June 2009

72 persons infected with a strain of E. coli O157:H7 with a particular DNA fingerprint have been reported from 30 states. Of these, 51 have been confirmed by an advanced DNA test as having the outbreak strain; these confirmatory test results are pending on the others. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Arizona (2), California (3), Colorado (6), Connecticut (1), Delaware (1), Georgia (1), Iowa (2), Illinois (5), Kentucky (2), Massachusetts (4), Maryland (2), Maine (3), Minnesota (6), Missouri (1), Montana (1), North Carolina (2), New Hampshire (2), New Jersey (1), Nevada (2), New York (1), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (1), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (1), Texas (3), Utah (4), Virginia (2), Washington (6), and Wisconsin (1).

Ill persons range in age from 2 to 65 years; however, 65% are less than 19 years old; 71% are female. Thirty-four persons have been hospitalized, 10 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS); none have died. Reports of these infections increased above the expected baseline in May and continue into June.

On August 18, 2008 after years of hand wringing, the FSIS finally put public health before “proprietary” business interests when it made the following rule:

9 C.F.R. § 390.10 Availability of Lists of Retail Consignees during Meat or Poultry Product Recalls

The Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service will make publicly available the names and locations of retail consignees of recalled meat or poultry products that the Agency compiles in connection with a recall where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product could cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

The full rule can be reviewed at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/2005-0028F.pdf

The Bottom Line:

The FSIS is now supposed to make available to the public names and locations of retail consignees (grocery stores, etc.) of meat and poultry products recalled by a federally-inspected meat or poultry establishment if the recalled product has been distributed to the retail level.

The rule will only apply to Class I recalls (like the JBS Swift ones). The information is supposed to be posted on the FSIS website, generally within three (3) to ten (10) working days, following the announcement of the recall.

So, FSIS, where in the hell is it?

By the way, posts like these will keep me in the private sector.

A dear friend, and former campaign staffer (I had one) sent me the below flyer (only did one) when I ran and was elected to the Pullman City Council in 1977 by 63 votes!  I was 19 years old.  I have not changed much at all.

Of course, I do know it is not effect, but affect.

Brian Hartman of ABC reports that FDA investigators today found E. coli O157:H7 at the plant in Danville, Virginia where Nestle makes Toll House Cookie Dough.

The bacteria, according to an FDA official, was found at the plant in an unopened package of raw chocolate chip cookie dough. It had been manufactured on February 10, 2009 but had not yet been shipped.

Investigators still do not know how the E. coli got into the dough. But finding this “smoking gun” package confirms they pushed for a recall of the correct product.

Well done Brian.

Plainview Milk Products Cooperative, Plainview, Minn., is voluntarily recalling instant nonfat dried milk, whey protein, fruit stabilizers, and gums (thickening agents) that it has manufactured over the past two years, because they might be contaminated with Salmonella. The company sells these products to other industry customers, including distributors and manufacturers, who may have incorporated them into their own products. None of Plainview’s products were sold directly to the public.

Plainview has stopped production of these products and has notified its customers of the recall. Currently, the Plainview recall is limited to industry customers who received suspect product.

This is an ongoing investigation, and the FDA will update the public as new information emerges. At this time, the FDA is not aware of products being recalled at the consumer level.

"This recall is an appropriate precaution to protect public health,” said David W.K. Acheson, M.D., associate commissioner for foods in the Food and Drug Administration. “It reflects the concerted efforts of numerous partners at the local, state, and federal levels."

During an investigation of the Plainview facility, FDA found that some of the equipment was contaminated with Salmonella. At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not linked any human illnesses to potentially contaminated products from the Plainview facility.

The FDA became aware of this problem through the U. S. Department of Agriculture. USDA found Salmonella in Dairyshake powder, in 100-gram pouches that were not for retail sale. The FDA began an investigation as to the source of the contamination. In the course of that investigation, Plainview Milk Products was identified as a supplier of a key ingredient in the Dairyshake powder. Inspection of the firm uncovered conditions that resulted in the broader recall.

The FDA is conducting this investigation in collaboration with USDA, CDC, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and state and local health departments.

FDA investigators are working to track the distribution of the Plainview ingredients to identify additional products that contain the recalled ingredients. 

Sometime in the early hours of June 28, JBS Swift Beef Company expanded the approximately 40,000 pounds of “assorted beef primals” recalled on June 24 to include another approximately 380,000 pounds of “assorted beef primals" due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

So, are the illnesses in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin? More than these eleven? Are these the only States that received product? Where internationally did the meat go (are the three Canadian cases somehow linked)? Which restaurants, grocery stores, schools, hospitals did the product land?

As reported by the FSIS:

Together with traceback information and laboratory data, the recall is being expanded as a result of FSIS’ cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an ongoing investigation into 24 illnesses in multiple states, of which at least 18 appear to be associated.

The beef products were produced on April 21, 2009 and were distributed both nationally and internationally. A list of the products subject to the expanded recall attached – 104 Pages.

Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection as well as the identifying package date of "042109" and a time stamp ranging from "0618" to "1130." However, these products were sent to establishments and retail stores nationwide for further processing and will likely not bear the establishment number "EST. 969" on products available for direct consumer purchase. Customers with concerns should contact their point of purchase.

The recalled products include intact cuts of beef, such as primals, sub-primals, or boxed beef typically used for steaks and roasts rather than ground beef. FSIS is aware that some of these products may have been further processed into ground products by other companies. The highest risk products for consumers are raw ground product, trim or other non-intact product made from the products subject to the recall.

Recall Release CLASS I RECALL
FSIS-RC-034-2009 HEALTH RISK: HIGH

Well, I was right to speculate a few days ago that the June 24 recall of JBS Swift meat might well be related to illnesses.  It seems like "E. coli O157:H7 Season is Nearly Upon Us – Will it be 2005 and 2006 or 2007 and 2008?"

FSIS just announced that JBS Swift Beef Company, a Greeley, Colorado is voluntarily expanding its June 24 recall to include approximately 380,000 pounds of assorted beef primal products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Together with traceback information and laboratory data, the recall is being expanded as a result of FSIS’ cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an ongoing investigation into 24 illnesses in multiple states, of which at least 18 appear to be associated. This investigation prompted the company to re-examine the effectiveness of their food safety system for the April 21 production of beef primals, and they are conducting this recall out of an abundance of caution as the safety of the products produced on a portion of that day could not be assured.

The beef products were produced on April 21, 2009 and were distributed both nationally and internationally. A list of the products subject to the expanded recall attached.

Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection as well as the identifying package date of "042109" and a time stamp ranging from "0618" to "1130." However, these products were sent to establishments and retail stores nationwide for further processing and will likely not bear the establishment number "EST. 969" on products available for direct consumer purchase. Customers with concerns should contact their point of purchase.

The recalled products include intact cuts of beef, such as primals, sub-primals, or boxed beef typically used for steaks and roasts rather than ground beef. FSIS is aware that some of these products may have been further processed into ground products by other companies. The highest risk products for consumers are raw ground product, trim or other non-intact product made from the products subject to the recall.

The first recalled products were produced on April 21 and 22 and shipped to distributors and retailers in states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.  It is unclear if the expanded recall of product includes other states.

What if the cookie dough E. coli outbreak actually happened this way?

At 10:00 PM last night between yet another story about Michael Jackson’s death, a foreign Network begin airing a video taken inside a manufacturing facility showing someone treating a batch of cookie dough with an unknown liquid. There is a claim that this is a terrorist act.

In the next 15 minutes, every network news operation is playing the video. The broadcast networks break into regular programming to air it, and the cable news stations go nonstop with the video while talking heads dissect it. Michael Jackson fades into the distance.

Coming on a Friday evening on the East Coast, the food terrorism story catches the mainstream Media completely off guard. Other than to say the video is being analyzed by CIA experts, and is presumed to be authentic, there isn’t much coming out of the government.

Far-fetched? Don’t count on it. I have been saying for years that a foodborne illness outbreak will look just like the terrorist act described above, but without the video on FOX News. Far-fetched?

Tell that to the 751 people in Wasco County, Oregon—including 45 who required hospital stays—who in 1984 ate at any one of ten salad bars in town and were poisoned with Salmonella by followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The goal was to make people who were not followers of the cult too sick to vote in county elections.

Tell that to Chile, where in 1989, a shipment of grapes bound for the United States was found laced with cyanide, bringing trade suspension that cost the South American country $200 million. It was very much like a 1970s plot by Palestinian terrorists to inject Israel’s Jaffa oranges with mercury.

Tell that to the 111 people, including 40 children, sickened in May 2003 when a Michigan supermarket employee intentionally tainted 200 pounds of ground beef with an insecticide containing nicotine.

Tell that to Mr. Litvenenko, the Russian spy poisoned in the UK with polonium-laced food.

Tell that to Stanford University researchers who modeled a nightmare scenario where a mere 4 grams of botulinum toxin dropped into a milk production facility could cause serious illness and even death to 400,000 people in the United States.

The reason I bring this up is not to mark another anniversary of 9/11, not because I actually think that food terrorism really is the cause of this week’s E. coli cookie dough outbreak, but I wonder if it would have made any difference in our government’s ability to figure out there was an outbreak, to figure out the cause, and to stop it before it sickened so many.

After 9/11, Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said: “Public health is a national security issue. It must be treated as such. Therefore, we must not only make sure we can respond to a crisis, but we must make sure that we are secure in defending our stockpiles, our institutions and our products.”

Before Thompson’s early exit from the Bush Administration, he did get published the “Risk Assessment for Food Terrorism and Other Food Safety Concerns.” That document, now 5-years old, let the American public know that there is a “high likelihood” of food terrorism. It said the “possible agents for food terrorism” are:

• Biological and chemical agents
• Naturally occurring, antibiotic-resistant, and genetically engineered substances
• Deadly agents and those tending to cause gastrointestinal discomfort
• Highly infectious agents and those that are not communicable
• Substances readily available to any individual and those more difficult to acquire, and
• Agents that must be weaponized and those accessible in a use able form.

After 9/11, Secretary Thompson said more inspectors and more traceability are keys to our food defense and safety. To date, we’ve made little movement to ensure this.

Would the fact of terrorists operating from inside a manufacturing facility somewhere inside the United States bring more or effective resources to the search for the source of the E. coli? If credit-taking terrorists were putting poison on our cookies, could we be certain Uncle Sam’s response would have been more robust or effective then if it was just a “regular” food illness outbreak?

Absolutely not! The CDC publicly admits that it manages to count and track only one of every forty foodborne illness victims, and that its inspectors miss key evidence as outbreaks begin. The FDA is on record as referring to themselves as overburdened, underfunded, understaffed, and in possession of no real power to make a difference during recalls, because even Class 1 recalls are “voluntary.” If you are a food manufacturer, packer, or distributor, you are more likely to be hit by lightening than be inspected by the FDA. You are perfectly free to continue to sell and distribute your poisoned product, whether it has been poisoned accidentally or intentionally.

The reality is that the cookie dough E. coli outbreak is a brutal object lesson in the significant gaps in our ability to track and protect our food supply. We are ill prepared for a crisis, regardless of who poisons us.

Somewhere between the farm and your table, our Uncle Sam got lost.

“It was not the failure of the cookie dough manufacturer for not keeping cattle feces (E. coli) out of cookie dough that sickened the child, it is the fault of the parent who allowed the child to eat the dough.”

I have received several calls and emails like the above over the last few days as the country has been ensnared once again in a nationwide recall – this time cookie dough – that has sickened at least 69 in 30 States – mostly people (girls) under the age of 18.

At first I calmly tried to respond that a company that makes a profit off of selling a product that it knows is eaten raw can not blame the consumer if the product actually contains a pathogen that can severely sicken or kill a child. The reality is that cookie manufacturers know that they sell a product that is eaten raw.

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune – “Long known to satisfy a certain longing of the brokenhearted and the children-at-heart, the dough is nearly as popular raw as it is baked. There are more than 40 cookie dough groups on Facebook — one with more than 1.3 million members — complete with photos and postings that read like love notes.”

From the Washington Post – “Nestle’s cookie dough is packaged with labels warning consumers not to eat it raw. But people tend to disregard the warning — 39 percent of consumers eat raw cookie dough, according to Consumer Reports. It has become such a popular snack that many ice cream makers have developed a cookie dough flavor.”

So, the reply to my calm response has been, “the consumer should know that cookie dough may contain bacteria and they are told to cook it.”

My calmness has now faded. Think about the little labels on cookie dough that you buy in the store – the ones that tell you “cook before eating” – wink, wink. However, the labels do not say:

“THE FDA INSPECTION MEANS NOTHING. THIS PRODUCT MAY CONTAIN A PATHOGENIC BACTERIA THAT CAN SEVERELY SICKEN OR KILL YOU AND/OR YOUR CHILD. HANDLE THIS PRODUCT WITH EXTREME CARE.”

I wonder why the Cookie Industry would not want a label like that on your tub of dough. It knows that the label is truthful. Do you think it might be concerned that Moms and Dads would stop buying it? The day the Cookie Industry puts a similar label on the label is the day that I will go work for them. The reality is that the Cookie Industry and the FDA has not yet been able to assure the public that the dough we buy is not contaminated. So, instead of finding a way to get cattle feces out of our cookie dough, they blame parents when children get sick.

Consumers can always do better. However, study after study shows that, despite the CDC estimated 76 million people getting sick every year from food borne illnesses, the American public still has misconceptions and overconfidence in our Nation’s food supply.

According to a study by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, fewer than half of the respondents knew that fresh vegetables and fruits could contain harmful bacteria, and only 25% thought that eggs and dairy products could be contaminated. Most consumers believe that food safety hazards can be seen or smelled. Only 25% of consumers surveyed knew that cooking temperatures were critical to food safety, and even fewer knew that foods should be refrigerated promptly after cooking. Consumers do not expect that things that you cannot see in your food can kill you.

Consumers are being blamed, but most lack the knowledge or tools to properly protect themselves and their children. The FDA has stated, “unlike other pathogens, E. coli O157:H7 has no margin for error. It takes only a microscopic amount to cause serious illness or even death.”

Many consumers wrongly believe the Government is protecting the food supply. How many times have we heard our Government officials spout, “The US food supply is the safest in the world.”

Where is the multi-million dollar ad campaign to convince us of the dangers of uncooked cookie dough, like we do for tobacco? Most consumers learn about food safety from TV and family members – If your TV viewing habits and family are like mine, these are highly suspect sources of good information.

The industry that makes a lot of dough off of selling dough must step up and clean up their mess. They can, and someday will, if I have anything to say about it. That day will come much faster if they start working on it now, and stop blaming the victims.