Live 5 News reports that Investigators say a laboratory test has confirmed that a substance a man sprayed on produce at a West Ashley Harris Teeter contained human feces and E. Coli contaminates.

On Friday, law enforcement charged Pau Hang with tampering food products, and was given a $100,000 bond. This comes after he was originally given a $100,000 bond for malicious injury to personal property and a $465 bond for trespassing.

Officials identified Hang as a disgruntled, former contractor at the store on 975 Savannah Highway.

Newly released court records state a bottle that Hang used to spray produce at the Harris Teeter on Sunday tested positive for human feces and E. coli.

Additionally, investigators say Hang confessed to detectives that he sprayed the produce with a substance containing his feces and urine that he mixed in his vehicle prior to entering the business.

“The defendant continued to state that he intentionally exposed the produce with the forethought and knowledge that it would likely be purchased and consumed by Harris Teeter customers,” an affidavit read.

According to authorities, surveillance video showed the suspect spraying the contents of the bottle onto the produce and “adjacent fresh food departments.”

Court records state customers were also seen on the same video continuing to walk to and make purchases in those exposed areas of the store.

The affidavit read that the damage to the exposed produce and merchandise was initially valued at $3,000, but due to the level of exposure and the merchandise affected in conjunction with the cleanup, the total damage was estimated at nearly $100,000.

Harris Teeter released the following statement on the day of the incident:

Food safety and quality are paramount to Harris Teeter. We were extremely alarmed and disappointed to learn that today, a disgruntled, former contractor attempted to contaminate food products in the Produce department and Fresh Foods department inside our St. Andrews Shopping Center location. Our valued associates immediately took action – closing down affected departments and notifying appropriate team members. Additionally, our associates properly discarded any and all product that was exposed to contamination as well as thoroughly cleaned and sanitized affected areas.
In an abundance of caution, Harris Teeter has proactively contacted the Charleston County Department of Health. The affected departments will not re-open without the Charleston County Department of Health’s approval.

The Kitsap Sun reports that the Kitsap Public Health District ordered the McDonald’s restaurant at 6755 Highway 303 to shut down this week after an inspector discovered a rat infestation.

Health officials Tuesday suspended the operating permit of the restaurant, located near the Walmart in East Bremerton, because of an “imminent health hazard” caused by rats. It has yet to reopen.

The restaurant’s management has been working with the health department since early September, when an inspector initially found evidence of rats above the tiles in the ceiling of the dining area and in the kitchen. A pest control firm was retained and restaurant staff voluntarily closed to clean and sanitize the building on Sept. 21.

But on Tuesday morning, health inspectors shut down the location. Health officials noted  “a large accumulation of feces in the dry goods storage area above the CO2 tanks as well as signs of new feces above tiles around the hot water heater.”

“Furthermore there is evidence of rat activity and feces in the food prep and food storage areas,” inspectors said.

What OIG Found

FDA is on track to meet the domestic food facility inspection timeframes for the initial cycles mandated by FSMA; however, challenges remain as FSMA requires FDA to conduct future inspections in timeframes that are 2 years shorter than the timeframes for the initial cycles. Also, inaccuracies in FDA’s domestic food facility data result in FDA attempting to inspect numerous facilities that are either out of business or otherwise not in operation at the time of the visit.

Although FDA is on track to meet the FSMA inspection mandates during the initial cycles, theoverall number of food facilities that FDA inspected since the passage of FSMA has decreased from a high of about 19,000 facilities in 2011 to just 16,000 facilities in 2015.

In addition, FDA did not always take action when it uncovered significant inspection violations—those found during inspections classified as “Official Action Indicated” (OAI). When it did take action, it commonly relied on facilities to voluntarily correct the violations. Also, it rarely took advantage of the new administrative tools provided by FSMA.

Moreover, FDA’s actions were not always timely nor did they always result in the correction of these violations. FDA consistently failed to conduct timely followup inspections to ensure that facilities corrected significant inspection violations. For almost half of the significant inspection violations, FDA did not conduct a followup inspection within 1 year; for 17 percent of the significant inspection violations, FDA did not conduct a followup inspection of the facility at all.

What OIG Recommends

We recommend that FDA (1) improve how it handles attempted inspections to ensure better use of resources, (2) take appropriate action against all facilities with significant inspection violations, (3) improve the timeliness of its actions so that facilities do not continue to operate under harmful conditions, and (4) conduct timely followup inspections to ensure that significant inspection violations are corrected. FDA concurred with all four recommendations.

HERE IS LINK TO FULL REPORT

Islamic State leaders are reportedly asking its followers to carry out terror attacks by poisoning food in Western supermarkets.  It is not like poisoning our food has not happened before and we certainly have been warned.  In 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of infectious disease outbreaks caused by pathogens falling into the wrong hands and into our food. She said:

“Unfortunately the ability of terrorists and other non-state actors to develop and use these weapons is growing. Therefore this must be a renewed focus of our efforts.”

“Because there are warning signs and they are too serious to ignore.”

“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had urged brothers with degrees in microbiology or chemistry to develop a weapon of mass destruction.”

Sound familiar? It should. In 2004 Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson warned of food-related terrorist attacks. He said:

“For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do.”

It reminded me of an Op-ed I did for Forbes a year or so ago:

Imagine this: At 10:00 PM, after yet another story about Donald Trump, a foreign TV network begins airing a video taken inside a facility showing someone treating wash water in a cucumber packing house with an unknown liquid. There is a claim that this was the terrorist act that has so far sickened 341 and killed 2 in 30 states with Salmonella.

In the next 15 minutes, every network news operation is playing the video. The broadcast networks break into regular programming to air it, and the cable news stations go nonstop with the video while talking heads dissect it. The Donald fades into the distance.

Coming on a Thursday evening on the East Coast, the food terrorism story catches the mainstream Media completely off guard. Other than to say the video is being analyzed by CIA experts, and is presumed to be authentic, there isn’t much coming out of the government.

Far-fetched? Don’t count on it. I have been saying for years that a foodborne illness outbreak will look just like the terrorist act described above, but without the video on FOX News.

Tell that to the 751 people in Wasco County, Oregon—including 45 who required hospital stays—who in 1984 ate at any one of ten salad bars in town and were poisoned with Salmonella by followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The goal was to make people who were not followers of the cult too sick to vote in county elections.

Tell that to Chile, where in 1989, a shipment of grapes bound for the United States was found laced with cyanide, bringing trade suspension that cost the South American country $200 million. It was very much like a 1970s plot by Palestinian terrorists to inject Israel’s Jaffa oranges with mercury.

Tell that to the 111 people, including 40 children, sickened in May 2003 when a Michigan supermarket employee intentionally tainted 200 pounds of ground beef with an insecticide containing nicotine.

Tell that to Mr. Litvenenko, the Russian spy poisoned in the UK with polonium-laced food.

Tell that to Stanford University researchers who modeled a nightmare scenario where a mere 4 grams of botulinum toxin dropped into a milk production facility could cause serious illness and even death to 400,000 people in the United States.

The reason I bring this up is not to mark another anniversary of 9/11. I raise the issue not because I actually think that food terrorism is the cause of this week’s Salmonella cucumber outbreak. However, I wonder if it would have made any difference in our government’s ability to figure out there was an outbreak, to figure out the cause, and to stop it before it sickened so many.

After 9/11, Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said: “Public health is a national security issue. It must be treated as such. Therefore, we must not only make sure we can respond to a crisis, but we must make sure that we are secure in defending our stockpiles, our institutions and our products.”

Before Thompson’s early exit from the Bush Administration, he did get published the “Risk Assessment for Food Terrorism and Other Food Safety Concerns.” That document, now 5-years old, let the American public know that there is a “high likelihood” of food terrorism. It said

the “possible agents for food terrorism” are:

  • Biological and chemical agents
  • Naturally occurring, antibiotic-resistant, and genetically engineered substances
  • Deadly agents and those tending to cause gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Highly infectious agents and those that are not communicable
  • Substances readily available to any individual and those more difficult to acquire, and
  • Agents that must be weaponized and those accessible in a use able form.

After 9/11, Secretary Thompson said more inspectors and more traceability are keys to our food defense and safety. To date, we’ve made some, but not enough movement to ensure this.

Would the fact of terrorists operating from inside a manufacturing facility somewhere inside the United States bring more or effective resources to the search for the source of the Salmonella? If credit-taking terrorists were putting poison on our cucumbers, could we be certain Uncle Sam’s response would have been more robust or effective then if it was just a “regular” foodborne illness outbreak?

Absolutely not! The CDC publicly admits that it manages to count and track only one of every forty foodborne illness victims, and that FDA inspectors miss key evidence as outbreaks begin. The FDA is on record as referring to themselves as overburdened, underfunded, understaffed, and in possession of no real power to make a difference during recalls. If you are a food manufacturer, packer, or distributor, you are more likely to be hit by lightning than be inspected by the FDA. You are perfectly free to continue to sell and distribute your poisoned product, whether it has been poisoned accidentally or intentionally.

The reality is that the cucumber Salmonella outbreak is a brutal object lesson in the significant gaps in our ability to track and protect our food supply. We are ill prepared for a crisis, regardless of who poisons us.

So, what can we do?  Since we inspect only about 1% of imported food that food could be tainted with biological or chemical agents before entering the United States. Given, also the lack of inspections domestically, toxins could easily be introduced in food at the farm, in transit, at processing plant or in restaurants.

More and better inspections by FDA and FSIA inspectors at various points in our food supply are absolutely necessary, as is good intelligence work by those at the CDC and FBI. However, when a terrorist uses a biological or chemical weapon against the civilian population – in food or otherwise, how quickly the outbreak is detected, analyzed, understood and addressed would be the responsibility of state and local public health offices and the CDC. Surveillance would be the key to limiting the damage and bringing the terrorists to justice.

We need to invest in the science of epidemiology and the surveillance of biological and chemical illnesses. We need to increase our laboratory capacity for biological and chemical agents, and our ability to quickly track patterns of potential illnesses. And, we need to strengthen the teamwork between state, local and federal health officials so outbreaks are caught early.

Perhaps a foodborne bio-terrorism event cannot be stopped, but with investments in surveillance, the event can be minimized.

Thanks to Blythe Bernhard and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for recalling all the risk of past floods that will certainly be at play during and after Harvey

  • After the cleanup, wash hands with soap and warm water that has been previously boiled. Clothes should be washed in hot water and detergent, separately from clothes that aren’t contaminated. Use a laundromat if the wastewater system in the area has been compromised.
  • Open wounds and rashes can be any entry point for infection if exposed to floodwater. Use waterproof bandages and thoroughly wash any areas exposed to floodwater. Health officials recommend updated vaccinations for tetanus and diphtheria for anyone exposed to raw sewage.
  • Raw sewage in floodwater can carry bacteria, viruses and parasites. Those that can cause intestinal illness or gastroenteritis include strains of E. coli, salmonella, shigella and enterovirus. The main symptom of these illnesses is diarrhea, and those at higher risk of developing severe disease are the youngest and oldest in the community and people with compromised immune systems.
  • After the water recedes, mold can become another health concern. Remove and throw away any drywall or insulation that has been touched by floodwater or sewage. Mattresses, carpets, carpet pads, upholstered furniture, stuffed animals, pillows, books, paper products and anything else that can’t be washed and disinfected should be tossed out if they get wet.
  • Hard surfaces including flooring and countertops should be thoroughly cleaned with hot water and detergent. Any food that came in contact with floodwater must be discarded, even canned goods. All toys should be disinfected with a bleach solution.
  • People affected by flooding are also at risk of experiencing fear, anxiety and sadness. The American Psychiatric Association said anyone struggling with the emotions should seek professional help.

I dropped an Op-ed on the Hill this morning.  Here is an excerpt:

This week the CDC reported that at least 47 people were stricken with Salmonella, with one death, likely linked to papayas imported from Mexico. In the summer of 2016 came reports of hepatitis A tainted scallops sickening 292 in Hawaii. In that outbreak two died of liver failure complications. And, also in 2016, 143 people, mostly in Virginia, were also stricken with hepatitis A. This time the culprit was hepatitis A-tainted strawberries imported from Egypt.

While most food we consume is still produced in the United States, we rely on imports for some of our most nutritionally important but more risky commodities. And, imported food is increasingly taking a larger “bite” out of our food consumption. We now import over 90 percent of our seafood, 50 percent of our fresh fruit and 20 percent of our vegetables. Canada, Mexico, China and India are our top food trading partners. In 2014, we imported nearly $50 billion of food from just those four countries. Imports from all countries have increased, and that is especially true for China and India.

The Food Standards Agency of Scotland (FSAS) has announced that Macsween of Edinburgh Ltd has recalled a number of its products, including products manufactured for Lidl and Marks & Spencer, as a precautionary measure, because of concerns over the company’s procedures in place to control Clostridium botulinum.

FSAS reports that manufacturing controls that could potentially affect the safety of the products could not be demonstrated satisfactorily by the manufacturer. The issue relates to controlling factors to prevent the growth and toxin production of Clostridium botulinum. Botulinum toxin may cause a serious form of food poisoning called botulism and can be fatal.  A recall from customers is being carried out as a precautionary measure.

The recall concerns a wide variety of Haggis (Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep‘s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onionoatmealsuetspices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach), as well as Black and White Pudding (White pudding is similar to black pudding, but does not include blood; both consists of pork meat and fat, suet, bread and oatmeal formed into a large sausage).

From my friends at the CDC who publish Morbidity, Mortality Weekly Review:

During 1975–2012, CDC surveillance identified 1,680 trichinellosis cases in the United States with implicated food items; among these cases, 1,219 were attributed to consumption of raw or pork products, and 461 were attributed to nonpork products. Although trichinellosis in the United States has historically been associated with consumption of pork, multiple nonporcine species of wild game also are competent hosts for Trichinella spp. and have been collectively implicated in the majority of trichinellosis cases since the late 1990s. During July 2016–May 2017, the Alaska Division of Public Health (ADPH) investigated two outbreaks of trichinellosis in the Norton Sound region associated with consumption of raw or undercooked walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) meat; five cases were identified in each of the two outbreaks. These were the first multiple-case outbreaks of walrus-associated trichinellosis in Alaska since 1992.

Trichinellosis is a parasitic disease that results from consumption of raw or undercooked meat infected by roundworm species in the genus Trichinella. Early signs and symptoms occur 1–2 days after ingestion and include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Systemic signs and symptoms, which typically occur 1–2 weeks after ingestion and last for 1–8 weeks, include facial and periorbital edema, fatigue, fever (remittent) and chills, headache, muscle soreness, pruritus (with or without a rash), nausea, difficulty coordinating movement, neurologic complications, and cardiopulmonary impairment.

Lawyers Who Are Changing the World

By Jeff Tolman

I have great respect for people who take control of their lives and create a successful life and practice in the changing and evolving legal universe. That would be Bill Marler, Senior Partner at Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, in Seattle. Bill is considered the most prominent foodborne illness lawyer in America and a major force in food policy in the U.S. and around the world. Wondering if as a youngster he was innately interested in food and food poisoning – and, if not, how in the world he got into this niche practice – I gave Bill a call.

Bill grew up in Silverdale, WA, less than 10 miles from my office, the son of a Navy nurse and Marine Sergeant, both later teachers. After graduating from Olympic College in Bremerton, WA, Bill attended Washington State University. He graduated with three majors due to the fact he was elected to the Pullman City Council as a 19-year-old student and he was determined to fill out his term. After working as a paralegal in a Seattle law firm (Bog;e and Gates) for a year, Bill went to law school and received his J.D. from Seattle University School of Law in 1987. From 1987 to 1998 Bill worked in a variety of firms including Dick Krutch; McKay and Gaitan, Keller Rohrback; Perey Law Group; and Kargianis, Osborne, Watkins & Marler.

His first big civil case related to two children killed by Westley Allan Dodd. Bill decided to go right to the horse’s mouth and met with Dodd in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, and for five hours heard about Dodd’s various contacts with the legal system. Determining the state of Washington had failed in its duty to monitor Dodd, resulting in the murders, a settlement was reached for the family of the victims.

Then came the 1993 E. coli outbreak at Jack-in-the-Box restaurants. Within a day Bill’s investigation led him to file a lawsuit and he became the face of that litigation. Sometime later, in two days of mediation, the plaintiffs received $23 million in settlements. Bill’s reputation as a foodborne illness go-to lawyer was cemented. Now, he said, there is not a significant outbreak of foodborne illness that isn’t touched by his firm.

In 1998 Marler Clark was formed, initially with four lawyers and four staff, now with six lawyers.

Bill is an enthusiastic, charming, ebullient, charismatic speaker. I wish we could have spoken for another hour or two. He was in Houston, speaking to a conference of food safety agencies. His schedule a week before and after our conversation took him all over America as a lawyer, speaker and advocate for food safety.  His next stop was Utah where he is representing a group of victims of food poisoning from a store’s chicken salad, including a 20-year-old woman who became brain injured, unable to work and unable to bear children as the result of the poisoning.

Bill indicated that the foodborne illness litigation is a small community of plaintiff and defense specialists where collegiality and professionalism still reign. He would recommend becoming a lawyer (he has a daughter who plans to take the LSAT) if you go in with your eyes open. Ask yourself: What do you want to do in your career? Can you afford to get a law degree?

Describing his life, he says, “I travel all over the world trying to convince companies that it’s a really bad idea to poison people.”

Not a bad goal to have. Not a bad way to spend a professional life.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 8.59.17 AMIn the last two months, in between legal work that has taken me from Hawaii, Salt Lake City and Portland, Maine, I have had the honor to speak on food safety at the following venues:

Food Safety Summit – Chicago

Michigan State University – Lansing

Missouri Food Safety Task Force – St. Louis

Institute of Food Technologists – Sun Valley

Harris County Health Department – Houston

Later this week I am heading to New Zealand to a food security conference and then back to Florida for the International Association for Food Protection.