May 25th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
In light of yesterday’s report on salmonella-contaminated alfalfa sprouts, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to remind consumers that certain populations should avoid eating organic or nonorganic raw sprouts of any kind:
- The elderly
- Pregnant women
- Individuals with weakened immune systems
Alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts are included on the list, among other varieties.
People who fall into the affected groups should check salads and sandwiches purchased at restaurants and delicatessens to ensure raw sprouts are not added to prepared foods.
Bacteria can enter sprout seeds through cracks in the shells before they’re grown—and the pathogens are nearly impossible to wash out. Sprouts grown in the home are also risky if eaten raw.
If pathogenic bacteria are present in or on the seed, they can grow to high levels during sprouting, even under clean conditions.
Many salmonella outbreaks have been linked to contaminated seeds. As with most foodborne illnesses, children, the elderly, pregnant women and immunocompromised patients are more susceptible to infection and poor outcomes.
Cooking sprouts can reduce the risk of illness.
Read More:Four Groups Should Never Eat Raw Sprouts
May 24th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Maywood, Calif.-based Caldwell Fresh Foods has issued a voluntary nationwide recall of all alfalfa sprout products, which have been linked to a salmonella outbreak in 10 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin.
Of the 22 confirmed patients, six have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
Sprouts were sold under three brand names:
- Caldwell Fresh Foods
- Nature’s Choice
- California Exotics
The sprouts were distributed to a variety of restaurants, delicatessens and retailers, including Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart stores. Some outbreak patients reported eating sprouts at restaurants; others purchased them at retail outlets.
Consumers and restaurant/delicatessen operators should immediately stop using the affected products.
Caldwell’s other products, including organic selections like cole slaw mix, carrots, onions, celery and stir-fry blends, are not affected by this recall.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the outbreak in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California Department of Public Health and public health agencies in other affected states. Scientists are now inspecting the firm’s facility and collecting samples.
Read More:FDA Issues Urgent National Recall of Alfalfa Sprouts
March 6th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Salmonella-tainted hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) produced by Basic Food Flavors, Inc., of Las Vegas, has led to a nationwide recall of numerous mainstream, natural and organic products, including:
- Follow Your Heart tofu, burritos, organic salad dressings and dips
- Trader Joe’s organic salad dressing
Manufacturers sometimes add HVP as a flavor enhancer to processed soups, hot dogs, chilis, stews, dips, salad dressings, gravies, frozen dinners and snack foods.
While no illnesses have been reported, “this situation clearly underscores the need for new food safety legislation to equip FDA with the tools we need to prevent contamination,” says Dr. Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection.
A full list of recalled products is available here. Expect the number to grow as more food companies report use of the affected HVP.
Read More:Trader Joe’s Recalls Organic Salad Dressing
February 18th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
As our recent coverage shows, the raw chicken you buy has a high risk of bacterial contamination.
The most common culprits are:
- Salmonella enteritidis, which may live in livestock’s intestinal tracts
- Campylobacter jejuni, one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in humans
- Staphylococcus aureus, found in improperly handled, prepared and/or refrigerated foods (i.e., chicken salad)
- Listeria monocytogenes, which is destroyed in the cooking process; however, poor hygiene may lead to contamination
Food handlers are responsible for most foodborne illnesses. Sanitary handling, as well as proper cooking and refrigeration, should prevent illnesses.
Observe these guidelines:
- When you’re shopping for chicken, make sure it feels cold to the touch.
- Always check the sell-by and use-by dates. (FYI: Dating is not a federal requirement, but most stores do it.)
- Place poultry packages in disposable plastic bags to contain any leakage.
- When you arrive home, immediately place chicken in a refrigerator that maintains a 40°F temperature. Cook chicken within 1 to 2 days, or freeze at 0°F. Keep chicken in its package until using.
- If you’re buying a cooked chicken, make sure it’s hot. If you’re not going to eat it within 2 hours, refrigerate it. Cooked chicken should be consumed within 3 to 4 days.
- Bacteria must be consumed to cause illness, but handle raw chicken carefully to avoid cross-contamination. This occurs when raw poultry or its juices come in contact with other raw or cooked foods. If, for example, you’re cutting raw chicken, you don’t want to chop veggies on the same cutting board.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.
- Never defrost chicken on a countertop. Defrosting should occur in the refrigerator, in cold water or in a microwave oven. It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Boneless chicken breasts will usually defrost overnight. Bone-in parts and whole chickens may take 1 to 2 days or longer. Once the raw chicken defrosts, it can be kept in the refrigerator an additional 1 to 2 days before cooking.
- Chicken may be defrosted in cold water in its airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag. Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. A whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken or package of parts should defrost in 2 to 3 hours. A 1-pound package of boneless breasts will defrost in an hour or less.
- Chicken defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately after thawing, as some areas may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present won’t be destroyed.
- Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold-water method should be cooked before refreezing.
- Don’t cook frozen chicken in a microwave oven or slow cooker. It can, however, be cooked from its frozen state in the oven or on the stove, but cook time may be about 50% longer.
- Chicken may marinate in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Discard any uncooked leftover marinade.
Our Chronological Coverage
- Most Chicken Producers’ Safeguard “Inadequate”
- Agriculture Department Slow on Campylobacter Test
Tune in tomorrow for Part 4 of this series: Cook Chicken Safely
Read More:Handle Chicken Safely
February 17th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
As noted yesterday in Most Chicken Producers’ Safeguards “Inadequate,” store-bought chicken is routinely contaminated with the pathogens salmonella and campylobacter.
“Our tests show that campylobacter is widespread in chicken, even in brands that control for salmonella,” says Urvashi Rangan, PhD, director of technical policy at Consumers Union (CU), the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “While one name brand, Perdue, and most air-chilled [organic] chickens, were less contaminated than others, this is still a very dirty industry that needs better practices and tighter government oversight.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point requires companies to identify potential points of contamination and take measures to eliminate them. But while the USDA has a standard that requires chicken producers to test for salmonella, it first announced campylobacter performance standards on Dec. 31. They will not be implemented until July.
“USDA has been pondering new standards to cut the prevalence of bacteria in chicken for more than 5 years,” says Jean Halloran, CU’s director of food policy initiatives. “Consumers shouldn’t have to play roulette with poultry. The USDA must make chicken less risky to eat.”
Photo: Anna Bates/CDC
Tune in tomorrow for Part 3 of this article: Handle Chicken Safely
Read More:USDA Allows Contaminated Chicken in Stores
February 16th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Two-thirds of store-bought chickens tested by Consumer Reports harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease.
The results, published in the January issue, involved 382 broilers purchased from more than 100 supermarkets, gourmet-food stores, natural-food stores and mass merchandisers across 22 states.
Consumer Reports has been measuring contamination in store-bought chickens since 1998. The most recent test shows a modest improvement since January 2007, when the magazine found these pathogens in 80% of broilers. But the numbers are still far too high, and the results suggest most companies’ safeguards are inadequate.
Among the findings:
- Campylobacter was in 62% of the chickens, salmonella was in 14%, and both bacteria were in 9%. Only 34% of the birds were clear of both pathogens. That’s double the percentage of clean birds Consumer Reports found in its 2007 report, but far less than the 51% in its 2003 report.
- Among the cleanest overall were organic “air-chilled” broilers (a process in which carcasses are refrigerated and may be misted, rather than dunked in cold chlorinated water). About 60% were free of the two pathogens.
- Store-brand organic chickens had no salmonella at all, but only 43% of these birds were also free of campylobacter.
- Perdue was found to be the cleanest of the brand-name chicken, with 56% free of both pathogens. This is the first time since Consumer Reports began testing chicken that one major brand has fared significantly better than others across the board.
- Tyson and Foster Farms chickens were found to be the most contaminated. Less than 20% were free of either pathogen.
- Among all brands and types of broilers tested, 68% of the salmonella and 60% of the campylobacter organisms analyzed showed resistance to one or more antibiotics. All of the antibiotics were effective against 32% of salmonella samples and 40% of campylobacter samples, as compared to just 16% and 33%, respectively, in 2007.
- Although Perdue chickens were cleaner than other big brands in the tests, and most “air-chilled” organic birds were especially clean, Consumer Reports’ tests are a snapshot in time, and no type has been consistently low enough in pathogens to recommend over all others. Buying cleaner chicken may improve your odds if you fail to prepare chicken carefully.
Each year, salmonella and campylobacter from chicken and other food sources infect at least 3.4 million Americans, send 25,500 to hospitals and kill about 500, according to CDC estimates. While both pathogens are known to cause intestinal distress, campylobacter can lead to meningitis, arthritis and Guillain-Barré syndrome (a severe neurological disorder).
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this article: Agriculture Department Slow on Campylobacter Test
Read More:Most Chicken Producers’ Safeguards “Inadequate”
October 6th, 2009 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
Forget about swine flu, leafy green vegetables pose the greatest risk to public health, by way of foodborne illnesses like salmonella and E. coli.
It seems pathogens usually linked to meat have made the leap to vegetables, a result of outdated safety laws, mass-production, and global food markets.
Using data from the CDC, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has compiled a list of the 10 most dangerous foods.
Leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, topped a list which includes: eggs, tuna, oysters, potatoes, cheese, ice cream, tomatoes, sprouts, and berries.
As the “winner” green vegetables reported 363 outbreaks with 13,568 cases of illness from 1990 to 2006. At the bottom of the list, berries got off easy with 25 outbreaks with 3,397 reported cases of illness.
So the CSPI lauds the new Food Safety Enhancement Act, passed by the House of Representatives in July, granting the FDA more authority to crackdown on food production and growing facilities.
I think within the next 10 years food safety will be greatly improved. It is becoming too obvious that a big food system requires a lot more checks and balances.
Via HealthDay News.
Image credit: Fruit Today
Read More:Leafy Greens Will Kill You – Top Foodborne Illness List
August 9th, 2009 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
Food safety in the United States is messy. Think about it. In recent years, we’ve had more than a few national scares.
Off the top of my head, I can list the peanut butter and cookie dough salmonella outbreak, E. coli contaminated spinach and peppers, and countless red meat recalls.
But a new bill passed by the House aims to stop all this, giving the FDA more power to keep tabs on things. President Obama gave it a glowing endorsement.
He called it a major step towards modernizing our food safety systems and protecting Americans from tainted food.
The FDA now has more ability to order food recalls, grants increased access to company records, conduct more food inspections and requires all facilities to have a food safety plan in place—makes you wonder what the heck they were doing before!
Read More:President Obama Stoked About New Food Safety Reforms
June 17th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Norovirus and salmonella were the leading causes of foodborne illness in 2006, according to a report issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That year, there were 1,270 reported foodborne disease outbreaks, which resulted in 27,634 illnesses and 11 deaths. Of the outbreaks, 621 had a confirmed single cause, with norovirus (54%) and salmonella (18%) responsible for most cases.
Norovirus infection usually occurs when infected food handlers fail to wash their hands adequately after using the toilet. Salmonella infection usually occurs when foods that have been contaminated with animal feces are eaten raw or insufficiently cooked.
The foods associated with most outbreaks were poultry (21%), leafy vegetables (17%) and fruits/nuts (16%).
“Determining the proportion of outbreak-associated cases of foodborne illness due to the various food commodities is an important step,” says Patricia M. Griffin, MD, chief of the CDC′s Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch. “Identification of particular food commodities that have caused outbreaks can help public health officials and the food industry to target control efforts from the farm to the table.”
But Dr. Griffin offers an important caveat: While this report is useful, some outbreaks are not detected, investigated or reported because many states lack the resources to handle testing.
Photo by James Gathany/CDC
Read More:CDC Releases Stats on Foodborne Illness
January 13th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
The answer to today’s headline?
Solon, OH-based King Nut Companies, a distributor of peanut butter (not organic) manufactured by Peanut Corporation of America in Lynchburg, VA, has announced a recall of peanut butter distributed under the King Nut label. No other King Nut products are included in this recall.
King Nut took this action as soon as it was informed salmonella had been found in an open 5-lb. tub of the company’s peanut butter.
King Nut distributes peanut butter only through food-service accounts (long-term-care facilities, hospitals, schools, universities, restaurants, delis, cafeterias and bakeries). It is not sold directly to consumers.
King Nut does not supply any of the ingredients for the peanut butter distributed under its label.
“We are very sorry this happened,” says President and CEO Martin Kanan. “We are taking immediate and voluntary action because the health and safety of those who use our products is always our highest priority.
“Because we don’t manufacture peanut butter, we will do what we can to get this product out of distribution and will work with the manufacturer to inform others of this problem,” he adds. “We also distribute peanut butter from this manufacturer under the Parnell’s Pride brand, although we are not the only distributor. However, we have asked our customers to remove this brand as well.”
Kanan says King Nut began contacting customers immediately to stop distribution of all peanut butter with lot codes beginning with “8” and immediately canceled orders with the manufacturer.
Customers are asked to take all King Nut and Parnell’s Pride peanut butter distributed by King Nut out of circulation immediately.
Minnesota officials discovered the contamination as a result of product testing. The state’s cases have the same genetic fingerprint as those in the national outbreak that has sickened 410 people in 43 states (numbers updated yesterday).
Clusters of infections in several states have been reported in schools and other institutions, such as long-term-care facilities and hospitals, and King Nut is the only brand of peanut butter used in the facilities for which the CDC has information. More testing will be conducted to confirm the outbreak’s source.
To date, common brands of peanut butter sold in grocery stores do not appear to be associated with the outbreak.
If you think you may have become ill from eating peanut butter, consult your healthcare provider.
Images courtesy of the CDC
Read More:Is Peanut Butter to Blame for the Salmonella Outbreak?