Jul 16 2010

Food safety roundup

I’ve been collecting items on food safety for the last week or two. Here’s a roundup for a quiet Friday in July:

Antibiotics in animal agriculture

     USA Today does great editorial point/counterpoints and here is one from July 12 on use of antibiotics as growth promoters or as  prophylactics in farm animals and poultry.  This selects for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   If we get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, too bad for us. 

     The paper’s editors think that use of antibiotics for these purposes is irresponsible:  Our view on food safety: To protect humans, curb antibiotic use in animals.

     Dr. Howard Hill, a veterinarian who directs the National Pork Producers Council, defends these uses of antibiotics: Don’t bar animal antibiotics.

The source of the 2006 E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in California spinach

     USDA and UC Davis investigators are still trying to figure out how the toxic E. coli O157:H7 got onto the spinach. Investigators did not find the bacteria on the spinach field itself, but they did find it in water, cattle, and cattle feces at a cattle crossing over a stream one mile away. Leading hypotheses: runoff from that stream or wild boar.

     Subsequent studies showed low levels of E. coli 0157:H7 in wild animals and birds.  A new study confirms that just under 4% of wild boar harbor the bacteria. 

     The investigators say the spinach outbreak of 2006 was the result of a combination of circumstances: “Everybody is starting to realize that maybe unusually heavy rainfall prior to planting could be an issue in terms of where water is routed.”

     Dairy farming is moving into California’s Central Valley in a big way.  Runoff from those farms will not be sterile and growing vegetables along water routes may be risky.  Compost, anyone?

The chemical behind Kellogg’s cereal recall

     Kellogg recalled 28 million packets of breakfast cereals last month because people reported funny smells and getting sick from something in the packaging.  At first, Kellogg would not say what the chemical contaminant might be.  

     Then it said the chemical is methylnaphthalene. Mothballs! (Are they still making mothballs?  Their smell is unforgettable)

     Tom Philpott’s comments on Grist.com point out what’s really at stake: “And of course, the real scandal is what Kellogg’s is marketing to kids: a tarted-up slurry consisting mainly of sugar, corn products, partially hydrogenated oil, and food colorings. But that’s a whole different story.”

Salsa and guacamole are sources of foodborne illness

     The CDC reports that salsa and guacamole are becoming more frequent sources of contaminants leading to illness.  CDC started collecting information on sources of outbreaks in 1973.  Its first outbreak due to salsa or guacamole occurred in 1984.  Since then, there have been 136 such outbreaks.  Restaurants and delis were responsible for 84%.  Between 1984 and 1997, salsa and guacamole outbreaks accounted for 1.5% of total foodborne outbreaks.  But the percentage rose to 3.9% from 1998 to 2008.

     Moral: make your own!

China deals with melamine in milk powder

     China is taking creative steps to prevent melamine from getting into milk powder and infant formula.  To discourage fraudulent producers from boosting up the apparent level of protein in milk with melamine, it simply reduced the amount of protein required.

The latest on food irradiation

     FoodSafetyNews.com presented a two-part series on food irradiation (part 1 and part 2), both of them quite favorable to the technology. As I discuss in my book, Safe Food, I don’t have any safety ojections to food irradiation, but I consider it a late-stage techno-fix for a problem that should never have occurred in the first place.

     I conclude with my favorite quote from former USDA official Carol Tucker Foreman: “sterilized poop is still poop.”

Enjoy a safe weekend!

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  • Cathy Richards

    That guacamole thing: maybe they should be looking at whether the restaurants are using prepared guacamole or making it from scratch on site.

    Let’s face it, small levels of food poisoning happen when restaurants make things from scratch, or when one restaurant worker has a disease and/or isn’t practising good hygiene.

    Once food poisonings start to be recognized on a national level, IT’S NOT THE RESTAURANT!!! It’s the prepared, widely distributed food source.

    Preprepared guacamole can keep for days in the fridge and still look and taste okay. That doesn’t make it okay. Once it’s opened (assuming it’s safe before it’s opened) then shouldn’t they be tossing it sooner?

    I guess it’s still the restaurants’ fault for using preprepared guacamole. But like Marion says, get the problem at the source, which is most likely NOT the restaurant.

    In the meantime, ask your server “is your guacamole made from scratch?” and if they say no, reply “that’s too bad, I would have ordered it if it was”.

  • Cathy Richards

    BTW, re antibiotics, again I will comment that we get what we pay for. If we insist on cheap chickens, chickens will grow in cheap crowded conditions that require antibitics (yes, require) to prevent wide spread disease and death that is otherwise inevitable in crowded chicken houses.

    If we pay more for chickens, farmers can grow them in less crowded conditions. Then, and only then, are antibiotics not routinely required (just used for disease treatment). That’s when antibiotics become “nice to have” to speed up growth, which won’t need to happen if we pay the real amount of money it takes to raise a healthy, humanely treated, chicken that has time to grow to maturity without antibiotics.

    Same goes for hog, beef, fish production.

    Enjoy a veggie Friday. We need national sanctions, but local individual action.

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  • http://freedomandlinux.wordpress.com Darth Chaos

    Carol Tucker-Foreman lost all credibility when she lobbied for Monsanto’s rBGH/rBST.