Friday, January 29, 2016

Update on Listeria Outbreak Associated with Salad

CDC provided an update on the number of listeriosis cases linked to Dole's packaged salads.  There are now 15 cases and 1 death.  Dole has shut down its Ohio processing facility and does not plan to restart until at least February.   With regard to impacted product, Dole initially called its action a voluntary withdrawal.  It changed that status to a voluntary recall on January 27th.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

CDC Update - Salmonella Cases Associated with Cucumbers Continue to Trickle In

 Since CDC's last report in November, 50 more people from 16 states have been reported becoming ill with a specific strain of Salmonella associated with cucumbers from one distributor in California.  The current total is 888 cases in 39 states. 

Food safety requires the pessimism of intelligence and the optimism of will

This is based off a quote in the Independent from Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Defense Secretary,    “As my friend Andre de Staercke once put it to me, “What one needs in life are the pessimism of intelligence and the optimism of will.”. I thought this statement was even more applicable to food safety and the duties of the food industry professional with responsibilities for food safety.
Food safety requires the pessimism of intelligence and the optimism of will.
The challenges for food safety occur all the time - whether it is RTE product being run in a facility that was built long before there was consideration for organisms like Listeria, or the company's marketing guru pushing a more natural / minimally processed product to be sold as fresh refrigerated, or a restaurant entrepreneur wishing to produce a vacuum packaged, fully cooked meal.  For the person tasked with ensuring the safety of products, they must recognize the risks and apply sound judgment based upon scientific facts or historical reports of past outbreaks or recalls.  Then they must either be willing to apply necessary controls to prevent those risks or squash poorly designed, high risk projects before excessive investments are made.  The force of will comes from knowing that in the end, that customers will not harmed, and with that, the company's future is more secure.

Depending upon the company's culture, the food safety professional has often been looked at as the naysayer or worrywart.  But with numerous examples of food safety issues where food safety issues have cost company's lost millions, or in some cases, resulted in executives being sentenced to jail time, the food safety professional's job is becoming more valued.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pizza Recalled for Mistaking Pork Pepperoni for Beef Pepperoni

Whole Foods is recalling over 70,000lbs of pepperoni pizza because instead of using beef pepperoni, which is stated on the label, they used pepperoni made from pork.  According to the FSIS Notice - "The problem was discovered by FSIS during a label review at the establishment and occurred as a result of a change in ingredient suppliers."

One item of note is that this occurred during a supplier change.....a purchasing issue.  Second is that this should have been identified during the inspection of incoming materials, specifically the evaluation of the label.

There were two other recalls within the past few days where pork was included in a product where it was not on the label.  One was a ravioli product and the other was knockwurst.

FSIS News Release
Whole Foods Recalls Frozen Pizza Products Due to Misbranding
Class II Recall 010-2016
Health Risk: Low Jan 25, 2016

Congressional and Public Affairs   Richard J. McIntire  (202) 720-9113 

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2016 – Whole Foods/North Atlantic Kitchens, an Everett, Mass. establishment, is recalling approximately 73,898 pounds of pepperoni pizza products due to misbranding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today. The product is labeled as containing uncured beef pepperoni. However, the pizzas contain uncured pork pepperoni, which is not declared on the product label. Some individuals have a sensitivity or intolerance to pork.

Concern for Zika Virus - Mosquito transmitted disease of South and Central America

The Zika virus is a growing concern as it spreads throughout South and Central America as well as the Pacific Islands.  The mosquito is the primary vector.  While for most people, the symptoms of the viral infection are mild , there is a concern for pregnant women who become infected in that it may lead to microcephaly, a rare neurological condition in which an infant's head is significantly smaller which is associated with incomplete brain development.  Yikes.  (But this has not yet been totally proven.)

Cases of infection in the US have been seen in those who have traveled to areas where the virus is present.

Damn mosquitos...West Nile Virus was bad enough, now we got something else to worry about.  Mosquitos also carry other diseases including Chikungunya, dengue, yellow fever and malaria.

CDC Website
Zika Virus
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
Outbreaks of Zika have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. Because the Aedes species mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found throughout the world, it is likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries. In December 2015, Puerto Rico reported its first confirmed Zika virus case. Locally transmitted Zika has not been reported elsewhere in the United States, but cases of Zika have been reported in returning travelers.

Dole Withdrawals Salad Items Linked to Listeria Outbreak

Dole is conducting a voluntary withdrawal of salad products made in their Springfield, OH facility after being linked to a Listeria outbreak.  In this outbreak, 12 people have been infected with one death.  

According to the CDC, the evidence indicates that packaged salads produced at the Dole processing facility in Springfield, Ohio  are the likely source.   From the CDC report:
  • Five (100%) of the five ill people who were asked about packaged salad reported eating packaged salad in the month before becoming ill. Two (100%) of two ill people who specified a brand of packaged salad reported eating various varieties of Dole brand packaged salads. 
  • The Ohio Department of Agriculture collected a Dole brand Field Greens packaged salad from a retail location and isolated Listeria. Laboratory tests showed that the Listeria isolate from the packaged salad was highly related genetically to isolates from ill people. This packaged salad was produced at the Springfield, Ohio Dole processing facility.
 CDC began investigating this in September of 2015, but as can be seen, there has been only a few cases coming in at a time, making the investigation process more difficult with providing a specific source.

At this point, it is difficult to comment too much without knowing more information.  Did the plant have an active Listeria control program?  Was it comprehensive in terms of evaluating washing systems and food contact surfaces including buildup/biofilms in those washing systems.  In many facilities, there is a focus on noncontact surfaces (zones 2 and 3) and conducting of preoperational samples rather than operational, but if there was indeed an issue in the process, would it have been identified if the facility was not looking deeper?  Did they know that they had an issue?

CDC Outbreak Notice
Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Packaged Salads Produced at Springfield, Ohio Dole Processing Facility 
Posted January 25, 2016 4:15 PM ET 
At a Glance:
  • Case Count: 12
  • States: 6
  • Deaths: 1
  • Hospitalizations: 12
  • Recall: No

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Taking a Cruise - Decreasing Risk of Becoming Sick

The CDC study recently published showed that the rates of diarrheal illness have decreased from 27.2 cases per 100,000 travel days in 2008 to 22.3 in 2014.  The most common agent was Norovirus.

Much of this is due to increase diligence of cruise ship operators.  "Fewer and less severe outbreaks are likely the result of earlier detection of acute gastroenteritis, along with cruise industry efforts to identify and control outbreaks by developing and implementing required Outbreak Prevention and Response Plans (4), using processes and chemical disinfectants known to be effective against a norovirus surrogate and proactively seeking strategies to limit acute gastroenteritis spread, using the most currently available evidence."

Acute Gastroenteritis on Cruise Ships — United States, 2008–2014
Weekly / January 15, 2016 / 65(1);1–5

Friday, January 8, 2016

Justice Department Investigations of Companies Involved in Food Outbreaks

 In a Wall Street Journal Risk Blog, there is discussion on the US Justice Department becoming more interested / involved in the investigation of companies involved in food illness outbreaks.  In the WSJ article, it states, "The [Justice] department has said it will focus more efforts on individual law-breakers after a recent memo that requires turning over information about responsible individuals to the government for a company to receive cooperation credit."  After success with the PCA investigation, the Justice Department has opened investigations into Chipotle and Blue Bell.

Wall Street Journal

The Morning Risk Report: Justice Department Sending Message on Food Safety

Two newly opened investigations and a banner conviction mean the U.S. Justice Department is sending a message to the food industry to take product safety more seriously, an expert said.

Blue Bell Provides Update on Listeria Control Efforts

Blue Bell provided an update on their enhanced Listeria control systems in the aftermath of the Listeria related recall.   In their press release, they state their products are safe and that they have identified sources where the organism may be present and that corrective actions have been taken.

We have identified locations where suspected Listeria species may be present in our facility, and we continue to extensively clean and sanitize those areas and make additional enhancements to the facility and our procedures based on the environmental test results. To confirm that our robust environmental program is effective, and that our “seek and destroy” goals are being achieved, we expect to periodically find microbiological indications in our facilities.
So while the company indicates that they found locations where Listeria may be positive, they provide assurance that there is no issue.  Finding positives for Listeria species in the environment can be expected, provided that those sites are not close to product or process.  This is actually the case in many food facilities.  Rarely is Listeria completely eliminated, but rather it is a case of ongoing control.  The key is continually searching and completing corrective action for any potential positives to prevent reoccurrence, as well as ensuring the product has not been affected.  The facility seems to be following through on both.  I would be more suspect if they said that they found absolutely none.

It is interesting, however, to see how the media portrays this.  In a web search on the topic, we see the headlines Blue Bell finds signs of listeria in plant, Blue Bell: Suspected Listeria found in facility, not in productand of course the highly cited Food Safety News -  Blue Bell says it’s still got Listeria in its facility .  While their articles downplay the risk to the product, the headlines create a sense of higher risk.

Blue Bell News Release
An update on our enhanced procedures at our production facilities

Brenham, TX, January 7, 2016 – As we complete our final phase of distribution, we wanted to update our loyal customers on what has been going on in our production facilities. We continue to strictly adhere to our enhanced operations, policies, employee training and cleaning procedures to help give regulatory agencies and the public assurance that all aspects of our facilities and operations are resulting in a safe product.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

FDA Withdraws the Draft Guidance for Acidified Foods (2010)

The FDA published notice that they are withdrawing the Acidified Foods Draft Guidance which was issued in  2010.  The draft guidance was intended to support acidified foods regulations by helping commercial food processors in determining whether their food products are subject to these regulations.  "The draft guidance also was intended to help processors of acidified foods in ensuring safe manufacturing, processing, and packing processes and in employing appropriate quality control procedures. " 

They are withdrawing the draft guidance, because it will be covered in part within FSMA``Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food'' in conjunction with guidance documents that are being developed to support that rule. 

Federal Register
Acidified Foods; Draft Guidance for Industry; Withdrawal of Draft

AGENCY: Food and Drug Administration, HHS.

ACTION: Notice; withdrawal.

Monday, January 4, 2016

FDA Enforcement Actions - December 2015

In the FDA's record of Enforcement Actions for December of 2015, there are a few product issues that were not identified in the public notice for recalls.  Included are sugar products for metal, frozen beans for Listeria, bottled juice for patulin, and peanut butter for metal.

For the full listing, use this link.

Deer Parts Removed from PA Restaurant During Inspection

A restaurant in Lititz, PA was found to have a large amount of deer parts including heads and brains.  In a joint investigation, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and  PA Dept of Ag removed this - "Amount of parts removed included: 4 trash bags, 2 boxes, 3 plastic tubs, one 5 gallon bucket and 9 trash bags of prepared foods."  The owner indicated that it was for his own consumption.

 The inspection was completed after a confidential tip was made to the authorities.  It is not legal to sell meat from wild game animals.  Having deer heads and brains in the establishment is also a risk for CWD - chronic wasting disease.

In addition, inspectors found numerous violations.
Deer brains, heads, parts confiscated from Chinese restaurant: Ag department inspection
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is investigating a large quantity of deer heads, brains and other, unidentifiable parts found at the New China House restaurant in Lititz Dec. 16, according to an agriculture department inspection report, but the eatery remains open.
The restaurant, at 721 S. Broad St., was listed as "out of compliance" by the state Department of Agriculture after an inspector Dec. 16 found 18 violations, including the following:
"PA Game Commission confiscated the following from facility walk-in cooler and freezer after operator was unable to provide documentation that game animal meats being used in the facility were from an approved source: deer brains, deer heads, skinned and whole tails, legs, muscle meat, spines, necks and other unidentifiable parts both raw and cooked. Amount of parts removed included: 4 trash bags, 2 boxes, 3 plastic tubs, one 5 gallon bucket and 9 trash bags of prepared foods. In addition, sampling of prepared food found in walk-ins were taken to be tested for species identification."

Cucumbers Recalled in GA and FL Due to Potential for Salmonella Contamination

A Florida produce company is recalling cucumbers after a random sampling and testing conducted by FDA produced a positive Salmonella result.  No illnesses have been reported.  Product was distributed in Florida and Georgia.

FDA Recall Notice
Recall: Firm Press Release
Thomas Produce Recalls Cucumbers because of Possible Health Risk
For Immediate Release

December 31, 2015
Consumers Richard Wilson   1-561-482-1111
Firm Press Release

Thomas Produce Company of Boca Raton, FL is recalling 174 bulk-packed containers of Cucumbers. This product has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella may experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

This product was sold to distributors in Florida and Georgia between 12/15/2015 and 12/16/2015. All distributors that received this product have been notified as of the time of this press release.