by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-safety

Jul 7 2020

Coca-Cola drops Odwalla

Coca-Cola, which bought Odwalla juices in 2001, is discontinuing the brand and getting rid of 300 jobs and 230 trucks.

Why?  People aren’t buying it: too much sugar, and too much competition.

This is the end of a long saga.  Odwalla started out selling unpasteurized juices and was doing fine until it got too big.

Against company policy, it used apples that had fallen on the ground to make apple juice.  Some were contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, which carried a shiga toxin that caused illnesses and deaths.  In 1998:

Odwalla, based in Half Moon Bay, Calif., pleaded guilty to 16 counts of unknowingly delivering ”adulterated food products for introduction into interstate commerce” in the October 1996 outbreak, in which a batch of its juice infected with the toxic bacteria E. coli O157:H7 sickened people in Colorado, California, Washington and Canada. Fourteen children developed a life-threatening disease that ravages kidneys.

Odwalla paid a $1.5 million fine and was put on probation.  Coca-Cola bought the company anyway.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who represented some of the victims, some of whom have lifelong complications, says  Good riddance to bad rubbish.

During the course of the litigation, we uncovered that Odwalla had attempted to sell its juice in 1996 to the U.S. Army – no, not as a biological weapon – but to be sold in base grocery stores to our men and women service members and their families. The Army rejected the product – because it was not fit for military consumers.

His post includes the Army’s letter of rejection:  “We determined that your plant sanitation program does not adequatel assure product whoolesomeness for military consumers.”

It also includes some emails suggesting that Odwalla did not want to test for pathogens because they might find some:  “IF THE DATA is bad, what do we do about it.  Once you create a body of data, it is subpoenable.”

I wrote about the Odwalla events in my book, Safe Food.

The Odwalla outbreak provided convincing proof that unpasteurized and uncooked “natural” foods could contain the same pathogens as meat and poultry if they had the bad luck to come in contact with contaminated animal manure or meat.  For the industry, the lessons were mixed.  If food companies failed to reduce pathogens, their liability costs could be substantial–in money, time, legal penalties, and reputation—but these problems could be temporary and soon overcome (p. 99).

The end of a saga, indeed.

May 7 2020

Uh oh. Foodborne illnesses are rising

The CDC’s latest report on foodborne illness does not have good news.

Of eight pathogens tracked by CDC’s FoodNet system, illnesses caused by five have increased since last year and three are about the same.

During 2019, FoodNet identified 25,866 cases of infection, 6,164 hospitalizations, and 122 deaths …In 2019, compared with the previous 3 years, the incidence of infections caused by pathogens transmitted commonly through food increased (for CampylobacterCyclospora, STEC, VibrioYersinia) or remained unchanged (for Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella). These data indicate that Healthy People 2020 targets for reducing foodborne illness will not be met.

The CDC’s conclusion?

FoodNet surveillance data indicate that progress in controlling major foodborne pathogens in the United States has stalled. To better protect the public and achieve forthcoming Healthy People 2030 foodborne disease reduction goals, more widespread implementation of known prevention measures and new strategies that target particular pathogens and serotypes are needed.

Note that Coronavirus is not a cause of foodborne illness, and has never been shown to do so.  Coronavirus affects the food system in other ways: closing restaurants, schools, and other institutions; sickening farm workers, slaughterhouse workers, grocery store workers–and food inspectors.

Now more than ever is time for diligent attention to food safety procedures.

Apr 10 2020

One more time: Is it safe to eat fresh foods from supermarkets and what to do about the packages

I know I’ve talked about what foods are safe to eat earlier (see previous post), but from the number of queries I’m getting it’s clear that this matter needs further discussion.

I can understand why this is so confusing.  Nobody gives a straight answer.

Let me start with the CDC’s advice:

How’s that for reassuring?

Consumer Reports: Answers to Common Questions About Coronavirus and the Food You Eat

The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the World Health Organization say that food is not known to be a route of transmission of the virus. And the information available from outbreaks of SARS and MERS, caused by coronaviruses similar to the one that causes COVID-19, is reassuring. According to the WHO, the evidence showed that those illnesses were not transmitted by food.

Seattle Times: Debunking 10 myths about the Coronavirus

MYTH: The coronavirus can’t survive airborne or on surfaces.

FACT: Researchers have found that droplets carrying the virus can travel through the air and stay suspended for about half an hour. They can also settle on surfaces, where the virus can last longer — up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 72 hours on plastic and steel. The risk of getting infected from touching these materials, however, remains low because the virus’ ability to infect decreases rapidly over time.  Source: The New York Times

Washington Post: Why health experts aren’t warning about coronavirus in food

The CDC and other experts note that the virus is new and still being studied. But they say there’s no evidence yet that COVID-19 sickens people through their digestive systems, though the virus has been detected in the feces of infected people.

Washington Post:  Grocery shopping during the coronavirus: Wash your hands, keep your distance and limit trips

In my paraphrasing:

  • Don’t go to the grocery store unless you have to
  • Wear a face mask

JAMA’s Patient Page on food safety and the virus

My bottom line on how to interpret all this

Maybe this virus has not been shown to be transmitted through food—yet—but why be the first case.  While waiting for the research—and let’s hope it comes soon—following the Washington Post’s and JAMA’s advice makes sense.

It’s also always a good idea to follow basic food safety principles for raw foods: clean, cook, separate, chill.

Cooking kills the virus.  Enjoy!

Have a happy, well fed, and safe weekend.

Resources

Mar 11 2020

Coronavirus and food: the latest

Food connects to everything, even to Covid-19.  Here’s how.

The New York Times says “Open Windows. Don’t Share Food.”  It reports the latest advice from Vice President Pence’s office, summarized in a flyer.  The not-sharing-food advice refers to schools.

The Los Angeles Times asked for a comment of sharing food.  Here’s what I told the reporter (the article quotes some of this):

Depends on how paranoid you are.  So far, there is no evidence that Coronavirus can be transmitted by food but I suppose it is theoretically possible.  Someone who has the virus but doesn’t show symptoms could cough or sneeze or handle raw foods.  If you handle the foods before cooking them, you could pick up the virus.

Cooking should kill the virus (don’t re-use the bag the foods came in).  Salad greens should always be washed, even prewashed, even salads that come pre-bagged.

As for salad bars: they usually have glass or plastic screens and long handled spoons.  Again, contamination is possible but unlikely.  If such things worry you, the remedy is easy: cook the food and eat it while it’s hot.

Some of the CDC’s advice about Coronavirus relates to food.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.

CDC’s advice about preparedness says what to do if you are ill.  Basically, stay home.

  • Consider ways of getting food brought to your house through family, social, or commercial networks
  • Monitor food and other medical supplies (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) needed and create a back-up plan.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food items to have on hand in your home to minimize trips to stores.

General information about Coronavirus also is available from the World Health Organization.  It doesn’t say anything about sharing food but recommends standard hygiene procedures for food handling and preparation—wash hands, cook meat thoroughly, and avoid cross-contamination between cooked and uncooked foods (see WHO website).

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says there is no evidence that that food is a source or transmission route for Coronavirus.

  • EFSA’s chief scientist, Marta Hugas, said: “Experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur. At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect.”

The FDA has issued warnings to individuals and companies making unsupported claims for Covid-19 cures, one of them to the TV evangelist Jim Bakker (he hawks supplements of colloidal silver).  Warning letters went to the Jim Bakker Show, as well as Vital SilverQuinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.Xephyr, LLC doing business as N-ErgeticsGuruNanda, LLCVivify Holistic ClinicHerbal Amy LLC.

Finally, a survey finds that one-third of shoppers in the U.K. are stockpiling food in preparation for siege by Coronavirus.

Enjoy your meals while all this is going on!

Dec 3 2019

The latest Romaine lettuce outbreak: Just say no.

The CDC continues to track the latest outbreak of illnesses caused by eating Romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

The outbreak at a glance:

The FDA’s advice:

Consumers should not eat romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California. Additionally, consumers should not eat products identified in the recall announced by the USDA on November 21, 2019.

A former FDA official, Stephen Ostroff, says:

With five multistate outbreaks in less than two years, it’s clear there’s a serious continuing problem with E. coli O157:H7 and romaine lettuce. The natural reservoir for this pathogen is ruminant animals, especially cattle. Moreover, one particular strain of E. coli seems to have found a home in the growing regions of central coastal California, returning each fall near the end of the growing season.

It’s not clear where this strain is hiding. Cattle? Water sources? Elsewhere? What is clear is that additional steps must be taken to make romaine safer.

The New Food Economy emphasizes some particularly distressing aspects of this particular outbreak.

  • It is caused by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 that caused outbreaks linked to leafy greens in 2017 and to Romaine lettuce in 2018.
  • This strain of E. coli seems particularly virulent: 39 of the 67 cases had to be hospitalized.
  • The source has not yet been traced.

Consumer Report’s advice: ”

People should avoid all romaine lettuce and that any currently in refrigerators should immediately be thrown out because of the risk of E. coli contamination…CR’s experts think it is prudent and less confusing for consumers to avoid romaine altogether, especially because romaine is also sold unpackaged and in restaurants, and customers can’t always be sure of the origin that lettuce.  “Much of the romaine lettuce on the market at this time of year is from Salinas,” says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler says enough is enough; It’s time to put warning labels on Romaine lettuce.

Marler’s advice: when in doubt, throw it out.

My comment:  Contamination of vegetables with toxic E. coli means that the vegetables somehow came in contact with waste from farm animals or wild animals or birds.  The most likely suspect is Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or large dairies because they produce so much animal waste.  If one animal is infected under crowded CAFO conditions, other animals also will be infected (but cows don’t show symptoms).

Preventing lettuce contamination means that CAFOs must manage their waste so that it is not infectious (USDA and EPA regulated) and vegetable farms must keep infected water from contaminating their crops (FDA regulated).  All of this means following food safety procedures to the letter, but also in spirit.

Constant Romaine outbreaks are further evidence for the need for consistency in USDA and FDA food safety policies, and a reminder that calls for a single, united food safety agency have been coming for more than 40 years.  Surely, it’s time.

Nov 19 2019

Food crime? New term, old problem

Food crime is a new term in my lexicon.  I’m used to hearing it called food fraud or intentional adulteration.

As I learned from reading an article in Food Safety News, the Food Standards Agency in Great Britain established a National Food Crime Unit in the wake of the 2013 horsemeat scandal.

Examples of food crime include the use of stolen food in the supply chain, unlawful slaughter, diversion of unsafe food, adulteration, substitution or misrepresentation of food, and document fraud…Members of the public and those working in the food and drink sector can speak up about food crime through Food Crime Confidential.

The agency says it focuses on seven types of food crime:

  • theft – dishonestly obtaining food, drink or feed products to profit from their use or sale
  • illegal processing – slaughtering or preparing meat and related products in unapproved premises or using unauthorised techniques
  • waste diversion – illegally diverting food, drink or feed meant for disposal, back into the supply chain
  • adulteration – including a foreign substance which is not on the product’s label to lower costs or fake a higher quality
  • substitution – replacing a food or ingredient with another substance that is similar but inferior
  • misrepresentation – marketing or labelling a product to wrongly portray its quality, safety, origin or freshness
  • document fraud – making, using or possessing false documents with the intent to sell or market a fraudulent or substandard product

The unit is not particularly forthcoming about its findings.  According to FoodManufacture.com, it took a freedom-of-information request to discover that the unit received 1193 reports of food crime in 2018, and 364 in the first three months of 2019.

The FOI request was filed by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, which reports these figures but does not seem to have a formal report online.

Bottom line: Food crime is the highest it has been in the UK since 2013.

Sep 10 2019

Death by backyard chicken?

The CDC reports that more than 1000 people have been infected with a toxic form of Salmonella, almost certainly from contact with backyard poultry.

Among these cases of illness, 23% are among children under the age of 5 years.

The link to backyard poultry comes from epidemiologic and laboratory evidence.

The CDC warns owners of backyard poultry to take steps to avoid acquiring Salmonella from their poultry

This problem has become so serious that the CDC has a webpage devoted to the safety of backyard poultry.

Best to follow its advice.

Aug 7 2019

Want Salmonella in your pet food?  Buy Answers brands.

Since writing two books about pet food in 2008 (Pet Food Politics) and 2010 (Feed Your Pet Right), I haven’t said much about this topic but am inspired to comment by this article in Food Safety News.

If you are a pet food maker, and the FDA finds Salmonella in your products and insists you recall them, what should you do?

A.  Recall the products immediately

B.  Apologize to your customers and promise this will never happen again

C.  Hire a food safety expert to review and revise your food safety procedures

D.  Train all employees to follow food safety procedures diligently

E.  Sue the FDA to allow you to continue selling Salmonella-contaminated pet food

The correct answer?  E, apparently.

Incredible as it may seem, Lystin LLC, the parent of Answers Pet Foods which sells raw meat and poultry, is suing the FDA on Constitutional grounds to allow it to sell foods contaminated with Salmonella. Why?

According to this company, people should be able to feed their pets whatever they like, especially because its brands already carry this warning:

WARNING: NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. THIS PRODUCT HAS NOT BEEN PASTEURIZED AND MAY CONTAIN HARMFUL BACTERIA.

You want to continue buying this pet food?  OK.  You were warned.

Personally, I’d find another brand more committed to the safety of dogs and their owners.

I can’t wait to see who wins this one.