Of course, when kids don’t wash their hands afterwards, those children can become contaminated during eating or just sticking their hands in their mouths.

Farms take on considerable risk when they provide this activity for children. CDC has a webpage and a detailed booklet that provides information on preventing such contamination events. Farms and other organizations should review these before considering whether to hold these animal interactive events such as petting zoos. In this case, the lawsuits are on the way. A hell of a way to lose the farm.

Minnesota Depatment of Health News Release
October 26, 2013

Health officials investigate E. coli O157 infections at pumpkin patch petting zoo

Three cases confirmed so far

Three Minnesota residents have become ill with confirmed E. coli O157:H7 infections after contact with animals at Dehn's Pumpkins in Dayton, MN, the Minnesota Department of Health reported today.

The three cases were all children, ranging in age from 15 months to 7 years and are residents of the Twin Cities metro area. One child is hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of an E. coli infection characterized by kidney failure. The others were not hospitalized and are recovering. Routine monitoring by the health department identified the E. coli O157:H7 cases, which all have bacterial isolates with the same DNA fingerprint. These cases visited the farm on October 12 or 13, and became ill on October 16 or 18.

The Minnesota Department of Health is in the process of following up with any groups that visited the farm in order to help determine if more people have become ill. At this time, two additional people have reported symptoms consistent with E. coli O157:H7 infection and are currently being tested. These people visited Dehn's on October 18, raising concern that exposures also could have occurred after the weekend of October 12-13.

All of the cases reported having contact with cattle and/or goats at Dehn's. The farm owners have been cooperating fully with the investigation and public access to the cattle and goat areas is being prohibited. The rest of the farm, including the pumpkin patch, remains open for business.

E. coli O157:H7 is commonly found in ruminant animals such as cattle and goats, and this type of exposure is not unique to Dehn's Pumpkins. Outbreaks associated with contact with farm animals are documented virtually every year in Minnesota. Therefore, people who contact ruminants at any venue, public or private, are at risk for infection with E. coli O157:H7, as well as a variety of other germs. People typically become ill from contact with farm animals or their environment by getting bits of feces on their hands after touching the animals or contaminated surfaces, then swallowing the germs while eating, drinking or during other hand-to-mouth activities. Contamination can be present on the fur or in the saliva of animals, on the ground where the animals are kept, or on surfaces such as fence railings of animal pens.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Another recall of salad products due to the potential for Listeria

A Massachusetts manufacturer is recalling a variety of chicken salads due to the potential to contain Listeria. The contamination was found through testing conducted by New Hampshire and Massachusetts Public Health Departments. No illnesses were reported. The containers were primarily foodservice sized units. Distribution is limited to NH and MA.

This is the second recall announced within the last week for these salad based products, the other being the Reser’s recall

In September, Garden Fresh of Wisconsin also issued a recall for similar products (chicken and ham salads) .  On 10/25/13, that recall was expanded to include 103,000 additional pounds.

These items are problematic for two reasons…the amount of processing after the cooking step (chopping / slicing / blending) and the fact the products are stored and shipped refrigerated with presumably a long shelf-life. So if Listeria is there, the potential exists for the organism to grow at refrigeration temperatures during storage.

Many of us love those types of products – especially chicken and potato salad - but with these recalls, I think I will be searching out ‘freshly made’.

USDA Recall Notice
Massachusetts Firm Recalls USDA-Regulated Ready-To-Eat Products for Possible Listeria Contamination
Class I Recall 061-2013
Health Risk: High Oct 24, 2013

En Español

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2013 – Boston Salads and Provisions Company, Inc., a Boston, Mass., establishment, is recalling approximately 222,959 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken salad products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The products were produced between Aug. 23, 2013, and Oct. 14, 2013, and shipped to wholesalers for further distribution to retail locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The products subject to recall include: [label]
Complete List of Products

Sunland Foods, producer of contaminated peanut butter, goes out of business

Sunland Foods, the NM producer of organic peanut butter that was responsible for 42 cases of Salmonella in 20 states, closed its doors and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The financial costs of the peanut butter recall in conjunction with an FDA mandated shutdown (as part of FDA’s new powers granted them by FSMA) . The shutdown came after an FDA investigation that had some very troubling findings.

The recall began in September of 2012 when Trader Joe’s peanut butter was linked to a number of salmonellosis cases. While the company began some operations in January, 2013, it was not allowed to resume production of ready-to-eat items until May of 2013.
The insurance carrier for Sunland, is suing Sunland to get out its obligation for covering lawsuits that resulted from the contamination event.


Las Vegas Sun
NM peanut butter plant closes, files for Chapter 7
The Associated Press
Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 | 12:05 a.m.

An eastern New Mexico peanut butter plant involved in a nationwide salmonella outbreak last year has closed its doors and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Update on Cyclospora outbreak in produce

In August, CDC had reported a Cyclospora outbreak in the US that affected over 600 and indicated that it was actually two different cases, one centered in Iowa and Nebraska, and the other centered in Texas. ( The CDC has updated their information regarding the second case. While the outbreak in Iowa and Nebraska was linked to contaminated bagged lettuce produced by the Mexican subsidiary of Taylor Farms, the second case is being linked to Mexican cilantro, but no company has been identified at this point. In all, there were approximately 643 illnesses in 25 states.

CDC Outbreak Update
Investigation of an Outbreak of Cyclosporiasis in the United States
Cyclospora cayetanensis is a single-celled parasite that causes an intestinal infection called cyclosporiasis.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reser's Recalls Salad Items Due to the Potential for Listeria Contamination

Update 10/26/13
Reser's is expanding the recall of chicken, ham and beef products to include all products produced between Sept 5 and Oct 9, 2013 in the Topeka KS facility.

Reser’s Fine Foods is recalling over 100,000 cases of refrigerated salads (including potato salad, cole slaw, pasta salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, and ham salad) as well as dips due to the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. There have been no reported illnesses, the contamination was discovered by testing conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and from the USDA news release, it appears that FDA confirmed the presence of the pathogen on food contact surfaces in the manufacturing facility. The facility is located in Topeka, Kansas. Product was distributed in 27 different states.

The products were packaged under a number of brand names, and based on the package size, it appears that most of this product is destined for the food service / institutional channel. So if this is the case, there will be further handling by these foodservice providers and thus the potential for additional cross contamination issues within those operations. This is especially troublesome if these foodservice providers cater to high risk groups (elderly care facilities, etc).

FDA Recall Notice
Reser’s Fine Foods, Inc. Recalls Refrigerated Ready-to-Eat Products Due to Potential Health Risk

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 22, 2013 - Reser’s Fine Foods of Beaverton, Oregon is recalling approximately 109,000 cases of refrigerated ready-to-eat products because it may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is an organism which can cause serious and sometime fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and individuals with weakened immune systems. Healthy people may suffer only short term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant woman.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Jensen brothers plead guilty, look to sue auditing firm

Two interesting stories in The Packer (below) – the Jensen brothers arrested as part of the outbreak related to Listeria in cantaloupes (, plan to plead guilty to the charges. Additionally, they are looking to sue the auditing firm who gave them a 96 out of 100. 

The last point is interesting in that they are basically looking to blame the firm for not giving them a harder audit, and for mot have a complete understanding their entire process. I wonder if the auditing firm was involved when they made the decision to use a potato washer for cleaning and cooling cantaloupes….probably not. As we say, 3rd party audits are snapshots of the operation, but are not designed to do microbiological evaluations of an operation unless there are blatant issues. Processors need to know their processes better than the inspectors, and if they are relying on inspectors to tell them how to process, they need not to be in business.

Costco issuing a recall for cooked Foster Farms chicken

Costco is recalling over 20,000 units of rotisserie cooked chicken product because the product may have been connected to some of the illnesses related to the Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak. While Costco reports to cook chicken to 180ºF, investigators are suggesting that cross contamination may be the issue.

The number of illnesses related to Foster Farms contaminated with Salmonella is now reported to be 317 cases Foster Farms has not yet conducted a recall. Some are predicting that this may face higher liabilities due to their inaction. It has already had an impact on their sales. FSIS did issue an FAQ (included below), but it would have been nice if they specifically answered the question why they did not request a recall.

This will be an interesting case to follow in that Costco has issued a recall, but Foster Farms has not.

USDA News Release

California Wholesale Store Recalls Rotisserie Chicken Products Due To Possible Salmonella Contamination

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2013 – Costco’s El Camino Real store in San Francisco, Calif., is recalling an additional 14,093 units of rotisserie chicken products that may be contaminated with a strain of Salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today. This is in addition to the 9,043 units that were recalled on Oct. 12.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Alert issued on raw chicken after 278 cases of salmonellosis

FSIS issued a public health alert on Foster Farm raw chicken after the chicken had been associated with 278 cases of salmonellosis. A recall was not issued in that FSIS is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period. Products were distributed on the west coast (CA, WA, and OR), with illnesses in some 18 sates.
Of course, properly cooking chicken (to 165ºF) as well as handling in a way that would prevent cross contamination would prevent foodborne illness. But we cannot blame the consumer. Reading through the comments section of each of news outlet’s articles, we can find a number of different people to blame.
  • Congress - for furloughing government workers (although USDA inspectors are still on the job and this outbreak began months ago.
  • Meat eaters – if people didn’t eat meat, they wouldn’t get Salmonella from chickens, except if we kept the chickens as pets.
  • USDA – If they did their job, Salmonella would simply not exist on chickens. Although USDA has worked with processors for years, dropping the incident rate over the past few decades, Salmonella is still present although at a much lower incident rate (See graph below).
  • The Industrial Processor – growing chicken in cramp quarters, washing them in chlorine baths, ,etc, is bound to have more Salmonella than that raised by the local farmers. Although work done here at Penn State found that it is probably not the case. (Story below or link at
 Certainly, poultry processors do want to ensure that the levels of Salmonella are as low as possible to help ensure that small mistakes made by consumers is less likely to result in foodborne illness.
USDA News Release
 FSIS Issues Public Health Alert for Chicken Products Produced at Three Foster Farms Facilities

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Park Doctrine and Jensen Farms

Many were surprised by the recent arrest of the Jensen Farm’s owners for selling Listeria contaminated cantaloupes that caused 33 deaths ( Introducing the Park Doctrine. All responsible company officials, whether their company is manufacturing food items OR distributing food items manufactured by someone else, should be aware of the implications. 

 From the FDA Law Blog – Feb 2, 2011 (reference below):
“… a corporate official can be convicted of a misdemeanor based solely on his position of responsibility and control to prevent the underlying violation of the FDCA. There is no requirement that the official acted personally in the wrongdoing, or that he even had knowledge of it. The Supreme Court determined that the FDCA “imposes not only a positive duty to seek out and remedy violations when they occur but also, and primarily, a duty to implement measures that will insure that violations will not occur.” Park, 421 U.S. at 672.”
 This is not limited to the processors, but to those who utilize contract manufacturers. From the FDA Law Blog – May 28, 2013 (reference below):
“The letters cite Park and Dotterweich to support the legal theory that a distributor that uses contract manufacturers or labelers may be liable (or convictable) for Current Good Manufacturing Practice ("CGMP") violations by its contractors.”

This is different than the PCA Peanut Butter cases, where officials knew they were shipping contaminated product. As seen in the Jensen case, it is more of a point that they should have known and taken preventive actions.

FDA Law Blog

February 06, 2011

FDA Finally Releases “Non-binding” Park Doctrine Criteria

By Anne K. Walsh

Eleven months after telling Senator Grassley (in a letter available here) that “[c]riteria now have been developed for consideration in selection of misdemeanor prosecution cases and will be incorporated into the revised policies and procedures that cover appropriate use of misdemeanor prosecutions,” FDA just last week finally released those criteria. The idea behind such criteria is to increase misdemeanor prosecutions against corporate officials under the Park doctrine. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Jenson Brothers, Growers of Tainted Canteloupes, Arrested

The Jensen brothers, owners of the farm that grew and packed the Listeria tainted cantaloupes which were responsible for killing 33, have been arrested and now face jail time for the incident. This is in addition to having their farm go bankrupt, one owned by the family for generations. 

This case is a huge deal for all food operations in that owners/managers are facing prison for a foodborne outbreak. While all basically agree that there was no intent by the Jensen brothers, it is the fact that the shipped contaminated product from an operation with food safety lapses that have led to the misdemeanor charges, where intent is not a factor. The food safety lapses can be summed up”

1) They installed a potato washer to wash cantaloupes. It did not wash cantaloupes well, it did not cool them, and the equipment was not easy to clean. Because it was not easy to clean, it actually served as a source of contamination. By not cooling, the warmer temperatures provided better growing conditions for Listeria on the outside of the cantaloupe.

2) The chlorine sanitizer spray system was not operational.

The later point is worth noting. In certain applications, it is easy to overlook these microbial reduction interventions. Who knows, perhaps the location of the spray nozzles were located at a point where the chlorine would be quickly inactivated because of the solids on the cantaloupes, so they decided not to hook them up. 

It can be easy to look at a number of bacterial reduction interventions and wonder if there is a significant impact versus the cost of operating that intervention, or operating it at the level it should be operated. Or even maintaining the appropriate verification steps (checking concentration, conducing bacterial counts before and after) to ensure that the intervention is operating at that level it is supposed to be operating. 

So when the unfortunate event occurs, in this case one of the most deadly foodborne outbreaks in US history, investigators are going to look at everything - Is the process right for the products it is processing? Are the appropriate antimicrobial systems in place that are standard in the industry? Are the antimicrobials systems that are in place working, and are they operating at the right parameters? 

Companies need to use this case as a reason to review all processes, with specific attention to these antimicrobial interventions. If a system is in place, make sure it is working as it designed. If these systems are not operating, then either fix it. If they have been abandoned, then move it, replace it or remove it.

Note that these brothers are just farmers, one 37 years old, and the other 33. While the thought of jail time probably pales in comparison to the responsibility for 33 deaths, they probably wonder how some poor decisions led to where they are now.

United States Attorney’s Office – District of Colorado
New Release

Eric and Ryan Jensen charged with introducing tainted cantaloupe into interstate commerceFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 26, 2013

DENVER – Eric Jensen, age 37, and Ryan Jensen, age 33, brothers who owned and operated Jensen Farms, located in Granada, Colorado, presented themselves to U.S. Marshals in Denver today, where taken into custody on federal charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigation, United States Attorney John Walsh and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations Special Agent in Charge Patrick Holland announced. The Information charges the brothers with introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearance this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty. At that hearing they will be advised of their rights as well as the charges pending against them.

According to the six-count Information filed under restriction on September 24, 2013, as well as other court records, Eric and Ryan Jensen allegedly introduced adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce. Specifically, the cantaloupe bore a poisonous bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. The Information further states that the cantaloupe was prepared, packed and held under conditions which rendered it injurious to health.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Salad Items Recalled due to Potenial Listeria Contamination

Update 10/25/13 - Garden Fresh is expanding its recall

Garden Fresh Foods of Wisconsin is recalling various salad, slaw and dip items due to the potential for Listeria monocytogenes. The problem was discovered through product testing conducted by FDA.  To date, there have not been any reported illnesses.

Product was shipped nationally under various brand names: Market Pantry, Archer Farms (both Target brands), D’Amico and Sons, Finest Traditions, Garden Fresh and Weis.

This same company issued a recall back at the beginning of the month. This was a smaller recall, that for potato salad, but for the same reason – the potential for Listeria as well (link below). That was discovered through routine sampling. Being that occurred over three weeks ago, it would probably indicate the company was under increased scrutiny. And this may be why the latest recall notice indicated that the pathogen was discovered through testing done by FDA.

As we discuss many times, this is a reason for companies using co-packing operations to watch recall notices and consider strong action when their co-packer has an issue. It may not be your brand initially impacted or even the product you purchase, but in too many cases, we see these contamination events rapidly expand when FDA or USDA investigate smaller issues and find the troubled manufacturer has bigger issues that impact a broader set of products.

USDA Recall Alert
Wisconsin Firm Recalls Ready-To-Eat Chicken And Ham Products Due To Potential Listeria Monocytogenes Contamination
Class I Recall 055-2013

Health Risk: High Sep 25, 2013

Congressional and Public Affairs
Catherine Cochran
(202) 720-9113

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2013 – Garden Fresh Foods, a Milwaukee, Wisc.establishment, is recalling approximately 19,054 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and ham products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Overstating the Link of Antibiotic Resitant Bacteria in Animals to Humans

There has been a huge concern on the importance of antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella in domestic animals and their impact on humans.  In a comprehensive study conducted over a 22 year period that evaluated DNA variation, researchers have found that there is little cross-over from animals to humans and therefore domestic animals are unlikely to be a major source of antibiotic resistant Salmonella strains in humans.

“The team discovered that, contrary to much current thinking, the populations of Salmonella in humans and animals were distinguishable. They also found that the estimated number of times that the bacteria had jumped from animals to humans (and vice versa) was remarkably low. In addition, there was greater diversity in antibiotic resistance genes in salmonellae isolated from humans. Taken together, these findings suggest that the contribution of local animal populations to human infections with S. Typhimurium DT104 may previously have been overstated.”

The author of the study goes on to say “"This finding in no way undermines the importance of prudent antimicrobial use in all species. But our study does demonstrate that greater effort needs to be focused on understanding the natural history of the pathogens and on identifying the major sources of resistance in our global ecosystems."

With regard to our inability to completely comprehend why and where bacteria do what they do, Dr. Steve Goodfellow, a seasoned food microbiologist, liked to say that ‘bacteria don’t read the textbooks’.   I think we can also say that bacteria don’t follow stories put out by the news media either.

Contribution of Local Animal Populations to Human Salmonella Infections Overstated
Science Daily

Sep. 12, 2013 — A new study has shown that, contrary to popular belief, local domestic animals are unlikely to be the major source of antibiotic resistant Salmonella in humans. The result comes from a detailed study of DNA from more than 370 Salmonella samples collected over a 22-year period.

By studying the genetic variation in the Salmonella bacteria and their drug resistance genes, researchers found that distinguishable bacterial populations exist in human and animal populations living side by side. Antibiotic resistance is considered to be one of the most important dangers to human health, threatening to make many treatments to common infections ineffective. By comparing the genomes of Salmonella in humans and animals the researchers have provided important new insights into the likely sources and spread of antibiotic resistant infections. First, the Salmonella bacteria largely remained within their original host populations and second, there were more varied combinations of drug resistance in the human-infecting bacteria.

Salmonella infection is a global issue, with approximately 94 million people contracting gastroenteritis or food poisoning each year. The combined annual cost in the United States and European Union is estimated to be more than £4 billion ($6 billion). This public health issue is exacerbated further by antibiotic resistance, which can lead to more complicated and protracted illness in patients and increased treatment costs.

"For the first time we've determined in detail and on a large scale how Salmonella strains taken from humans and animals in the same setting and over the same time period relate to each other," says Dr Alison Mather, first author on the study, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "Our genomic data reveal how the Salmonella bacteria spread during the course of a long-term epidemic. We found that people have a more diverse source of infection and antibiotic resistance than just the local animals, pointing towards alternative sources."

The team sequenced DNA from 373 samples from humans and animals infected with Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 over a 22-year period, mainly from Scotland, but also from other countries. This is the largest study of its type; whole genome DNA sequencing delivers the highest level of resolution possible to examine how closely related the bacteria are, enabling the team to unravel the details of this epidemic.

The team discovered that, contrary to much current thinking, the populations of Salmonella in humans and animals were distinguishable. They also found that the estimated number of times that the bacteria had jumped from animals to humans (and vice versa) was remarkably low. In addition, there was greater diversity in antibiotic resistance genes in salmonellae isolated from humans. Taken together, these findings suggest that the contribution of local animal populations to human infections with S. Typhimurium DT104 may previously have been overstated.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Chobani Recalls Greek Yogurt Due to Quality Issues

Chobani is recalling its Greek Yogurt due to issues encountered by consumers, namely product bloating / swelling. News reports suggest the issue may be related to mold and that there may be some related illnesses.

Initially the company cited this as a quality issue and did not recall the product. But after public outcry and a solid media beat-down, the company issued a recall and ceased distribution of the product (Guardian article below).

Chobani pioneered Greek yogurt, and now controls 35% of the Greek yogurt market. And this market has taken a serious bite out of the traditional yogurt markets, now accounting for about 1/3 of the US yogurt market. Much of this is due to the products higher protein content compared to traditional yogurt (see the nice NY Times article below).

This issue and the lack of a firm response will certainly give the competitors a leg up. Especially when this company had such a ‘consumer oriented’ brand. We’ll need to watch how market share changes after this incident. This case is one of those hard lessons all food companies can learn from.

FDA News Release
Chobani, Inc. Voluntarily Recalls Greek Yogurt Because of Product Concerns

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 5, 2013 - Chobani, Inc., of Twin Falls, Idaho is voluntarily recalling Greek Yogurt.

The company has ceased the distribution of the product due to reports of product bloating and swelling and some claims of illness as the company continues its investigation to identify the root cause.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Let the Alarmism Begin on The Safety of Spices

Earlier this week, we commented on the New York Times report regarding an FDA study on the safety of spices ( . We indicated that there is essentially no risk for consumers when buying spices from the grocery store. Brand label spices are produced by reputable companies, such as McCormick, have extensive food safety systems in place that minimize the risk.

But unfortunately, major media outlets can’t help themselves from jumping on this study and spreading some fear. At least, the NY Times article’s title ‘Spices’ Link to Food Ills Prompts Changes in Farming’ wasn’t overly misleading. But from that article, other news outlets had their own spin in order to ‘one-up’ the other. Let’s take a look at these titles. 

From NPR, we have ‘ Your Kitchen Spices Can Often Harbor Salmonella’. The title suggests something that is completely inaccurate. Even the reader’s comments at the bottom of the article (you can connect to the link on the article below to read) indicate that these readers know that this is over-the-top fear mongering.

NPR is not the only one. LA Weekly has an article “Spices a Potent Source of Food Poisoning”. Not to be outdone MSN News has - Rumor: Common kitchen spices contain salmonella’ and goes on to state that this rumor is true. No it is not.

Certainly there have been a few incidents that contaminated spices have resulted in illnesses, but these were extremely isolated and due to unique circumstances. Going back to look at the original study, there are few things we can see in this FDA study which was published in Food Microbiology that warrant comment :

  • The sampling in the study primarily evaluated untreated spices which had a higher level of contamination…as we would expect. Will those spices be treated at some point during further processing….probably yes?
  • We don’t know the type of importer for the spices that were found positive. Were the major spice companies, or smaller importers? Companies with familiar brands names must protect those brands, and thus will have solid quality and safety programs including preventive control measures. But unfortunately, this study does not indicate they type of company. And the news articles then lump all spice companies together.

This is not to say that these companies representing major brands will not have the occasional issue, but they are few and far between. So as I put pepper on my pizza tonight, I will not worry about Salmonella contamination. Will you worry about the spices in your cabinet? Probably not.

The real take home from the FDA study is that companies who import spices need to have preventive controls in place to ensure the safety of those items.

Your Kitchen Spices Can Often Harbor Salmonella
by Nancy Shute
August 29, 2013 3:16 PM
NPR – The Salt

 Spice may be nice, but spices also can carry very bad bugs. About 7 percent of spices tested by Food and Drug Administration researchers were contaminated with salmonella, which can cause serious illness and death. Because of this finding and others, the FDA and international food safety organizations are putting more effort into how to reduce the risk.
A New York Times
article this week really brought the issue to everyone's attention. Here are some of the questions we've been asking about spices and salmonella here at The Salt:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Safety of Imported Foods - Spices and FSMA

A NY Times article released today (below with link) details the high contamination Salmonella rate of spices and the challenges that exist in importing products. Primarily, these spices are produced in tropical zones in ‘rustic’ conditions. Because of this, these items have a high risk of becoming contaminated with Salmonella (from birds, animal manure, reptiles, etc) and then, that organism can survive in these dried spices for months or longer.

Spices have been processed this way it has been since the time of the spice trade, thousands of years ago. But as consumers, do we generally worry about the safety of spices? Generally not. Companies that have been involved in buying and selling spices have secured their supply chains and where needed, have added interventions such as irradiation to eliminate these bacterial hazards. So there is no risk to the consumer, when you look at the vast quantities of spice consumed each day in this country.

This is not to say there have not been issues, but primarily those issues were linked to food companies using less than reliable sources for their spices. In the small number of cases where there have been issues, importers of spice did not have adequate control measures in place.

So what is the point of the NY Times article? It is directed at the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) component of FSMA. In this proposed regulation, emphasis is put on the companies who import food to ensure the safety of those foods. It defines the importer as the person in the US who has purchased the item, and in many cases, this can be the retailer or the distributor. 

The NY Times piece provides ammunition for those who feel that the federal government should have a heavier hand in determining the safety of those imported food items. This would necessitate a heavy testing program conducted by the government agencies at the border for incoming foods and having FDA inspectors inspect foreign companies.

With about 15% of the food consumed in this country being imported, it is not financially feasible to have FDA take on that responsibility. The concept proposed in FSVP is better…making companies responsible for the foods they import. We just have to look at companies like McCormick who have practiced the safe importation and processing of spices for more than a century.  

For those identified as importers, FSVP provides the elements of a supplier verification program that these companies will need to establish for each suppler, including verifying that he supplier has a HACCP type system in place and conducting verification, corrective action, and record keeping activities.

In the long run, FSVP will create a stronger food supply system. Companies who sell imported foods will either be forced out of selling if they are not willing or capable of implementing such an adequate supplier contol system, or will need to align with an importer who does have the necessary capabilities.

NY Times
Spices’ Link to Food Ills Prompts Changes in Farming
Published: August 27, 2013

IDUKKI, India — Spices grown in the mist-shrouded Western Ghats here have fueled wars, fortunes and even the discovery of continents, and for thousands of years farmers harvested them in the same traditional ways. Until now.

Science has revealed what ancient kings and sultans never knew: instead of improving health, spices sometimes make people very sick, so Indian government officials are quietly pushing some of the most far-reaching changes ever in the way farmers here pick, dry and thresh their rich bounty.

The United States Food and Drug Administration will soon release a comprehensive analysis that pinpoints imported spices, found in just about every kitchen in the Western world, as a surprisingly potent source of salmonella poisoning.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cyclospora cases now over 600, Texas cases not linked to Taylor bagged salad

As of August 26th, CDC is reporting that there are 610 cases of Cyclospora infection in 22 states. While many of the illnesses in IA and NB were linked to bagged salad mix produced by Taylor Farms de Mexico, CDC indicates that a number of cases in Texas are unrelated to the cases in IA and NB, but rather originated with people eating at the same restaurant..

CDC is investigating the Texas cases as well as the cases seen in other states to see how any of them might be related and what might be the source (CDC release below).

The Taylor Farms facility in Mexico that was linked to the IA and NB cases has resumed production after undergoing an extensive FDA audit. (story and link below).

CDC News
Investigation of an Outbreak of Cyclosporiasis in the United States

Case counts are updated Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
On June 28, 2013, CDC was notified of 2 laboratory-confirmed cases of Cyclospora infection in Iowa residents who had become ill in June and did not have a history of international travel during the 14 days before the onset of illness. Since that date, CDC has been collaborating with public health officials in multiple states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate an outbreak of cyclosporiasis.

Read the Advice to Consumers
Read the Guidance for Laboratories
Cyclospora cayetanensis is a single-celled parasite that causes an intestinal infection called cyclosporiasis.
As of August 23, 2013 (5pm EDT), CDC has been notified of 610 ill persons with Cyclospora infection from 22 states: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York (including New York City), Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Most of the illness onset dates have ranged from mid-June through mid-July.
Among 581 ill persons with available information, 43 (7%) have reported being hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
Public health officials in Iowa and Nebraska performed investigations within their states and concluded that restaurant-associated cases of Cyclospora infection in their states were linked to a salad mix produced by Taylor Farms de Mexico.
On August 12, 2013, Taylor Farms de Mexico informed FDA that the company had voluntarily suspended production and shipment of any salad mix, leafy green, or salad mix components from its operations in Mexico to the United States.
On August 25, 2013, Taylor Farms de Mexico, with FDA concurrence , resumed production and shipment of salad mix, leafy greens, and salad mix components to the United States.
Currently, CDC is collaborating with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services and local public health departments to investigate cases of cyclosporiasis reported among people in Texas.
The preliminary analysis of results from an investigation into a cluster of cases that ate at a Texas restaurant does not show a connection to Taylor Farms de Mexico. This investigation is ongoing.
Although the investigation of cases continues, available evidence suggests that not all of the cases of cyclosporiasis in the various states are directly related to each other.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What is Gluten Free - FDA sets a standard

FDA established a standard that defines “Gluten Free”. Gluten free is a food that does not contain an a gluten containing grain such as wheat, does not contain an ingredient that is derived from a gluten containing grain, and does not contain an ingredient derived from a gluten containing grain that has been processed to remove the protein (such as wheat starch) where that ingredient has more than 20 ppm of gluten. And is produced so that the food will not be contaminated with the unavoidable presence of gluten to a level of no more than 20 ppm.

Foods that are free of gluten by their nature can be labeled as gluten free, however they do not have to be labeled as such if they are gluten free. It is voluntary. Manufacturers are not required to test for the presence of gluten, but are required to meet the requirements of the law, so manufacturers can use a number of tools to meet the standard.

Establishing this set standard allows uniform labeling thus making it easier for those with the celiac disease to make informed decisions regarding food items.

Gluten is protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley. In people with celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune reaction that results in antibodies attacking the intestinal lining. It can be painful for those individuals who inadvertently ingest gluten. It can also impact absorption of nutrients from the intestines. This condition is especially problematic in children where it can lead to growth problems, and weight loss. For adults, in addition to the stomach issues, it can lead to long term effects such as malnutrition, liver disease, and cancer of the intestines. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 100 people have the disease (whether they know it or not).

It is important to remember that gluten is an important part of the diet and a gluten free diet is not recommended for the general public

For Immediate Release: August 2, 2013

Media Inquiries: Shelly Burgess 301-796-4651,
Consumer Inquiries: 888-INFO-FDA
En Español1

FDA defines “gluten-free” for food labeling
New rule provides standard definition to protect the health of Americans with celiac disease

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today published a new regulation defining the term "gluten-free" for voluntary food labeling. This will provide a uniform standard definition to help the up to 3 million Americans who have celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive condition that can be effectively managed only by eating a gluten free diet.

“Adherence to a gluten-free diet is the key to treating celiac disease, which can be very disruptive to everyday life,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA’s new ‘gluten-free’ definition will help people with this condition make food choices with confidence and allow them to better manage their health.”

This new federal definition standardizes the meaning of “gluten-free” claims across the food industry. It requires that, in order to use the term "gluten-free" on its label, a food must meet all of the requirements of the definition, including that the food must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The rule also requires foods with the claims “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “without gluten” to meet the definition for “gluten-free.” 

The FDA recognizes that many foods currently labeled as “gluten-free” may be able to meet the new federal definition already. Food manufacturers will have a year after the rule is published to bring their labels into compliance with the new requirements.

“We encourage the food industry to come into compliance with the new definition as soon as possible and help us make it as easy as possible for people with celiac disease to identify foods that meet the federal definition of ‘gluten-free’” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

The term "gluten" refers to proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of these grains. In people with celiac disease, foods that contain gluten trigger production of antibodies that attack and damage the lining of the small intestine. Such damage limits the ability of celiac disease patients to absorb nutrients and puts them at risk of other very serious health problems, including nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, growth retardation, infertility, miscarriages, short stature, and intestinal cancers.

The FDA was directed to issue the new regulation by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), which directed FDA to set guidelines for the use of the term “gluten-free” to help people with celiac disease maintain a gluten-free diet.

The regulation was published today in the Federal Register2.

For more information:
FDA: Gluten-Free Labeling3
FDA: Gluten-Free Labeling Final Rule Q&A4
Consumer Update

The 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.