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Another Cyclospora outbreak from Fresh Express’s Illinois processing facility

July 12, 2020 - 9:06pm

For the second time in as many years, the Fresh Express processing plant in Streamwood, IL, is implicated in a Cyclospora outbreak. Two years ago, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the presence of the Cyclospora parasite in a lettuce and carrot mix distributed to McDonald’s from the Streamwood, IL Fresh Express facility.

The 2018 Cyclospora outbreak infected 511  people in 15 states who reported consuming a variety of salads from McDonald’s restaurants, mostly in the Midwest. Twenty-four people were hospitalized. Epidemiologic and traceback evidence indicated that salads purchased from McDonald’s restaurants were a likely source of the 2018 outbreak.

On June 27 this year, in a “precautionary recall,” Fresh Express acknowledged that its Streamwood, IL, facility is again the source iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, and carrot products now being recalled for “potential Cyclospora risk.”  In the U.S. and Canada, this current Cyclospora outbreak has sickened at least 546 and hospitalized 34, respectively.

The FDA’s inspection reportedly continues at the Fresh Express production facility in Streamwood, IL.

The Fresh Express recall of the Streamwood, IL, products was followed by a reported spike in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. as the 2020 outbreak is an ongoing event. A 59.5 percent bump increased the laboratory-confirmed Cyclospora infections to 509, an increase of more than 300 in the United States. The other 34 cases are being reported in Canada.

The U.S. cases are currently reported in eight states: Illinois with 151, Iowa 160, Kansas 5, Minnesota 63, Missouri 46. Nebraska 48, North Dakota 6, and Wisconsin 30.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from May 11, 2020, to July 1, 2020. Ill people range in age from 11 to 92 years with a median age of 60. Fifty-three percent are female. Of 506 people with available information, 33 people, or 7 percent, have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is also investigating the outbreak of Cyclospora infections occurring in three Canadian provinces where exposure to certain Fresh Express brand salad products containing iceberg lettuce, carrots and red cabbage, has been identified as a likely source of the outbreak.  Thirty-seven illnesses are reported in Canada.

Epidemiologic and traceback evidence continues to indicate that bagged salad mix containing iceberg lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage produced by Fresh Express is a likely source of this outbreak.

In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the two weeks before they became ill. Ill people reported eating a variety of brands of bagged salad mix containing iceberg lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage. Salad mixes eaten by ill people were purchased from Aldi, Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco, and Walmart stores in the Midwest.

Traceback investigations by FDA suggest that the Streamwood, IL, Fresh Express production facility is the likely producer of the bagged salad mixes eaten by ill people. The FDA has begun an inspection at this facility.The  CDC and FDA continue to investigate to determine what ingredient or ingredients in the salad mix was contaminated and whether other products are a source of illnesses.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has issued a public health notice regarding an outbreak of Cyclospora infections in Canada, with 37 reported ill in three provinces. Exposure to certain Fresh Express brand salad products containing iceberg lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage, has been identified as a likely source of the outbreak. The Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, U.S. FDA, and U.S. CDC are collaborating on these ongoing Cyclospora investigations.

The FDA continues to work with retailers to ensure the potentially adulterated products are effectively removed from the marketplace. As this outbreak investigation continues, the FDA will provide additional updates to this advisory.  This is the area, in addition to Canada, that the product was distributed.

See the following press releases for complete details on the recalled products:

What is Cyclospora?
Cyclospora is a parasite composed of one cell, too small to be seen without a microscope. The organism was previously thought to be a blue-green alga or a large form of cryptosporidium. Cyclospora cayetanensis is the only species of this organism found in humans.

The first known human cases of illness caused by Cyclospora infection (that is, cyclosporiasis) were first discovered in 1977. An increase in the number of cases being reported began in the mid-1980s, in part due to the availability of better diagnostic techniques.

More than 15,000 cases are estimated to occur in the United States each year. The first recorded Cyclospora outbreak in North America occurred in 1990 and was linked to contaminated water. Since then, several cyclosporiasis outbreaks have been reported in the U.S. and Canada, many associated with eating fresh fruits or vegetables. In some developing countries, cyclosporiasis is common among the population, and travelers to those areas have become infected as well.

Where does Cyclospora come from?
Cyclospora is spread when people ingest water or food contaminated with infected stool. For example, exposure to contaminated water among farmworkers may have been the original source of the parasite in raspberry-associated outbreaks in North America. Cyclospora needs time, one to several weeks, after being passed in a bowel movement to become infectious. Therefore, it is unlikely that Cyclospora is passed directly from one person to another. It is not known whether or not animals can be infected and pass the infection to people.

What are the typical symptoms of Cyclospora infection?
Cyclospora infects the small intestine and usually causes watery diarrhea, bloating, increased gas, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, nausea, low-grade fever, and fatigue. In some cases, vomiting, explosive diarrhea, muscle aches, and substantial weight loss can occur. Some people who are infected with Cyclospora do not have any symptoms. Symptoms generally appear about a week after infection. If not treated, the illness may last from a few days up to six weeks. Symptoms may also recur one or more times. In addition, people who have previously been infected with Cyclospora can become infected again.

What are the serious and long-term risks of Cyclospora infection?
Cyclospora has been associated with a variety of chronic complications such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, reactive arthritis or Reiter’s syndrome, biliary disease, and acalculous cholecystitis. Since Cyclospora infections tend to respond to the appropriate treatment, complications are more likely to occur in individuals who are not treated or not treated promptly. Extraintestinal infection also appears to occur more commonly in individuals with a compromised immune system.

How is Cyclospora infection detected?
Your health care provider may ask you to submit a stool specimen for analysis. Because testing for Cyclospora infection can be difficult, you may be asked to submit several stool specimens over several days. The identification of this parasite in stool requires special laboratory tests that are not routinely done. Therefore, your health care provider should specifically request testing for Cyclospora if it is suspected. Your health care provider might have your stool checked for other organisms that can cause similar symptoms.

How is Cyclospora infection treated?
The recommended treatment for infection with Cyclospora is a combination of two antibiotics, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, also known as Bactrim, Septra, or Cotrim. People who have diarrhea should rest and drink plenty of fluids. No alternative drugs have been identified yet for people with Cyclospora infection who are unable to take sulfa drugs. Some experimental studies, however, have suggested that ciprofloxacin or nitazoxanide may be effective, although to a lesser degree than trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. See your health care provider discuss alternative treatment options.

How can Cyclospora infection be prevented?
Avoiding water or food that may be contaminated is advisable when traveling. Drinking bottled or boiled water and avoiding fresh ready-to-eat produce should help to reduce the risk of infection in regions with high rates of infection. Improving sanitary conditions in developing regions with poor environmental and economic conditions is likely to help to reduce exposure. Washing fresh fruits and vegetables at home may help to remove some of the organisms, but Cyclospora may remain on produce even after washing.

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Are added sugars a food safety issue?

July 12, 2020 - 9:04pm
Opinion

Editor’s note: Each Spring, attorneys Bill Marler and Denis Stearns teach a Food Safety Litigation course in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. This specialized program for attorneys brings together those who are interested in our food system, from farm to table. As a final assignment, students are asked to write an op-ed or essay on food safety, with the best to be selected for publication in Food Safety News. The following is one of the essays for 2020.

By Jessica Guarino

Most threats conjured in the mind upon hearing “food safety” encompass the likes of invisible foodborne pathogens that are the cause of multiple outbreaks each year. Less prominent in the minds of many is the safety of their food from a long-term perspective. It is not always the immediate harms that should prompt swift action: even the most insidious pose a threat to food safety and warrant the same amount of attention. One main culprit is added sugar, and industry does consumers a great disservice by normalizing excess consumption of an ingredient so clearly linked to negative health consequences.

Nearly 70% of packaged foods contain added sugars, and it is well documented that added sugars have significant negative implications for both physical and mental health: countless studies link sugars, and especially the consumption of sugar in excess of recommended amounts, to conditions such as depression, Type 2 Diabetes, and heart disease, among others. It is not just diagnosable health conditions that should concern consumers, for even if a consumer never suffers from one of the conditions linked with consumption of excess added sugars. In terms of the psychological detriment, an increasing amount of studies are drawing connections between depression and anxiety and the ways in which sugar exacerbates those conditions. One study claims: “Firstly, low levels of the growth factor brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) have been discussed as facilitating neurogenesis and hippocampal atrophy in depression . . . Secondly, carbohydrate consumption has been associated with increased circulating inflammatory markers, which may depress mood. Thirdly, high sugar diets could induce hypoglycemia through an exaggerated insulin response and thereby influence hormone levels and potentially mood states. Fourthly, addiction-like effects of sugar suggest dopaminergic neurotransmission mechanisms might connect frequent sugar intake with depression.”

Added sugars pose a different danger by the nature of the products they are often found in: packaged, processed foods. Generally speaking, packaged and processed foods tend to result in low satiety but are high in calories and added sugars. Low satiety means overconsumption of other foods, and those other foods are likely also processed and packaged with an exorbitant level of added sugar. And these reasons are, in part, why the FDA initiated regulations for the labeling of added sugars in their latest Nutrition Innovation Strategy. 

But we should be wary to trust that labeling of harmful substances alone will ensure our lifelong health and safety. Government guidance on nutrition often significantly lags behind current research and, even worse, at times actively regulations in contradiction to what any science suggests. For instance, the current dietary guidelines are only updated every 4 years, and FDA regulations too may take years to finalize. The FDA is forced into a game of endless catch-up that does not serve the interests of the consumer and arguably does not further the FDA’s goals. 

Federal regulations, before effective, must pass through a period of public comment, the likes of which can be particularly revealing. In analyzing the comments made to the Added Sugar declaration on food labels, public health, the public interest sector, government, and academic groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health organization overwhelmingly supported the proposition. 

Unsurprisingly, those in opposition were almost exclusively industry groups. Their position was evidently clear that current science does not support a connection between the consumption of added sugars and negative health conditions. They cite the “scant” evidence and “scientific rationale.” General Mills went so far as to say that “There is little to weak conclusive scientific evidence . . . relating the intake of added sugars in the general U.S. population to a chronic disease, condition, or health-related physiological endpoint beyond dental caries.” The Sugar Association urged anyone reading the comments to consider the benefits of sugar, added and otherwise, in the diet. 

In 2015 the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended limiting added sugars to 10% of an individual’s daily calories (about 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men). At first glance, 10% may not seem like a significant portion of one’s diet, merely 200 calories out of the standard 2000. Yet this recommendation does not discuss consumption of natural sugars, which have no different effect on the body metabolically than added sugars, meaning that overall consumption of sugar may be much higher than just 10% of the daily diet. For perspective, that means if a person followed the DGAC’s suggestion, they consume 1,400 calories in added sugars alone each week. Your daily value of allotted added sugar can easily be wiped away by drinking a Starbucks drink, some of which contain more than 14 teaspoons of sugar.

For years we have heard that sugar is “bad,” but labeling has not empowered consumers to effectively alter their diet to mitigate the risks of high levels of added sugars in the diet. Even the DGAC expressed concern over the effectiveness of labeling added sugars, recommending that amounts be listed in both grams and teaspoons, “since teaspoons are easier to understand for most Americans.”

Curiously, current FDA regulation of added sugar deviates from both of these suggestions from the DGAC. Regulations of added sugars define them as “sugars that are either added during the processing of foods or are packaged as such.” Any terms ending in “ose,” such as fructose, dextrose, and maltose, are all sugars derived from various sources. The FDA calculates the percent Daily Value (% DV) for added sugars on the basis of 50 grams or 12.5 teaspoons of added sugar, nearly double the DGAC’s recommendation for women’s intake and 3.5 teaspoons in excess of the 9 recommended for men. Additionally, the FDA opted to label using only grams instead of teaspoons as a metric. Perhaps the most troubling aspect is the FDA’s acknowledgement that these calculations kept in mind the assumption that Americans are already known to consume added sugars in excess. Despite the slight progress in a healthier direction, reducing added sugars from “a whole lot” to just “a lot” all ends with the same sick populace. 

The deception runs deeper as suppliers make claims about added sugars outside of the ingredient label. Claims such as “healthy,” make no mention of the amounts of sugar, added or otherwise, in assessing a product’s healthiness. Instead, “healthy” foods only consider fat levels and the amounts of beneficial nutrients. Other claims such as “lightly sweetened,” are unregulated, though formulations suggest otherwise. One complaint against Kellog alleged that 40% of the calories in multiple of Kellog’s cereals came from added sugars, yet the terms “nutritious,” “wholesome,” and “lightly sweetened” appeared prominently on the packaging. When labels and claims are so far from the truth, and when the consequences of added sugars are so grave, it is imperative that greater transparency be made available to the consumer. It is one of the FDA’s stated goals to increase transparency in labeling, but all the FDA has done so far for added sugar is potential make the situation more confusing for the average consumer who may not even know the difference between added sugars and those sugars which occur naturally. 

To further food safety goals, it is imperative that the FDA take additional steps to curtail consumption of added sugars. This is especially so given one of the largest group of consumers of added sugars are children, who can develop health problems that will endure alongside them for the rest of their lives. Thomas Robinson, MD, a Stanford pediatric obesity researcher, explained that “The potential implications are even stronger for children than adults. Children are being exposed to that environment for a much longer time. This is particularly a problem in developing countries where their food, supplies, diets and weights are changing so rapidly.” The CDC has predicted that 1 in 3 U.S. children will have diabetes, and that estimate moves to 1 in 2 among African-American and Latina girls. It is hard to imagine that a substance so clearly linked to obesity and known to be present in numerous foods consumed by children, willfully or otherwise, is not even considered when determining what is “healthy.”

Some studies show that the labeling of added sugars will help to curb the economic and personal health costs of the consumption of added sugars. The numbers suggest that more effective, however, would be a combination of labeling declarations and reformulation on the part of industry. One optimistic study cites savings in the billions over the next 20 years of consumption of added sugars is brought down by either or both of those initiatives. The study claims, “Using nationally representative data and a validated microsimulation model, we found that implementation of the Food and Drug Administration added sugar label would prevent 354,400 cardiovascular diseases and 599,300 diabetes mellitus cases over 20 years, gaining 727,000 quality-adjusted life-years.” The researching findings continue, “Potential health gains and cost savings would be twice as large accounting for corresponding industry reformulation.” It is up to industry, says the study, to play their “critical” role “in maximizing the health and economic benefits of the Food and Drug Administration policy.”

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Survey finds food safety primary concern for consumers

July 12, 2020 - 9:03pm

Food safety is the main area of concern for consumers, according to a survey by DNV GL.

A total of 4,500 people were asked about food purchasing habits and results indicated the primary focus was on what impacts consumers directly as individuals.

Half of consumers were interested in more information on food safety and health. Broader sustainability issues, such as environment and social aspects are lower on the list of priorities.

People would welcome more information and transparency on product content and on how food safety is secured from farm to fork. This is followed by hygiene practices adopted to prevent contamination and allergens or potentially dangerous ingredients. Sustainable packaging and food waste also ranked high in the survey that found geographical differences influenced by local legislation, context or recent scandals.

Room for improvement
Almost half said they took food safety for granted to a “large extent” for packaged food, while around a third did this for loose and unbranded packaged food.

DNV GL is a certification body that operates in more than 100 countries. The survey involved 4,500 consumers in March 2020 across 15 countries in Europe, North America, South America and Asia.

Respondents have full or somewhat trust in packaged products from brands at 85 percent, which is more than non-packaged (loose) items at 80 percent or packaged unbranded ones with 69 percent. However, less than half trust brands fully.

A total of 90 percent trust the information brands provide on packaged products, while only 64 percent trust data related to packaged unbranded products.

Joy Franks-Laing, global food and beverage manager at DNV GL-Business Assurance, said food safety is still top of the agenda for consumers.

“However, the survey results seem to indicate that while food and beverage manufacturers and retailers may have invested considerably in protecting consumers, they are not 100 percent convinced that all products are safe to consume.”

Technology and brand story
Only a fifth of consumers surveyed regularly use QR-codes to access more information. However, in areas where distrust in food safety is higher and seen more as an individual rather than company responsibility, QR-codes are more widely used. If they gave access to detailed information on a product’s content and authenticity, two thirds of consumers would be more inclined to use them.

The survey found consumers are willing to pay more for products they trust. If information is verified or the product or manufacturer is certified to a food safety standard, 69 percent are willing to do this. Countries where food safety is of higher concern tend to be more willing to pay extra for verified information or product certification.

European respondents tend to trust food manufacturers and providers more than consumers in other geographies and are less active in seeking product information. In Asia, more would welcome information about food safety and on health issues. Southeast Asia and countries in South Europe pay higher attention to social issues such as healthy working conditions.

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Warning letter sent to pet food firm after inspectors find Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria

July 12, 2020 - 9:01pm

As part of its enforcement activities, the Food and Drug Administration sends warning letters to entities under its jurisdiction. Some letters are not posted for public view until weeks or months after they are sent. Business owners have 15 days to respond to FDA warning letters. Warning letters often are not issued until a company has been given months to years to correct problems.

Lea-Way Farm Inc. dba Blue Ridge Beef
Statesville, NC

A raw pet food company in North Carolina is on notice from the FDA after inspectors found Salmonella, E. coli. and Listeria monocytogenes in their manufacturing facility. This warning letter serves as a reminder that raw pet food products contain raw meat and should be handled no differently than other raw meat products.

In a June 26 warning letter the FDA described a Sept. 30 through Oct. 25, 2019 inspection at Lea-Way Farm, Inc.’s raw pet food manufacturing facility. During the inspection, FDA investigators found serious violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals regulation.

The FDA’s inspection resulted in issuance of an FDA Form 483a. The significant violations listed are:

  1. The firm did not examine their raw materials to ensure they were suitable for manufacturing and processing into animal food, and they did not handle them under conditions that will protect the animal food against contamination and minimize deterioration. Specifically:
  • The firm utilizes tissues from animals that have died otherwise than by slaughter in the manufacturing of pet food without first determining whether the animals suffered any type of illness, injury, and/or whether any medications may have been administered to the animals prior to their pick up from the supplier and subsequent use in manufacturing, such that tissues from the animals would be unsuitable for manufacturing and processing into their pet food.
  1. They did not construct and maintain their plant in a way that reduces the potential for contamination of animal food. Specifically:
  • The concrete floors of the kill floor (where whole animals are skinned and eviscerated), the cooler room (where carcasses are trimmed and held), and the grinder/mixing room (where pet food ingredients are ground, mixed, and packaged into finished product) are rough and pitted, with standing pools of water. These areas are not easily cleaned, creating a possible niche for undesirable microorganisms.
  1. They did not thaw their raw materials or ingredients in a manner that minimizes the potential for the growth of undesirable microorganisms. Specifically:
  • In their grinder/mixing room we observed thawing beef parts used to manufacture their pet food coming into contact with the concrete floor. As noted in violation 2, the condition of their  floors creates a possible niche for undesirable microorganisms that could contaminate the thawing ingredients.
  1. They did not take adequate precautions to ensure that their plant operations do not contribute to contamination of animal food. Specifically:
  • In the cooler, employees were observed performing sanitation procedures. Over-spray from the pressure washer was observed falling into open tubs of exposed meat held for use as pet food.
  • On the kill floor, while employees removed hides from three cow carcasses, stomach contents and fecal matter were observed spilling over onto exposed carcasses. The FDA did not observe these carcasses being rinsed before being rolled into the cooler area where the carcasses are further separated for pet food use.
  • On the kill floor and in the cooler, carcasses were observed being dragged on the floors, dropping from the railing system onto the floors and being trimmed from the floors in these rooms. As noted in violation 2, the condition of their floors creates a niche for microbial activity that could contaminate the carcasses.
  1. The firm did not maintain holding and conveying systems in a way to protect against contamination of animal food. Additionally, all plant equipment must be designed of such material and workmanship to be adequately cleanable and must be properly maintained. Specifically:
  • The overhead metal rails used to transport meat carcasses between the kill floor, cooler room and processing room were observed to be poorly maintained. When overhead rails were in use, chipping/flaking paint and product buildup was observed. Additionally, these rails are not easily cleanable due to the chipping/flaking paint.
  1. The firm did not keep their plant physical facilities in good repair to prevent animal food from becoming adulterated. Specifically:
  • On the kill floor, deteriorating, exposed insulation was observed in the ceiling directly over where exposed beef carcasses are trimmed and separated for pet food.
  • The cooler unit in the cooler room was observed to be in poor repair and dripping condensate directly into tubs of open, exposed beef leg bones, shanks, and neck bones used to manufacture pet food.
  1. The firm’s facility does not have plumbing designed, installed, and maintained to properly convey sewage and liquid disposable waste from the plant and to avoid being a source of contamination to animal food or creating an unsanitary condition. Specifically:
  • The hand washing sinks located on the kill floor and the cooler room did not have adequate plumbing hook-ups to prevent water from running directly onto the floor. As noted above, carcasses used to manufacture pet food are dropped, dragged, and trimmed on these floors.

The presence of undesirable microorganisms in their pet food is further evidence of their significant CGMP violations.

During our inspection, FDA collected final product and raw ingredient samples for microbiological samples. Sample #1098421 consisted of an in-process sample of raw ground beef intended to be used as an ingredient in your firm’s finished product. This sample was found to be positive for Salmonella London Group B1 and generic E. coli. Sample #1098422 of a finished product sample of Blue Ridge Beef Raw Kitten Grind was found positive for Salmonella Agona Group B and Listeria monocytogenes Type One.

The full warning letter can be viewed here.

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Letter from the Editor: Infections and deaths from COVID-19 in meat, poultry industries

July 11, 2020 - 9:05pm
Opinion

When Saul Sanchez, a 78-year old “green hat” supervisor at the JBS beef plant in Greeley, CO, died from COVID-19 this past  April 7, nobody was thinking he might be the first of nearly 100 others in the industry to succumb to the virus. Sanchez worked at the Greeley beef plant for more than 30 years and he reported for work early in the pandemic and was among those who paid the ultimate price.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) is now out with the human cost of keeping meat and poultry plants running this past spring and into the summer months as COVID-19 drags on. Market disruptions and reduced production did occur, but the feared nationwide meat shortages did not.

When infections create fear and when COVID-19 deaths leave behind incredible sadness, some 525,000 meat and poultry industry employees showed up for shift after shift so American consumers never came up short of bacon or sirloins. Those 525,000 industry professionals keep about 3,500 facilities up and running nationwide, according to MMWR.

“Essential jobs” during the pandemic have included  “good news” and “bad news” elements. The good news was that unlike someone in a non-essential job,  there was an option of going to work every day.   Bad news is some of the “essential” jobs included significant risks.

The MMWR has provided the first comprehensive report on just how risky it was for meat and poultry industry employees who kept things running. Overall, 239 facilities in 28 states reported 16,233 COVID-19 cases and 86 COVID-19–related deaths among workers, as of the writing of the report. Demographic characteristics reported by 21 states show Hispanics bore the brunt of the meat industry’s COVID-19 illnesses.  And the MMWR data suggests a disproportionate burden.

“Among animal slaughtering and processing workers from the 21 states included in this report whose race/ethnicity was known, approximately 39 percent were white, 30 percent were Hispanic, 25 percent were black, and 6 percent were Asian,” according to MMWR. “However, among 9,919 workers with COVID-19 with race/ethnicity reported, approximately 56 percent  were Hispanic, 19 percent  were black, 13 percent were white, and 12 percent  were Asian, suggesting that Hispanic and Asian workers might be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in this workplace setting.”

The MMWR says meat and poultry processing facilities “face distinctive challenges in the control of infectious diseases, including coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (1). COVID-19 outbreaks among meat and poultry processing facility workers can rapidly affect large numbers of persons.”    The report documents the evolution of COVID-19’s strike on the industry.

  •  Assessment of COVID-19 cases among workers in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities through April 27, 2020, documented 4,913 cases and 20 deaths reported by 19 states. 
  • The report provides updated aggregate data from states regarding the number of meat and poultry processing facilities affected by COVID-19, the number and demographic characteristics of affected workers, and the number of COVID-19–associated deaths among workers, as well as descriptions of interventions and prevention efforts at these facilities.
  • Aggregate data on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths among workers identified and reported through May 31, 2020, were obtained from 239 affected facilities (those with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case in one or more workers) in 23 states.* COVID-19 was confirmed in 16,233 workers, including 86 COVID-19–related deaths. 
  • Among 14 states reporting the total number of workers in affected meat and poultry processing facilities (112,616), COVID-19 was diagnosed in 9.1 percent of workers. Among 9,919 (61 percent) cases in 21 states with reported race/ethnicity, 87 percent occurred among racial and ethnic minority workers. 

This is important work because until this MMWR report came out unions and other non-government organizations were the only sources for information on the COVID-19’s impact on the meat and poultry industries.  When a number of meat and poultry plants around the country became “hot spots,” and emotions ran high, the unions and NGOs were often the only sources of numbers. And some alleged people were being “forced” to work in the industry.  That is not really accurate of course and takes away from the gallantry of employees who volunteer to take these risks.

The MMWR found “commonly reported interventions and prevention efforts” at the facilities included:

  • implementing worker temperature or symptom screening and COVID-19 education, 
  • mandating face coverings, 
  • adding hand hygiene stations, 
  • and adding physical barriers between workers. 

Targeted workplace interventions and prevention efforts that are appropriately tailored to the groups most affected by COVID-19 are critical to reducing both COVID-19–associated occupational risk and health disparities among vulnerable populations. Implementation of these interventions and prevention efforts across meat and poultry processing facilities nationally could help protect workers in this critical infrastructure industry.

The MMWR said states reported COVID-19 cases determined by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists confirmed case definition. 

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Project to look at 2019 Spanish Listeria outbreak

July 11, 2020 - 9:01pm

Andalusian authorities have allocated €100,000 (U.S. $113,000) for research to learn from the region’s Listeria outbreak in 2019. The project will focus on the epidemiological, microbiological and clinical analysis of the listeriosis outbreak, according to the Ministry of Health and Families in Andalusia.

The outbreak from “La Mecha” brand chilled roasted pork produced by Magrudis affected more than 200 people. During the health alert between mid-August and mid-October three people died and there were five abortions.

Four part project
Listeriosis in Spain has been a reportable, also referred to as notifiable, disease since 2015 and there is a growing trend with the number of hospitalizations rising. Andalusian officials said knowing more about this disease was key to control new cases and stop a possible outbreak.

The objective is to study these areas and generate knowledge to identify ways to improve the surveillance, diagnosis and treatment of listeriosis; and to recognize the epidemiological, microbiological and clinical innovations during the outbreak.

It is structured in four parts looking at epidemiology, microbiology, clinical areas and one section on the outbreak in pregnant women.

About twenty experts will participate in the work led by José Miguel Cisneros Herreros, director of the Clinical Unit for Infectious Diseases, Microbiology and Preventive Medicine at the Virgen del Rocío University Hospital, and president of the Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology.

Earlier this year nearly 700 professionals met in Seville to discuss Spain’s largest ever Listeria crisis at the International Symposium on the Andalusian Listeriosis outbreak.

During the outbreak investigation, more than 1,800 establishments were inspected and 8,000 kilograms of meat seized by authorities. It was also reported by Spanish authorities to the World Health Organization, via the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN).

Listeria infection research
Meanwhile, scientists have looked at how Listeria invades human and other animals’ cells.

Juan José Quereda Torres, researcher and professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Studies of the CEU Cardenal Herrera University of Valencia, collaborated with Institut Pasteur in Paris, where he used to work.

Findings published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases reveal how the bacterium invades cells to replicate and spread the infection in people and animals. Work focuses on the infectious process through which Listeria monocytogenes invades the cells of the host, breaks through their internalization vacuole and reaches the cytosol to replicate.

“In order to progress on the knowledge of this process, in this latest research with Institut Pasteur, we inactivated the expression of the 165 most important genes of the host mammal for the infection by Listeria monocytogenes, and we have identified for the first time the factors of the host that modulate the rupture of the vacuole and the cytoplasmic access to epithelial cells,” said Quereda.

Quereda added results could make it possible to develop new therapies to treat listeriosis in humans and other animals in the future. He has been chosen as the beneficiary of a contract with the Ramón y Cajal program of the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities to continue studying listeriosis.

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Free webinar on nanobubbles and produce safety set this week

July 10, 2020 - 9:05pm

The Produce Marketing Association is offering a free webinar to members and non-members titled, “Nanobubbles: New pop for improved produce safety.” The webinar is set for 4 p.m. EDT on July 16.

The webinar will be moderated by PMA’s Trevor Suslow. Invited nanobubble experts will cover a lay-technical background on nanobubble generation, novel properties, and insights to current research and practical applications for the produce industry.

PMA’s registration site explains how microbubbles, gaseous cavities formed in a liquid, have been used for ultrasonic cleaning under numerous applications for decades. This process has been studied extensively for removal of biofilms and acoustic-carbonic acid microbubble killing of microbes, according to the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). However, this process has seen little commercial use in fresh produce. But now, nanobubble technology is seemingly transforming this approach as this ultra-fine cavitation has truly unique properties in breaking attachments at interfaces and holding antimicrobial gases, such as ozone, in solution at surprising concentrations and for greatly extended durations.

“More recently, nanobubble technology (aka ultrafine bubbles) has intrigued the research and applications communities, including the produce world,” Suslow told Food Safety News.

“A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter, or 0.00000004th, of an inch. A typical E. coli or Salmonella cell is about 1,000 nanometers in size, so a leaf surface aggregate colony would present a large surface area for nanobubbles to do their work. Nanobubbles do not readily coalesce and therefore, combined with other unique surface charge and related properties, stay in solution and don’t rise to the surface and burst.”

In the webinar Suslow will be joined by Yan Jin of the University of Delaware and Alex Athey, CEO of En Solución, to cover a lay-technical background on interfacial and produce surface boundary forces, nanobubble generation, their novel properties and insights on current research and practical applications for our industry.

Suslow is vice president of produce safety at PMA and is also an Emeritus Extension research specialist at the University of California-Davis, Department of Plant Sciences. Most recently, he was recognized by the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) with the 2018 Elmer Marth educator Award and the 2019 IAFP President’s Award for extension and outreach to the food safety community.

To sign up for the webinar, visit the registration page.

The Produce Marketing Association is a trade organization representing companies from every segment of the global fresh produce and floral supply chain. PMA helps members grow by providing connections that expand business opportunities and increase sales and consumption.

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Imported fruit and veg main problem in Singaporean sampling

July 10, 2020 - 9:01pm

Imported fruit and vegetables was the category with the highest percentage of non-compliances during testing in 2019, according to authorities in Singapore.

A total of 3,825 consignments of fruit and vegetables were sampled from April to December 2019 with 491 failing, meaning 87.2 percent passed the Singapore Food Agency’s (SFA) standards. Sample failures were because of exceeding allowable limits, either microbiologically, chemically or for pesticide residues. Singapore imports more than 90 percent of its food.

Seafood products was the second least compliant category as 58 samples failed from 1,242 tests followed by processed food that had 67 non-compliances from 2,189 samples.

Meat and egg results
Overall, 114 meat and meat product samples failed from 7,010 consignments and 14 samples of processed eggs were in violation of the rules from 882 consignments sampled and tested. Chicken and quail eggs were sampled and tested from July to December 2019 with only three of 190 consignments failing the SFA’s standards.

For food products that fail tests, SFA rejects the consignments and requires importers to rectify the issue with their suppliers from overseas. Offenders who illegally import food are liable on conviction to a maximum fine of SGD $50,000 (U.S. $35,900) and/or imprisonment for up to two years.

SFA publishes food safety statistics in January and June to improve the public’s understanding of the agency’s methods to protect public health. It adopts a risk-based approach to food safety and is guided by science-based risk assessment and management. This means food of higher risks are subject to more stringent checks.

Local regulation
Non-retail type establishments were found to have the most non-compliances with 254 issues from 4,041 inspections. Almost 1,400 checks detected non-compliances from 52,000 retail sites and nine problems were found from 2,162 inspections at farms. Non-compliances included poor housekeeping and upkeep of the premises, poor maintenance of equipment and pest infestation.

From April to December 2019, 22 of 34 investigated gastroenteritis incidents were due to foodborne causes. Sixteen food recalls were issued; nine due to microbial contamination, five because of allergens and two owing to physical contaminants.

In June this year, Elite Fine Food LLP, an importer and supplier of foods, was fined SGD $2,000 (U.S. $1,400) for operating and storing meat and seafood products in an unlicensed cold store. In December 2019, officers from the SFA found the company had been storing meat and seafood products in this cold store with a chiller and freezer. More than 1,000 kilograms of frozen and chilled meat and seafood products, including processed pork, duck and beef, were seized.

Offenders who illegally store meat and fish products are liable on conviction to a maximum fine of SGD $10,000 (U.S. $7,200) and/or imprisonment for up to one year.

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Fatal Listeria outbreak linked to trout in the Netherlands

July 9, 2020 - 9:03pm

At least two people have died in a Listeria outbreak linked to chilled smoked trout fillets in the Netherlands.

All six sick people have been hospitalized and two died from their infections. Another person has died but no information about the cause of death was given.

Patients became ill between the beginning of February and mid-June. Their age range is 42 to 85 years old with a median of 78 years old.

Patient interviews and recall
The outbreak was reported by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the Wageningen Food Safety Research (WFSR) institute, who jointly monitor clustering of Listeria isolates from patients and foods, when only three people were affected.

Bond Seafood’s recall

As part of listeriosis reporting, several fish consumption questions are usually asked. This information is currently available for five the outbreak patients. They all ate fish while four of them stated smoked fish and one explicitly mentioned trout.

In the third week of June, four products were recalled — smoked trout fillets from Vis Marine, Albert Heijn and two fish items from Bond Seafood. Shelf life dates ranged from June 20 to July 5.

Link to single production process
An NVWA spokesman said it was not clear which of the products have caused illness and all were made by the same production process.

Albert Heijn’s recall

The NVWA was notified that three food isolates and three patient isolates formed a cluster, based on whole genome sequencing (WGS) analyses.

“Following this notification, the outbreak investigation pointed toward a single production process as the source for this outbreak. It was concluded that the safety of products produced by this process could not be guaranteed, leading to the recall,” the NVWA spokesman told Food Safety News.

“Furthermore, steps have been taken by the producer to remove possible sources of contamination. As all involved food business operators have voluntary taken all expected actions, no measures towards them were taken by the NVWA. As the recall was initiated on June 19, and given the potentially long incubation time for Listeria, we cannot exclude that more cases related to this outbreak will be identified.”

The Vis Marine 125-gram product was sold at Boon, Boni, Coop, Hoogvliet, Jan Linders, Nettorama, Plus, Poiesz, Spar and Vomar stores. Two products from Bond Seafood were sold at Jumbo Supermarkten and the AH trout fillet was available for purchase at Albert Heijn stores.

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Categories: News in Food Safety

Researchers report impact of safety video on use of food thermometers

July 9, 2020 - 9:03pm

You can show consumers a food safety video, and give them food safety tools, but you can’t make them use food thermometers all of the time.

Study results just published by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service show consumer behavior related to the use of thermometers when cooking ground turkey patties. “An Observational Study of Thermometer Use by Consumers When Preparing Ground Turkey Patties” is in the July issue of the “Journal of Food Protection,” which is published by the International Association for Food Protection.

“As a food scientist, it’s important that we publish these results in peer-reviewed journals and that other scientists have access to the methodology and results,” said USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears. “This is in direct alignment with my goal to lead food safety using science, and we are ensuring that our safe food handling and cooking recommendations are grounded in science and are designed to help prevent foodborne illness.”

Data collected from six test kitchen facilities in two locations in North Carolina – one urban and one rural — compared two groups of people randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group was shown a video about food safety and the use of food thermometers during preparation. The other group did not see the video.

Although 62 percent overall said they owned a food thermometer, only 34 percent of those who did not see the video used thermometers while cooking in the test kitchens. A full 75 percent of those who saw the video used the provided thermometers. 

The video viewers were twice as likely to insert the food thermometer correctly in the turkey patty compared to the non-video group, at 52 percent and 23 percent, respectively, according to the research report.

Those who saw the safety video also scored better as far as testing both of two turkey patties to make sure they were both properly cooked. When those in the non-video group used a food thermometer, 46 percent did not cook the turkey patties to the safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

The study, conducted in 2018, has been under review by experts in the field to gain peer-reviewed designation.

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Categories: News in Food Safety