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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Japan E. coli O111 Meat Outbreak – Third Death – “We did not test raw meat”

Screen shot 2011-05-04 at 4.42.47 AM.pngAccording to Japan press reports, Yasuhiro Kanzaka, president of Foods Forus Co., which runs the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu chain, has admitted his company had not tested raw meat served at its outlets for bacteria, as required by the health ministry, since 2009.  The restaurant chain has been linked to 56 E. coli O111 illnesses and now three deaths.  In the U.S. of course E. coli is not considered an adulterant and there are no governmental testing requirements, although, as I have argued, it should be.

A woman died Wednesday of E. coli O111 complications linked to a raw meat dish at a restaurant chain in central Japan, bringing the total number of deaths in the past week to three.  The woman had eaten yukhoe, similar to tartare, at the same restaurant in Tonami, Toyama prefecture, where a 6-year-old boy had fallen ill and died Friday after eating the same dish.  Another boy died a week ago in Fukui prefecture after eating the same dish at another of the company’s restaurants. Both boys were infected with E coli O111 strain.

I am in D.C. attending The Future of Food Conference sponsored by the Sustainable Food Trust.  Although, the focus of the conference is not on food safety as I deal with it on a daily basis, USDA Secretary Vilsack, and Charles, the Prince of Wales (and many other dignitaries in the foodie or foodist biz) will be speaking.  Perhaps I might be able to ask the Secretary if he might learn something from the Japanese E. coli O111 outbreak – before it happens – again – here.

Yesterday at Food Safety News, Dr. Richard Raymond and Ms. Carol Tucker-Forman both called for FSIS to move on non-O157:H7 STECs and I have petitioned the FSIS to do the same.

  • Theresa Kentner

    Amazing. Why wouldn’t you do that when you are serving something raw? It boggles the mind.

  • John Munsell

    Raw meat & poultry is exactly that……RAW, and frequently laced with pathogens. We need to handle and cook it accordingly. Steak Tartare has no place in today’s world, where newly emerging and mutating pathogens proliferate.
    Testing indeed can detect the presence of pathogens, preventing its shipment into commerce. However, we can’t test every ounce of meat, or there would be no meat left to consume. Same for lettuce, peppers, cilantro, sprouts, eggs, peanut butter, etc.
    Testing is an “Indicator”, that is, it can indicate whether products emanating from a food establishment occasionally are unsafe. If we test at each stage in the production cycle, positive lab results can direct us to the precise spot in the production cycle where problems reside. The original Pillsbury HACCP protocol mandated precisely this, which is building safety into each and every step of the production process. FSIS disagrees. FSIS prefers to test finished products, such as raw ground beef (RGB). Well, if the RGB sample is positive, where did the contamination occur? When the animal’s hide was removed? During evisceration? Did the steam pasteurization step actually smear fecal over the carcass? Testing needs to be done not only to detect the presence of pathogens, but also to clearly reveal the exact point in the production process where food safety noncompliances occur. FSIS disagrees.
    Then, what do we do with adverse lab results? Herein lies a major problem for FSIS. If a RGB sample occurs at a downstream further processing grinding plant, the FSIS routinely accuses the grinding plant of having a failure in its HACCP Plan. The FSIS adroitly avoids tracing the contaminant back to the SOURCE of contamination (i.e. the source slaughter plant). Because of this, the source slaughter plant continues to operate in the total absence of any corrective actions to prevent recurrences. We are thus virtually guaranteed future outbreaks.
    Bottom line: test results can be very useful. However, as long as we allow the FSIS to insulate the source slaughter plants from accountability, the full value of testing is minimized. While the FSIS continues to press for additional microbial testing, the agency simultaneously refuses to Force the SOURCE to clean up its act, while it focuses its enforcement actions downstream where meaningful corrective actions are mostly useless.
    John Munsell