February 2014

Roos Foods, the company whose cheese products are connected to a Listeria outbreak that has killed one person, has expanded its ongoing recall to include sour cream.

The company is now recalling its Crema Pura Mexicana Cultured Sour Cream, produced in Kenton, DE.

Last week the company recalled 16 different cheese products under four brand names.

One California resident has died in connection to the outbreak. Another seven people from Maryland have been sickened, with seven total patients requiring hospitalization.

Three of those sickened were newborns.

The recalled products were distributed in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Sun Hing Foods Inc. of South San Francisco, CA, the Importer of Record, is recalling approximately 1,282 pounds of Canadian liver pâté products produced without the benefit of full USDA inspection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced late Wednesday.

While this is a Class I recall, FSIS issues a Public Health Alert for an imported product when the country of origin recalls the product. However, FSIS issues a recall for an imported product when the product is not presented for inspection at the U.S. border. In the United States, the recall is undertaken by the Importer of Record, which is accountable to FSIS.

The following Sun Hing Foods, Inc., products are subject to recall:

  • 2.75-oz. and 4.76-oz. packages of “FLOWER ® BRAND, LIVER PÂTÉ / PÂTÉ DE FOIE” bearing case code “215960.”
  • 4.76-oz. packages of “FORTUNE ® BRAND, LIVER SPREAD / PÂTÉ DE FOIE” bearing case code “215960.”

Packages will bear the Canadian establishment number “265.” The products were distributed into commerce in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.

The problem was discovered when FSIS import staff reviewed records and discovered that the product was not presented by the independent third-party carrier for USDA inspection at the U.S./Canadian border.

The Hilton Head Island Packet reports that nearly 300 people might have been exposed to hepatitis A at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks restaurant February 15th, but so far no cases stemming from the exposure have been confirmed.  An employee at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks tested positive for hepatitis A on last Friday, six days after the employee had worked at the restaurant.

Anyone who was at the restaurant from 4 p.m. until closing time February 15th — when the infected employee was working — should contact his or her primary care provider to receive a single-dose vaccine no later than March 1.  The treatment must be administered within 14 days of possible exposure because people usually become sick within 15 to 50 days after being exposed. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, and those infected may also experience joint pain and jaundice.  Most patients recover completely within two months, but symptoms can persist for up to six months in severe cases.  Acute liver failure is a risk.

If hepatitis A vaccines are not available at a primary care provider, customers should call DHEC at 800-868-0404 to schedule an appointment at a local health department.  DHEC clinics in Beaufort County will provide hepatitis A vaccines by appointment this week; vaccines cost $52.30 for people who have health insurance, $25 for those without insurance and $13 for children.

AP reports that Minnesota Department of Health officials say Salmonella at the Old Country Buffet in Maple Grove, Minnesota sickened nearly two-dozen people.  The outbreak affected customers who ate at the restaurant in late January, particularly on January 25th.

One diner had to be hospitalized for about two weeks.

In a statement Old Country Buffet says it is working closely with the health department to determine what caused the outbreak’s cause.

The company says it’s also bolstering food safety training.

Nine illnesses not linked to 23 others in 15 Sates.

The CDC reported today that a total of nine persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg were reported from Tennessee. Two (22%) of nine ill persons were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported. All of the ill persons were incarcerated at a single correctional facility located in Tennessee.

Epidemiologic and traceback investigations conducted by Tennessee and federal officials indicated that consumption of Tyson brand mechanically separated chicken was the source of the outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections at the Tennessee correctional facility. On January 10, 2014, Tyson Foods, Inc. recalled approximately 33,840 pounds of mechanically separated chicken products that may be contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg.

This strain of Salmonella Heidelberg is commonly reported to PulseNet. Twenty-three additional persons infected with this same strain were identified from 15 other states. Investigations determined that these ill persons were not related to the outbreak in Tennessee. Sources of the infections in these 15 states were not identified.

Well, almost.

According to press reports, security camera video led Mingo County health officials to shut down a pizza hut in Kermit, West Virginia.  The Mingo County Health Department shut down the store, citing conditions constituting a “substantial hazard to the public health.”  Mingo County Health Department officials say it could be days or even weeks before they consider reopening the Pizza Hut.

The video shows the district manager urinating in the restaurant’s kitchen sink.

Pizza Hut corporate officials confirm the man is a district manager, and has been fired.

The Pizza Hut Corporation released a statement, which says in part they are “embarrassed” by the man’s actions, and that pizza hut has “zero tolerance for violations” of its operating standards.

According to press reports and a press release from the Michigan Depart of Agriculture, James Ruster, owner of Mitchell Hill Farm in Ellsworth, was sentenced last week for a felony violation of Michigan’s Food Law.  Ruster pled guilty to willful misbranding and adulteration of food products and was sentenced to 14 to 48 months in prison plus fines and court costs.  This is the first felony conviction under this law.

In October 2011 a food inspector investigated a consumer tip that Ruster was selling apple cider at a local farmers market. Mitchell Hill Farm was not approved to produce cider. After repeatedly being informed that he wasn’t meeting safe cider production standards, Ruster continued to make and sell cider.

In November 2012 an investigation by the Health Department of Michigan determined the improperly processed cider caused an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak putting four individuals in the hospital, including two children.  The cider was linked to Mitchell Hill Farm.

Congressmen, and the reporters who cover them, love to be in the know, and when they do not have that insider information they feel a bit weak and vulnerable – I get it.  I also get that the San Francisco foodie community is upset that they are having trouble getting its fix of grass-fed, organic beef.  I also get that ranchers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers are likely being caught-up in this mess.

However, as frustrating the lack of information is there are good reasons that the owners of Rancho and the FSIS are limiting their comments on the recall of nearly 9,000,000 pounds of meat stretching over a year – its third recall of 2014.

USDA’s Office of Inspector General is investigating.  Because it is a potential criminal investigation, Rancho’s owners and employees are wise to limit what they say without the benefit of a lawyer.  FSIS is also holding things close to the vest, because it risks interfering with OIG’s investigation.  The lack of information is frustrating, but to do otherwise risks due process.

FSIS maintains that Rancho “processed diseased and unsound animals and carried out these activities without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection.”  That is a serious charge, and although there have been no reported illnesses linked to this recall, processing animals under these conditions carry food safety risks, and are against the law.

FSIS is also caught between a rock and a hard place.  If no one becomes ill, and the recall is possibly deemed unnecessary, it will be criticized for over-reacting.  However, if the evidence went the other way, and FSIS did not issue a recall, they would be criticized for not doing its job.

In my view public safety has to trump business interests and transparency cannot overtake due process.  As frustrating as it is, we all have to let the investigation play out.

A total of eight persons infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes were reported from California (1) and Maryland (7)

Seven of eight ill persons were hospitalized. One death was reported in California. Five of the illnesses (2 mother-newborn pairs and a newborn) were related to pregnancy.

All patients are of Hispanic ethnicity.

Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) identified the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes in a sample of Caujada en Terron (fresh cheese curd) collected by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) from a Chain A store. This cheese was likely produced by Roos Foods of Kenton, Delaware and was later repackaged in the Chain A store. VDACS issued a press release on February 15, 2014 instructing persons who purchased this product not to consume the cheese and to discard any remaining product.

VDACS subsequently collected pre-packaged Caujada en Terron produced by Roos Foods from Chain A that was not repackaged in the store. The Virginia DCLS identified Listeria monocytogenes from these samples; a consumer advisory was issued on February 21, 2014. DNA fingerprinting and whole-genome sequencing will be performed on these isolates. In addition, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has tested samples of pre-packaged cheese products purchased at Chain A stores; those products produced by Roos Foods are preliminarily positive for Listeria monocytogenes. On February 19, 2014, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a warning to consumers to not eat any cheese products made by Roos Foods. Their warning stated that Roos Foods cheese products are sold under brand names Santa Rosa de Lima, Amigo, Mexicana, Suyapa, La Chapina, and La Purisima Crema Nica.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has revoked the food processing license of Mu Kung Hwa Oriental Food, a producer of traditional Korean rice cakes, after several inspections found on-going sanitation problems at the Pierce County business.

In addition to revoking the company’s license to process food, WSDA assessed a cumulative civil penalty of $11,900 against the company and required all products at the facility in Parkland to be destroyed. Notices about the license revocation have been sent to all known retail outlets and restaurants that have purchased or carry Mu Kung Hwa Oriental Food products.

As a result of these actions, the company cannot process any food at this location. Mu Kung Hwa Oriental Food has 10 days to appeal and request the agency reconsider the order, but it cannot operate as a food processing operation during that appeal period.

This enforcement action follows several visits to Mu Kung Hwa Oriental Food during which WSDA inspectors found problems with unsanitary conditions, poor sanitation practices by employees, and a general failure to protect food products from contamination. During the most recent visit, inspectors noted several problems that were observed during earlier inspections had not been addressed.

There are approximately 1,500 licensed food processors in Washington. WSDA’s Food Safety & Consumer Services Division works with these businesses to guide them in correcting violations of the state food production and handling requirements. When education efforts fail to improve conditions, WSDA has the authority to suspend or revoke licenses and assess civil penalties.

In this case, WSDA had twice issued orders to suspend Mu Kung Hwa Oriental Food’s processing license. Both times, the company signed settlement agreements in which they promised to meet food processing requirements but failed to do so. The most recent agreement was in April 2012.

The continued violations of food processing standards and the failure to fully pay earlier fines led to the decision to revoke Mu Kung Hwa Oriental Food’s food processing license.