As we wait for more information about the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to cantaloupes grown in Indiana, let’s look back at the outbreaks caused by this fruit in the 19 months. In 2011 and 2012, there have been three outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to cantaloupe.
This fruit is more likely to be contaminated because the thick webbed skin provides lots of places for bacteria to hide, and because the fruit lies directly on the ground while it is growing. Animals, contaminated irrigation water, improper handling, and unsanitary conditions on the farm and in packing sheds can contaminate the fruit. In fact, according to the FDA, from 1996 to 2008, there were 10 nationwide outbreaks linked to melons that caused 507 illnesses and two deaths.
In the spring of 2011, 20 people were infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Panama. Three people were hospitalized; no deaths were reported. The patients lived in Arizona (1), California (2), Colorado (1), Maryland (1), Montana (1), Nevada (1), Oregon (6), Pennsylvania (1), Utah (1) and Washington (5). Product traceback information found that the cantaloupes came from a single farm in Guatemala.
In the summer of 2011, 146 people were sickened by the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes after eating cantaloupes grown and processed at Jensen Farms in Colorado. At least 30 people died in this outbreak, and one woman suffered a miscarriage. The case patients lived in these states: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), California (4), Colorado (40), Idaho (2), Illinois (4), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (11), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (7), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), Nevada (1), New Mexico (15), New York (2), North Dakota (2), Oklahoma (12), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (18), Utah (1), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (4). The people who died lived in these states: Colorado (8), Indiana (1), Kansas (3), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (3), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), New York (2), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2), and Wyoming (1).
Even though Jensen Farms passed the audit conducted by a third-party auditor, the facility had ”several major deficiencies”. The melons were not pre-cooled, the water used to wash the melons was not chlorinated, and processing equipment was designed to wash potatoes, which are cooked before eating. Anyone who intends to assert a claim against Jensen farms must file by September 14, 2012, according to the United States Bankruptcy Court.
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The current outbreak is caused by Salmonella Typhimurium, and is linked to cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana. The CDC has formally announced the outbreak, which has sickened at least 141 people in 20 states. At least 31 people are hospitalized; 2 people in Kentucky have died.
The government has not yet named the farm that grew and processed and melons, and has not named grocery stores and other facilities which have sold the fruit. The case patients live in these states: Alabama (7), Arkansas (3), California (2), Georgia (1), Illinois (17), Indiana (13), Iowa (7), Kentucky (50), Michigan (6), Minnesota (3), Missouri (9), Mississippi (2), New Jersey (1), North Carolina (3), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (1), and Wisconsin (2).
Fred Pritzker, national food safety attorney, has called on the FDA to issue mandatory industry guidelines for melon growers and to enforce them with audits. ”How many more people have to get sick and die before this hazard is addressed?” he asks. “We need more than non-binding safety recommendations for cantaloupe growing, handling, processing, and distribution.” We’ll keep you informed as more information becomes available.
Six elderly women and a 4-year-old girl were killed earlier this month when a cabbage they consumed was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. More than 100 were sickened in the Hokkaido area outbreak.
The Japan Times said it was the worst food poisoning outbreak to be experienced on island nation in a decade.
The women who died were residents of nursing homes in Sapporo and Ebetsu that served the bad cabbages. The girl died Aug 11, also in Sapporo. All who were sickened and died apparently ate a lightly pickled Chinese cabbage produced by a local company.
One of the elderly women ate the pickled product at her nursing home on Aug. 1 and died Aug. 18 from multiple organ failure after nine days in the hospital.
The young girl from Sapporo died five days after developing E. coli symptoms. Her family bought the pickled cabbage at a local supermarket.
Health officials told the newspaper they do not know how the bacteria got mixed with the pickled cabbage.
In 2002, Japan saw the deaths of nine people with E. coli infections from eating marinade chicken at a hospital and its nursing home annex at Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is continuing to investigate Central Valley Meat in Hanford, California after undercover video showed culled dairy cows being abused at the plant, but the agency said late Tuesday that there is no evidence that sick or lame cows were slaughtered for human consumption.
Late last week, animal rights group Compassion Over Killing gave USDA an extended version of a video they say was shot by one of their investigators who worked at the plant. After reviewing the footage, USDA determined that, while there is evidence of “egregious” humane handling violations, there is no evidence that lame animals were entering the food supply.
So-called “downer” cattle, those unable to stand or walk, are not legally allowed to be slaughtered for human consumption, in part because of the risk of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection service said it was conducting a “thorough investigation that encompasses food safety and will respond appropriately to its results.”
In April, the USDA confirmed that a downer dairy cow sent to a rendering plant, not a slaughter facility, tested positive for BSE. Downer cattle can be rendered into pet food or poultry feed, but are not allowed to be used in ruminant feed or human food to reduce the risk of BSE transmission.
“Our top priority is to ensure the safety of the food Americans feed their families,” said Al Almanza, Administrator of FSIS. “We have reviewed the video and determined that, while some of the footage provided shows unacceptable treatment of cattle, it does not show anything that would compromise food safety. Therefore, we have not substantiated a food safety violation at this time. We are aggressively continuing to investigate the allegations.”
As recently as 2009, Central Valley Meat was one of the top three suppliers of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program, but USDA did not respond to questions Tuesday about whether Central Valley Meat is still supplying the National School Lunch Program or about how much meat the company may be selling to federal nutrition programs annually.
ABC News reported that the company currently holds a $3.8 million, two-month contract with the government.
Shortly after learning about the video, popular fast food chain In-N-Out Burger announced they had severed ties with Central Valley Meat, which had previously been supplying between 20 and 30 percent of the chain’s beef.
The graphic excerpt of the undercover video posted online, which was reviewed by Food Safety News, shows cows before slaughter covered in dirt and feces, some of them writhing on the ground and bleeding on themselves after being bolted repeatedly, but not rendered senseless. Several cows are shown projectile vomiting, presumably from stress, while being hit repeatedly with the bolt gun.
One cow is shown being suffocated by a worker who stands on the animal’s snout. Some cows seem to survive the bolt gun and get sent down the assembly line still thrashing as they are strung upside down before being bled out. Another clip shows cows being sprayed with hot water and electrically prodded to move them.
Generally speaking, public health veterinarians are charged with observing all animals headed to slaughter — both in motion and at rest — to declare them fit for human consumption. But, as former undersecretary for food safety Richard Raymond explained to Food Safety News, “That does not mean they are out in the pens 24/7.”
While many have questioned whether the FSIS inspectors on site were doing their jobs appropriately, Raymond said it’s likely that the inspectors and the public health veterinarian on hand were doing their jobs, but perhaps were not monitoring the pens where the alleged abuse took place.
Some companies, including Cargill, are now employing around-the-clock video monitoring to ensure that there is no mistreatment of animals, especially after the 2008 scandal involving Hallmark/Westland, which was also a major supplier of the National School Lunch Program. Undercover footage shot by the Humane Society of the United States showed non-ambulatory cows being grossly mistreated, sparking outrage among consumers and animal welfare advocates. The footage prompted the largest ever meat recall in history — 143 million pounds of ground beef — after most of it was eaten.
“It’s unfortunate when something like this happens,” said Raymond, who was undersecretary during the Hallmark/Westland incident. “You would think that this particular segment of the industry would have learned their lesson from Hallmark/Westland, but they apparently haven’t. It’s bad for industry, it’s bad for agriculture, and I don’t feel bad for Central Valley Meat. I didn’t feel bad for Hallmark/Westland. It’s their responsibility to ensure these violations do not happen.”
Like Hallmark/Westland, Central Valley Meat primarily slaughters dairy cows that are no longer productive. According to Raymond, these cows have a tendency to go down because they are 10 to 12 years old, quite old compared to the 30 month old steers raised for beef production.
“They’re not in the best of the health.. and sometimes they have some mastitis,” said Raymond.
Central Valley Meat Co. responded Monday by saying that it was cooperating fully with the USDA investigation.
“At Central Valley Meat Co., ensuring that the livestock we process are treated humanely is critically important,” said Brian Coelho, president of the company, in a statement. “Our company seeks not just to meet federal humane handling regulations, but to exceed them.”
Coelho said he was “extremely disturbed” to be told by USDA of the allegations, but could not comment directly on what was in the video because it had not yet been shared with his company.
James Andrews contributed reporting to this piece.
The California Department of Public Health is warning the public to not eat some 7th Heaven Gourmet spreads because they may have been improperly produced. That means that, as canned products, they may be susceptible to Clostridium botulinum bacteria. No illnesses are linked to these products at this time.
7th Heaven Gourmet of Hesperia, California is recalling Pate Meditteraneo and Eggplant & Shitake Tapenade. The products were packaged in 7 ounce glass jars with screw-on metal lids. There are no production or date codes.
The spreads were sold between September 2011 and July 2012 at these Farmer’s Markets: Victorville Farmers Market (Victor Valley College) at 18422 Bear Valley Road in Victorville, California. Victoria Garden Farmers Market, 12505 North Mainstreet in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Palm Springs Village Fest, North Palm Canyon between Amato and Ramon in Palm Springs, CA. And The Inland Certified Farmers Market at 5261 Arlington Avenue in Riverside, California.
If you have purchased these products, discard them in the trash. Since botulism toxin is colorless, tasteless, and odorless, you can’t tell if an item contains the toxin. And further cooking is not going to inactive any toxin present.
The symptoms of botulism poisoning include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, and sore throat. Symmetrical progressive descending paralysis may follow. Additional symptoms include slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and paralysis of respiratory muscles. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately. For questions, call 916-440-7259.
Articles of Interest
A new study has found that older adults, along with their caregivers and health care providers, are not receiving food safety education needed to protect this vulnerable group. The elderly are part of the high risk group of people who are at most risk of developing complications after a food borne illness.
Scientists at Tennessee State University and RTI International held focus groups to study this issue. They contacted 55 people who work with the elderly, such as nurses, home health care providers, doctors, and relatives, and discovered that most do not have thorough knowledge of food safety rules. Adults over the age of 60 are more likely to suffer severe complications from foodborne illness, which can lead to hospitalization and death.
In the 2011 Listeria outbreak linked to Jensen Farms cantaloupe, most of the ill persons were over the age of 60. The median age in that outbreak was 77. And the outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 at the Neff’s Lawn Care picnic in Ohio this summer killed a 73-year-old man.
According to the FDA, as we age, our immune systems slow down and reduce the body’s ability to fight infection. This is especially true for anyone over the age of 75. In addition, many elderly people have chronic health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or heart disease, which can further weaken the immune system.
The study found that health care providers do not have the “training, knowledge, and willingness to provide food safety information to older adults.” For instance, the caregivers did not know that in order to prevent Listeria infections in the elderly, deli meats should be reheated to 165 degrees F, and that deli salads and other ready-to-eat processed foods such as soft cheeses and smoked seafood should be avoided. Caregivers who were relatives of the elderly patients were most likely to be well informed in matters of food safety.
Unfortunately, professional health care providers stated they do not talk to their elderly patients about food safety because there isn’t enough time during medical appointments. They were willing to provide brochures and other educational materials. The FDA has specific food safety information for the elderly that is available at the FDA site.
A few days ago we told you about the “No on 37″ response to California ballot initiative Prop 37. Proposition 37 will make it illegal to sell foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered ingredients (GE) unless the label lists those foods on the package.
No on 37 said that “Proposition 37 would ban the sale of tens of thousands of … grocery products.” Stacy Malkan of CARighttoKnow.org told Food Poisoning Bulletin, ”Prop 37 does not ‘ban the sale’ of food unless it is specifically repackaged. It requires companies to add a few words to their labels. How is this going to increase the cost of food by billions of dollars? Remember, these are the same companies that told us DDT and Agent Orange were safe. Personally I don’t trust them to have our best interests at heart and I would rather make my own choices about what I eat and feed my family.”
It is true that there have been no long-term studies of the potential risks of genetically modified food. The food is changed because its DNA has been altered with the addition of genes from plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria. For instance, GMO corn produces its own pesticides. The corn is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency as an insecticide, but it is sold for human consumption unlabeled.
At the same time, Plant Incorporated Protectants, as plants that produce their own pesticides are called, are “tested against human safety standards for toxicity, allergenicity, and skin and eye irritation, as well as long-term effects including cancer, birth defects, and reproductive and neurological system disorders,” according to the EPA. Scientists evaluate the exposure to pestsicides from food, drinking water, and direct exposure to determine the likelihood that the pesticides in that food would produce a health risk.
The EPA states that “based on our reviews of the scientific studies … EPA determined that these genetically engineered PIP products … would not pose unreasonable risk to human health and the environment during their time-limited registration.” But as we told you in May, Dr. Ted Labuza, food science professor at the University of Minnesota, says “if people are concerned about something it’s logical to label it. The principle of informed consent applies here. People have the right to avoid something if they don’t want to eat it.” And the American Medical Association, while it would not endorse labeling, has recommended that the FDA test GMO foods to ensure the health of the public.
The number of people sickened by Salmonella traced to chicks and ducklings from an Ohio mail order hatchery has risen from 123 to 163, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The illnesses – linked to contact with live baby poultry sold by Mt. Hatchery of Cincinnati, OH – began in March of this year. Three strains of Salmonella – Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Lille and Salmonella Newport – have been associated with animals from the hatchery.
The 20 new cases reported since CDC’s last update on July 12 occurred in 10 states, including Illinois (2), Massachusetts (1), Maryland (2), New York (5), North Carolina (1), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (1), Vermont (1) and West Virginia (3).
Case totals in the 26 states affected by the outbreak are as follows:
Alabama (4), Arizona (1), Delaware (1), Georgia (5), Illinois (3), Indiana (3), Kansas (1), Kentucky (5), Louisiana (1), Maine (4), Maryland (3), Massachusetts (3), Michigan (2), Nebraska (1), New Jersey (1), New York (21), North Carolina (15), Ohio (39), Pennsylvania (13), Rhode Island (1), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (11), Texas (2), Vermont (2), Virginia (9), and West Virginia (10).
Of the 163 people sickened in these outbreaks, 33 percent have been hospitalized. Two outbreak victims – one in Maryland and one in New York – have died, but it is unclear whether their deaths were a result of Salmonella infection or due to other causes.
Over one third (34 percent) of those sickened are children aged 10 or younger.
Mt. Healthy Hatchery is the same company that was linked to illnesses from Salmonella Altona and Salmonella Johannesburg in 2011. Those joint outbreaks sickened at least 96 people.
Veterinarians from the Ohio Department of Health visited the hatchery in May of 2012 and made recommendations for safety improvement.
The 3 outbreaks currently linked to the hatchery were still causing illnesses as of July 31, 2012. Illnesses that began after July 21, 2012 may not have been counted yet due to the time delay between an illnesses’ onset and the time it is reported, notes CDC.
The agency offers the following recommendations to consumers to help avoid Salmonella infection when handling live baby poultry:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
- Do not let children younger than 5 years of age, elderly persons, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
- Do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens, or outdoor patios.
- Do not snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection can appear anywhere from 6 hours to several days after exposure, and include fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, headache and body aches.
If you think you may have contracted a Salmonella infection, contact your healthcare provider.
Next month’s promised release of a new “full re-evaluation” of the sweetener aspartame is not going to happen until at least May 2013.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) asked for the extra time, and the European Commission (EC) — the governing body for the 27-country European Union (EU) — granted its request.
EFSA originally planned to do a re-evaluation of aspartame in time for a 2020 release date. The EC asked that the work be advanced by eight years and released in September 2012.
In a statement on the requested delay, EFSA said the additional time will allow for scientific experts to consider new data and compete a comprehensive risk assessment in addition to allowing time for a draft version to be circulated for comments before the new re-evaluation becomes final.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that’s been involved in one of the longest running food safety controversies in history.
The low-calorie sweetener is a popular table top sugar substitute and is used in beverages, desserts, dairy products, chewing gums, energy control and weight control products.
EFSA last certified the safety of aspartame in 2009 in Regulation EU 257/2010.
Since agreeing to move up its scheduled 2020 review, EFSA has issued a public call for scientific data as part of its “thorough literature review, ” and is now doing so again.
EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food (ANS) is well into the risk assessment.
In the course of its scientific deliberations, the Panel has found that there was too little data available on 5-benzyl-3,6-dioxo-2-piperazine acetic acid (DKP) and other potential degradation products that can be formed from aspartame in food and beverages when stored under certain conditions.
For that reason, EFSA is launching an additional call for data on DKP and other degradation products of aspartame.
In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved aspartame in 1974 and then rescinded its approval until 1981. More than 100 other national regulatory agencies followed FDA’s approval, permitting aspartame for human use country by country. The first approvals for European countries also came in the 1980s.
Yet controversy has dogged the product for the past 40 years. Unless the date is moved again, the review EFSA comes out with in 2013 will be its fifth. All previous works have attested to the aspartame’s safety.
The aspartame product known as NutraSweet was ready to go in 1965. But it would be a long haul for Searle, the pharmaceutical company that did the research and development on aspartame before its own name disappeared through mergers and acquisitions.
Aspartame conspiracies would drag Searle through grand juries and 60 Minutes with most making never proven claims about the sweetener causing cancer.
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