Category Archives: food poisoning

USDA gets tougher on salmonella imposing stricter limits on bacteria in poultry products

salmonella chickenThe USDA has found salmonella on about a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts heading for supermarket shelves. That’s bad news for consumers. It’s certainly a good reason to handle raw chicken carefully, wash your hands afterward, and cook the meat well. But FoodFacts.com was happy to see that it’s also good reason for better regulation. The USDA gets tougher on salmonella imposing stricter limits on bacteria in poultry products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new, stricter limit on salmonella bacteria in poultry products. It’s a new attempt to make headway against one of the country’s biggest, and most intractable, food safety problems.

Salmonella bacteria on raw poultry and fresh produce are estimated to cause about 1 million cases of illness in the U.S. each year. It has proved difficult to reduce that number because the bacteria are so commonly found in the environment, and especially in poultry.

Even when companies wash chicken carcasses after slaughter, the USDA has found the bacteria on about a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts heading for supermarket shelves. It’s a good reason to handle raw chicken carefully, wash your hands afterward, and cook the meat well.

Under the USDA’s new standard, companies will be required to reduce the frequency of contaminated chicken parts to 15 percent or less. The new standard also sets limits for turkey and ground meat products. A separate standard covers another disease-causing type of bacterium, called Campylobacter.

Alfred Almanza, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, says that after a year of testing, the USDA will start posting test results from each poultry processing plant online for consumers to see.

“[This] is not a good thing for them, if they’re failing,” Almanza says. “So those are pretty significant deterrents, or incentives for them to meet or exceed our standard.”

The USDA says that when companies meet this new standard, 50,000 fewer people will get sick from salmonella each year.

But there’s a lot of guesswork in that calculation, and some are not convinced that it’s really true. William James, for instance, the former chief veterinarian for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, thinks the USDA’s entire approach to controlling salmonella is flawed. James now works as a consultant for private companies.

James points to the agency experience with an earlier version of the salmonella standard, which he helped put in place. It did reduce the amount of salmonella bacteria that were found on poultry, yet illness rates did not drop.

The problem, he says, is that these USDA standards treat all salmonella alike, when there actually are more than 2,000 different genetic strains of the bacterium, and most of them don’t make people sick. In fact, the ones that don’t make you sick probably are beneficial, because they compete with the salmonella strains that really are dangerous, James says.

James wants poultry companies to take more accurate aim at their problem. “The key here is probably to focus on those few types that are causing illness, and get serious about trying to eliminate those,” he says.

He says that poultry companies should be testing their chicken houses for those specific bacteria, such as one strain called Salmonella Heidelberg. When the bacteria show up in a flock, those chickens should be slaughtered separately, he says, and the buildings where they lived should be decontaminated.

The USDA’s Almanza agrees that having a standard based on the prevalence of all salmonella is imprecise, but he thinks it still will help uncover food safety problems. “If you have a high level of salmonella, you are going to have some that are of significance to public health,” he says.

He believes that the new standard, and the power of posting test results online, will force companies to take additional measures to make sure their products are safe.

FoodFacts.com is sure that many will agree that the idea of bacteria present on the poultry products we’re all purchasing at the grocery store is exceptionally upsetting (and somewhat stomach-turning as well). We’re all aware, though, of the importance of resolving instances of foodborne illnesses. Any steps the USDA is taking towards that resolution are welcome.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/04/465530128/usda-imposes-stricter-limit-on-salmonella-bacteria-in-poultry-products

If you want to avoid foodborne illnesses, you may want to forgo a few different foods – and some of them may be veggies.

precut vegIn the last year or so, foodborne illnesses have been in the news all too often. After the multiple instances of illnesses that plagued Chipotle during 2015, FoodFacts.com has spoken to more than a few consumers actively looking to prevent foodborne illness. How can you do that? If you want to avoid foodborne illnesses, you may want to forgo a few different foods – and some of them may be veggies. Surprised? Read on.

As you might imagine, spending a career thinking about the food-borne illnesses that make people sick (or worse) would force a person to think about the kind of meals he puts into his own body.

That’s because every year, there are approximately 48 million cases of food-borne illnesses in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration. An estimated 128,000 people are hospitalized for these sicknesses, and about 3,000 die on an annual basis.

For Bill Marler, a Seattle-based products liability and personal injury attorney who has worked as a food safety advocate in the U.S. for the past two decades, there are some innocuous-seeming edibles that won’t ever make it into his grocery cart. The lawyer has represented the victims of major food poisoning cases against companies like Chili’s, Dole, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, prompting him to come up with some very specific rules about the food he eats.

In a recent article published in his firm’s blog, Food Poison Journal, Marler listed six food items he refuses to eat. Check out the list — and Marler’s science-backed reasonings — below, then ask yourself if you really want to go to that dollar oyster happy hour tonight.

1. Pre-cut and pre-washed produce.
Food poisoning expert Bill Marler does not take a bite of any produce that’s been pre-cut or pre-washed.

As convenient as packaged apple slices and pre-washed lettuce may be, Marler “avoids them like the plague,” he wrote. Food is more likely to be contaminated the more it is processed and touched, so Marler purchases unwashed and uncut fruits and veggies. Buying these items in bulk is the enemy, he says: to decrease the risk for listeria, Marler buys enough produce to last him only three to four days.

2. Uncooked sprouts.
Bean, alfalfa, clover and radish sprouts are increasingly popping up in grocery stores nationwide, but Marler won’t munch on them unless they’re cooked. He cited E. coli and salmonella outbreaks associated with the miniature veggies, arguing the risk isn’t work it. Marler said sprouts are particularly dicey because their seeds are prone to bacterial contamination.

3. Red meat cooked medium rare.
Are you picking up on a theme here? Marler seems to be all about the cooking process. While a medium rare burger yields glorious red juices that run on your plate, Marler said such meat also runs the risk of being contaminated with bacteria, especially when it’s ground.

“If it’s not cooked thoroughly to 160°F throughout, it can cause poisoning by E. coliand salmonella and other bacterial illnesses,” he said.

4. Raw shellfish.
How appealing do those $1 oysters seem right now? Oysters may be an aphrodisiac, but they’re not sexy to this lawyer.

“Oysters are filter feeders, so they pick up everything that’s in the water,” Marler wrote. If the water is contaminated, the shellfish will be, too. In 2008, the Center of Science for the Public Interest cited fish and shellfish as the number one cause of food-borne illnesses.

Food poisoning through seafood is on the rise: A 2015 report showed that vibrio poisonings, which often spread from the consumption of oysters, increased by a whopping 52 percent over the past decade or so. Vibriosis is one of the most serious kinds of food poisoning. Though it is rare, around half of the people inflicted by one of the specific strains ultimately die from it.

While some of these (uncooked sprouts and pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables) might appear surprising to some, it’s a great list to keep in mind for food safety. A safe food consumer is a happy food consumer. Let’s all stay happy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/food-bill-marler-food-safety-lawyer-wont-eat_us_56a77589e4b0172c659414ef

Think you’re hearing about more foodborne illnesses than you used to? You’re right. Here’s why.

_USP1212-FoodborneIllness-T4FoodFacts.com has always prided ourselves on being a reliable consumer source for information on food recalls due to foodborne illnesses. Think you’re hearing about more foodborne illnesses than you used to? There’s a good reason.  These illnesses have been in the news more and more frequently in the last few years.

A second E.coli outbreak at the Chipotle has food safety experts perplexed. NPR’s Linda Wertheimer talks to reporter Joanne Silberner about why it’s been so hard to identify the contamination source.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the center is investigating five new cases of E. coli linked to Chipotle restaurants. More than 50 people in nine states were infected in an outbreak that began in October. Reporter Joanne Silberner is here to talk about why food outbreaks keep happening and what they mean to eaters like us.

Joanne, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than a quarter of a million people get sick from E. coli infections every year and 48 million people – if you count all kinds of food poisoning – 48 million people get sick. Why do these outbreaks keep appearing?

JOANNE SILBERNER, BYLINE: Good question. There are many reasons. One is that restaurant food is getting more complicated, different ingredients coming from around the world and around the country. There’s also more reporting. You know, it’s more in the news and on social media. You know, you’ll notice it if another few people in your town are sick and you might get to chatting, so you’re more aware ’cause most food outbreaks are not reported. But with social media you may be suspicious and you may realize it’s a good idea to call the public health department if you think something’s going on. And really the bottom line as always is that bacteria and viruses are smarter than us. They’re great at finding places to hide and they’re great at finding ways to sneak into the body.

WERTHEIMER: Is there anything different, do you think, about these Chipotle outbreaks?

SILBERNER: Well, one thing that’s a little different is that it was noticed. It was identified. Most food outbreaks go unidentified. Another interesting thing about it is it continued despite a really major effort by Chipotle to clean things up. There’s a challenge for the company. It’s made its name by using fresh ingredients prepared in-house. That’s their whole shtick.

WERTHEIMER: Like making the guacamole.

SILBERNER: And cutting the tomatoes and grating the cheese in-house, and those two things are going to change. They’re go to be doing the tomatoes and the cheese at a central location and they’re doing a lot more testing.

WERTHEIMER: So what do you think we ought to do to protect ourselves from food poisoning?

SILBERNER: Well, if you’re going out to a restaurant, you should look for ones with clean kitchens and places for workers to wash up. And at home – because a whole lot of cases occur at home – make sure your cooking utensils are clean. Separate out raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods. Cook your foods thoroughly and refrigerate them when they’re ready to go into the refrigerator. And if you’re sick, do not prepare food for others.

WERTHEIMER: OK, here’s a bonus question. Congress passed legislation to really beef up the food safety system. Why didn’t things get better?

SILBERNER: Well, the legislation passed in 2011 and with great hope and great fanfare Congress didn’t really adequately fund it. So there wasn’t a lot of money to come up with rules and regulations. The rules and regulations are finally being finished this year. And in the omnibus act that just passed funding the government, some people will consider it not enough, but there’s a lot more money coming up this year for food safety than there has been before. So maybe things will get better.

Better funding from congress. Centrally prepared food items. Better reporting from consumers. We are hearing about more instances of foodborne illnesses than ever before, but with steps being taken by restaurants and our government with a little help from a more vocal consumer, we are making strides in the effort to eradicate these illnesses once and for all.

http://www.npr.org/2015/12/26/461095842/why-food-poisoning-outbreaks-appear-to-be-on-the-rise

The story behind product recalls and restaurant closings: food poisoning is more common than you think

foodborne_illnessFoodFacts.com has always made it a point to call attention to food recalls and restaurant closings on our website. We think it’s important to keep as many people informed of foodborne illnesses as possible because they do affect so many people. New food recalls happen every single day of the year and most of them aren’t publicized, so you may not know that a product that’s sitting in your pantry has been recalled to do foodborne pathogens or cross contamination from allergens. You need to know exactly what’s in your food – and sometimes that includes things that aren’t very pleasant and can, in fact, cause immediate and serious harm.

The latest scare comes from Oregon and Washington state, where Chipotle closed 43 restaurants after more than 35 people fell ill with E. coli. Other outbreaks in recent years involved cantaloupes, peanuts and cookie dough.Here’s the story behind product recalls and restaurant closings:  food poisoning is more common than you think.  Some 3,000 Americans die every year from food poisoning, and 128,000 are hospitalized.

It’s not as if Congress has done nothing. In 2011 it passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, the biggest change in industry monitoring since the 1930s. The law had broad support from both parties as well as consumer groups and Big Agriculture.

The act makes a number of improvements to the food-safety system. The Food and Drug Administration is empowered to order recalls of contaminated food products — previously, it could only request them — and put in place tougher rules on processing fruits and vegetables. Companies are required to create written safety plans and keep records of safety issues, which the agency has the right to see. The FDA will also do more frequent inspections — once every three years instead of every decade for high-risk facilities — and has greater authority over imported food, which is required to meet many of the same safety standards as domestic food.

The law falls short in some places: Most important, it does too little to address a lax program of domestic self-regulation, especially when it comes to outside safety inspectors, whose independence has been questioned. The agency has proposed a set of rules for improving matters, including a set of model accreditation standards for safety auditors, but they would simply be guidelines.

Yet any discussion of benefits and drawbacks would be premature, since few of the law’s core provisions have taken effect. The FDA only last month finalized its preventive-control rules, and Congress has doled out less than half the $580 million that the Congressional Budget Office says has been needed to implement the law. It is unlikely to open its wallet wider. The process has become bogged down by industry objections to compliance costs and a proposed $225 million in other fees.

Congress, agricultural producers and food retailers need to find a compromise out of the fiscal logjam. One potentially helpful suggestion came from President Barack Obama earlier this year, when he proposed placing all food-safety responsibilities in one agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services, combining the efforts of the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which oversees meat and poultry) and a handful of other government offices. This could well increase efficiency and cut down on regulatory overlap, meaning lower costs to industry.

FoodFacts.com will continue to provide news to our community concerning food recalls and restaurant closings. It’s important that we all stay aware so that we can avoid serious illness. And food poisoning IS serious illness – even though we don’t tend to think of it that way. With over 100,000 hospitalizations every year and numerous fatalities, food poisoning isn’t something about which any of us can afford to live in the dark. While we have plenty of systems in place to help us avoid these situations in the first place, none of those has yet been perfect. In the end, it’s still up to us to find out as much as we can about problems as they arise in order to keep ourselves healthy and well.

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-11-04/food-poisoning-is-costly-deadly-and-too-common

Another day, another recall!

listeria monocytogenes
Foodfacts.com urges all consumers to check pantries, refridgerators, and freezers for 16 oz containers of Publix Spinach Dip. This product was recently tested and found to have traces of Listeria monocytogenes. This can cause moderate to serious side-effects, and even fatalities in young children and elderly adults.
ucm273456

Contact:
Consumer:
1-800-242-1227
www.publix.com

Media:
Maria Brous
863-680-5339

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 26, 2011 – Publix Super Markets is issuing a voluntary recall for spinach dip because it may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes. The problem was discovered as a result of routine microbial testing conducted by Publix. The 16 ounce containers of prepackaged spinach dip were sold at Publix retail deli departments with a UPC of 41415-00062 and use by date of OCT 10 C1.

Consumption of products containing Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infection in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

The spinach dip was sold in Publix grocery stores in Florida. The following counties in Florida did not receive recalled product: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee. Publix stores in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee are not involved with this recall.

“As part of our commitment to food safety, potentially impacted product has been removed from all store shelves,” said Maria Brous, Publix media and community relations director. “To date, there have been no reported cases of illness. Consumers who have purchased the products in question may return the product to their local store for a full refund. Publix customers with additional questions may call our Consumer Relations department at 1-800-242-1227 or by visiting our website at www.publix.com.” Customers can also contact the US Food and Drug Administration at 1-888-SAFEFOOD (1-888-723-3366).

Publix is privately owned and operated by its 147,500 employees, with 2010 sales of $25.1 billion. Currently Publix has 1,038 stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. The company has been named one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” for 14 consecutive years. In addition, Publix’s dedication to superior quality and customer service is recognized as tops in the grocery business, most recently by an American Customer Satisfaction Index survey.

(Food and Drug Administration)

Foodfacts.com looks into How To Protect Yourself From Food Poisoning

food_poisoning_symptom
Foodfacts.com looks into how to protect yourself from food poisoning. The CDC estimates that roughly 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from food-borne illnesses each year. E. coli outbreaks continue to be a public health problem, both in the States and abroad, especially since our food supply has gone global and we’re able to have fresh produce year-round by importing fruits and veggies. Now, E. coli outbreaks are happening on a never-seen-before scale in Germany with more than 2,500 infections and more than 25 deaths reported since last month. Experts aren’t sure exactly which vegetable triggered the outbreak (though many are pointing to organic sprouts at the moment), or even which country it originated from.

“This particular outbreak shouldn’t affect Americans because it’s rare that perishable produce will make it across the Atlantic, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t risk of an outbreak here in the States,” says Keith R. Schneider, Ph.D, Associate Professor in the Department of Food Safety and Human Nutrition at the University of Florida. Dr. Schneider points out that we’ve had multiple outbreaks in the States, from the salmonella incident linked to Jalapeño peppers in salsa to the E. coli outbreak connected with spinach.

“It’s hard to find the exact source of a food-borne illness because it typically takes two to three days for the first symptoms of an infection to appear, and longer for people to actually visit a doctor. By then, you can’t remember exactly what you ate last Tuesday,” says Dr. Schneider. “Moreover, contamination might not be from a specific farm or food, but from a point of distribution. It might be from one guy named Eddie who isn’t washing his hands while packaging food.”

Still, the health benefits of eating fresh produce far outweigh the risk, says Dr. Schneider. “You’re much more likely to get sick from meat than you are from produce. You can find pathogens on poultry 50 percent of the time. That’s not even a reason for alarm because all it takes is cooking meat fully to completely kill the bacteria.”

The key to avoiding food-borne illnesses is safe handling practices, says Francisco Diez, Ph.D, Professor of Food Safety and Microbiology in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. “Since poultry is especially likely to have salmonella or another pathogen called campylobacter that normally lives in the intestines of birds, it’s important to cook meat to the proper temperature,” says Dr. Diez.

He recommends using a food thermometer to cook the center of any type of meat or fish to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. “This temperature has sufficient heat to destroy harmful bacteria without overcooking so the meat stays tender and juicy.” Also wash your hands before and after handling meat, and avoid cross contamination by using separate cutting boards and knives for meat and produce.

When it comes to fresh produce, there are certain types that may be more susceptible to pathogens. Here is Dr. Diez’s list of top five at-risk produce, and how to protect yourself from illness.

alfalfa-sprouts-5901. Sprouts.

This type of plant, especially alfalfa sprouts, has been linked with E. coli and salmonella. It grows in wet, humid environments that make it easy for bacteria to thrive. The more bacteria on a plant, the greater your chances of getting sick.

How to stay safe:

Rinsing well may lower the bacteria count but not eliminate it. “If you’re healthy, your immune system can fight off small amounts of pathogens,” says Dr. Diez. He recommends those most susceptible to food-borne illness avoid sprouts, which includes children younger than 8, people older than 65, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. If you eat sprouts, keep them refrigerated between 35 and 40 degrees to curb bacteria growth.

iceberglettuce2. Lettuce.

Though it’s not exactly clear why it may be more susceptible to contamination, one explanation is that the textured surface of lettuce leaves makes it easier for microbial cells to attach compared to smoother leaves, such as cabbage.

How to stay safe:

Remove the outer leaves on a head of lettuce before eating, and wash it thoroughly. You should submerge the entire head in a bowl of water and soak for a few minutes to loosen any soil, and run under regular water to help rinse away remaining particles.

3. Tomatoes.tomato

The juicy red fruit has been linked with regular but small outbreaks of salmonella, and experts aren’t sure exactly why. “Some people argue that the tomatoes might have been pre-washed with contaminated water that then got into the produce,” says Dr. Diez. “I wouldn’t recommend eliminating tomatoes from your diet because you can take precautions to prevent possible infection.”

How to stay safe:

If you’re eating tomatoes raw, be sure to wash thoroughly in plain water and use a towel to help to wipe away any remaining bacteria. Also, don’t buy tomatoes that are at all cut or bruised. When the skin of any vegetable is damaged, there’s more of a chance for bacteria to get into the product, and then there is no way to eliminate it unless you cook it to ensure pathogens get killed.

4. Melons.melon

Melons have a rugged surface, and pathogens may be more easily trapped in nooks and crannies. Plus, people often forget to wash this fruit since the fleshy part that you eat isn’t readily exposed to germs.

How to stay safe:

Bacteria gets transferred inside the flesh by knives when people cut through the rind of unwashed melons. Before you enjoy your summer cantaloupe or watermelon, be sure to thoroughly wash and scrub the outer surface with a soft produce brush.

5. Spinach.baby_spinach

Like lettuce and melons, spinach leaves‘ crinkly surface may make it more susceptible to bacteria. Also like other produce grown close to the ground, it may come into contact with contaminated animal feces.

How to stay safe:

Submerge spinach leaves in water and dry with a paper towel before eating to reduce your risk of pathogens, or serve cooked as a healthy side dish.

Information provided by Prevention.com