October 2013

Food Safety News report that at least 51 students and employees at Stanford University have been sickened in a suspected norovirus outbreak, according to a spokeswoman for Santa Clara County Public Health.

The outbreak appears to have originated in the dining hall of Florence Moore Hall. Students who dine at the hall began complaining of symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea beginning Tuesday afternoon.

Four students received emergency care for dehydration, including intravenous fluids, but none were checked in to a hospital, according to public health information officer Amy Cornell.

Cornell said that university staff would be closing the dining hall after dinner Thursday night to heavily sanitize the facilities in case there is a lingering contamination issue.

WATE TV reports that Deputies and Health Department workers swarmed a Knox County dairy farm Thursday after health officials say several children were sickened with E. coli linked to consuming raw milk.

The owner of McBee Dairy Farm on Strong Road in Mascot says he warns all her customers about the risk. Tennesseans can legally drink raw milk if they own the cow and McBee Dairy Farm is a privately owned cow-share operation.

At least three children were hospitalized with illness from E. coli.

Fox 31 Denver reports that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the CDC and the FDA are all investigating an E. coli outbreak in the Denver metropolitan area.

In the second week of October three Jimmy John’s restaurants in the Denver Metro area reportedly served up sandwiches that sickened eight people with E. coli bacteria.

“We believe that their illness came from a produce item that was on those sandwiches that they ate,” said Alicia Cronquit, epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Cronquist said all eight cases were reported between October 18th and 22nd, and all of the people impacted ate at Jimmy John’s between October 7th and 15th.

Sound familiar?

Continue Reading Another E. coli Outbreak at Jimmy John’s

The FDA published two reports today for those who want to stop eating, or using spices.

Draft Risk Assessment: Pathogens and Filth in Spices

Pathogens and Filth in Spices: Peer Review Report

The FDA found that microbial pathogens found in spices include Salmonella, Bacillus spp. (including Bacillus cereus), Clostridium perfringens, Cronobacter spp., Shigella, and Staphylococcus aureus.

Filth adulterants found in spices include insects (live and dead whole insects and insect parts), excrement (animal, bird, and insect), hair (human, rodent, bat, cow, sheep, dog, cat and others), and other materials (decomposed parts, bird barbs, bird barbules, bird feathers, stones, twigs, staples, wood slivers, plastic, synthetic fibers, and rubber bands).  Here is a fun chart to review as you sprinkle those spices on your favorite meal:

During the period 1973-2010, fourteen reported illness outbreaks were attributed to consumption of pathogen-contaminated spice. Countries reporting outbreaks included Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, United Kingdom, and the United States. Together, these outbreaks resulted in 1946 reported human illnesses, 128 hospitalizations and two deaths. Infants and children were the primary population segments impacted by five of the spice-associated outbreaks.

As my kids used to say for a toast – “Happy Fooding” – Well, perhaps not so much.

Today the CDC increased its total to 362 individuals infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg reported from 21 states and Puerto Rico. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows:

Alaska (1), Arkansas (1), Arizona (14), California (268), Colorado (7), Connecticut (1), Delaware (1), Florida (4), Idaho (3), Kentucky (1), Michigan (3), Missouri (5), North Carolina (1), Nevada (9), New Mexico (2), Oregon (9), Puerto Rico (1), Texas (11), Utah (2), Virginia (2), Washington (15), and Wisconsin (1).

Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicate that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken is the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections.

A similar Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms brand chicken occurred from May 2012 to April 2013 sickening 134 according to the CDC.

Allegheny County Health Department officials said five confirmed cases of E. coli have been discovered in customers and employees of a restaurant in Oakland.

According to a news release issued Wednesday afternoon, all five people diagnosed with the infection ate or worked at The Porch at Schenley on Schenley Drive.

The strain found in each confirmed case is the E. coli O157:H7 strain of E. coli, a form of the bacteria that can cause serious illness.

All five people were diagnosed with E. coli infections on or after October 1. Of the five people, four of them had to be hospitalized.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, along with its health and food safety partners, is investigating 27 confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 illness; 12 in British Columbia, 10 in Alberta, 2 in Saskatchewan, 2 in Manitoba and 1 in Quebec.

These individuals became ill between mid-July and late-September.  There has been one death.

Certain contaminated cheese products manufactured by Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, have been identified as the source of the illnesses. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a Health Hazard Alert warning the public not to consume the affected product.

After litigating foodborne illness lawsuits for 20 years, food has become a “contact sport,” much like football, or for the rest of the world, soccer.  Whether it is dining at home or out, the thought of how the food might well poison you is never far from my mind.  Years ago, I asked my long suffering spouse why we seemed never to be invited over to friend’s home for dinner after hosting more than a few over-cooked meals at our home, she simply said, “you make them nervous about food.”

When E. coli O157:H7 crashed into the food industry’s awareness during the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak of 1992/1993 – after not paying attention to the McDonald’s E. coli O157:H7 outbreak a decade earlier – hamburgers began to take on an ominous air at the Marler household as opposed to the “Happy Meal.”  After I saw Brianne Kiner in the hospital shortly after coming out of a coma, still on dialysis, post large intestine removal, and after suffering multiple seizures, never was a burger served at our home.  My kids were not allowed to eat them while their friends did.  As you can well imagine there were more than a few odd discussions with parents about meal preparation for sleepovers.  But, to see a child’s life forever changed, or ended, by consuming a hamburger, does change your perspective on what is considered safe – especially for your kids.

In the decades since more food was either checked off the shopping list or if consumed it was with an unnatural gulp.  E. coli found its way into sprouts, juice, lettuce, spinach and even cookie dough.  Salmonella stayed on chicken (allowed there to be there by odd USDA/FSIS decisions).  Salmonella slipped into peanut butter, mangoes, tomatoes (or was that peppers?) and even potpies.  Listeria continued to be a pest in deli meats and cheeses, and expanded its deadly toll to cantaloupe.  After 20 years looking at this buffet, it is easy to see why food began to look less like something to be enjoyed, but more something to be wary of.

The decades have not been without food safety successes.  During the height of the yet another Summer E. coli outbreak linked to hamburger in 2002, I penned an Op-ed for the Denver post entitled, “Put me out of business.”  I banked on the animus that lawyers have – slightly below used car salesmen, yet comfortably above members of Congress – to convince the beef industry that I was making too much money off its failure to get ahold of the deadly pathogen.  The beef and restaurant industries responded (likely more to the fact that E. coli was listed as an adulterant by the USDA/FSIS and increased cook temperatures), and my firm’s E. coli income linked to hamburger dropped from 90% to nearly zero today – a success by anyone’s measure.

There remain challenges to a safer table as this book clearly lays out.  With 48,000,000 fellow citizens sickened each year, 125,000 hospitalized and 3,000 deaths linked to food consumption, and with an increasing population of those facing some form of compromised immune system, the farm to fork continuum continues to be confronted with persistent and emerging risks.

It is true that foodborne illnesses has been with us from the beginning and will continue to remain a challenge for an ever-increasing population.  But, what is also clear, there are people and institutions ignoring that reality to try to prevent a next Brianne, and to make food not something to be feared, but savored.

On October 22, 2013, the FDA reported that Reser’s Fine Foods of Beaverton, OR was recalling approximately 109,000 cases of refrigerated ready-to-eat products because it may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenesThe recalled refrigerated ready-to-eat products were distributed nationwide and Canada.

It reported:  NO illnesses have been reported to date.

On October 24, 2013, the FDA reported that Boston Salads and Prepared Foods of Boston, MA was voluntarily recalling prepared salads, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenesProduct was distributed throughout the MA, CT, RI, VT, and ME states to wholesale and food service distributors, and retail stores.

It reported:  There has been no illness or complaints related to this recall.

On October 25, 2013, the FISS reported that Garden Fresh Foods of Milwaukee, WI was recalling approximately 103,080 additional pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and ham products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.  The company was recalling these products in addition to the 25,748 pounds of similar products that were recalled on Sept. 25 and Oct. 17, 2013.

It reported:  FSIS and the company have not received reports of illnesses due to consumption of these products.

On October 25, 2013, the FSIS reported that Taylor Farms of Jessup, MD was recalling approximately 5,084 pounds of broccoli salad kit products.  The kits contain salad dressing in packets that were the subject of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recall due to concerns about possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.  The salad kits were shipped to distributors and retail locations (delis) for consumer purchase in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.

It reported: FSIS, FDA and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

On October 26, 2013, the FSIS reported that Reser’s Fine Foods of Topeka, KS was expanding its recall of chicken, ham and beef products to include all products produced between Sept. 5 and Oct. 9, 2013. This was in addition to the 22,800 pounds of product recalled on Oct. 22, 2013. The products are being recalled due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

It reported:  FSIS and the company have not received reports of illnesses due to consumption of these products.

Then on October 26, 2013 the FDA reported that Reser’s Fine Foods of Beaverton, OR was voluntarily expanding its October 22, 2013 recall of refrigerated ready-to-eat products because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenesThe recalled refrigerated ready-to-eat products were distributed nationwide and Canada.

Then it changed the wording regarding illnesses to:  There are no confirmed illnesses associated with these products.

Illnesses linked to the above recalls or not?

I would chop of the head (fire) young Mr. Foster, or at least clip his beak (find a different spokesperson), despite being the president of the company founded by his grandparents for allowing our chicken to sicken hundreds – likely thousands – of our valued customers.

Honestly, Mr. Foster is simply not up to being the “cock of the walk” of one to the largest chicken companies in the world.  Perhaps Salmonella-tainted chicken was tolerable two generations ago when it was not so routinely mass-produced and riddled with antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella – not to mention Campylobacter, and when eating out was a rarity and one parent likely stayed home to make sure the chicken was well cooked and did not cross-contaminate the kitchen.

Mr. Foster, welcome to 2013.

However, here is what Mr. Foster does seem to find acceptable:  From May 2012 to April 2013 the CDC reported a total of 134 individuals infected with an outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg from 13 states.  31% of ill persons were hospitalized.  Collaborative investigative efforts of local, state, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicated that Foster Farms brand chicken was the most likely source of this outbreak.  Then from February 2013 to October 2013 the CDC reported a total of 338 individuals infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg from 20 states and Puerto Rico.  40% of ill persons have been hospitalized. Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicate that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken is the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections.  According to the CDC, for every one person who is a stool-culture confirmed positive victim of Salmonella in the United States, there a multiple of 38.5 who are also sick, but remain uncounted. (See, AC Voetsch, “FoodNet estimate of the burden of illness caused by nontyphoidal Salmonella infections in the United States,” Clinical Infectious Diseases 2004; 38 (Suppl 3): S127-34).

Mr. Foster’s response:

“We truly regret any illness associated with our products.”

“Our brand was built on trust and I think we violated … our consumers’ trust. And, it’s now our responsibility to earn it back and we plan on doing that by having a gold standard chicken in the market.”

Yet, Mr. Foster also argued that Foster Farms exceeded the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS’s) “performance standard” of 7.5 percent of Salmonella on whole chicken carcasses.  However, tests by the FSIS after the Foster Farms chicken was processed showed a 25 percent prevalence of Salmonella.

Relying on the fact that our government is “chicken” of finding Salmonella – at least antibiotic resistant Salmonella – to be problematic on our birds, reminds me of my dad reminding me just because the flock is “stupid, lazy and/or scared” does not mean you have to be too.

Mr. Foster’s apology and talk of a gold standard are grand sentiments, but in the same breath Mr. Foster refused to withdraw or recall tainted chicken from the market.  He put the blame squarely on our customers, not himself:

“Tainted birds met or exceeded industry standards for Salmonella, and that the firm’s products were still safe to eat if handled properly and cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The response to Mr. Foster’s sentiments:

  • Mexico has banned imports of Foster Farms chicken from three plants implicated in a Salmonella outbreak.
  • Foster Farms has suffered a 25 percent drop in sales since the outbreak was announced.
  • Kroger Co., which operates Ralphs and Food 4 Less, has already pulled chicken from its stores from the three plants.
  • Costco also issued a recall of rotisserie Foster Farms chicken from a South San Francisco store after a consumer reported falling ill from eating cooked product.
  • The USDA threatened to close the three Foster Farms plants, saying in a notice that officials had found a “high frequency of Salmonella positives and specifically a high frequency of one or more outbreak strains” in the three plants. The letters also cited “fecal material on carcasses” and “findings of poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary non food contact surfaces and direct product contamination” at the plants.

We should recall the product.  We should set our standard to zero in the amount of pathogens (a.k.a fecal bacteria) on our chicken.  We should stop letting a governmental agency afraid of lawyers and lawsuits to allow for standards so low that its public health mission becomes a joke.  We should do what grandpa and grandma Foster would likley have done when they started this business you inherited.

Cluck, cluck.