Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Handwashing - How many are actually improperly washing?

In a recently released study, researchers found that only 5 percent of people wash their hands correctly. While the study does point out that many people do not wash their hands correctly, the reported 5% seems lower than what we would expect. There may be a few issues with the study.

1) The US Food Code states that proper scrubbing of hands is 10 to 15 seconds (total handwashing time is 20 seconds), while the study uses 15 to 20 seconds. (

2) All observations were conducted on a college town. Perhaps not a great cross-section of the general public.

3) The study was conducted by visual observation – someone standing around in the restroom watching others….now, if  some creeper is hanging out in a bathroom and staring at you, are you going to move on a little quicker than normal and rewash later?

Only 5 Percent of Restroom Patrons Wash Hands Properly, Study Finds

And 1 in 10 don't scrub up at all after flushing

USNews Health June 11, 2013 RSS Feed Print

TUESDAY, June 11 (HealthDay News) -- The next time you reach out to shake someone's hand, consider this finding: A recent study of hand-washing habits found only 5 percent of people who used the restroom scrubbed long enough to kill germs that can cause infections.
Thirty-three percent didn't use soap, and 10 percent didn't wash their hands at all, according to the study, based on Michigan State University researchers' observations of more than 3,700 people in a college town's public restrooms.

"These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate," lead investigator Carl Borchgrevink, an associate professor of hospitality business, said in a university news release.

Among the other findings:

Men were less likely than women to clean their hands. Fifteen percent of men and 7 percent of women didn't wash their hands at all. When they did wash their hands, only 50 percent of men used soap, compared with 78 percent of women.
People were less likely to wash their hands if the sink was dirty.
People were more likely to wash their hands earlier in the day. This may be because when people are out at night for a meal or drinks, they are relaxed and hand washing becomes less important, the researchers suggested.
People were more likely to wash their hands if they saw a sign encouraging them to do so. 

Linkage of the level of pathogens at farm level to the level at processing

In a recent study, researchers found that pathogen level at the farm level impacted the level of pathogens found in the processing plant, that is, the more pathogens at the farm, the more that were found in the plant. While this is not surprising, it points to the need for added control at the farm level. Unfortunately, there is still a disconnect for some on the impact of farms on downstream contamination issues. While total elimination of pathogens at the farm would unfeasible, a reduction of the level may be achieved through the adoption of improved practices.

Investigators Link Poultry Contamination on Farm and at Processing Plant

CONTACT: Jim Sliwa ASM Newsroom

WASHINGTON, DC – May 31, 2013 -- Researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, have identified a strong link between the prevalence and load of certain food-borne pathogens on poultry farms, and later downstream at the processing plant. They report their findings in a manuscript published ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

“This study suggests that reducing foodborne pathogen loads on broiler chicken farms would help to reduce pathogen loads at processing, and may ultimately help to reduce the risk of foodborne illness,” says Roy Berghaus, an author on the study. “This is important because most of our efforts towards reducing foodborne pathogens are currently focused on what happens during processing. Processing interventions are effective but they can only do so much.”

Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria cause an estimated 1.9 million food-borne illnesses in the US annually, and poultry is a major source of both. Earlier studies have linked pathogen prevalence on the farm and at processing, but none has measured the strength of the associations between pathogen loads, according to the report. In the current study, Salmonella and Campylobacter detected at the processing plant were found in farm samples 96 and 71 percent of the time, respectively.

The prevalence of both pathogens dropped during processing, Salmonella from 45.9 percent to 2.4 percent, and Campylobacter from 68.7 to 43.6 percent, according to the report.

The two pathogens are major contributors to human misery in the US. Among 104 different pathogen-food combinations, Campylobacter and Salmonella infections from poultry were recently ranked first and fourth, respectively in terms of “combined impact on the total cost of illness and loss of quality-adjusted life years,” according to the report.

The team suggests that fewer pathogens on the farm would reduce contamination levels at the processing plant, and notes that “vaccination of breeder hens, competitive exclusion products and the use of acidified water during feed withdrawal” have all reduced Salmonella in commercial broiler flocks. However “reliable approaches to reduce Campylobacter colonization are currently unavailable,” although post-processing freezing has reduced Campylobacter loads on carcasses.

A copy of the manuscript can be found online at The paper is scheduled to be formally published in the June 2013 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

(R.D. Berghaus, S.G. Thayer, B.F. Law, R.M. Mild, C.L. Hofacre, and R.S. Singer, 2013. Enumeration of Salmonella and Campylobacter spp. in environmental farm samples and processing plant carcass rinses from commercial broiler chicken flocks. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. published ahead of print 26 April 2013 ,doi:10.1128/AEM.00836-13.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Proposed rule for labeling of injected meat

USDA has issued a proposed rule that would require the label ‘mechanically tenderized” on labels of raw or partially cooked needle or blade tenderized beef.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is proposing to require the use of the descriptive designation ‘‘mechanically tenderized’’ on the labels of raw or partially cooked needle- or blade-tenderized beef products, including beef products injected with marinade or solution, unless such products are destined to be fully cooked at an official establishment. Beef products that have been needle- or blade-tenderized are referred to as ‘‘mechanically tenderized’’ products.

Meat products that are needle injected or blade tenderized should be cooked to a higher temperature than intact beef because in the process of injecting or blade tenderizing (as in chopped steak), the needles or blades can push pathogenic bacteria deep into the meat. So like ground beef, the heat has to penetrate further into the meat to kill the bacteria.

Processors inject meat in some cases when they want to marinade the product, or in other cases when they have a cheaper cut of meat that they want to inject solution to help the meat retain more moisture during cooking. Blade tenderizing is done to help break the connective tissue in the meat to make it easier to chew. Unfortunately, too many people cook this meat rare or medium rare, just like regular cuts of steak. But for safety, consumers should cook this type of meat to an internal temperature of 160 F.*(155 F for foodservice.) By requiring meat to be labeled as mechanically tenderized, and by having validated cooking instructions, it is more likely that this meat will be identified as meat that should be cooked to a higher temperature.

*or other temperature that is scientifically validated by the processor.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

USDA and EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge

USDA in conjunction with EPA is launching a new initiative to reduce food waste. They estimate that food waste is roughly 30 to 40 percent of the US Food Supply. Wasted food happens at every part of the food chain, including retail, foodservice, and the consumer. According to the release – “USDA will also work with industry to increase donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.”

FDA issues the Reportable Food Registry Annual Report

The Reportable Food Registry (RFR) is a portal established by FDA for parties to report food safety issues. “A reportable food is an article of food/feed for which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, such article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.” This past year, there were 1095 submissions, slightly higher than last year. Of notable items resulting in recalls were Listeria detected in sliced onions, Salmonella in Mangoes, and undeclared milk in a snack bar. Looking at Table 5 Distribution of Primary RFR Entries by Commodity and Hazard- Year 3m, there are a few categories that are worth noting:

Bakery – Undeclared allergens (18)
Animal Feed – Nutrient unbalance (8), Salmonella (5), and drug contamination (4)
Confections – Undeclared allergens (11)
Dairy - Listeria (11) and Allergens (7)
Dressings – Undeclared allergens (5)
Nuts – Salmonella (8)
Fresh Cut Produce – Listeria (15) and Salmonella (6)
Produce RAC – Listeria (10) and Salmonella (22)
Snack foods – Undeclared Allergens (7)
Spices and Seasonings – Salmonella (5) and Allergens (3)

FDA / USDA release Food Defense Plan Builder

FDA / USDA released a Food Defense Plan Builder – This is a downloadable program for developing a Food Defense Plan. It was  found to be very easy to use. Once you enter in your data, it prints off a nice little food defense plan.   It is actually worth giving it a shot.

General Mills recalls Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bowlpak

General mills is recalling 168 cases of single serve reduced Cinnamon Toast Crunch after one of their ingredient suppliers reported the possible presence of Salmonella in the ingredient. This is a great reminder of the impact of a supplier (and the lab of that supplier) can have on a major company. Although only a small number of cases were recalled, this news release was picked up by every news outlet.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

CDC Report: Listeria Illnesses, Deaths, and Outbreaks — United States, 2009–2011

CDC just released a report detailing Listeria outbreaks in the United States, 2009-2011. In this time frame, ,1651 cases were reported nationally. 

In summary, Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen that primarily impacts those in high risk groups – elderly, immunocompromised, and pregnant women. Listeria infection in these individuals leads to bacteremia (bacterial blood infection), meningitis, and death (mortality rate of 21%).

Soft cheeses and cheeses made from unpasteurized milk are the primary vehicles, although there have been cases related to produce (cut celery and cantaloupe). So for high risk groups, individuals in these high risk groups may want to forgo the soft cheeses, cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, and unpasteurized milk.

I think it is important to note what is not on list of responsible food items in this reporting period – deli meats. The meat industry has done a good job in reducing the risk associated with those ready-to-eat meat items. But work needs to continue with all refrigerated RTE items that can support the growth of Listeria. Recently, an interagency report on the risk of Listeria in Retail Delicatessens ( highlighted the practices retail stores can take to reduce the risk of Listeria contamination.


Vital Signs: Listeria Illnesses, Deaths, and Outbreaks — United States, 2009–2011

Early Release
June 4, 2013 / 62(Early Release);1-5


Background: Older adults, pregnant women, and persons with immunocompromising conditions are at higher risk than others for invasive Listeria monocytogenes infection (listeriosis), a rare and preventable foodborne illness that can cause bacteremia, meningitis, fetal loss, and death.

Methods: This report summarizes data on 2009–2011 listeriosis cases and outbreaks reported to U.S. surveillance systems. The Listeria Initiative and PulseNet conduct nationwide surveillance to rapidly detect and respond to outbreaks, the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) conducts active, sentinel population–based surveillance to track incidence trends, and the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS) receives reports of investigated outbreaks to track foods and settings associated with outbreaks.

Results: Nationwide, 1,651 cases of listeriosis occurring during 2009–2011 were reported. The case-fatality rate was 21%. Most cases occurred among adults aged ≥65 years (950 [58%]), and 14% (227) were pregnancy-associated. At least 74% of nonpregnant patients aged <65 years had an immunocompromising condition, most commonly immunosuppressive therapy or malignancy. The average annual incidence was 0.29 cases per 100,000 population. Compared with the overall population, incidence was markedly higher among adults aged ≥65 years (1.3; relative rate [RR]: 4.4) and pregnant women (3.0; RR: 10.1). Twelve reported outbreaks affected 224 patients in 38 states. Five outbreak investigations implicated soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk that were likely contaminated during cheese-making (four implicated Mexican-style cheese, and one implicated two other types of cheese). Two outbreaks were linked to raw produce.
Conclusions: Almost all listeriosis occurs in persons in higher-risk groups. Soft cheeses were prominent vehicles, but other foods also caused recent outbreaks. Prevention targeting higher-risk groups and control of Listeria monocytogenes contamination in foods implicated by outbreak investigations will have the greatest impact on reducing the burden of listeriosis.

Implications for Public Health Practice: Careful attention to food safety is especially important to protect vulnerable populations. Surveillance for foodborne infections like listeriosis identifies food safety gaps that can be addressed by industry, regulatory authorities, food preparers, and consumers.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Berry Mix Containing Pomegranate and Hepatitis A

Update - 6/7/13
There are now 79 cases of Hepatitis A linked to the organic frozen berrry and pomegranante mix.

From CDC
As of June 7, 2013, 79 people with acute hepatitis A infections that may be linked with consumption of a contaminated product have been reported by eight states: Arizona, California Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington. These numbers are expected to change as the investigation continues. 
Based on epidemiologic investigation of 55 cases:
  • 35 (64%) ill people are women
  • Ages range from 2 – 84 years
  • Illness onset dates range from 3/16/2013 – 6/1/2013
  • 30 (55%) ill people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported
  • 40 (73%) of 55 ill people interviewed reported eating “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix
  • 40 persons reported purchasing this product from Costco markets; however,the product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores. No cases have been identified that bought the product at Harris Teeter at this time.

There have been approximately 30 people show have contracted Hepatitis A from an organic frozen berry mix sold by an Oregon company through Costco. 

The blend is produced from fresh fruit and is often used fresh by customers to make smoothies and other fruit drinks. Therefore, if Hepatitis A is present on the incoming ingredients, it will not be eliminated by processing (viruses will easily survive freezing), and then end up in product the consumer eats. It can take as long as 60 days before someone sees the symptoms.

The strain of Hepatitis A is found primarily in North Africa and the Middle East, and one of the ingredients, pomegranate seeds, is said to come from Turkey.

On the company’s website for Townsend Farms (, this is what they have to say about their sourcing:
In addition to our beautiful acreage in the Columbia Gorge, Townsend Farms works with other family farms up and down the I-5 corridor, across the United States, and around the world. The Townsend family personally selects the farms we work with based on shared vision and goals, high standards of quality, a commitment to Good Agricultural Practices (G.A.P.) and sustainable farming methods.
Our globally-situated source farms are utilized to provide the freshest produce available no matter the growing season in the Pacific NW, enabling us to provide the best product possible year-round. Under the Townsend Farms umbrella, you can expect the same quality as the produce from our original farm. We confidently provide each source farm on every package of berries, frozen or fresh, private label or our own.
 Food safety is important for ingredients used in products that will be used in RTE (ready-to-eat) applications, This is especially difficult when those ingredients are purchased in international markets. If this company lives up to the promise posted on their website, they should have no problems working back to the source of the issue. Unfortunately, this is not the first time berries have been involved in outbreaks. Earlier this year, there was an outbreak in Europe (71) and another in Canada (8). The Canadian product contained pomegranate. So at this point, if a company is using pomegranate, it may be good to stop using it until the safety can be verified. As a consumer, I would forgo my pomegranate-containing smoothie.

Hepatitis A Outbreak Linked To Oregon Berry Farm


WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration is investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A linked to a frozen organic berry mix sold by an Oregon company.

The FDA and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 30 illnesses are linked to Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, which contains pomegranate seed mix. Illnesses were reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California.
Several of those who fell ill reported buying the berry mix at Costco, according to CDC. A Costco spokesman said Friday that the company has removed the product from stores and is attempting to contact members who purchased the product in recent months.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks to a several months. People often contract it when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. Food already contaminated with the virus can also cause outbreaks.