November 2006

A source close to the spinach industry and agricultural politics told me a few interesting facts today:

1.  Spinach Farmers and others businesses hurt financially by the recent spinach recall are considering asking for Federal or State relief along the lines that the airline industry did following 911.

My reaction – shame, shame, shame.  Not one penny has been given to the 204 victims, including 4 deaths, some of who are still in the hospital and still on kidney dialysis.  Four families are missing family members at the holidays when they should still be here but for eating Dole baby spinach.  Again, shame, shame, shame.

2.  FDA and/or CDOH has tipped the spinach industry that the report on the spinach outbreak will be released before Christmas – just in time for another “spinach fest” at yet another meaningless Congressional Hearing on December 19, 2006 in Washington, DC.

I wonder if victims will be invited this time as they have been excluded from other policy discussions.  One must wonder why consumers and those impacted by the spinach industy’s lack of standards would be excluded from a discussion.  Perhaps it is because Hearings are not really a place where truth is sought, but is is simply a venue for politicians to suck up to their big financial contributors.  Again, shame, shame, shame.


In today’s Washington Post it was reported that a state legislator from Fairfax County said that she plans to introduce a bill that would allow homeless shelters in Virginia to serve home-cooked food. The proposal from Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-Fairfax) followed a Health Department decision to crack down on the use of such food in county shelters.  See full article – Bill Supports Home-Cooked Food

Under county code, food served in shelters and soup kitchens must come from county-approved facilities. County officials said they aimed to prevent food-borne illnesses in a medically vulnerable population.  But leaders of a coalition of Fairfax churches that plans to start a seasonal shelter program tomorrow said the ban makes it more difficult for volunteers to provide food for evening meals.  The county said yesterday that it has issued a temporary permit to let one church in the program, Bethany Lutheran, serve food from unapproved kitchens. County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said the exception was granted because the church will provide shelter and food for only two days.

I certainly understand the Health Department’s concern about having food that is safe served to the homeless population.  However, I can see the point of advocates for feeding the homeless that "home-made" food may be the only food they might get.  Tough policy decisions,  Any thoughts?

I am an avid reader of the Perishable Pundit – especially since the recent E. coli-related spinach outbreak.

Jim recently posted an interesting quote from a buyer at

Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if spinach is now “safe”, because we are carrying it. My answer is simple: we carry it because the FDA has removed their warning! I don’t get myself in a position to qualify whether or not the product is safe. I expect the government to do their job in that regard. What I have a problem with in Tim York’s approach is that it doesn’t get to the real issue, namely federal regulation in areas of production agriculture. This isn’t a spinach issue, or a California issue. That only happens to be “cause du jour”.

Industry needs to do the heavy lifting with regards to GAPs, and those GAPs may differ between some commodities. But once they are established, the FDA needs to give them the impact of federal regulation. In this way, ALL players need to participate. If you want to grow spinach, these are the things you need to do, period. It’s not about buyers, or groups of buyers, trying to make a statement as to who to buy from or not. Food safety should not be open to discrimination. And the federal government should always be the source of food safety regulation. If not, you get into a situation that exists in Western Europe, namely that the public loses faith in the government to regulate food safety. Not a good place to be!

My feeling is that there is a place for regulation, but companies that grow our food need to make is safe for business and moral reasons – it is not good to poison customers.  Jim points out that regulation may also not necessarily be the way to create safer produce:

  • Perhaps food safety protocols should be mandatory, should be national and should have the force of law — but they don’t right now. Other than vague federal laws related to adulterated food, the FDA has no authority or mechanism for mandating that farms not be operated within a thousand feet of a cow or any of the other minutia that make up food safety protocols. If they did get laws and regulations passed, they have no staff to enforce the rules. And if they did have the rules and did have a police force, that would only mean that people who break the rules are criminals — not that the food is always safe.
  • The notion that it is the FDA’s responsibility to determine what is safe and what is not has to be appealing to both producer and buyer. After all, if the FDA will take that burden off producers and buyers, it will help both.
  • The practical issue is that, so far, we don’t see much evidence that the FDA is willing or able to regulate. The FDA has not made a proposal to Congress requesting regulatory authority. It has not proposed any regulations. So regardless of what is right or a good idea, it doesn’t seem to be happening. The buyers leading this initiative are unwilling to not do anything while we wait, like Godot, for the FDA to do something.
  • The Pundit would add a more philosophical critique: In this particular arena there is no such thing as “safe” — there are only various procedures that make us incrementally “safer”. So the FDA standard, even if established, can only be a baseline. If they require a fence around a property, a more rigorous program installs double fences so if an animal gets past one, he still isn’t on the farm. A still more rigorous one digs the fence five feet underground. One can go on and on.

Joan Murphy of the Produce News has been following the FDA’s recent announcement of yet another salmonella outbreak tied to restaurant consumed tomatoes.  The full story can be found HERE.

According to Ms. Murphy, the Food & Drug Administration is now investigating two tomato-related outbreaks, with the latest blamed for nearly 100 illnesses in 19 states.  FDA was already tracing tomatoes involved in another outbreak involving 183 people in 21 states. Federal authorities said that fresh tomatoes contaminated with Salmonella typhimurium served in restaurants were the likely cause of that outbreak.   I also talked to Ms. Murphy shortly before Thanksgiving about PRIOR OUTBREAKS:

Bill Marler, an attorney with Seattle-based Marler Clark, said that the tomato industry should be more vigilant to prevent contamination on the farm, since it is virtually impossible to clean the fruit once it’s been contaminated.  Mr. Marler has settled 149 cases from the 2004 Sheetz Salmonella outbreak tied to Roma tomatoes and is representing 93 victims in the more recent E. coli outbreak traced to contaminated spinach. Since the spinach contamination, the trial attorney said that he has been in high demand for speaking engagements around the country on the topic of produce safety.

Turkey and ham product recalled because of Listeria on Thanksgiving – Bad timing Honeybaked.

47,000 Pounds Of HoneyBaked Ham, Turkey Recalled

The HoneyBaked Foods company is recalling nearly 47,000 pounds of its ham and turkey products, because they could be contaminated with Listeria.??  Listeria is a microorganism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.  It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.  For healthy adults, the symptoms are no picnic either.  They include fevers, severe headaches, nausea and diarrhea.?? The recalled products include six to eleven pound packages of “sliced and glazed fully cooked half ham” and 12 to 16 pound packages of whole ham.  HoneyBaked is also recalling three pound packages of “sliced and glazed cooked boneless turkey breast” as well as the smoked version of the turkey.??  The company has set up an 800-number for customer inquiries.??  The glazed ham and turkey was produced between September fifth and November 13th.  They were sold through the company’s catalog, on the Internet and at HoneyBaked stores and kiosks in the Toledo, Ohio, region.

The recalled products include: 6- to 11-pound packages of “sliced & glazed fully cooked half ham” with the establishment number “EST. 15875” and package codes 6261 through 6310. 12- to 16-pound packages of “sliced & glazed fully cooked whole ham” with establishment number “EST. 15875” and package codes between 6261 and 6310. 3-pound packages of “sliced and glazed cooked boneless turkey breast” with establishment number “P-15875,” product code 30505 02099 and package codes between 6248 and 6258. 3-pound packages of “sliced and glazed fully cooked smoked boneless turkey breast” with establishment number “P-15875,” product code 30504 02099 and package codes between 6248 and 6258.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a change in the “Single Minimum Internal Temperature Established for Cooked Poultry”. The new cooking recommendation is as follows:

“A whole turkey (and turkey parts) is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.”

This new cooking temperature is a change from previous 180°F for a whole turkey and 170°F for turkey breast. The single minimum internal temperature change to 165°F was recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) in a press release earlier this year. All turkey cooking recommendations for this website have been changed to reflect this update (11/06).

To read the press release in its entirety

Another great article by Scripps Howard on the United States food system:

The actual number of Americans who die from food poisoning is a matter of conjecture. Statisticians at the CDC in Atlanta have estimated that at least 5,000 Americans die every year from something they ate.  According to federal records based on death certificates, only 1,370 Americans died of infectious intestinal diseases in 2000. Food- and water-based deaths rose to 1,586 in 2001, to 2,496 in 2002 and to 3,142 in 2003, the most recent year available.  In an attempt to demystify food-related sickness, Scripps Howard News Service conducted a demographic analysis of the 3,142 Americans who were reported to have died from intestinal infections in 2003.

A majority of those deaths, almost 84 percent, occurred in people over 70 years of age. Women accounted for almost 65 percent of the total.  More than half the people who died were widowed. Married people accounted for 33 percent and people who never married accounted for only 7 percent of the deaths.  Blacks accounted for only 6 percent of the reported deaths, or only half their proportion of the general population. Whites accounted for 93 percent, and other racial minorities just 1 percent.  Of the total, 81 percent of the people died in hospitals, but more worrisome is the fact that 13 percent of people died at home, indicating that they did not seek or receive medical help.  Almost 80 percent of the deaths occurred in metropolitan areas.

Thomas Hargrove of Scripps Howard recently wrote an article on the risks of getting a food illness in the Untied States.  Americans play a sort of food-poisoning Russian roulette depending on where they live, an investigation by Scripps Howard News Service found. Slovenly restaurants, disease-infested food-processing plants and other sources of infectious illness go undetected all over the country, but much more frequently in some states than others.The numbers are concerning.  For example:

  • More than 50,000 people got sick or died from something they ate in a hidden epidemic that went undiagnosed by the nation’s public health departments over a five-year period.
  • Scripps studied 6,374 food-related disease outbreaks reported by every state to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from Jan. 1, 2000, through Dec. 31, 2004. The causes of nearly two-thirds of the outbreaks in that period were officially listed as “unknown.”
  • The CDC defines an “outbreak” as two or more people who got sick or died after eating the same food. State and local epidemiologists are diagnosing an average of just 36 percent of the nation’s reported outbreaks even though some outbreaks have hundreds of victims.
  • The study found that health departments are more likely to make a diagnosis when a very large number of people get sick. They failed to determine the cause in 31 percent of the outbreaks that sickened 50 people or more. But the failure rate increases rapidly with smaller groups.
  • Fifty-three percent of outbreaks affecting 10 to 49 people went undiagnosed, while 75 percent of outbreaks that sickened nine or fewer people were listed as “unknown” causes.
  • Every year, an estimated 5,000 Americans die from food-based diseases like Salmonella, E. coli, Shigellosis and Campylobacter. Another 325,000 people are hospitalized. The CDC estimates that food-based sickness probably afflicts 76 million Americans annually.

The Complete article can be found here.

E. coli
(generic variety) was found in the south part of the island water supply.  My neighbors are a bit concerned – see article from Bremerton Sun.

Over 1,000 homes and 1 school are under a boil water order.  The type of E. coli found is NOT the type that can cause severe disease.  However, the finding of it in a public water supply shows that fecal bacteria has infiltrated the aquifer (well) or has found a break in the water lines (or both).

UPDATE – Boli Water Order Lifted Today

I just got wind of another outbreak of Salmonella-tainted Tomatoes – Salmonella Newport this time – tied to restaurant consumed tomatoes.  It seems that 98 people in 19 states became ill between June and October.  Apparently, the FDA announced it to a select group, but not the public – go figure.

See my prior posts on prior tomato outbreaks.

UPDATE – 11-21-06

“Yes it is true. A second foodborne illness outbreak was caused by Salmonella Newport. The outbreak was linked to tomatoes used solely in the foodservice (restaurant, hotel, etc.) industry. The outbreak, was determined to have sickened 98 known people in 19 states. The outbreak is over. No new cases have been identified for several weeks. Most of the cases occurred back in August and September. The Salmonella strain implicated in this tomato outbreak is identical to the one implicated in outbreaks linked to tomatoes from the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 2002 and 2005. FDA has begun an investigation to determine where the implicated product came from.”

Jim Prevor