March 2009

According to an FDA Press Release, Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. announced today that it is voluntarily recalling from nationwide distribution specific lots of bulk roasted shelled pistachios and 2,000 lbs., 1,700 lbs., 1,800 lbs. and 1,000 lbs. tote bags of roasted inshell pistachios sold to wholesale customers due to potential contamination with the Salmonella organism.

The Company is asking those firms who received bulk product and have further processed, repackaged, or distributed the affected products to recall those products and contact FDA.
In addition, the company is voluntarily recalling the following retail product: Setton Farms brand roasted salted shelled pistachios in 9 oz. film bags, UPC Code: 034325020252 with a "Best Before" date between 01/06/10 and 01/19/10. This product was distributed in the following states: SC, GA, FL, NC, VA, TN, KY.

Of the 2,000 known Salmonella Serotypes, the Salmonella Serotypes found in product test are as follows:

Montevideo – 9th most frequent serotype

Newport – 4th most frequent serotype

Seftenberg – 32nd most frequent serotype

Larochelle – not in the top 100

The first lawsuit (complaint) stemming from a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul was filed today against CW sprouts in the Tenth District Court of Nebraska, Douglas County. The complaint was filed on behalf of Omaha resident Stephen Beumler, who is represented by Seattle foodborne illness law firm Marler Clark and by the Ausman Law firm of Omaha.

Stephen Beumler purchased a sandwich from the Council Bluffs Jimmy John’s restaurant on March 1, 2009. The sandwich contained alfalfa sprouts provided to the restaurant by CW Sprouts. Mr. Beumler began to feel ill that night, with nausea, cramping, and diarrhea. Believing he had the flu, Mr. Beumler rested and drank fluids, but his symptoms worsened to include muscle aches and intense fatigue. On Tuesday March 3 he was unable to go to work and his wife—a nurse—began to suspect that the illness was not flu. Mr. Beumler visited his doctor on Wednesday, and the samples he gave that day confirmed that he had been infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul. Mr. Beumler required an additional five days of recovery before he was able to return to work.

The outbreak began in February 2009, as cases of Salmonella Saintpaul began to appear in Nebraska. By March, cases with the same genetic fingerprint were identified in South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, and Kansas. By interviewing the more than 120 people sickened in the outbreak, health authorities were able to link the illnesses to sprouts produced by CW Sprouts and distributed to retail outlets such as grocery stores and restaurants under the brand name Sunsprouts.

The warm, moist environment used to grow sprouts is ideal for bacteria growth, and sprouts can play host to a number of different strains of Salmonella, as well as E. coli O157:H7. Bacteria on or in sprouts is difficult to detect, and most people do not wash or cook sprouts, which might kill or remove infectious bacteria.

In 1999, the FDA announced new guidelines for the growing of sprouts, including using calcium hypochlorite treatment on seeds. This treatment exposes seeds to high levels of chlorine, killing bacteria, but leaving seeds unharmed. Since its introduction, manufacturers who consistently use this seed disinfectant treatment have not been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks; however not all producers have adopted the technique.

The FDA and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) are investigating Salmonella contamination in pistachio products sold by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc, Calif. The company has stopped all distribution of processed pistachios and will issue a voluntary recall involving approximately 1 million pounds of its products. Because the pistachios were used as ingredients in a variety of foods, it is likely this recall will impact many products. In addition, the investigation at the company is ongoing and may lead to additional pistachio product recalls.

The contamination involves multiple strains of Salmonella. Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Thus far, several illnesses have been reported by consumers that may be associated with the pistachios. It is not yet known whether any of the Salmonella strains found in the pistachio products are linked to an outbreak. The FDA is conducting genetic testing of the samples to pursue all links.

Multiple strains of Salmonella?  What is the list of products to be recalled?

The contaminated pepper was packaged under the “Lian How” and “Uncle Chen” labels and sold to restaurant suppliers and markets – much of it going to Chinese and Vietnamese establishments.

Since December, 42 rare Salmonella Rissen infections have been reported in Oregon, California, Washington and Nevada. Public health officials in those states pooled their resources to identify the source. People were hospitalized in eight of the 42 cases; no deaths have been reported. Oregon had four of the cases, all in metropolitan Portland, a number equal to the average annual number usually reported for the nation.

Salmonella infections cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping and sometimes vomiting. Symptoms typically last less than a week, although infants, the elderly and those with immunodeficiencies are at increased risk for severe illness. Antibiotic treatment is of no value for most patients.

Details about the Lian How and Uncle Chen products are on the company’s Web site: www.ufunionfood.com.

• The Lian How products were packaged in containers of various sizes: 10- and 15-pound cardboard boxes with plastic liners that are tied closed; 4- and 5- pound clear semi-hard plastic wide-mouth jars; 5-pound plastic bags and 2.2- pound foil bags.
• Following the Lian How brand name, the words “Packaged by Union
International Foods” or only “Union International Foods” appear.
• The following products are included in the company’s recall: White pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, chopped onion, onion powder, garlic (chopped, minced, powder and granulated); whole white pepper, whole black pepper, curry powder, mustard powder and wasabi powder.
• Uncle Chen brand white and black pepper is sold in 5-ounce plastic jars.

Elissar Khalek – Food and Water Watch

The dilemma of how to regulate food safety in a way that prevents problems caused by industrialized agriculture but doesn’t wipe out small diversified farms is not new and is not easily solved. And as almost constant food safety problems reveals the dirty truth about the way much of our food is produced, processed, and distributed, it’s a dilemma we need to have serious discussion about.

The dilemma of how to regulate food safety in a way that prevents problems caused by industrialized agriculture but doesn’t wipe out small diversified farms is not new and is not easily solved. And as almost constant food safety problems reveals the dirty truth about the way much of our food is produced, processed, and distributed, it’s a dilemma we need to have serious discussion about.

Most consumers never thought they had to worry about peanut butter and this latest food safety scandal has captured public attention for good reason – a CEO who knowingly shipped contaminated food, a plant with holes in the roof and serious pest problems, and years of state and federal regulators failing to intervene.

It’s no surprise that Congress is under pressure to act and multiple food safety bills have been introduced.

Two of the bills are about traceability for food (S.425 and H.R. 814). These present real issues for small producers who could be forced to bear the cost of expensive tracking technology and recordkeeping.

The other bills address what FDA can do to regulate food.

A lot of attention has been focused on a bill introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (H.R. 875), the Food Safety Modernization Act. And a lot of what is being said about the bill is misleading.

Here are a few things that H.R. 875 DOES do:

Continue Reading Guest Blog Food and Water Watch – A look at the Food Safety Bills in Congress HR 875 and HR 759

I had not checked the list of recalled peanut butter containing products for a few day and now it is 3868 different products manufactured by over 200 different companies.  All caused by one company that produced about 2.5% of peanut butter products in the USA.  The CDC has not updated its site and still has 691 ill with 9 deaths as its official count.  According to the FDA, the information is current as of 12 PM March 28, 2009‚Ä®.  Click on picture to go to FDA’s searchable site.‚Ä®

Nonny Mouse wrote "Monsanto and HR 875, Take Two"

To set the record straight:

There is no language in HR 875 that would regulate, penalize, or shut down backyard gardens or ‘criminalize’ gardeners; the bill focuses on ensuring the safety of food in interstate commerce.

Farmer’s markets would not be regulated, fined, or shut down, and would, in fact, benefit from strict safety standards applied to imported food to ensure that unsafe imported food doesn’t compete with locally grown produce.

The bill would not prohibit or interfere with organic farming, or mandate the use of any chemicals or types of seeds. The National Organic Program (NOP) is under the jurisdiction of the USDA. HR 875 addresses food safety issues and falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

Monsanto and any other large agribusiness company had no part whatsoever in drafting this bill, and Rep. DeLauro’s husband and his company do no lobbying on this issue.

HR 875 has nothing to do with any national animal ID system, which would fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA, and not the FDA.

This isn’t a done deal – the bill hasn’t yet even been considered by any Congressional committee, nevermind seen any debate or proposed amendments. There is no ‘plot’ to ram this through Congress and into law.

For those who are backyard gardners, farmers and growers who sell direct to customers, and folks who sell at farmers markets, certainly some of the provisions on records keeping will necessarily need to be less than for business who put thier product into the broader stream of commerce – organic or not so.  The goal behind this and other food safety legislation is to try and make a complex national and international food supply be more traceable and more trasparent.  One only needs to look at the recent peanut butter fiasco to see how one relativey small player (<1% of peanuts processed) can cause nearly 4,000 products to be recalled, $1.5 billion in losses, as well as 700 illnesses and nine deaths.

Bottom line, food needs to be safe.  All producers – small or large – need to have standards.  But, they also need to be rational, based on risk and be fairly enforced.  Large producers should not be cut slack because they have lobbyists.  Small producers should not have relaxed standards because they are small.  If you produce food that does not involve a handshake with your customer (a direct sale), you wll necessarily require more oversight because the risks are much greater that a small mistake can bloom into a nasty outbreak.

California public health officials are warning people not to eat a dozen spices packaged at a Union City plant under the Lian How brand name.  A salmonella outbreak that has sickened 33 people in California and nine people in three other states caused the Union International Food Company to voluntarily recall of its pepper, paprika, curry, onion powder and other products. 

The state health department said Saturday that most of the people who got sick appeared to have been exposed to salmonella white eating at Asian restaurants that used the company’s white and black peppers.  Salmonella poisoning causes diarrhea and vomiting. It can be fatal in children and others with weakened immune systems.

I wondered what the FDA had to say about Salmonella and Spices –

"The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires emphasis on the principle of "clean" food, not "cleaned" food. One of the most serious consequences of failure to protect herbs and spices is contamination with excreta from rats, mice, birds, or other animals. Emphasis should be placed on harvesting, storing, handling, packing, and shipping under conditions which will prevent contamination."

There has been a lot of hysteria floating around about HR 875, a bill being put through in congress to further regulate food safety. I have been hearing so much about this all month, and decided not to make up my mind until I had a chance to read all the information. A friend on a mothering site I frequent posted info the co-op she works for sent out, which I think really clarifies the issue:

HR 875: Myths & Facts

Over the last few days, we’ve been hearing a lot about a bill in Congress called HR 875 and there is a wave of false information and hysteria being created that suggests HR 875 would eliminate organic back yard farms, make it illegal to grow organic product except for big businesses, and eliminate farmers markets. Nothing is further from the truth. The bill is actually mean to be a “place marker bill”. (This is a term meant to describe a piece of unwritten or far too basic legislation that is put on a congressional calendar, so that a more appropriate bill can be written and come up sooner. It’s kind of like asking someone to hold your place in line at a big event.)

The following is a quick synopsis of the myths and facts surrounding HR 875. Our thanks to Claudia Reid, Program Director of CCOF (http://www.ccof.org/foodsafety.php), and Food and Water Watch for this information. Berkshire Co-op Market is staying on top of this issue through our National Cooperative Grocers Association, and CCOF.  Food and Water Watch.

Myths and Facts: H.R. 875 – The Food Safety Modernization Act

MYTH: H.R. 875 “makes it illegal to grow your own garden” and would result in the “criminalization of the backyard Gardner.”

FACT: There is no language in the bill that would regulate, penalize, or shut down backyard gardens. This bill is focused on ensuring the safety of foods sold in supermarkets.

MYTH: H.R. 875 would mean a “goodbye to farmers markets” because the bill would “require such a burdensome complexity of rules, inspections, licensing, fees, and penalties for each farmer who wishes to sell locally – a fruit stand, at a farmers market.”

FACT: There is no language in the bill that would result in farmers markets being regulated, penalized any fines, or shut down.  Farmers markets would be able to continue to flourish under the bill.  In fact, the bill would insist that imported foods meet strict safety standards to ensure that unsafe imported foods are not competing with locally-grown foods.

MYTH: H.R. 875 would result in the “death of organic farming.”

FACT: There is no language in the bill that would stop organic farming. The National Organic Program (NOP) is under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety Modernization Act only addresses food safety issues under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

MYTH: The bill would implement a national animal ID system.

FACT: There is no language in the bill that would implement a national animal ID system. Animal identification issues are under the jurisdiction of the USDA. The Food Safety Modernization Act addresses issues under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

MYTH: The bill is supported by the large agribusiness industry.

FACT: No large agribusiness companies have expressed support for this bill. This bill is being supported by several Members of Congress who have strong progressive records on issues involving farmers markets, organic farming, and locally-grown foods. Also, HR 875 is the only food safety legislation that has been supported by all the major consumer and food safety groups, including:

* Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention
* Center for Science in the Public Interest
* Consumer Federation of America
* Consumers Union
* Food & Water Watch
* The Pew Charitable Trusts
* Safe Tables Our Priority
* Trust for America’s Health

MYTH: The bill will pass the Congress next week without amendments or debate.

FACT: Food safety legislation has yet to be considered by any Congressional committee.

The blogosphere has sounded the alarm warning that Congress and agribusiness and biotechnology lobbyists are conspiring to pass legislation that will force organic and local farms, and even home gardeners, out of business. What are the threats and opportunities, and how should we gear up to communicate with our congressional representatives?

There is no question that our increasingly industrialized and concentrated food production system needs a new regulatory focus. Contamination of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peanuts and other foods are an indictment of a food safety system that is out of control and has become dominated by corporate agribusiness and powerful insider lobbyists. Regulators at the FDA, USDA and other agencies have fallen short in their public safety responsibilities.

The public outcry over this situation has finally led some in Congress to propose remedies—and we should support strict oversight of the runaway industrial farming and food production system that is responsible for illnesses and deaths among our citizenry.

Although stakeholders in the organic community need to be on-guard, the flurry of e-mails and Internet postings suggesting that HR 875 will end organic farming as we know it seem to grossly exaggerate the risks. Here’s what we know:

Some level of reform is coming and we must work diligently to make sure that any changes do not harm or competitively disadvantage organic and local family farm producers and processors who are providing the fresh, wholesome and authentic food for which consumers are increasingly hungry.

Several bills aimed at fixing the broken food safety system have been proposed. Of these bills, the FDA Globalization Act (HR 759) appears most likely to be voted on, with elements of the other bills, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875) and the Safe FEAST Act (HR 1332) possibly incorporated into the bill.

A vote on a final bill shortly before Memorial Day is likely.

All three bills would require new food safety rules for farms and food processing businesses. Therefore, as with most legislation, the real battle will be in the rule-making process that follows the passage of the bill. We must stay engaged.

Anyone with an interest in food safety issues has probably seen or received emails charging that backyard gardens and organic farming would be outlawed by new food safety laws. We have closely read the proposed legislation, done extensive background research, and talked with the chief staff member responsible for the drafting of HR 875. Some have argued that this is a conspiracy promulgated by Monsanto and other corporate interests in conventional agriculture. It is our conclusion that none of these bills would “outlaw organic farming.” Other groups, such as Food and Water Watch and the organic certification agent CCOF have reached similar conclusions. But as we just noted, we need to be engaged in this process to protect organic and family farmer interests.

Also, concerns have been raised that these new laws don’t examine meat safety concerns. The USDA is responsible for much of the nation’s meat safety regulations. It does not appear that Congress, at this time, is prepared to address deficiencies involving meat.

HR 759, authored by John Dingell (D-MI), the House’s most senior member, is the bill that will be given priority by the House as they weigh food safety legislation. It proposes that all food processing facilities register with the FDA and pay annual fees, evaluate hazards and implement preventive controls of these hazards, monitor these controls and keep extensive records.

HR 759 would give authority to the FDA to establish “science-based” minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. These food safety standards would address manure use, water quality, employee hygiene, sanitation and animal control, temperature controls, and nutrients on the farm.

Such one-size-fits-all food safety rules, especially preventative measures, created with industrial-scale farms and processors in mind, would likely put smaller and organic producers at an economic and competitive disadvantage. A similar voluntary set of regulations in California have damaged the environment and hurt organic and fresh produce growers.

These high-quality, owner-operated, and often “local” farms are an important part of the solution to our nation’s food quality problems—not the cause—and they must be protected!

It should be noted that unlike conventional farms, organic producers are already highly regulated in managing manure by composting and other requirements that dramatically reduce pathogenic risk. Spinach, tomatoes, peppers, almonds, and peanuts are in no way inherently dangerous. These fresh and nutritious foods pose a risk only after they are contaminated, which is why new food safety legislation must address the underlying causes of food safety hazards.

Whatever the final legislation looks like, it must make clear that it is the intent of Congress to ensure that ensuing regulations will not disproportionately burden small-scale family farm producers and farmstead businesses that are the backbone of the local, sustainable and organic food movement.

Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem!

Continue Reading Guest Blog – Cornucopia Institute – Supporting Viable Federal Oversight over Corporate Agribusiness – Local/Organic Farming: Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem!