In its continued efforts to protect consumers and ensure food safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has begun testing fresh cilantro, parsley and basil, as well as processed avocado and guacamole, for certain microbial contaminants. These two large-scale sampling assignments will help the FDA assess the rates of bacterial contamination in these commodities, as well as help to identify possible common factors among the positive samples.

The FDA plans to collect 1,600 samples for each assignment. As of January 1, 2018, the agency had collected 35 domestic samples (4.6 percent) and 104 import samples (12.4 percent) of the total for fresh herbs. None of the domestic samples tested positive. Of the 104 import samples tested, 4 tested positive for Salmonella, 3 tested positive for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and none tested positive for E. coli 0157:H7.

As of January 1, 2018, the agency had collected 58 domestic samples (7.3 percent) and 49 import samples (6.1 percent) of the totals for processed avocado/guacamole. Of the 58 domestic samples tested, 3 tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. Of the 49 imported samples, 1 tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. It is important to note that no conclusions about overall contamination rates can be made until all of the data are collected, validated and analyzed.

If samples are found to be positive for microbial hazards, the FDA will pursue an appropriate regulatory and enforcement option, which may include encouraging a voluntary recall, ordering a mandatory recall, ordering administrative detention to prevent food from being distributed, issuing public warnings to alert consumers to the potential danger, or, in the case of imported products, refusing their entry into the United States and subjecting future shipments to an import alert. In the case of the positive samples identified in the first quarter of data collection, imported products capable of causing disease were prevented from entry into the United States and domestic products were voluntarily recalled.

The agency chose to sample fresh herbs because they are typically eaten without having undergone a ‘kill step,’ such as cooking, to reduce or eliminate bacteria. These herbs are also often eaten as part of multi-ingredient foods, and thus people may not report having eaten them when they become ill.

From 1996 to 2015, the FDA reported nine foodborne outbreaks linked to basil, parsley and cilantro, which resulted in 2,699 illnesses and 84 hospitalizations. Of the nine outbreaks, seven were attributed to Cyclospora cayetanensis; one was attributed to E. coli O157:H7; and one was attributed to Shigella sonnei. The FDA is seeking to obtain baseline estimates of the prevalence of Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in cilantro, basil and parsley. The agency also intends to test for Cyclospora cayetanensis during the summer months, when  Cyclospora-related illnesses typically occur.

The agency chose to sample processed avocado because avocados have a high moisture content and a non-acidic pH level, conditions that can support the growth of harmful bacteria. Processed avocado products, including avocado that is fresh cut, refrigerated and frozen, may be packaged and eaten without having undergone a ‘kill step’ prior to consumption. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 12 outbreaks of foodborne illness related to avocado, avocado products or guacamole products from 2005 to 2015. Of those 12 outbreaks, nine involved Salmonella and three involved E. coli, resulting in 525 illnesses and 23 hospitalizations. Though no Listeria outbreaks were reported in connection with avocados from 2005 to 2015, a recent sampling assignment by the FDA detected Listeria monocytogenes in samples collected from the fruit’s pulp and skin. The agency is seeking data on the prevalence of Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes in processed avocado and processed avocado products.

The  assignments are anticipated to last 18 months. The agency will post results on a quarterly basis and also post a comprehensive report once sampling and analysis is complete.


The Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment (WCDPHE) is investigating an outbreak of Salmonella illness at Aims Community College. This illness may be associated with catered events held at Aims on February 9 and February 13, 2018. The February 9 event has 1confirmed Salmonella case that had about 70 people attend. The February 13 event has 2 confirmed cases that was attended by 400 people. Of the 10 confirmed Salmonella cases, 6 adults reside in Weld County, 1 in Larimer, and 1 in Boulder county. The events were catered by an outside restaurant, the Burrito Delight, located in Fort Lupton. The public is not at risk and the restaurant is now closed for the duration of the investigation.

Health officials said Thursday that they have confirmed all 10 illnesses are linked to food served by Burrito Delight at catered events, or at the restaurant between Feb. 9 and 12.

The restaurant failed the health inspection in the following areas: Temperature control, appropriate storage, proper storage of employee drinks, one instance of improper hand washing, and the presence of a rodent. The restaurant has received 12 critical violations in the past year.

“Salmonella is a bacteria that causes symptoms like diarrhea, upset stomach, fever, and occasionally vomiting,” said Mark E. Wallace, MD, MPH, Executive Director of the Weld County Health Department. “Symptoms typically last 4 to 7 days, and most people recover on their own. Anyone who suspects they became ill should contact their health care provider.” For some people, the diarrhea may become so severe that they require hospitalization. Symptoms typically appear 6-72 hours after eating contaminated food and will typically last for 4 to 7 days without treatment. However, in severe cases, the symptoms may last longer.

915 Sick with 172 Deaths.

According to the National Institute For Communicable Diseases:

As of 20 February 2018, 915 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to NICD since 01 January 2017 (Figure 1). Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (59%, 541/915) followed by Western Cape (12%, 112/915) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%, 66/915) provinces. Cases have been diagnosed in both public (64%, 587/915) and private (36%, 328/915) healthcare sectors. Diagnosis was based most commonly on the isolation of Listeria monocytogenes in blood culture (73%, 669/915), followed by CSF (22%, 198/915). Where age was reported (n=886), ages range from birth to 92 years (median 20 years) and 41% (361/886) are neonates aged ≤28 days (Figure 2). Of neonatal cases, 97% (351/361) had early-onset disease (birth to ≤6 days). Females account for 56% (499/886) of cases where gender is reported. Final outcome data is available for 67% (617/915) of cases, of which 28% (172/617) died.

My friend, Darin Detwiler, let me post this tonight for tomorrow.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day the last of four young children died during the landmark 1993 “Jack in the Box” E. coli outbreak

That child was 17-month-old Riley Edward Detwiler.

I learned about the reality of this foodborne pathogen on Riley’s death bed.  When he was only a few months old, I justified being out to sea on a Navy submarine by telling myself that I was making the world a safer place for him, and I thought that I would spend the rest of my life making up lost time with him when he was older.

Riley would now be older than I was during that outbreak.  I never got to see him grow older than he appeared in the few photos and videos from so long ago.  Over the years since his death, however, I have seen news of recalls and outbreaks and deaths on a far too regular basis.  I have also seen much improvement in food safety.

We have gained new federal food safety regulations and policies at the USDA and, most recently at the FDA.  We have witnessed advancements in science and data collection, and even a whole new “culture of food safety.” We have trainings, certifications, university programs, conferences, magazines, books, and even movies that serve to inform and motivate new generations of food safety experts.

Many of the changes in food safety policies came about through the hard work of victims, families, advocacy groups, and industry leaders. Statistics and charts alone achieve little without victim’s voices.  Facts rarely motivate policymakers as much as seeing the faces and stories. I am very proud of their efforts.  I am also proud to have stood with them and before them trying to prevent other parents from looking at their family table with one chair forever empty due to preventable illnesses and deaths from foodborne pathogens.

One thing that hits me hard lately is how the faces and stories of victims from mass shootings are seemingly not enough to bring about change in terms of gun control.  While no new policies will bring back the dead, they would bring hope and an increased safety for others.  I am saddened by the thought that so many parents will live with the belief that their child’s death did not result in some element of change.

Perhaps the reasons matter not as to why parents worry about making the world a safer place for their children.  Too many homes in this country include a chair forever empty at a family table due to reasons that could and should have been prevented.

Dr. Darin Detwiler is the Assistant Dean, the Lead Faculty of the MS in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, and Professor of Food Policy at Northeastern University in Boston.  In addition to serving as the executive vice president for public health at the International Food Authenticity Assurance Organization, he is the founder and president of Detwiler Consulting Group, LLC. Detwiler and serves on numerous committees and advisory panels related to food science, nutrition, fraud, and policy. He is a sought-after speaker on key issues in food policy at corporate and regulatory training events, as well as national and international events. Detwiler holds a doctorate of Law and Policy.

As of 14 February 2018, 872 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to NICD from all provinces since 01 January 2017 (Figure 1). Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (59%, 517/872) followed by Western Cape (13%, 111/872) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%, 62/872) provinces. Cases have been diagnosed in both public (64%, 559/872) and private (34%, 205/872) healthcare sectors. Diagnosis was based most commonly on the isolation of Listeria monocytogenes in blood culture (73%, 640/869), followed by CSF (22%, 183/869). Where age was reported (n=849), ages range from birth to 92 years (median 23 years) and 43% (352/829) are neonates aged ≤28 days (Figure 2). Of neonatal cases, 97% (342/346) had early-onset disease (birth to ≤6 days). Females account for 53% (466/868) of cases where gender is reported. Outcome is known for 597/872 (68%) patients of whom 164 (27%) have died.

No source has been determined – yet.

South Africa’s laws governing products liability closely parallel those found in many US jurisdictions. While the country has long-recognized that a manufacturer of unfit food can be held civilly liable in negligence, legislation introduced almost decade ago codified strict products liability principles applicable to every entity in a product’s supply chain. Further, South Africa also holds entities in a supply chain criminally liable for making contaminated or unfit food available to consumers.

Prior to enacting legislation in the early 2000’s, South African manufacturers of food could be held civilly liable under principles similar to those common in US tort law. Specifically, claimants alleging injury caused by unfit food could demonstrate that an entity was negligent in its manufacture of the product. The Muzik v. Cansone Del Mare case is a well-known example of a food-poisoning litigation where the court found in favor of a victim claiming a restaurant’s negligent preparation and service of seafood caused his serious injuries. The restaurant, Cansone Del Mare, served Muzik contaminated mussels which made him severely ill and led to his hospitalization. He subsequently sued the restaurant, and was awarded damages including his medical bills, lost wages, and loss of enjoyment of life because his fear of being poisoned again prevented him from enjoying a previously-loved food.

A few years after Muzik, South Africa provided foodborne illness claimants a powerful avenue of recovery when it enacted the Consumer Protection Act No. 68 of 2006 (CPA). Section 61 of the CPA establishes broad strict liability principles, specifically holding everyone in the supply chain of a product—manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers—liable for any harm their product causes, irrespective of whether or not they behaved negligently. The elements of strict products liability in South Africa is near-identical to the burden in the US: a claimant need only prove that their injury or illness was caused by (1) the supply of an unsafe product, (2) a product failure, defect, or hazard in the product, or (3) inadequate instructions or warnings. 61(1)(a)—(c).[1]

If a claimant prevails in demonstrating her burden, the responsible parties are held jointly and severally liable for, “the death of, or injury to, any natural person; an illness of any natural person…and any economic loss that results from,” that death, injury, or illness. 61(5)(a)—(d). While initially appearing to be broad-sweeping legislation, Section 61 may also limit the liability of so-called “passive retailers”—entities who merely obtain pre-prepared food to sell to consumers. The relevant language bars liability if, “it is unreasonable to expect the distributor or retailer to have discovered that the unsafe product characteristic, failure, defect or hazard, having regard to that person’s role in marketing the goods to consumers.” 61(4)(c).

Finally, despite its many similarities to US product liability laws, South Africa also holds entities criminally liable for making contaminated or unfit food available to the public. The Food, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 54 of 1972 makes it a criminal offense for any person to, “sell[], manufacture[] or import for sale, any foodstuff which is contaminated, impure or decayed, or is, in terms of any regulation deemed to be harmful or injurious to human health.” (2)(1)(b)(i). If the criminal offense is committed by an employee of a food service establishment, such liability attaches to the employer unless he can demonstrate that he took all reasonable measures to prevent the act or omission that led to the offense. (8)(1).[2]


[1]           Section 53 of the CPA defines a “defect” as, “(i) any material imperfection in the manufacture of the goods or components, or in performance of the services, that renders the goods or results of the service less acceptable than persons generally would be reasonably entitled to expect in the circumstances; or (ii) any characteristic of the goods or components that renders the goods or components less useful, practicable or safe than persons generally would be reasonably entitled to expect in the circumstances.”

[2]           Simply forbidding the particular act or omission is insufficient to avoid liability. (8)(2).

94 Sick in Iowa, Chicken Salad sold at Fareway grocery stores in Iowa, as well as Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

28 – Confirmed Case Definition:

Persons with Salmonella Typhimurium (confirmed or visual match to Pattern JPXX01.0275) with illness onset since January 1, 2018 reporting consumption of chicken salad from Fareway (any store) in the 7 days prior to illness onset.

66 – Probable Case Definition:

Persons that are epi linked to a confirmed case (all confirmed cases are laboratory confirmed), OR Persons who test positive by CIDT or culture (with serotype and PFGE pending) with illness onset since January 1, 2018 reporting consumption of chicken salad from Fareway (any store) in the 7 days prior to illness onset.

Minnesota has one case associated with this outbreak so far, in a Martin County resident.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert out of an abundance of caution due to concerns about illnesses reported in the state of Iowa that may be caused by Salmonella associated with a chicken salad product. This product was sold at all Fareway grocery stores in Iowa, as well as Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

The chicken salad item for this public health alert was produced between Dec. 15, 2017 and Feb. 13, 2018. The following product is subject to the public health alert:

  • Varying weights of “Fareway Chicken Salad” sold in plastic deli containers with a Fareway store deli label.

This product was shipped to all Fareway grocery stores in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota and sold directly to consumers who shopped at Fareway.  The problem was discovered following reports of illness in Iowa.

On Feb. 9, 2018, the Iowa Department of Public Health notified FSIS of an investigation of Salmonella related illnesses, within the state of Iowa.  FSIS continues to work with public health partners at the Iowa Department of Public Health and Department of Inspections and Appeals on this investigation. Updated information will be provided as it becomes available.

FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers’ refrigerators or freezers.

Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them.

At least 872 sickened – no cause of outbreak yet discovered.

Wendy Knowler of the Johannesburg Sunday Times reports that the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) continues to try and pinpoint what has now become the largest Listeria death toll in the world.

The number of confirmed listeriosis cases is now 872, and 164 of those have died – up from 107 last week. The current mortality rate is a staggering 27%.

Of those confirmed cases, 43% were babies of less than a month old – pregnant women being 20 times more likely to get listeriosis than other healthy adults.

Contracted by eating food containing the listeria pathogen, listeriosis is by far the deadliest of foodborne diseases.

I got to speak today to the listeriosis workshop hosted by the South African Association of Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) in Johannesburg via a webinar.  Here is the link to my speech outline:

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA) today jointly issued a consumer advisory for chicken salad sold at Fareway stores. The chicken salad, which is produced and packaged by a third party for Fareway, is implicated in multiple cases of salmonella illness across Iowa. Preliminary test results from the State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL) at the University of Iowa indicate the presence of salmonella in this product.

Fareway voluntarily stopped the sale of the product and pulled the chicken salad from its shelves after being contacted by DIA. “The company has been very cooperative and is working with IDPH and DIA in the investigation of the reported illnesses,” said DIA Food and Consumer Safety Bureau Chief Steven Mandernach, who noted that no chicken salad has been sold to the consuming public since last Friday evening (2/9/18).

IDPH is investigating multiple cases of possible illness associated with the chicken salad. “The bottom line is that no one should eat this product,” said IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. “If you have it in your refrigerator, you should throw it away.”

A Little Caesars Pizza restaurant in Indiana was temporarily closed after customers found mouse feces in their food.

Johnathan McNeil said he and his girlfriend noticed the droppings after picking up the pizza at a Little Caesars in Indianapolis on their way home on Feb. 6, reports Fox 59.

“She looked at the pizza and realized there was like doo-doo looking stuff on the pizza,” said McNeil.

Disgusted, the two rushed back to the restaurant.

“All of them were looking at my pizza dumbfounded as if they didn’t know what’s going on,” recalls McNeil, “I said ‘That’s mouse doo-doo on the bottom of my pizza.'”

Later, McNeil called in health inspectors and posted about the incident on social media.

“I called the police and three officers came to the scene and found the mice poop covering the entire pizza,” McNeil wrote on Facebook. “This is extremely disgusting and unsafe to health. I seen a woman with children walking out with pizza before me. Lets expose them & get them shutdown.”

Upon inspection, authorities confirmed McNeil’s suspicions.

“We did find that there were rodent droppings and violations that warranted us doing a license suspension,” said Janelle Kaufman with the Marion County Health Department.

The new mother,Michelle Carr, of a 10-week-old newborn boy was enjoying a quick lunch on Jan. 29 as she washed her lettuce, inverted it to drain, ripped it apart by hand and threw on some grape tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then, as she went to take a bite, she stuck her fork into something firm, but it wasn’t a slice of avocado.

It was the scaly, tail-less carcass of a lizard.

“It was longer than my middle finger without its tail. We’re not talking about a spider or a bug or even a little salamander. This was a huge lizard with scales,” said Carr, a registered hematology oncology bone marrow transplant nurse. “I instantly wretched and I was revolted because I thought for a second I could’ve eaten its tail.”

Carr said she purchased the bag of store-brand romaine lettuce at the Shaw’s supermarket in Portsmouth on Jan. 26.

Carr said she had a friend who is a biologist examine the lizard and told her it could have been a blue-bellied lizard, which primarily live in California and can be up to 8.4 inches long, according to the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. The lettuce is distributed by a company out of California.

Carr said she then called representatives at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS), Shaw’s and the Food and Drug Administration but had not yet heard if her complaint was being investigated.

On Monday, NHDHHS communications director Jake Leon took a call from Seacoast Media Group and confirmed his agency had received the complaint from Carr. Because the lettuce was packaged and shipped from another state, he said that any investigation would be conducted by the FDA.