Monday, February 25, 2013

PCA Owner and employess face prison time for shipping tainted product

Federal prosecutors have filed charges against the owner of PCA as well as several employees for their role in knowingly shipping Salmonella contaminated peanut butter in 2009. This contaminated product resulted in an outbreak of more than 700 illnesses and 9 deaths. It also resulted in one of the largest recalls in US history. The owner now faces 76 charges “with criminal fraud and conspiracy, for his role in what they said was a scheme to ship peanut products known to be contaminated to customers in states across the country” , which can land him in prison for up to 20 years.
The indictment can be viewed here One of the more colorful emails captured in the indictment is this.

Also facing charges are the Operations Manager and the QA Manager. While we do not know to what extent they were following orders versus actively participating, we certainly can guess that they were not making large sums of money off the transactions compared to the owner and his brother. We can also guess that they did not have the level of knowledge required with regard to the actions they were taking. From the indictment:

So here is an office person that was promoted to the QA manager. Was this promotion based upon her food safety knowledge, or the fact she could execute orders from her superiors. Unfortunately, this person may now face prison time. For what…following orders of an owner who put his own greed above the safety of the people who consumed his product.

While the vast majority of food companies here in the US produce safe food, there are still too many companies who do not put a premium on hiring and developing a well-trained technical support staff, or giving them a voice in making risk-based decisions. And there are still too many companies where the decision makers are inadequately versed in the technical aspects of the products they make, including food safety. Hopefully the outcome of this case will become a shot-across-the-bow for these companies. 

Charges Filed in Peanut Salmonella Case

Published: February 21, 2013 NY Times

Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against the former owner and several employees of a now-defunct peanut company that was the source of a salmonella outbreak in 2009 that killed nine people and sickened more than 700. In a 76-count indictment unsealed on Wednesday, investigators charged Stewart Parnell, 58, the former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, or P.C.A., with criminal fraud and conspiracy, for his role in what they said was a scheme to ship peanut products known to be contaminated to customers in states across the country.

The salmonella outbreak was one of the deadliest in United States history, resulting in recalls of thousands of products made by more than 300 companies, according to
Food Safety News.

Friday, February 8, 2013

FDA Issues Warning Letter for Inadequate Response To Violations

This article published in the Packer (below) is a cautionary tale on the need for follow-up documentation on ‘actions taken’ in response to violations identified in a regulatory inspection. In summary, after the company had a Listeria contamination recall, they were inspected by FDA. The FDA inspection found Listeria contamination on finished product as well as on food contact surfaces. FDA issued a report to the company. The company responded in a letter about actions that they would take, but did not follow up again that those actions were actually taken and implemented. Because of this, FDA issued a Warning Letter (below) to the company (and we the public get to read about it).

UPDATED: FDA hasn’t closed books on Missa Bay listeria incident
The Packer - 02/06/2013 10:47:10 AM
Coral Beach

UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 7) A warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration, made public Feb. 5, indicates the agency is still concerned about listeria contamination found in July at a fresh-cut facility that supplied apple slices to McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants.
The warning letter to Missa Bay LLC — dated Dec. 10 — gave company officials 15 days to respond.

Tamara Ward, FDA press officer, said Feb. 7 the company responded to the December letter but that she could not release details because the investigation is ongoing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Recalls for Lox, Sprouts and Crab Spread Due to Positive Listeria Tests

In the Northwest U.S. there is a recall for Lox (smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel) due the potential for Listeria contamination.

This is related to the smoked salmon recall last week - Smoked salmon is a fully cooked, ready-to-eat food items that has a history of recalls due to Listeria. Listeria contamination becomes a risk in the post-process environment (after smoking) when there is exposure of the product during slicing and packing. 

Also in the northwest, a company is recalling its sprout products, wheatgrass, and pea shoots due to the potential for Listeria contamination.

In the mid-Atlantic, Giant and Martin Supermarkets are recalling Gold Coast crab spread due to Listeria.

In each of these cases, there have been no reported illnesses. The recalls were triggered due to finished product testing that yielded positive Listeria results.

Norovirus 2013 - Sydney Strain

Jeff Mullhollem, Penn State Live 2/1/13
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A new strain of norovirus, known as GII.4 Sydney 2012, is making the rounds this winter, causing a significant number of acute outbreaks. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has become the dominant strain, causing more than 140 reported outbreaks in the United States so far this year.

People should try to limit their exposure to norovirus and try to minimize its spread, advised an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
"There are some important reasons that lead to so many people becoming ill from norovirus," said Martin Bucknavage, extension food safety specialist.

"One is this virus's low infectious dose. It is estimated that it may take less than 20 viral particles to make someone ill. Then, there is the ability of the virus to survive on dry surfaces for two weeks or more and in water for months."

The virus can be spread in contaminated food or water, from contaminated surfaces, directly from a sick person or from the intake of aerosolized droplets of vomitus. Norovirus is not related to the flu (or influenza), which is a respiratory illness caused by a different virus, and flu shots do not protect against it.

The main symptom of norovirus infection is another factor in its spread -- acute-onset vomiting.

"This prevents people from becoming sick in a secure location," Bucknavage said. "Rather, rapid onset can occur at a dinner table, in a meeting or on the bus. People usually become ill within 12 to 24 hours of exposure, although longer incubation periods do occur."

Once someone is sick, they can experience symptoms for 24 to 72 hours and can remain contagious for up to three days, Bucknavage noted.

"Because of this short incubation time, low infectious dose and ease of spread, one can see why it spreads through a school or a cruise ship so quickly," he said. "While rarely fatal, people who become ill need to be sure to consume liquids so they don't become dehydrated."

The key to preventing infection is frequent, but correct, hand washing -- scrubbing hands with soap and warm water. In addition, it is important for people to stay home when ill, especially when they may have been exposed to someone who has had the illness.

"They also should stay home for at least 48 hours after symptoms have subsided," Bucknavage said. "Contaminated surfaces must be cleaned using a strong chlorine bleach solution, one cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Cooking also will destroy the organism."

To learn more about norovirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at


Salmonella from Hedgehogs and Other Pets

The poor hedgehog took a beating from the media as the poor critter was linked to 20 cases of Salmonellosis.
Hedgehog -

 Hedgehogs are not the only pets that have been responsible for outbreaks. Many reptiles and amphibians have had past history of being a source of salmonella outbreaks.
Reptiles and amphibians -

 Turtles have caused a number of Salmonella outbreaks over time including last year.
Turtles -

Along with turtles, we have frogs, lizards, and snakes.
Frogs -
Lizards -
Snakes -

Birds are another group of animals that also get flagged for causing Salmonella outbreaks. Both chicks and ducklings that are given as pets top the list.
Chicks -
Ducklings -

But there is also a link with the exotic birds, such as parrots and macaws. (My Dad had a macaw and that was one messy bird with regard to its watery poop).
Exotic birds -

Even feeding birds has its risk. Bird seed has been recalled because of Salmonella contamination.
Bird seed -

And of course, wild birds can carry Salmonella. This is why it is important to maintain clean bird feeders.
Wild birds (including songbirds) -

Pet rodents have been a issue, but in most cases, the animal will be ill from the Salmonella infection. That is, they are not as good as carriers when compared to reptiles.
Rodent pets such as guinea pigs -

Dogs and cats are generally not an issue unless it comes via their food.
Pet food -
Regular pets -

Petting zoos have a history of causing illness via cross contamination of Salmonella and STEC E. coli.
Petting zoos -

Handwashing is among one of the many control steps for petting zoos.
Preventing disease in animal settings -

Finally, we have this from CDC on reducing risk of Salmonella from animals.
Pets -