by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-safety

Jan 9 2018

What’s the story on FDA recalls?

Let’s start with the report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG).  Now that the Food Safety Modernization Act gave the FDA the authority to issue recalls of unsafe food, the OIG wanted to know how it was using that authority.  OIG’s opinion:

FDA did not always have an efficient and effective food-recall process that ensured the safety of the Nation’s food supply. We identified deficiencies in FDA’s oversight of recall initiation, monitoring of recalls, and the recall information captured and maintained in FDA’s electronic recall data system, the Recall Enterprise System (RES). Specifically, we found that FDA could not always ensure that firms initiated recalls promptly and that FDA did not always

(1) evaluate health hazards in a timely manner,

(2) issue audit check assignments at the appropriate level, (

3) complete audit checks in accordance with its procedures,

(4) collect timely and complete status reports from firms that have issued recalls,

(5) track key recall data in the RES, and (6) maintain accurate recall data in the RES.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb responded to the OIG report.

The FDA has authority to act in a variety of ways when it is made aware of an unsafe food product. But often the fastest and most efficient way to ensure unsafe foods are recalled quickly is by working directly with the involved companies while simultaneously providing the public with timely, accurate information that they can act on….Fortunately, most companies are cooperative and rapidly initiate a voluntary recall of a hazardous food product. On average, the recall occurs within four calendar days of the problem being discovered…Sometimes the recall process does not work as well as we’d like.’

In that response, he explains that the FDA has more work to do.   He also says so on Twitter.

Politico’s Dan Diamond interviewed Gottlieb last week. As Politico Morning Agriculture puts it, “Pour coffee & listen here” to the interview.

In the meantime, CSPI and other food-safety advocacy groups are asking the FDA to reveal the names of retailers that are selling recalled products.  What they—and food safety lawyer Bill Marler—are also arguing is that the FDA needs to release the names of retailers who are selling recalled goods as a measure to help consumers protect themselves.  The FDA appears to consider this information proprietary.  If so, it is putting business profits above public health and should rethink that policy.

As the Washington Post puts it, the FDA’s interpretation

differs from that of other agencies in the federal food safety system, an overlapping and often illogical network of regulatory fiefdoms. The system, which is responsible for keeping food free of bacteria and other pathogens, frequently has to weigh the very real interests of private food companies against potential risks to the public. In the case of releasing retailer lists during major outbreaks, the FDA has historically sided with business, ruling that such lists constitute “confidential commercial information” and thus should not be available for public consumption.

Documents 

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Dec 26 2017

Rattlesnake pills? Really? Contaminated with Salmonella?

I am indebted to food safety lawyer Bill Marler for enlightening me about these pills in the first place, and their contamination with Salmonella.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment have linked one  person’s Salmonella Oranienburg infection to taking rattlesnake pills. Rattlesnake pills are often marketed as remedies for various conditions, such as cancer and HIV infection. These pills contain dehydrated rattlesnake meat ground into a powder and put into pill form. CDC recommends that you talk to your health care provider if you are considering taking rattlesnake pills, especially if you are in a group more likely to get a severe Salmonella infection.

Can’t wait to hear what your health care provider says about these.

 

Oct 10 2017

FDA says love is not a food ingredient

Food regulation is no trivial matter.  Every word on a food label has a Federal Register notice and Code of Federal Regulation section behind it.

Consequently, I was amused to learn that the FDA was not amused when it found the word “love” in the ingredient list of granola from Nashoba Brook Bakery.  The FDA issued a warning letter with this presumably non-ironic statement:

Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient “Love”. Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name [21 CFR 101.4(a)(1). “Love” is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.

From its website, the bakery looks like it makes great stuff, but its owners must not be familiar with FDA’s byzantine regulatory requirements.  The warning letter also chided the bakery for a long list of food safety violations, among them:

  • Approximately five flies in the ready-to-eat cooling area and processing area of the facility, all near or on food.
  • One approximately 1″ long crawling insect underneath exposed ready-to-eat foods in the pastry area, including focaccia breads, 7-Grain rolls, and brioche rolls.
  • The mixing employee was wearing a blue plastic bracelet while working with raw dough. The bracelet came into repeated contact with raw dough and dough varieties.
  • A production employee wore a nose ring and earrings while handling and shaping raw dough.

I hope the bakery gets its regulatory and food safety act together right away.

Personally, I like a little love in my granola.

Aug 21 2017

The Papaya Salmonella (4 kinds!) outbreak continues

The CDC tracking of the papaya outbreak continues, with a score of

  • Case Count: 173
  • States: 21
  • Deaths: 1
  • Hospitalizations: 58
  • Recall: Yes

All foodborne illness outbreaks are devastating for victims but fascinating for investigators, since each is different.

This investigation has traced the illness-causing Salmonella to one kind of papaya (Maridol, under Caribeña, Cavi, and Valery brands) to one Mexican farm (Carica de Campeche).

But four Salmonella strains have been found in papaya samples and in ill people:

  • Kiambu
  • Thompson
  • Agona
  • Gaminara

The shift from one to another is evident in the epi curve:

The moral:

  • Don’t buy Maridol papayas.
  • If you have one, throw it away (but be careful not to cross contaminate surfaces)
  • If you don’t know where the papaya was grown, don’t eat it

If you are interested in the legal implications, check Bill Marler’s website.

Jul 26 2017

Uh oh: Papayas with Salmonella

First cantaloupe, now papayas.

The CDC has opened up a homepage on Salmonella infections associated with eating Yellow Maradol Papayas.

Here’s the count so far:

  • 47 Cases
  • 12 States
  • 12 Hospitalizations
  • 1 Deaths

Food Safety News has the story.  And provides the label you had best avoid.

As usual, by the time the CDC finds out about outbreaks, cases have slowed down (it takes time to find them).

This one is affecting people in states all over the country.

Papayas grow on trees.  Salmonella are animal bacteria.  Monkeys?  Arboreal sloths?

A more likely explanation is that the fruit came in contact with human waste or dirty hands sometime during collection, transport, or processing.

What to do?

Bacteria are on the rind.  They get on the fruit itself when you cut through it.  You can try scrubbing the outside before you peel the papaya.  The CDC recommends discarding it and cleaning your kitchen carefully.

Better preventive controls?  They are on the books (the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act).

Enforcement?  Not unless Congress appropriates the funds.

Why won’t it?  FDA appropriations go through agricultural appropriations, not health.  Do ag committees care about food safety?

I wish.

Addition:  Food Safety News reports that the distributor of the papayas has started recalling them, but not publicly.

Jul 3 2017

Wishing you a safe and sane July 4

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Jun 20 2017

The administration’s war on food: summary by the Environmental Working Group

Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group summarizes Trump’s Full-Scale War on Food.  Since taking office, he writes, Trump has:

  • Proposed to cut food safety funding for the Food and Drug Administration by $117 million.
  • Proposed to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by $193 billion – a 25 percent cut – and cut international food aid by $2 billion.
  • Delayed new labeling rules for menus and packaged foods that would give consumers more information about calories and added sugars, and so far failed to issue a draft rule to implement a new law on disclosing genetically modified ingredients in food.
  • Weakened new rules designed to drive junk food out of U.S. schools.
  • Proposed to eliminate several Department of Agriculture programs that helped farmers sell directly to local consumers.
  • Proposed to eliminate funding for an entire division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that works to reduce obesity.
  • Withdrawn new rules to protect drinking water supplies from polluters and proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent.
  • Proposed to suspended two of the largest farmland stewardship programs and mothball others.
  • Postponed new rules designed to strengthen animal welfare standards on organic farms and proposed to eliminate funding for programs that help farmers switch to organic farming.
  • Reversed a ban on a pesticide linked to brain damage in kids and proposed cutting EPA funding for pesticide review programs by 20 percent.
  • Punted on new rules to protect farmworkers from pesticides, and proposed to eliminate a program to train migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
  • Mothballed new voluntary sodium guidelines that would drive reformulation of foods.
  • Called for so-called regulatory “reforms” that would block agencies like the FDA and USDA from adopting new rules designed to keep food safe, update food labels or provide students healthier meal options in schools.

This is an impressive list, calling for serious resistance.

How?  That’s the question….

 

May 8 2017

The cost of poor food safety practices: $36 million in two years

Food Safety News, my go-to source for information about current and past episodes of foodborne illness, reports the price of insufficient corporate diligence: $36 million in recalls by Dole Foods.

Dole, a privately-held company is going public, which means it has to file lots of financial documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  For the past couple of years, these show:

2015: $10.8 million to recall bagged salads in which a sample tested positive for Salmonella.

2016: $25.5 million for a four-month shutdown of a salad processing plant found to be contaminated with Listeria, and manage a recall. Listeria at the plant was linked to four deaths and 33 cases of illness in the U.S. and Canada.  The company continued to ship salads from the facility after swab tests were positive for Listeria.

The SEC requires companies to list potential risks.  In its SEC filing, Dole said:

We are subject to the risk of product contamination and product liability claims…Even if a product liability claim is unsuccessful or it not fully pursued, the negative publicity surround any assertion that our products caused illnesses or injury could adversely affect our reputation with existing and potential customers and our corporate and brand image.  Moreover, claims and liabilities of this sort might not be covered by our insurance or by any rights of indemnity or contribution that we may have against others.

This is why diligent attention to preventive controls is essential for producing safe food.

Not using them kills people; it also is expensive.

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