by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: E.coli

Jun 20 2009

How could E. coli O157:H7 get into cookie dough?

Thanks to Bill Marler for discussing this question on his blog this morning and for suggesting starting with the ingredient list.  As a typical example, here is the ingredient list for Nestlé’s Chocolate Chunk cookie dough (others can be found at this site):

INGREDIENTS: BLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), SUGAR, NESTLE SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE CHUNKS (SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE [SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, COCOA BUTTER, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLIN – AN ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, NATURAL FLAVOR]), MARGARINE (PALM OIL, WATER, SUNFLOWER OIL, HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, SALT, VEGETABLE MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, SOY LECITHIN, SODIUM BENZOATE, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, BETA CAROTENE COLOR, VITAMIN A PALMITATE ADDED), WATER, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, MOLASSES, EGGS, EGG YOLKS, BAKING SODA, SALT, CORNSTARCH, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE, VANILLA EXTRACT, VANILLIN – AN ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR

MADE ON EQUIPMENT THAT ALSO PROCESSES PEANUTS/NUTS

CONTAINS: MILK, EGG, SOY, WHEAT INGREDIENTS

For starters, we don’t really know yet whether raw cookie dough is the source of this E. coli outbreak.  It could be something else, and Nestlé will have recalled 300,000 cases purely out of precaution.  The most likely source of bacterial contamination is eggs, but eggs typically carry Salmonella, not E. coli O157:H7.   And besides, the eggs in raw cookie dough are undoubtedly pasteurized, which ought to kill any bacteria that happen to be present.

The usual source of this toxic form of E. coli is cow manure.  Cows that carry this bug do not necessarily become ill, but they excrete it. Recall the spinach E. coli outbreak in 2006?  The spinach field was one mile away from a cattle crossing over a stream.  California investigators identified the particular strain of E. coli that caused the problem in cattle, cattle feces, and water at the cattle crossing, but did not found it in the field.

All they could do is speculate. Their leading hypotheses were runoff, a change in the water table, and (my favorite) wild boar.  Unfortunately for this last theory, when they surveyed wild boar for E. coli O157:H7, they found fewer than 0.5% to carry it.  So how E. coli got into the spinach remains a mystery.

As for the cookie dough, I’m guessing that everyone involved is having a busy weekend testing the ingredients, the packing plants, and everything else they can think of.  Let’s hope they find the source right away.

Jun 19 2009

Cookie dough alert: E. coli O157:H7

As a result of investigations in Colorado, the FDA has just issued one of it’s lovely warnings of “voluntary” recalls, this time of Nestlé ‘s raw Toll House cookie dough (see product list).

I’d like to know if cookie dough is really the problem.  If there is a problem with cookie dough, it’s usually Salmonella. If cookie dough is the culprit, how on earth did this nasty form of E. coli, usually excreted by farm animals, get into it?  Eggs?  Butter?  Chocolate?  Flour?   In the meantime, the tally has reached 65 victims in 29 states: 25 hospitalizations, 7 with severe complications, no deaths.  Here’s the brand new CDC Nestlé Toll House Cookie Dough outbreak page with the statistics.

The roster: spinach 2006, pet food 2007, tomatoes (or was it jalapeno peppers or cilantro) 2008, peanut butter 2009, pistachios 2009. And now cookie dough.

The endless mantra is that we need prevention: HACCP, pathogen testing, and independent third-party verification.

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Nov 7 2007

Tracking E. coli Outbreaks: An Interactive Map

MSNBC has produced a nifty map of the sources of E. coli outbreaks by state, from 1990 to the present. Click on the year, and see where the outbreaks occurred. If the list seems sparse, it’s because not all are listed. If we don’t do something serious about regulating food production, the map will just get more complicated.

Nov 3 2007

Another Cargill E. coli Recall–a Biggie

I don’t know about you but I can’t keep up with them. So here is another million pound recall of hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This time, the USDA was on the job testing hamburger at the retail level. Good work. USDA has safety rules (HACCP with pathogen reduction) for meat and poultry packers. Now, how about enforcing them? Or is that too much to ask?

Nov 2 2007

Another E. coli recall: this time, frozen pizzas

Would you believe 5 million pizzas? 5 million! That’s a lot of pepperoni.

I’ll say it again: how bad does it have to get? We know how to produce safe food. If companies aren’t producing safe food, it’s because they are leaving it up to customers to cook foods properly, cutting corners, or just don’t care–and because nobody is making them. I’ll say it again: How bad does it have to get to get Congress to call for a farm-to-table food safety system in this country, one that requires companies to follow standard food safety procedures, test to make sure they are working, and pay dearly if they are not.

Oct 26 2007

USDA taking action on E. coli, and about time too

According to news reports, the USDA has just announced that it plans to hold companies accountable for producing safe beef. USDA safety officials say they are taking aggressive steps (see list) to reduce outbreaks from E. coli and other pathogens. As I keep saying, companies know how to produce safe meat, but need some encouragement (translation: enforcement) to do so. The USDA absolutely has the mandate to enforce food safety regulations and let’s hope it really does.

Oct 23 2007

Unsafe meat: now we know why?

So now we know (courtesy of the New York Times) why E. coli O157:H7 recalls are becoming more frequent: the meat industry isn’t following food safety rules. These rules were require meat and poultry producers to develop and monitor plans for producing safe food, and to test to make sure the plans are working. Two problems here: the companies aren’t bothering to follow the rules, and the onsite USDA inspectors aren’t bothering to enforce them. Standard food safety rules–HACCP and pathogen reduction–work really well, but only if designed, followed, and enforced to the letter and spirit. I keep asking: what will it take to get Congress to act on the food safety issue?

Oct 21 2007

Meat recalls: Keeping up

I’ve just discovered Meat & Poultry, an excellent source of information about current recalls and other industry gossip. The site describes two new E. coli O157:H7 recalls, which now must be added to the “sudden spike” of 14 others this year. Are incidents and outbreaks increasing because the industry is getting sloppier, or is the surveillance system getting better? Whatever. If we had a farm-to-table food safety system, we might be able to answer this question and do something about it.