by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Meat safety

Jul 29 2020

Don’t raise industrial chickens near orchards, please

For two years, the investigators took swab samples of soil surface, air, and leaves in an almond orchard 35 meters downwind from an industrial poultry farm.  They compared the samples to those collected from two almond orchards (controls) nowhere near a poultry operation.

E. coli was isolated from 41 of 206 (20%) and 1 of 207 (0.48%) air samples in the almond-poultry and control orchards, respectively….On average, the amount of dry solids on leaves collected from trees closest to the poultry operation was more than 2-fold greater than from trees 120 m into the orchard or from any of the trees in the control orchards.

Members of the family Staphylococcaceae—often associated with poultry—were, on average, significantly (P < 0.001) more abundant in the phyllosphere of trees closest to the poultry operation (10% of relative abundance) than in trees 120 m into the orchard (1.7% relative abundance) or from any of the trees in control orchards (0.41% relative abundance).

Poultry-associated microorganisms from a commercial operation transferred a short distance into an adjacent downwind almond orchard.

Contamination of leafy greens grown in California and Arizona near large cattle operations has been a problem for a long time.

This new study adds two pieces of information:

  • Toxic bacteria can travel downwind in air.
  • Poultry operations are just as contaminating as cattle operations.

The moral of this story: Do not grow nuts or fruit or vegetables near industrial meat or poultry operations.

May 29 2020

Weekend reading: The Defense Production Act

I was particularly interested in this article from Food Safety News: “What does the Defense Production Act have to do with food?”

This past week, FDA and USDA issued a Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Potential Use of the Defense Production Act with Regard to FDA-Regulated Food During the COVID-19 Pandemic. The MOU refers to “potential use” because USDA has not yet invoked its DPA authority. Nor will it, in any likelihood. Messaging matters, however, and so the MOU may still operate to significantly influence the food system. What message does it send exactly?

Good question, and one well worth answering.  The author, Thomas Gremillion, has much to say about the topic, and compellingly.  He argues:

All of this is to say that the April 28 Executive Order is a paper tiger. But to the extent that the Administration sought to cow state and local public health officials, it may have succeeded. According to recent reporting, “As of May 19, nearly all of the once-closed meatpacking plants have started back up.” Large meatpackers have declined to disclose data on how many of their workers have fallen ill or died, but according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University researchers, the rate of COVID-19 infections for counties with very large meatpacking plants was twice the rate in counties without for the week following the Trump executive order. 

May 5 2020

More on the crisis in meatpacking

Who knew that meatpacking plants would become the flash point for everything that’s wrong with our food system.  An alarming 18% of packinghouse workers are infected with Covid-19—the ones known.

Public health authorities insisted that the plants be closed, and Food Dive lists the ones that did.

Because the plants closed, farmers have nowhere to send their ready-for-slaughter animals.  But, says Civil Eats , don’t blame them for having to cull their animals.  It’s not their fault; it’s the fault of the big companies that own the animals.

Farmers under contract don’t own the animals they are raising, and therefore cannot simply find a new market for them…The reality is that farmers don’t have to option sell the animals anywhere else. If the company tells them to euthanize an entire flock of the bird it owns on the spot, farmers have no choice but to comply—even as consumers clamber over empty shelves in the supermarkets, farmers are forced to depopulate.

What happens to the dead animals?  There really are no good options.

Burning, burying, or composting up to 70,000 hog carcasses a day—or even grinding them into dust—could have serious consequences for our air and drinking water.

What happens to the workers, now forced by presidential order to go back to the plants?

In interviews with poultry workers in Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi a similar pattern of alleged negligence, secrecy and mismanagement emerged at facilities operated by some of the largest food manufacturers in America…For more than a century, the meatpacking industry has been a symbol of how corporations are able to exploit workers in the name of efficiency. The Covid-19 outbreak has opened another chapter.

Trump, says The Guardian,  is marching meatpacking workers off to their deaths.

With his executive order on Tuesday night, the president is in effect overruling safety-minded governors and mayors who have pressured numerous meat, pork and poultry plants into shutting temporarily after they had become hotspots that were spreading Covid-19 through their surrounding communities. With such a move, Trump is – let’s not mince words here – is showing contempt for both workers’ health and public health.

What is this really all about?  Read this analysis in Dissent.

Why has the pandemic thrived in meat factories? It was a perfect storm caused by a whole raft of dysfunctionalities, from the rise of giant agribusiness companies to the hollowing out of the nation’s regulatory state, and the hyper-exploitation of a vulnerable, largely immigrant working class which staffs the lines. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections have long been laughable at these plants. Fines, when leveled, tend to be a few thousand dollars, a pittance for billion-dollar corporations. The low-wage workers who staff the plants live in cramped quarters, sometimes with more than one family sharing the same dwelling—so if one person gets sick, the disease can spread quickly…By intervening so directly in the food-chain crisis, the Trump administration has thoroughly politicized the conditions under which food is produced.

I suppose we must thank the Covid-19 pandemic for so clearly exposing deep structural problems and inequities in our food system.

Will a new labor movement arise?  See tomorrow’s post.

Addition

State Attorneys General have written a letter expressing anti-trust concerns about how consolidation in the meat industry has led to this crisis.

Given the concentrated market structure of the beef industry, it may be particularly susceptible to market manipulation, particularly during
times of food insecurity, such as the current COVID-19 crisis. During an economic downturn, such as that caused by the current pandemic, firms’ ability to harm American consumers through market manipulation and coordinated behavior exacts a greater toll, providing an additional reason for conducting a careful inquiry into this industry.

Feb 25 2020

Meat recalls keep going up. It’s time for USDA action.

A report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) says that USDA recalls of meat and poultry have nearly doubled since 2013.

  • USDA posts its recalls and notices here.

The PIRG report says FDA recalls of the products it regulates—produce, seafood, and processed foods—have dropped.  The Food Safety Modernization Act rules are in effect, and working.

  • FDA posts its recalls and notices here.

To do something about meat and poultry recalls, some of which involve Salmonella, food safety lawyer Bill Marler along with  Consumer Reports and other advocacy groups, have petitioned USDA to classify Salmonella as an adulterant, an action that is long overdue (see the Washington Post’s story on Marler’s action.

Does USDA have the authority to do this?  I think yes, even though courts have ruled that because Salmonella can be killed by cooking, they are a natural contaminant.

Yes, but supermarket raw chicken is frequently contaminated with Salmonella and frequently associated with disease outbreaks.

Salmonella-contaminated chicken requires special handling in kitchens: Don’t wash it!  Keep it entirely separate from all other foods.  Don’t put it on counters, plates, or cutting boards that can come in contact with other foods.   In other words, run your kitchen like a maximum security laboratory.

It’s high time the USDA did something about this one.

May 14 2019

Meat safety is better, but needs to be even better

I’m always interested to see what food safety lawyer Bill Marler has to say about the latest lapses.  He often represents the innocent-but-unlucky victims of food poisonings.  All they were doing was getting something to eat or feed their kids.  They had no idea the food was contaminated with a deadly form of E. coli or Salmonella.

In a recent post, Marler reflected on the enormous progress made by meat producers in reducing pathogens in their products.  Marler explains:

From the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak of 1993 until the 2002 ConAgra E. coli outbreak, at least 95% of Marler Clark revenue was E. coli cases linked to hamburger.  Today, it is nearly zero.  That is success.  To the beef industry – thank you for meeting the challenge…for now, hats off to you.

But, he points out, the meat industry must continue to act with vigilance, as demonstrated by the CDC’s recent safety warning about ground beef contaminated with toxic E. coli O103.

The CDC lists the statistics of this recent outbreak to date.

The recalls of ground beef have started.

  • Grant Park Packing in Franklin Park, Ill., recalled approximately 53,200 pounds of raw ground beef products on April 24, 2019.
  • K2D Foods, doing business as Colorado Premium Foods, in Carrollton, Ga., recalledapproximately 113,424 pounds of raw ground beef products on April 23, 2019.

Others may follow.

Meat producers: eternal vigilance, please.  Lives are at stake.

As for food safety in general: The CDC says foodborne illness cases are increasing.

During 2018, FoodNet identified

  • 25,606 infections
  • 5,893 hospitalizations
  • 120 deaths

Note: these are fully preventable.

And food producers must make sure that they are fully prevented.

Sep 12 2018

South Africa’s record-setting (not in a good way) Listeria outbreak: an update

In April, I wrote about the deadly outbreak of Listeria-contaminated processed meat (“polony”) in South Africa.  Back then, the country’s Health Department explained what it was doing to try to stop the outbreak.  It’s now pretty much over, and the Health Department has issued an updated report on it.

  • Cases reported: 1060
  • Deaths: 216

Listeria is deadly.  For this outbreak, the death rate is 27% (216 of 806 cases in which the outcome is known).

As is typical of foodborne disease outbreaks, most cases occurred long before the products were recalled.

 

Of those cases interviewed after the recall

38/65 (58%) of ill people or their proxy reported consuming polony prior to their illness onset; brands manufactured by Enterprise Foods were most commonly reported to have been consumed where brand of polony was known.

The health department is doing a lot to try to understand what happened here.  But it faces challenges:

There are challenges regarding the turn-around time of testing of environmental swabs from facility inspections. Challenges are arising on account of the volume of specimens received during the last three weeks, machine failure and in some cases, challenges regarding test result interpretation. Each challenge is being addressed through appropriate interventions.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler offers advice to the CEO of Tiger Brands, and to any other CEO of a company selling a product that makes people ill, beginning with an explanation of “why it’s always a bad idea to poison your customers.”

His advice:

  1. Know your regulators.
  2. Stop making the implicated product and recall the ones at risk.
  3. Launch your own investigation.
  4. Be transparent.
  5. Admit fault.
  6. Do not blame your customers.
  7. Reach out to customers who have been harmed.
  8. Teach what you have learned.

Marler has put money behind this advice.  Let’s hope the CEO takes him up on it.

Apr 4 2018

South Africa’s really bad Listeria outbreak: record-setting and not over yet

Outbreaks of foodborne illness occur frequently but some of them grab my attention more than others.

Take, for example, the Listeria outbreak still going on in South Africa, reasonably well understood, and now under litigation.

I’ve been tracking it by reading Food Safety News, following food-safety lawyer Bill Marler’s blog, and now keeping up with the class action suit filed in that country.

As of late March, the outbreak, which started in January 2017, has caused at least 982 cases of illness—and that’s just how many have been reported.

Of these, the final outcome is known for 70% (687 cases).  Among these, the death rate is distressingly typical for Listeria infections—28% (189 deaths).

The South African version of the CDC has produced an epi curve:

Note that products were not recalled until most cases were identified.  This outbreak was hard to solve.

Marler tweeted an Infographic on how the Listeria spread.

The good news: new cases are declining.

But in January this year, long before these figures were reached or the cause identified, the World Health Organization called this the largest Listeria outbreak ever recorded.

Its cause?  “Polony,” a ready-to-eat meat product produced by a company called Tiger’s Enterprise Food.  This company holds about one-third of South Africa’s $412 billion processed meat market.

A large number of meat products have tested positive for Listeria and have been recalledTiger brands says cost of the recalls will be high.

More bad news:

Tiger Brands knew for at least a year that its polony had been contaminated with Listeria, but apparently even when warned in March that

listeria was rampant at its Polokwane factory, the Tiger Brands operation continued to churn out tons of potentially dangerous products, choosing to do only a  “silent recall” of one brand, Mielie Kip,  on February 14. The factory was shut down only last weekend, after the listeria strain was confirmed as being the deadly ST6.

South Africa had developed food-safety standards for the processed meat industry in 2014, but the industry blocked them.

Bill Marler has now teamed up with  Richard Spoor Incorporated Attorneys to file a class action lawsuit against Tiger Brands.

A forensic investigator plans to bring murder charges against the company.

One other interesting aspect is the suspected ingredient in polony:

Remember “pink slime?”  Meet “white slime,” a slurry of chicken part leftovers (bone marrow, bone fragments, cartilege, and even meat) thought to be the cause of the outbreak and imported from Brazil, no less.

Brazil, however, pleads innocent and says its products are not to blame.

Marler has offered some free advice to the CEO of Tiger brands, but it may be too late.

Stay tuned.

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.