Friday, August 29, 2014

Study - When cooking chicken, too many use risky practices

A study in Food Protection Trends found that people cooking chicken 1) did not wash their hands before serving or after handling raw chicken, 2) did not properly wash their hands with some not using soap, 3) washed their chicken even though that creates a cross contamination risk,  4) did not use a thermometer, and 5) when a thermometer was used, the still undercooked it.

Surprising....unfortunately not.

Food Protection Trends - Sept / Oct 2014Chicken Preparation in the Home: An Observational Study
By Christine M. Bruhn


Poultry has been linked to foodborne illnesses caused by Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter spp.
This study reports on observed handling behavior when 120 volunteers prepared chicken and salad in
their homes. A food safety attitudes and knowledge questionnaire was administered to volunteers after meal preparation had been video recorded. In the questionnaire, consumers stated that they were knowledgeable about safe-food handling and had heard of people becoming ill from eating chicken. 

The video recording, however, revealed that personal hygiene was insufficient, with 65% of meal
preparers not washing their hands prior to meal preparation, 40% not washing their hands after
handling raw chicken, and 45% washing the chicken prior to preparation. Hand-washing duration was less than 20 seconds, and in one-third of the handwashing events, soap was not used. Most people
judged thoroughness of cooking by appearance.

When chicken temperature was taken, 60% of the cooked chickens registered 165°F or above.
However, 39% of households stopped cooking even though the internal temperature of the poultry
registered below 165°F. These results suggest that educational messages should focus on thorough
washing of hands with soap, not washing chicken, and using a calibrated thermometer to determine
doneness. To increase consumer protection, the poultry industry should adopt additional approaches to reduce pathogen levels.

Study - 1/4 of Used Kitchen Hand Towels Analyzed Contained E. coli

A study on cleanliness of used handtowels published in Food Protection Trends shows that about 1/4 of the used hand towels collected from over 80 kitchens and analyzed had E. coli present. This is one of the primary reasons why dishes should be air dried instead of wipe dried.  The kitchen hand towel gets used over and over throughout the day, and people often forget what they used the towel to wipe last (insert butt joke here).  It is not uncommon for towels to be used for a number of days.  This not only provides more opportunity for introduction of bacteria, but allows for the growth of bacteria.  Leaving them air dry does not get rid of the bacteria. It is important that people change out towels throughout the day as they go from task to task.  Then the used towels should be collected to prevent reentry into the kitchen without first going into the wash.  When washing, hot water, detergent and bleach.
From the report:
"E. coli numbers also were related to the frequency of washing, with numbers on towels being lower the more often they were washed. Age of the towel and days since last time washed did not influence the concentration of any of the bacteria in the towels. The results suggest that E. coli is particularly easily removed during washing or requires an unusually long time to colonize and grow in the towels. Coliforms, E. coli and Salmonella can survive the drying of kitchen cleaning cloths and regrow if the cloth becomes soiled again (3)."
 Of course, not all E. coli are pathogens, but they are indicators of insanitary conditions, that is, show a high correlation to fecal contamination, and may indicate the potential for other pathogens to be present.
Food Protection Trends  Sept - Oct, 2014
Bacterial Occurrence in Kitchen Hand Towels
By Charles P. Gerba, Akrum H. Tamimi, Sherri Maxwell, Laura Y. Sifuentes, Douglas R. Hoffman and David W. Koenig
The common occurrence of enteric bacteria in kitchen sponges and dishcloths suggests that they can play a role in the cross-contamination of foods, fomites and hands by foodborne pathogens. This study investigated the occurrence of bacteria in kitchen towels often used to dry dishes, hands and other surfaces in the domestic kitchen. A total of 82 kitchen hand towels were collected from households in five major cities in the United States and Canada and the numbers of heterotrophic bacteria, coliform bacteria, and Escherichia coli in each towel were determined. In addition, identification of the enteric bacteria was performed on selected towels. Coliform bacteria were detected in 89.0% and E. coli in 25.6% of towels. The presence of E. coli was related to the frequency of washing.

Walnuts falling from tree result in spinach recall

A limited amount of spinach is being recalled due to the potential to be contaminated by an allergen, walnuts.  What is interesting in this is how the walnuts were found to have contaminated the product - they fell from the trees into spinach trucks/bins as the trucks/bins moved the spinach from the field to the processing facility.

FDA Recall Notice
Dole Fresh Vegetables Announces Allergy Alert and Voluntary Limited Recall of DOLE-branded Spinach Due to Possible Contamination by Walnuts

Contact: Consumer: 1-800-356-3111
Media: David Bright 1-818-874-4879

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - August 28, 2014 - Although no illnesses or allergic reactions have been reported, Dole Fresh Vegetables is initiating a limited voluntary recall of the following products:

This recall is due to possible contamination of these products by walnuts. The walnuts fell from a tree into spinach bins being delivered from a field and were discovered at the plant. No illnesses or allergic reactions have been reported. However, people who have an allergy to tree nuts may have a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products or products containing walnuts.

This recall is for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, for only DOLE Baby Spinach 6 oz bags and DOLE Spinach 8 oz bags with the specific Bag Codes and Best-by dates listed above. The bag code and best-by date are on the top right-hand corner of the front of the bag. Consumers who have purchased the designated products are instructed not to consume the product and to call the DOLE Consumer Center toll-free at 1-800-356-3111 from 8am to 3 pm Pacific Time, Monday through Friday, for a refund.

Food safety is the first priority of Dole Fresh Vegetables, so although the contamination is not confirmed, this recall is being initiated in an abundance of caution for the benefit of our customers.

Cyclospora outbreak linked to fresh cilantro

An outbreak of cyclospoa, primarily impacting Texas, has been linked to fresh cilantro from the Puebla area of Mexico .
Cyclospora is a single cell parasite that causes an intestinal infection called cyclosporiasis.  Cyclospora is spread by people ingesting food or water that was contaminated with feces from an infected individual.  Humans are the only known host (unlike other parasites that have other animals hosts).  It is not unlikely, however, to be passed from person-to-person, because it needs time (days to weeks) after being passed in a bowel movement (pooped) to become infectious for another person.
It is seen mainly in tropical or subtropical regions of the world but makes its way into the United States, via contaminated food, primarily imported fresh produce, or from people who travel to these areas.  The symptoms take about a week to show up, and it is in the form of watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements. (Other symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue. Vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms may be noted.) Some people who are infected can be asymptomatic (no symptoms).

Texas Department of State Health Services
News Updates
Cyclospora – August 28, 2014

The Cyclospora illness outbreak being investigated by DSHS and local health departments in Texas along with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration appears to have ended. The number of new illnesses being reported has returned to background levels, and the investigation has linked the cases in four restaurant clusters to cilantro imported from Puebla, Mexico.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Study - Analyzing Listeria Contamination in a Processing Plant Over Time

Listeria contamination within a processing facility if often an ongoing battle.  In a paper published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, researchers analyzed Listeria contamination over time in a cheese processing plant.  While they made progress in getting the Listeria contamination under control, they were never able to eliminate it.  In this study, they found that certain species of Listeria are well geared to establish themselves in the facility, making eradication impossible.

International Journal of Food Microbiology
L. monocytogenes in a cheese processing facility: Learning from contamination scenarios over three years of sampling

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tea Sweetened with Industrial Cleaner Results in Hospitalization

A woman was hospitalized after drinking ice tea that had industrial cleaner in it.  The cleaner had been accidently mixed into the sugar that was used to sweeten the tea.

Prevention of chemical contamination is handled through good standard operating procedures.
Keeping cleaning chemical separate from food and food ingredients.
Employee training in food preparation as well as in proper chemical handling.
Proper marking of all chemicals and ingredients.

Poor procedures or poor execution of procedures can result in catastrophe.  Unfortunately, many cleaning chemicals can look like food ingredients...basically white powders.  So proper labeling is critical.  As well as keeping hazardous cleaning chemicals in separate areas.

Unfortunately for this woman, she was the first to drink the tea.  Fortunate that she was the only one.

Standard Examiner
Police waiting as victim improves in ice tea poisoning case
Monday , August 18, 2014 - 11:00 AM

BRADY McCOMBS   The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A woman who unknowingly drank iced tea laced with an industrial cleaning solution at a Utah restaurant has whispered and gotten out of bed, her lawyer said.

The progress marks the first sign of improvement for Jan Harding since the 67-year-old was rushed to a hospital nearly a week ago with severe burns to her mouth and throat, according to family attorney Paxton Guymon.

The heavy-duty cleaner that ended up in the sweetened iced tea Harding drank last Sunday at a Dickey’s Barbecue in a Salt Lake City suburb was unintentionally mixed into a bag of sugar, which a worker later added into the iced tea dispenser, authorities have said.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Woman's Home Soup Operation Shut Down

Virginia Department of Ag and Consumer Services (VDACS) shut down a woman who was making canned soup in own kitchen and selling them at a Farmers' Market.   While she had been making her soups for 30 years, she is not allowed to sell these types of products.

In the video report by the local news channel, you can see Denise's operation.  While she said she boils it, it is clear that she is using a pressure canner...thank goodness for that.  Regardless, there are reasons why we have strict regulations around the canning of low acid foods that will be sold.   My guess is that if we started looking at the various products making their way to farmers' markets, there will be plenty more issues.

VDACS News Release


Contact: Elaine J. Lidholm, 804.786.7686

Food safety staff from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) warn consumers not to eat any canned soups or sauces made by Corfinio Foods of Richmond. These products were improperly processed, making them susceptible to contamination with Clostridium botulinum. Ingestion of botulism toxin from improperly processed jarred and canned foods may lead to serious illness and death.

Traceability Guidance Document from IFT

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) just issued a best practices guidance document for food traceability. It looks at 6 food industry sectors - bakery, dairy, meat and poultry, processed foods, produce, and seafood - and summarizes the summarizes and similarities and differences with regards to traceability.

The take-home - we have a complex food supply chain, and having traceability capabilities beyond the immediate source and the immediate delivery (one step forward, one step back), can be difficult.

IFT Weekly Newsletter

IFT issues food traceability best practices guidance doc

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) has issued a guidance document on the best practices in food traceability. This document provides a comprehensive framework for six food industry sectors—bakery, dairy, meat and poultry, processed foods, produce, and seafood—and summarizes the similarities and differences among them in regards to traceability. Given the complexity of the global food system, guidance on improving traceability practices across the entire food industry is a challenge.

Natural Almond Butter and Peanut Butter Recalled Due to Salmonella

 nSPIRED Natural Foods is recalling various brands of nut butter due to the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.  The contamination was discovered through FDA testing.  FDA reports that there may be 4 illnesses related to this product.

This comes one year after another nut butter - Salmonella contamination issue.  In 2013, Sunland Foods recalled, nut butter products due to Salmonella contamination.  It is interesting that some of the same brands recalled in that case were also recalled in this latest outbreak - Trader Joe's and Arrowhead Mills.  Is it bad luck or the lack of supplier control?

Salmonella has been a historical issue in nut products.  For one, Salmonella is much more heat resistant in dry products compared to moist products.  Cooking chicken to 165F will eliminate Salmonella, but in nut products, such as Almonds, 260F for 1.6 minutes is needed to achieve a 4 log reduction (GMA Industry Guideline for Safe Processing of Nuts).  Second, Salmonella can survive in the dry processing environment for years.  So the keys - process them correctly and put in measures to prevent cross contamination.

FDA Recall Notice
nSPIRED Natural Foods, Inc. Voluntarily Recalls Certain Retail Lots Of Arrowhead Mills® Peanut Butters, Maranatha® Almond Butters And Peanut Butters And Specific Private Label Nut Butters Because Of Possible Health Risk

Contact:   Consumer:  1-800-937-7008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - August 19, 2014 - nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. is voluntarily recalling certain retail lots of Arrowhead Mills® Peanut Butters, MaraNatha® Almond Butters and Peanut Butters and specific private label nut butters (listed below) packaged in glass and plastic jars because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ground Oregano Recalled Due to Potential Salmonella Contamination

McCormick is recalling ground oregano due to the potential to be contaminated by Salmonella.  It was found by FDA routine testing.  The product, packed in small jars (0.75 oz,) was shipped nationally and internationally.  No illnesses have been reported.

FDA Recall Notice
Voluntary Recall Notice of McCormick Ground Oregano Due to Possible Salmonella Risk
Contact  Consumer:  1-800-632-5847

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - August 13, 2014 - SPARKS, Md., August 13, 2014- McCormick & Company, Incorporated is initiating a voluntary recall of McCormick® Ground Oregano, 0.75 oz bottle, UPC 0-523561-6 with code dates BEST BY AUG 21 16 H and AUG 22 16 H due to possible contamination with Salmonella. This recall does not impact any other McCormick Ground, Whole or Oregano Leaves products.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Honor System....More Than Just That

Leave it to the media to create the next tagline to describe the food safety system....'the honor system'.  And they will use the PCA criminal investigation as the hammer to pound 'honor system' into the public's mind.  Forget the fact that there are regulations on top of regulations for the food industry or that these are businesses that need to make safe food to stay in business..... the media will claim the only thing protecting the public is the 'honor system.'...and of course, what do people think of when they hear that term, honor system....well, it harkens them back to grade school when they knew some kid, maybe themselves, who cheated on that self-graded quiz.  Oh my gosh....cheaters are making our food.  Outside of the Parnell's....probably not.

Star Tribune
Salmonella trial shows how US food safety relies on honor system that can kill when it fails
Article by: RUSS BYNUM , Associated Press
Updated: August 9, 2014 - 7:52 PM

ALBANY, Ga. — Jurors at the nation's first federal criminal trial stemming from a deadly outbreak of food-borne illness are learning a disconcerting fact: America's food safety largely depends on the honor system.

Increased Scrutiny of US Food Companies in China, OSI -Takes the High Road

Establishing operations in China has been a challenge for many US food companies.  This week, a Walmart store was investigated for using old oil in their store frying operation.  (Not sure how this story garnered international media attention?.)  In July, OSI, a supplier for McDonalds and KFC took a hit in the media as Chinese papers reported a scandal involving OSI's Chinese operation, Husi.  In this report, Husi was cited for mixing expired meat into their process.

The thing that seems odd with the OSI related story is that, as detailed in the NY Times piece (below), OSI has had a sterling reputation, both domestically and abroad.  So it seems weird that that they could let one of their operations fall off the rails?

No doubt, there is a lot of scrutiny on US food companies operating in China by the Chinese media and the local regulatory authorities.  Why?  One could speculate that with the increasing push of US companies into China along with mergers of Chinese and US companies for the stated purpose of improving quality (Smithfield acquisition), there may be some backlash against foreign companies pushing into the Chinese marketplace.   Add to that the negative media exposure that the Chinese food system has received by the US media and it is easy to see why so much attention on US companies (when they could also be reporting on Chinese owned companies).  So perhaps showing that US companies have their own issues is a way to make a stand.  Perhaps even more importantly, this negative media barrage provides a leg up to Chinese firms that wish to compete against the likes of  Walmart, McDonalds and KFCs in the Chinese marketplace. 

Now it is hard to say for certain to what extent the food safety allegations are true.  Certainly we have not heard any rational for the incidents from the US companies..  And while there could be some legitimate justifications for the actions used by OSI in China - perhaps the meat that was being mixed back had been frozen instead of refrigerated thus nullifying the date used on the packaging - the chairman of OSI provided no excuses but rather said they would make improvements.

Interesting though, the talking heads are still willing to take these Chinese reports at face value and spin them in order to spread fear on the safety of our own food supply.

Chinese regulators investigating Wal-Mart store for food safety violations - Xinhua
Sat Aug 9, 2014 8:49am EDT 

* Anonymous employee's video alleges violations at deli

* Shows images of black fryer oil, worms crawling in rice

* Shenzhen authorities investigating - Xinhua

* Wal-Mart: Internal, gov't probes uncovered no evidence

SHANGHAI, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Chinese regulators are investigating a Wal-Mart store in the southern city of Shenzhen for food safety violations, the official Xinhua news service reported, based on videos it said were taken by a Wal-Mart employee at one branch.

Tick Bite Triggers Allergic Reaction to Red Meat

Each year, a few hundred people become allergic to meat after being bitten by a specific type of tick.  The tick harbors a sugar that humans don’t have, called alpha-gal. The sugar is also is found in red meat — beef, pork, venison, rabbit — and even some dairy products.  When the tick bites a person, the person develops an immune response to this sugar.  The next time the person eats meat with this sugar, the person has a reaction to that sugar.

It is interesting in that 1) It takes as long as 8 hours for the body to react, whereas regular food allergies occur within minutes, and 2) this reaction is to sugar whereas most allergic reactions are to proteins.

According to the article, this does not appear to be a lifelong issue.

Ticks do really suck.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Tick bite can cause allergy to red meat

August 8, 2014 12:00 AM
Read more:

By Marilynn Marchione / Associated Press

A bug can turn you into a vegetarian, or at least make you swear off red meat. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in people bitten by a certain kind of tick.

This bizarre problem was discovered only a few years ago but is growing, as the ticks spread from the Southwest and the East to more parts of the United States. In some cases, eating a burger or a steak has landed people in the hospital with severe allergic reactions.

Few patients seem aware of the risk, and even doctors are slow to recognize it. As one allergist who has seen 200 cases on New York’s Long Island said, “Why would someone think they’re allergic to meat when they’ve been eating it their whole life?”

The culprit is the Lone Star tick, named for Texas, a state famous for meaty barbecues. The tick is now found throughout the South and the eastern half of the United States.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Botulism Poisoning Cases Result from CA Company Processing Errors

A California company is recalling a number of jarred products after two people in Ohio were diagnosed with botulism poisoning.  Both individuals are improving after being on ventilation.  The FDA Notice (below) indicates the products may have been processing errors.

The Company, VR Green Farms, looks to be a vegetable farm that has expanded into numerous product offerings.

Their website is not fully functioning, but you can get a sense from their LinkedIn site
Locally grown vegetables delivered within hours of harvest. No Herbicides or Pesticides used. VR Green Farms originated from an idea that was shared by our founder Nic Romano and Bella Collina Towne & Golf Club in San Clemente. Bella Collina provided the land and with the expertise and help from our sister farm in Bell Gardens, Nic transformed the land into a farm. Today VR Green Farms sells weekly vegetable baskets to the local community and wholesales our vegetables to local restaurants who have embraced the concept of buying fresh local produce. In addition we market honey, olive oil, cheese, bread and even eggs all from local sources
Many have predicted that with so many small entities entering the processed food arena, including through the farmers' market channel,  that it was only a matter of time before there would see processing deviations that would result in botulism cases.  Although FDA has strict regulations regarding canning foods that include requirements for registering of processes, training, testing, etc., many small entrepreneurs are either ignorant to these regulations, are incapable of implementing them, or choose not to follow.

You can walk through any farmers' market and see the vast array of jarred food items.  Are they acidified properly?  Have they received the proper thermal treatment?  Guarantee these are the same people fighting not to have to follow these 'restrictive government regulations'.  But trust us, there is a reason that that those regulations are in place.

Clostridium botulinum is a spore-forming pathogen that produces one of the strongest toxins known.  The organism can survive boiling temperatures and if the jarred product does not have any barriers (low pH, preservatives, strict refrigeration), the organism will grow and produce toxin.  The toxin, a neurotoxin, travels into the bloodstream to the nerves and it stops neurotransmission to muscles. And so when one ingests this toxin and does not receive quick medical attention, they will die of suffocation.  A hell of a way to buy the farm, so to speak.

No doubt, this farm/company will also have a difficult road ahead, from an intensive investigation to lawsuits.  That is a huge price to pay for not making the effort to produce safe products (unless the product is not to blame, and it was found to be consumer practices.)

In any event, hopefully this will be the 'shot across the bow' for state and federal officials to begin focusing attention on this developing cottage industry.

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Two Ohio cases of botulism investigated in connection with California jarred sauce recall
By Brie Zeltner, The Plain Dealer The Plain Dealer  
on August 04, 2014 at 2:39 PM, updated August 04, 2014 at 2:54 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Two people in Ohio have been hospitalized with botulism that public health officials suspect is connected to a nationwide recall of a California company's jarred sauces, according to the Cincinnati Health Department.