Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Dr. Hagen, lead, do not be swamped, by a non-O157 E. coli outbreak

PH2010090304407.jpgThere are now more than 276 Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome cases in Germany – a staggering number.  There are now over 600 who have been sickened (mostly women) and there have been as many as five deaths – all those numbers will rise.  E. coli O104:H4 illnesses have also been reported in Britain, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands in people who recently visited Germany.  It appears that Spanish cucumbers have caused the outbreak (meat guys, sigh of relief).

As I said a few days ago, earlier this month Japanese police raided a low-price Korean-style barbecue restaurant chain to investigate the deaths of four people from food poisoning after they ate raw beef at its outlets. Police officers searched the head office of the chain’s operator Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu barbecue chain and its supplier, Food Forus Co., in Kanazawa in central Japan. Ninety diners had fallen sick after eating raw beef at eateries in near Tokyo and on Honshu Island since April 19, the health ministry said, of whom 23 were seriously ill (i.e., HUS). E. coli O111 was detected in the four fatal cases.

In the United States, non-O157 STECS cause 113,000 cases of foodborne illness each year. Yet, none of these pathogenic bacteria are considered to be an adulterant (E. coli O157:H7 is) by Dr. Hagen’s FSIS, whose Mission Statement is:

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.

A large non-O157 STEC outbreak under Dr. Hagen’s watch is coming – it is just a matter of time – the question is whether she will get on the right side of history and get her agency prepared to deal with it, or will she wait until the bodies stack up like in Germany and Japan before she acts?

If you want to read the details on our Petition to deem other illness-causing non-O157 STECs adulterants please CLICK HERE.  Also, HERE is a good summary of why this move by Dr. Hagen is necessary.

Admittedly, this may not be on Dr. Hagen’s lap.  It certainly might be on the lap of USDA Secretary Vilsack (former Governor of Iowa) and President Obama (a president who wants to be re-elected and feels he does not need to piss of business interests).

  • John Munsell

    O111 and O104 may eventually be only two of a dozen or so non -O157:H7 STEC’s, all of which are lethal, and should be treated equally by any agency charged with ensuring that our nation’s meat supply is safe. We know that FSIS has declared O157:H7 an “adulterant”, a designation which interestingly has not prevented the ongoing spate of E.coli outbreaks and recalls which have become a way of life to Americans. FSIS’ designation of these other non-O157:H7 STEC’s as “adulterants” is inevitable, a designation which will not greatly reduce the number of outbreaks and recalls of these other pathogens, to no one’s surprise. Yes, the meat industry will dedicate more time and money to control these other pathogens subsequent to their “adulteration” designation, but the key piece to the pathogen prevention resolution is NOT the industry’s response, but the agency’s intentions. Huge distinction!
    By the agency’s own admissions, FSIS lacks an adequate Traceback protocol, an intentional circumvention of scientific protocol which if implemented would provide the ability to determine the true source of E.coli’s entry into our food chain, which is inadequate kill floor dressing procedures. I don’t care if Dr. Elisabeth Hagen and Administrator Al Almanza (both of whom have my full support) are divine, they face assiduous and monolithic opposition from their top staffers and the industry’s most powerful players to implement TRULY MEANINGFUL traceback protocol.
    Since my recall in 2002, I’ve visited with hundreds of folks, many of whom are or have been FSIS employees. Unfortunately, they all tell me the same story: which is that FSIS will NOT perform tracebacks to the source until a huge, nationwide E.coli outbreak occurs which kills dozens, hospitalizes thousands, and causes hundreds of HUS victims. Such an outbreak will dwarf what happened at Jack In The Box, and cause such a public outcry that the entire top echelon at the agency will be humiliated (for justifiable reasons), and depart enmasse, to be replaced by folks whose primary focus will be public health, not agency comfort.
    I know that my perception of the value of classifying these STEC’s as “Adulterants” is outside the box, but I believe that the classificiation would be mere window dressing, an agency attempt to improve its PR image, with precious little benefit to public health.
    John Munsell

  • John, I love ya, but the designation of E. coli as an adulterant has saved lives. The industry has responded. O157:H7 cases are down. It is a success. We need to do much more. Much of what you suggest is needed too.

  • John Munsell

    Dr. Richard Raymond’s Meatingplace blog has stated that the agency’s classification of E.coli O157:H7 as an adulterant has resulted in a decreased incidence of E.coli, validating Mr. Marler’s comment above that it is a success. I’ve heard no one say it has been THE panacea, or a smashing success. It the “Adulteration” classification had been an overwhelming victory, Mr. Marler would have no work to do, which is certainly not the case.
    My point is that if we desire to truly protect public health and promote food safety, FSIS must not only make “Adulteration” classifications, but it must traceback to the SOURCE of contamination, and then force the source to clean up its act. Currently, FSIS is a friend to public health, and an enemy as well.
    John Munsell