The Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) published its analysis of what food tend to be linked to certain bacteria.

Salmonella illnesses came from a wide variety of foods. Salmonella illnesses were broadly attributed across multiple food categories. More than 75% of Salmonella illnesses were attributed to seven food categories: Seeded Vegetables (such as tomatoes), Eggs, Chicken, Other Produce (such as nuts), Pork, Beef, and Fruits.

E. coli O157 illnesses were most often linked to Vegetable Row Crops (such as leafy greens) and Beef. More than 75% of illnesses were linked to these two categories.

Listeria monocytogenes illnesses were most often linked to Fruits and Dairy products. More than 75% of illnesses were attributed to these two categories, but the rarity of Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks makes these estimates less reliable than those for other pathogens.

Non-Dairy Campylobacter illnesses were most often linked to Chicken. Almost 80% of non-Dairy foodborne illnesses were attributed to Chicken, Other Seafood (such as shellfish), Seeded Vegetables, Vegetable Row Crops, and Other Meat/Poultry (such as lamb or duck). An attribution percentage for Dairy is not included because, among other reasons, most foodborne Campylobacter outbreaks were associated with unpasteurized milk, which is not widely consumed, and we think these over-represent Dairy as a source of Campylobacter illness. Removing Dairy illnesses from the calculations highlights important sources of illness from widely consumed foods, such as Chicken.

Here is the full report.

The Kroger Company has recalled Comforts FOR BABY Purified Water with Fluoride Added 1 GAL (3.78 L) with sell by dates from 4/26/2018 to 10/10/2018, after receiving complaints about mold in the product. Testing by Kroger has identified the mold as Talaromyces penicillium. The water is sold in clear containers, but the mold may not be visible with the naked eye.

The FDA is issuing this consumer alert to reach parents and caregivers who may have bought the product, which is intended for infants.

The products were distributed to Kroger stores, including Food 4 Less, Jay C, Jay C Food Plus, Kroger, Kroger Marketplace, Owen’s, Payless Super Market, and Ruler stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.  The Kroger Company has instructed its stores to remove the recalled products.

The recalled products are labeled with the UPC Code 0 41260 37597 2 and the plant code 51-4140. The labels also state DISTRIBUTED BY THE KROGER CO, CINCINNATI, OHIO 45202.

The recalled products have sell by dates from 4/26/2018 – 10/10/2018.

If you have purchased this water return it to the store for a refund.

In general, inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in some people. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Allergic reactions to molds are common and can happen immediately after touching or inhaling mold spores, or later. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are also allergic to mold. Molds can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, even in people who aren’t allergic to them.

Drinking water or other products contaminated with Talaromyces penicillium may affect infants who have HIV or other conditions that cause immune compromise. Consult your health care professional if you believe your infant may be affected.

Penn State Eberly College of Science have found house flies can carry Salmonella, E. coli and even bacteria which can lead to stomach ulcers and fatal sepsis. The research, published in Scientific Reports, says flies may have been overlooked by public health officials as a source of disease outbreaks.

The paper found that fly’s legs transferred most of the microbial organisms from one surface to another, suggesting even a brief step onto food could leave behind bacteria. Flies in urban areas were found to carry more bacteria than rural flies, with the scientists suggesting avoiding city parks for picnics and, instead, eating food in more rural locations.

”People had some notion that there were pathogens that were carried by flies, but had no idea of the extent to which this is true and the extent to which they are transferred.” said Dr. Donald Bryant, Professor of Biotechnology at Penn State University.

Maksud Khan of Satna, Madhya Pradesh in India, arrived at the hospital experiencing stomach pains that doctors presumed was food poisoning, but an endoscopy revealed the cause to be metal objects.

Those objects — 236 coins, 100 nails, dozens of razor blades, a 6-inch piece of a rusted iron shackle, four needles, and a few glasses pieces — were found in the man’s stomach.

Khan’s relatives said he was suffering from depression, which may have triggered the habit.

I had a good talk the R.J. Wilson of Healthway a few weeks ago – love the illustration.

Most of us live in relatively ignorant bliss when it comes to our food. We know that we shouldn’t eat from the salad bar of a seedy motel, for instance, and that we’re better off avoiding fast-food sushi.

Ultimately, however, we don’t really know what happens to our food before it’s presented to us.

Studies show that 76 million people are affected by food illness every year. Those illnesses can be caused by bacteria, viruses, molds, and even parasites—and in some cases, the symptoms are life-threatening.

Food poisoning attorney Bill Marler has seen just about everything. He has represented clients in some of the biggest food safety cases on record, and over time, his professional life has shaped his food preferences.

I have a different relationship with food because of my profession.

In early 2016, Marler compiled a list of six foods that he never eats (although, as we’ll explain shortly, he’s taken occasional liberties with one of those foods). The article quickly went viral, which didn’t surprise the attorney.

“I get asked a lot about what foods I stay away from,” Marler explains to HealthyWay. “It was one of those kind of things where I finally decided to just put them [together], and I came up with six.”

But while Marler thought that the piece would do well, he might not have anticipated its reach.

“My daughter called me and said, ‘Dad, you’re trending [online],’” he recalls. “It was the first time she actually thought I was interesting!”

We spoke with Marler to review the original list—and to find out whether he’s really serious about some of these.

1. The first item isn’t exactly a hard one to pass up…

What’s healthier than raw sprouts? They’re a great addition to any sandwich, right?

Not quite. In the past 20 years, over 30 reported illness outbreaks resulted from sprout consumption, including numerous cases of salmonella and E. coli.

In 2014, 19 people were hospitalized with salmonella poisoning from eating sprouts. Marler warns that there have been too many outbreaks to not pay attention to the risks.

The U.S. government’s consumer food safety website, Foodsafety.gov, includes this warning: “Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts).”

Of course, the site also notes that cooking the sprouts kills the harmful bacteria, so if you prefer your bean sprouts cooked, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Plus, sprouts are…well, kind of gross, so we don’t really mind avoiding them. Unfortunately, the list gets harder from here.

2. Marler admits to cheating on this one.

This one isn’t so much about the food as the way it’s prepared.

Pre-cut fruit seems like a great idea, in theory; you get delightfully sliced pieces of perfectly ripened fruit filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

However, in his original article, Marler wrote that he avoids pre-cut fruit “like the plague.”

As Marler wrote, the extra handling and processing increases the chances that the fruit will be contaminated. According to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, pre-cut fruit is one of the most common foods associated with foodborne illnesses.

Still, Marler admits that he doesn’t exactly avoid cut fruits “like the plague.” He was using a bit of hyperbole to get his point across.

“If I’m traveling or looking for a quick lunch, sometimes it’s just too convenient,” he says.

He does recommend eating whole fruits instead; that should help people avoid listeria, a bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal and nervous system issues.

3. Ready for a healthy breakfast? Well…sorry in advance.

This one might be hard for some people to stomach; we can’t imagine asking for our eggs over-hard.

Even though much has changed in the way of the handling and processing of eggs nowadays, it wasn’t long ago that people were getting sick from raw eggs. In the early ’80s and ’90s, salmonella was an epidemic, but in 2010, the CDC reported around 2,000 cases of salmonella contamination involving eggs.

Salmonella can live both inside and outside the shells of eggs. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning can last for over a week and include cramps, diarrhea, and fever. Infectious disease experts recommend keeping eggs refrigerated until they’re ready to be prepared.

Marler admits that eggs are getting safer. “[Salmonella in eggs] is less of a problem than it was, say, 10 years ago,” he says. “But it’s still a risk that is, in my view, not worth taking.”

Not to disagree with our expert, but we’ll note that the risk is quite limited. Per Forbes, about one in 20,000 eggs is infected with salmonella. That’s a pretty small number, all things considered. Cooking your eggs (properly) limits the growth of bacteria and reduces the chance of salmonella poisoning.

Still, a representative of Foodsafety.gov tells HealthyWay that eggs still pose a pretty significant risk, particularly to immunocompromised people, and consumers need to understand that risk before partaking.

4. This food trend might seem healthy, but that’s not the case.

Pasteurization removes some of the nutrients in juice and milk and that doesn’t bode well with the super-health-conscious crowd. As a result, raw milk and juices have become more popular over the past few years, despite warnings from the FDA.

Marler argues that there’s no benefit compelling enough to minimize the risks involved with these drinks. Since pasteurization is an important safety procedure that eliminates harmful parasites, bacteria, and viruses from beverages, it would be irresponsible to risk possible infection for a couple of extra nutrients.

Of course, his opinion is informed by his case work. In 1996, Marler fought for several children against the popular beverage company Odwalla. One client developed a serious affliction called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) from drinking unpasteurized apple juice. HUS is caused by E. coli and is linked to anemia and kidney failure.

Ultimately, Odwalla was held responsible and had to pay a $1.5 million fine and another $12 million to the victims.

5. We’ve got bad news for meat eaters.

Although something of a delicacy, rare steak (and other kinds of beef) carry with them a host of potential foodborne pathogens, including listeria, salmonella, and E. coli. Marler recommends steering clear of meat that is cooked rare.

He suggests that steak should only be consumed if it’s medium-well or well, which should kill the harmful bacteria.

It may not be the most delicious way to eat a steak, but Marler says the risks outweigh the rewards. The FDA cautions that red meat needs to be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees for ground meats) in order to be safe.

Ground meat products (like hamburgers and meatloaf) need to be cooked even more thoroughly since bacteria that sits on the surface of the meat is often ground inside of it.

Still, we had to ask: Does he really order all of his steaks well done? Yes, although he recalled one meal in which a restaurant confused his order with his colleague’s.

“They switched the order, and I quickly looked at his steak and my steak and realized it,” Marler recalls. “We had to switch them back.”

6. But Marler received the most complaints for this final item.

Most people know that oysters are not the cleanest food available, but often people don’t realize why. Oysters filter feed, which means they eat (and hold on to) everything that’s in the water—and we mean everything.

When you eat raw oysters, you ingest their bacteria (somewhat obviously). Marler says that he has seen many more issues with the consumption of raw oysters over the last five years as compared to 20 years ago, and he believes that warmer water temperatures are to blame.

Why? Well, higher water temperatures mean more microbial growth, which means more cases of foodborne illness. In order for an oyster to be safe from bacteria and viruses, it must be cooked thoroughly. That reduces the risk of an illness, but doesn’t eliminate it altogether.

“We’re starting to see more cases [involving oysters],” Marler says, noting that, despite the pushback from his friends on the East Coast, he wouldn’t take the mollusks off of his list.

So, would Marler make any changes to this list?

Nope. He says that while he’s seen contamination with specific brands, he doesn’t think he’d make any additions.

“There’ve been lots of outbreaks linked to, for example, soy nut butter,” Marler says. “But [the list] includes things that, historically, in my experience, have been much more risky. They’re involve products that don’t have a ‘kill’ step—they’re not cooked.”

He also says that while he’s fairly strict about his own diet, he doesn’t ask his friends to order differently at restaurants.

“Most people know what I do, and they either don’t care or they change their order,” Marler says with a laugh. “I have a different relationship with food because of my profession.”

Perhaps I need to add in flour in cookie dough?

More than 45 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving Day, with a never-ending list of side dishes and desserts. The Thanksgiving meal is by far the largest and most stressful meal many consumers prepare all year, leaving room for mistakes that can make guests sick. But never fear, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is available with tips and resources to make this Thanksgiving safe and stress-free.

“Turkey and other meat and poultry may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter that can lead to serious foodborne illness,” said acting FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker. “By properly handling and cooking your turkey, you can avoid these harmful pathogens and ensure your family has a safe and healthy Thanksgiving feast.”

Begin by following these five steps:

Wash your hands, but not your turkey

Washing your hands before cooking is the simplest way to stop the spread of bacteria, while washing your turkey is the easiest way to spread bacteria all over your kitchen. According to the 2016 Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Survey, 68 percent of consumers wash poultry in the kitchen sink, which is not recommended by the USDA. Research shows that washing meat or poultry can splash bacteria around your kitchen by up to 3 feet, contaminating countertops, towels and other food. Washing doesn’t remove bacteria from the bird. Only cooking the turkey to the correct internal temperature will ensure all bacteria are killed.

The exception to this rule is brining. When rinsing brine off of a turkey, be sure to remove all other food or objects from the sink, layer the area with paper towels and use a slow stream of water to avoid splashing.

To stuff or not to stuff

For optimal food safety, do not stuff the turkey. Even if the turkey is cooked to the correct internal temperature, the stuffing inside may not have reached a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria. It is best to cook the stuffing in a separate dish.

Take the temperature of the bird

Although there are various ways to cook a turkey, the only way to avoid foodborne illness is to make sure it is cooked to the correct internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. Take the bird’s temperature in three areas — the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh — make sure all three locations reach 165ºF. If one of those locations does not register at 165ºF, then continue cooking until all three locations reach the correct internal temperature.

Follow the two-hour rule

Perishable foods should not be left on the table or countertops for longer than two hours. After two hours, food falls into the Danger Zone, temperatures between 40-140ºF, where bacteria can rapidly multiply. If that food is then eaten, your guests could get sick. Cut turkey into smaller slices and refrigerate along with other perishable items, such as potatoes, gravy and vegetables. Leftovers should stay safe in the refrigerator for four days.

When in doubt call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline

If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert. You can also chat live at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.

If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET.

  1. Safely Thaw Your Turkey

Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave. Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A frozen turkey is safe indefinitely, but a thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe as it moves into the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.

  1. Safely Handle Your Turkey

Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria. Follow the four steps to food safety – cook, clean, chill, and separate – to prevent the spread of bacteria to your food and family.

  1. Safely Stuff Your Turkey

Cooking stuffing in a casserole dish makes it easy to make sure it is thoroughly cooked. If you put stuffing in the turkey, do so just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and may then cause food poisoning. Wait for 20 minutes after removing the bird from the oven before removing the stuffing from the turkey’s cavity; this allows it to cook a little more. Learn more about how to prepare stuffing safely.

  1. Safely Cook Your Turkey

Set the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey with the breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the turkey. To make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F, check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat. Learn more about safe minimum cooking temperatures and how to use a food thermometer for turkey and other foods.

  1. Take Care with Leftovers

Clostridium perfringens are bacteria that grows in cooked foods left at room temperature. It is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. The major symptoms are vomiting and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours after eating.

  • Clostridium perfringens outbreaks occur most often in November and December.2
  • Many of these outbreaks have been linked to foods commonly served during the holidays, such as turkey and roast beef.

Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.

Use a food thermometer to check for a safe internal temperature.

 Thanks to CDC

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.