by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-safety

Jun 6 2018

The Romaine lettuce outbreak: source still unknown, victim count rising

The FDA did something quite unusual.  It issued an apparently frank description of where it is in investigating the Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak that has sickened 197 people, put 89 in the hospital, and killed five—so far.

It published a chart summarizing what the agency has learned about the various distribution channels along the way to the contaminated lettuce that made people sick.

As the FDA explains:

As can be seen in the diagram, in the current outbreak, and based on the information we have to date, there are still no obvious points of convergence along the supply chain…These pathways lead back to different farms, sometimes many farms, where possibly contaminated lettuce could have been harvested during the timeframe of interest.  The only point of commonality in our traceback efforts to date is that all of the farms are located in the Yuma growing region…What does this traceback diagram tell us?  It says that there isn’t a simple or obvious explanation for how this outbreak occurred within the supply chain…The contamination likely happened at, or close to, the Yuma growing area.  Our task now is to investigate what happened.

I used “apparently” with reference to the FDA’s frankness because food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who represents many of the victims of this outbreak,* points out that the FDA must know the names of the farms, distributors, and sellers of the contaminated lettuce, but refuses to say who they are.  Of his own work, Marler says:

We are in the unique position to know many, but not all, of the “points of sale” – restaurants and grocery stores – involved in the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce. Having over 100 clients allows us to dig deep into their purchase history and consumption history.

We have already determined clusters of illnesses linked to Panera, Texas Roadhouse, Red Lobsters and Papa Murphy’s. We also have identified a processor – Freshway Foods.

If you knew the names of places selling contaminated lettuce, wouldn’t you have sense enough not to eat in them?

May 8 2018

Don’t eat romaine lettuce until this outbreak ends

I’ve been following the E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak caused by eating romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona.

The CDC says the body count so far is:

  • Cases = 121
  • Hospitalizations = 52
  • Deaths = 1

Where the cases have been found:

Map of United States - People infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli, by state of residence, as of May 1, 2018

 

What the “epi curve” looks like:

Epi curve of people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli, by date of illness onset, as of May 1, 2018

What’s happening with the FDA’s investigation:

The FDA has identified one farm [Harrison Farms of Yuma, Arizona] as the source of the whole-head romaine lettuce that sickened several people at a correctional facility in Alaska. However, the agency has not determined where in the supply chain the contamination occurred…All of the lettuce in question from this farm was harvested during March 5-16 and is past its 21-day shelf life. Because the growing season in the Yuma region is at its end, the farm is not growing any lettuce at this time.

Most of the illnesses in this outbreak are not linked to romaine lettuce from this farm, and are associated with chopped romaine lettuce. The agency is investigating dozens of other fields as potential sources of the chopped romaine lettuce and will share information as it becomes available.

Some interesting aspects of this and other leafy green outbreaks:

In the meantime, the CDC’s advice to you:

  • Do not eat or buy romaine lettuce unless you are sure it was not grown anywhere near Yuma.
  • Do not eat or buy romaine lettuce if you cannot tell where it was grown.
  • Do not eat salad mixes unless you are sure it is free of romaine lettuce.
  • This applies to romaine lettuce in any form: heads, hearts, chopped, baby, organic, in salads or salad mixes.

But Consumer Reports says to avoid romaine lettuce entirely.

Seems like good advice until this one gets figured out.

Apr 24 2018

Food recalls increasing: Is this good or bad news?

Do food recalls reflect failures in food safety regulation or should they be considered a success?

USDA reports a significant increase in recent food product recalls.

  • Between 2004 and 2008, food recalls averaged 304 a year
  • Between 2009 and 2013, they averaged 676 a year.

USDA attributes the increase to

  • Improvements in pathogen and risk-detection technology
  • Increased regulatory oversight and enforcement
  • Congressional passage of food safety legislation

This sounds like success, no?

The food categories accounting for most recalls?

  • Prepared foods and meals
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Baked goods and grains
  • Candy
  • Sauces, condiments and dressings

The most common reasons for the recalls:

  • Failure to declare major allergens
  • Possible Salmonella contamination.

Here’s another reason, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office: USDA’s inadequate standards for pathogens in meat and poultry, particularly turkey breasts and pork chops.

The report recommends that USDA work on this problem.  The USDA says it will.

Food safety requires endless vigilence, and government agencies need to do vigilent oversight.

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Apr 19 2018

200 million eggs recalled? The mind boggles.

I’m trying to get my head around 200 million eggs being recalled because of Salmonella.

The Washington Post has the story:

An investigation by the federal agency led to an inspection of the farm, [Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, Ind.] which is located in Hyde County, N.C., and produces 2.3 million eggs a day from 3 million hens. Eggs produced at the farm are distributed to retail stores and restaurants in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas.

The recalled eggs were sold under brand names such as Great Value, Country Daybreak and Crystal Farms. They were also sold to Waffle House restaurants and Food Lion stores. (Click here for a full list of brands and stores.)

 Rose Acre Farms produces 2.3 million eggs a day from 3 million hens?

Bill Marler has the technical details: 22 people ill, and 206,749,248 eggs recalled.  I like his image:

In my book “Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety,” I explain how Salmonella gets into eggs and how it got into them in the first place.  This was a preventable problem.  It still is, if egg producers paid close attention to following standard egg safety procedures.

These, of course, are more difficult if you are dealing with millions of eggs every day.

But that doesn’t help the people who became ill.

Mar 22 2018

Food safety Europe: a roundup

The British newsletter, FoodManufacture.co.uk, also does special editions, collections of articles on specific topics, this one on food safety (you too can subscribe to this, here).

This is an easy way to keep up with current events related to food products.

Special Edition: Food Safety Newsletter

Welcome to the latest Food Safety Newsletter from the Food Manufacture Group. This month’s round-up leads with positive talks between Food Standards Scotland and the country’s meat industry following several cases of enforcement action. The newsletter also looks at the Food Standards Agency’s attempts to overhaul regulation, an Ikea confectionery recall and mutant rats.

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Feb 15 2018

Congratulations Marler-Clark on 20 years of food safety advocacy

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler is celebrating 20 years of using the legal system to encourage companies to produce safe food by summarizing 25 of his most prominent cases.

These start with the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E. coli 0157:H7 disaster and end with the 2016 Genki Sushi Hepatitis A Outbreak.

These cases should be required reading for anyone concerned about the need to make sure that companies produce safe food.  They reveal in horrifying detail what it is like to be a victim of a food pathogen and the extraordinary damage caused by foodborne microbes.

These stories make the political deeply personal.

They remind us of why the Food Safety Modernization Act was such an important step forward and why it is so important to enforce it at every level.

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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.

 

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