February 2017

UnknownwallBrendan O’Connor of Gizmodo reports today that President Donald Trump intends to intensify enforcement of food safety regulations as a cudgel in international trade negotiations, according to leaked recordings of a what appears to be a phone conversation between Trump and Wilbur Ross, his nominee for Commerce Secretary.  At one point in the conversation, Trump and Ross discuss the possibility of using safety regulations on food imports as a mechanism to pressure foreign companies or governments.

TRUMP: If you look at Japan, what they do with food—they say it’s not clean enough, and you have to send it back, and by the time it comes back it’s all gone.

ROSS: Exactly. And we oughta let them know we’re gonna start playing the same game.

TRUMP: Well I think you let them know that we’re going to do that. Without saying that, you say, “We’re gonna inspect you so closely,” bomp bomp.

ROSS: Yeah. That’s the thing—not to say that it’s punitive, but in the interest of American safety.

Setting aside for a moment how wise it is to use food safety as a trade weapon, it does raise the interesting concept that the President might well be interested in safe food?

 

dj-21club-blog480Bloomberg posted a piece on “How Donald Trump Orders (and Tips) at His Favorite Restaurant” about the 21 Club which is just a few block from Trump Tower in Manhattan. According the report:

The president’s standard order is a “21” Burger ($36), which he likes cooked well-done and topped with American cheese. On the side he’ll have a straightforward virgin Bloody Mary, an iced tea, or a Diet Coke. Said to be first luxury burger in the country when it was first served in the 1940s, the “21” Burger is made with a mix of three prime cuts, including short rib. The burger comes with pickles, tomato, grilled onions, and the special “21” sauce and is offered with a choice of cheeses, including cheddar and blue cheese.

It had me recalling a post I did not long after President Obama first took office when he ordered a medium hamburger at Ray’s Hell Burger, a restaurant with a less than stellar inspection record.

Setting aside the fact that President Trump’s choice in doneness may well be the only thing that I agree with him on (and that I disagreed with President Obama), it does appear that President Trump’s dinning choice appears to have a bit better inspection record.

As of January 28, 2017 21 Club inspection garnered 12 points but received and A Grade.  One inspection in 2016 scored 13 points and two inspection 1n 2015 scored 6 and 11 and in 2014 scores were12, 17, and 30.

According to the New York City Department of Health a restaurant’s score depends on how well it follows City and State food safety requirements. Inspectors check for food handling, food temperature, personal hygiene, facility and equipment maintenance and vermin control. Each violation earns a certain number of points. At the end of the inspection, the inspector totals the points and this number is the restaurant’s inspection score; the lower the score, the better.

The points for a particular violation depend on the health risk it poses to the public. Violations fall into three categories:

A public health hazard, such as failing to keep food at the right temperature, triggers a minimum of 7 points. If the violation can’t be corrected before the inspection ends, the Health Department may close the restaurant until it’s fixed.

A critical violation, for example, serving raw food such as a salad without properly washing it first, carries a minimum of 5 points.

A general violation, such as not properly sanitizing cooking utensils, receives at least 2 points.

Inspectors assign additional points to reflect the extent of the violation. A violation’s condition level can range from 1 (least extensive) to 5 (most extensive). For example, the presence of one contaminated food item is a condition level 1 violation, generating 7 points. Four or more contaminated food items is a condition level 4 violation, resulting in 10 points.

So, it does make you wonder where food safety policy will fall in the Trump presidency?  President Obama’s time in office continued the downturn in E. coli cases linked to hamburger to the point that I ordered one – well done – for the first time in over 20 years and he did sign into law the Food Safety Modernization Act.

What will President Trump do?  I have spent the last week asking some of the smartest people in food safety that question.   Any input from readers is more than welcome.  I will try and get my thoughts on the future of food safety up in the coming weeks.

Cozy-Vale-Creamery-raw-milkI guess there is no “two strikes you’re out?”

Cozy Vale (Valley) Creamery has announced another recall of its raw milk. The Washington State Department of Agriculture inspectors discovered the E. coli contamination in a sample of the dairy’s raw milk, according to the recall notice. Although the implicated raw milk is being removed from retail stores, there is concern consumers may have the milk in their homes because it is not yet out of date.

The recall covers all Cozy Vale (Valley) Creamery raw milk in quart, half-gallon and gallon plastic jugs with best-by dates of February 27 through March 4. It was sold at the on-farm store, one drop off location, and several retail stores throughout Western Washington.

“Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections may cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramps and bloody stool,” according to the recall notice. “Symptoms generally appear three to four days after exposure, but can take as long as nine days to appear. “The infection sometimes causes hemolytic uremic syndrome, (HUS) a serious disease in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. Infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.”

Over Thanksgiving week 2011, Cozy Vale Creamery’s raw milk products were recalled because they were linked to three E. coli O157:H7 illnesses and after environmental swabbing at the facility discovered that locations in the milking parlor and processing areas were contaminated with the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.  At least two of those cases were children who developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.  Cozy Vale Creamery’s whole and skim milk and cream were distributed through seven retail outlets in Pierce, Thurston and King counties. They products were sold retail at the farm store and at Marlene’s Market in Tacoma, two Olympia Food Co-Op locations in Olympia, Olympia Local Foods in Tumwater, Yelm Co-op in Yelm, Mt. Community Co-op in Eatonville and Marlene’s Market in Federal Way.

oystersAn outbreak of norovirus linked to B.C.-harvested oysters is now under Canadian federal investigation.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says it has taken on a leadership role in the investigation, now that cases have been reported in Alberta and Ontario, as well as B.C.

As of Feb. 14, the agency says it’s aware of 221 reported cases of norovirus connected to B.C. oysters.

“We knew in November-December that there were cases popping up in B.C., but it wasn’t until the middle of January or so … that we started seeing or hearing about other cases in Ontario and Alberta,” said Mark Samadhin, director of PHAC’s outbreak management division.

“We know that it’s oysters from B.C., but beyond that, we don’t know what’s contaminated the oysters.”

Samadhin said local investigations are still being carried out by provincial health authorities, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), but PHAC has taken on a coordinating role in the investigations now that the outbreak is multi-jurisdictional.

The best way to avoid contracting norovirus from shellfish is to follow proper food safety practices.

This includes ensuring shellfish is cooked all the way through before eating it, keeping raw food separate from cooked food, and to wash your hands thoroughly — particularly if you’ve had contact with someone who is ill themselves.

Symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. (It’s the same virus that causes the “winter vomiting bug.”)

WEB_GettyImages-517443418Ewen Callaway recently wrote in Nature: “Collapse of Aztec society linked to catastrophic salmonella outbreak.”

One of the worst epidemics in human history, a sixteenth-century pestilence that devastated Mexico’s native population, may have been caused by a deadly form of Salmonella from Europe, a studies suggest.

In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country’s native inhabitants.

This is potentially the first genetic evidence of the pathogen that caused the massive decline in native populations after European colonization.

In 1519, when forces led by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés arrived in Mexico, the native population was estimated at about 25 million. A century later, after a Spanish victory and a series of epidemics, numbers had plunged to around 1 million.

The largest of these disease outbreaks were known as cocoliztli (from the word for ‘pestilence’ in Nahuatl, the Aztec language). Two major cocoliztli, beginning in 1545 and 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 18 million people living in Mexico’s highland regions.

“In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches,” noted a Franciscan historian who witnessed the 1576 outbreak.

  1. Vågene, Å. J.et al. Preprint on bioRxiv at http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/106740 (2017).
  2. Acuna-Soto, R.,Stahle, D. W., Cleaveland, M. K. & Therrell, M. D.  Infect. Dis. 8, 360–362(2002).
  3. Zhou, Z.et al. Preprint on bioRxiv at http://doi.org/10.1101/105759 (2017).

Salmonella sickens nearly 1.5 Million of us yearly in the United States.

Nestle_Credit-Bill-Hayes-281x300From Marion at Food Politics: The congressional watchdog Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just published its latest plea for coordinating federal food safety programs: A National Strategy Is Needed to Address Fragmentation in Federal Oversight.

GAO persists in pointing out that 16 federal agencies administer 30 laws government food safety and quality, although USDA (meat and poultry) and FDA (everything else) have the greatest responsibility.

Despite some progress, GAO’s long-standing recommendation for a single, unified food safety agency continues to be ignored.

HHS’s and USDA’s efforts since 2014 are positive steps toward government-wide planning, but OMB has not addressed our recommendation for a government-wide plan for the federal food safety oversight system. Without an annually updated government-wide performance plan for food safety that includes results-oriented goals, performance measures, and a discussion of strategies and resources…Congress, program managers, and other decision makers are hampered in their ability to identify agencies and programs addressing similar missions and to set priorities, allocate resources, and restructure federal efforts, as needed, to achieve long-term goals. Also, without such a plan, federal food safety efforts are not clear and transparent to the public.  OMB staff told us that they were not aware of any current plans to develop a government-wide performance plan for food safety.

The footnotes list previous GAO reports aimed at rationalizing our food safety system, among them:

  • GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, GAO-15-290 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 11, 2015), GAO-15-180.
  • GAO, Federal Food Safety Oversight: Food Safety Working Group Is a Positive First Step but Government-wide Planning Is Needed to Address Fragmentation, GAO-11-289 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 18, 2011)
  • GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, GAO-07-310 (Washington, D.C.: January 2007)
  • GAO, Food Safety: U.S. Needs a Single Agency to Administer a Unified, Risk-Based Inspection System, T-RCED-99-256 (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 4, 1999).
  • GAO, Food Safety: A Unified, Risk-Based System Needed to Enhance Food Safety, T-RCED-94-71 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 4, 1993)
  • GAO, Food Safety and Quality: Uniform, Risk-based Inspection System Needed to Ensure Safe Food Supply, RCED-92-152 (Washington, D.C.: June 26, 1992)
  • GAO, Need to Reassess Food Inspection Roles of Federal Organizations, B-168966 (Washington, D.C.: June 30, 1970).

16-1462-F12016 also saw hepatitis A outbreaks linked to scallops imported from the Philippines (Genki Sushi Outbreak) and strawberries from Egypt (Tropical Smoothie Outbreak).

According to a recent survey by the CDC, approximately 19% of food consumed in the United States is imported, including 97% of fish and shellfish, 50% of fresh fruits, and 20% of fresh vegetables.

The proportion of food that is imported has increased steadily over the past 20 years because of changing consumer demand for a wider selection of food products and increasing demand for produce items year round.

Recently, the CDC reviewed outbreak reports to identify outbreaks associated with an imported food from the inception of the surveillance system in 1973 through 2014.

During 1996–2014, a total of 195 outbreak investigations implicated an imported food, resulting in 10,685 illnesses, 1,017 hospitalizations, and 19 deaths.

Outbreaks associated with imported foods represented an increasing proportion of all foodborne disease outbreaks where a food was implicated and reported (1% during 1996–2000 vs. 5% during 2009–2014). The number of outbreaks associated with an imported food increased from an average of 3 per year during 1996–2000 to an average of 18 per year during 2009–2014.

The most common agents reported in outbreaks associated with imported foods were scombroid toxin and Salmonella; most illnesses were associated with Salmonella and Cyclospora. Aquatic animals were responsible for 55% of outbreaks and 11% of outbreak-associated illnesses. Produce was responsible for 33% of outbreaks and 84% of outbreak-associated illnesses.

Information was available on the region of origin for 177 (91%) outbreaks. Latin America and the Caribbean was the most common region implicated, followed by Asia. Thirty-one countries were implicated; Mexico was most frequently implicated (42 outbreaks). Other countries associated with >10 outbreaks were Indonesia (n = 17) and Canada (n = 11). Fish and shellfish originated from all regions except Europe but were most commonly imported from Asia (65% of outbreaks associated with fish or shellfish). Produce originated from all regions but was most commonly imported from Latin America and the Caribbean (64% of outbreaks associated with produce). All but 1 outbreak associated with dairy products involved products imported from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Hat tip to Dr. Hannah Gould.

The Daily Meal put this out today – I have been honored to make the list over the last several years.

Bill-Marler-B-W-headshot

An accomplished personal injury and products liability attorney specializing in foodborne illness, Bill Marler has been litigating foodborne illness cases since 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously sickened survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, creating a Washington State record for an individual personal injury action ($15.6 million). More than a lawyer, Marler has become an advocate for a safer food supply, petitioning the USDA to better regulate pathogenic E. coli, working with nonprofit food safety and foodborne illness victims’ organizations, and helping spur the passage of the 2010-2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. It would only make sense that Marler was front and center in the recent Chipotle foodborne illness fray, representing several victims of the outbreak.

ucm539905Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food of Wheeling, IL is voluntarily recalling specific lots of its Hunk of Beef product because of a potential contaminant Pentobarbital, which was detected in one lot of Hunk of Beef Au Jus. Pentobarbital can affect animals that ingest it, and possibly cause side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, excitement, loss of balance, or nausea, or in extreme cases, possibly death.

The specifically-identified lot numbers (as detailed below) of cans of 12-oz Hunk of Beef being voluntarily recalled were distributed to retail locations and sold online in the following States: Washington, California, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and were manufactured the week of June 6 – June 13, 2016.

Although pentobarbital was detected in a single lot, Evangers is voluntarily recalling Hunk of Beef products that were manufactured the same week, with lot numbers that start with 1816E03HB, 1816E04HB, 1816E06HB, 1816E07HB, and 1816E13HB, and have an expiration date of June 2020. The second half of the barcode reads 20109, which can be found on the back of the product label.

The subject recall affects 5 lots of food that were produced from its supplier’s lot of beef, which is specifically used for the Hunk of Beef product and no other products. To date, it has been reported that five dogs became ill and 1 of the five dogs passed away after consuming the product with lot number 1816E06HB13. Evanger’s is proactively issuing a recall voluntarily so as not to risk potential exposure topentobarbital in the product.

All Evanger’s suppliers of meat products are USDA approved. This beef supplier provides us with beef chunks from cows that are slaughtered in a USDA facility. We continue to investigate how this substance entered our raw material supply.

UCM539413I must admit that I was a bit perplexed with the flurry of activity since the inaguaration, that there would be more recalls, but these are the first.

Barberi International Inc., based in Miami, Florida, is recalling its Sunmba Frozen Ajiaco (vegetable mix) product across Florida due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenesListeria monocytogenes is an organism, which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria monocytogenes infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The Sunmba Frozen Ajiaco (vegetable mix) product being recalled was sold in 2 lb. plastic bags with the UPC number 85641400172 and with a “use by” date of Nov. 5, 2017, or earlier. This product was distributed in Florida and sold to the below stores between December 24, 2016 thru January 22, 2017. Out of an abundance of caution, Barberi International Inc. is recalling this product from these stores.

Listeria monocytogenes was discovered in the Sunmba Frozen Ajiaco after Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services product testing.

tome-berger-des-sources-2-kilos Fromi USA. of New York, NY, is recalling its 7 cases of Soureliette cheese and 2 cases of Tomme Brebis Fedou because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled Tomme Brebis Fedou cheese and Soureliette were distributed to CA, NY and MA through retail stores.

The product Soureliette comes in a 3lb box marked with an expiration date of 02/22/2017; 01/25/2017 and 08/02/2017 stamped on the top.

The product Tomme Brebis Fedou comes in a 3lb box marked with an expiration date of 02/22/2017 stamped on the top.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

The potential for contamination was noted after routine testing by the foreign supplier revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in 3lb packages of Tomme Brebis Fedou cheese and Soureliette.