Category Archives: Food Safety & Standards Authority

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

FDA issues food safety rules for farmers under Food Safety Modernization Act

lettuceWe were all enthusiastic about the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act five years ago. It was the most sweeping reform to food safety laws in the U.S. in more than 70 years. The FMSA shifts the focus of federal regulators from responding to food contamination to preventing food contamination. We’ve been reactive instead of proactive when it comes to food safety for far too many decades. While several new rules were implemented after the act’s passage in 2011, the majority of requirements will be implemented over time. FoodFacts.com was pleased to learn today that the FDA has acted to issue one of the most significant aspects of the FSMA.

It took much longer than expected, but the Food and Drug Administration has now released the centerpiece — or at least, the most contested — part of that overhaul. These are rules that cover farmers who grow fresh produce, as well as food importers.

“This is a giant step forward,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.
Earlier drafts of the regulations on vegetable farming generated howls of protest. The rules are intended to prevent disease-causing bacteria from contaminating vegetables that people often eat raw.

But small farmers, in particular, complained that some requirements, such as those calling for regular testing of irrigation water, were onerous and costly. Organic farmers protested against restrictions on the use of manure for fertilizer.

The final regulations contain compromises on some of those requirements. The FDA is conducting more research on the risks of using fresh manure, but in the meantime, it “does not object” to farmers simply following rules that already govern the use of manure in organic farming.

New regulations on food importers, meanwhile, require them to have programs in place to verify that their foreign suppliers are taking just as many safety precautions as farmers in the U.S. And the FDA will check up, sending safety inspectors around the world to visit food suppliers.

Both rules will start to go into effect in two years. Enforcing the new rules will require a boost in the FDA’s budget, and Congress will have to approve it. “It will not succeed without resources,” said the FDA’s Taylor.

While there do seem to be some loose ends, we are headed in the right direction. Foodborne illnesses are far too common and costly to the consumers they affect as well as the food manufacturers who recall the tainted food and pay legal expenses associated with those illnesses.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/13/455902270/its-final-fda-issues-long-awaited-food-safety-rules

Farmers weigh in on new food safety rules … express concerns about the regulatory process

Foodborne illnesses are always a concern in the U.S. food supply. E. coli and salmonella are among the outbreaks we’ve become fairly used to hearing about in the news. FoodFacts.com follows food recalls on our website to keep our community notified of issues with specific products that often include foodborne illnesses. In January of 2011 the firm major reform of food safety laws in seven decades was enacted. The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed with the purpose of making food safer and reducing foodborne illness. It’s been two years and the FDA has put forward a draft for the new rules which has been open for public comment.

According to the Farm Bureau, however, the new regulations may just be too broad to do this job the way it needs to be done. Farmers have very specific concerns with the new regulations and believe that the FDA seems to be unwilling to focus specifically on the commodities that are most often associated with foodborne illness.

“We urge the FDA to reconsider standards that take into account the relative risks and comparative benefits associated with individual commodities. The FDA should initially propose regulations for only those commodities with a history of microbial contamination,” the Farm Bureau wrote in lengthy comments recently submitted to the FDA.

Only once those regulations are successfully put in place and enforced, should the FDA even consider expanding regulations to cover other commodities.

“We know that there have been problems with E. coli in leafy greens or with salmonella in tomatoes, for example, and the industry has voluntarily taken the initiative to curb some of those problems,” said Kelli Ludlum, American Farm Bureau Federation food safety specialist. “That’s where it really makes sense for FDA to focus their efforts. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to go significantly broader than that and regulate a whole scope of commodities that have never had foodborne illnesses, and, because of the way they’re grown and consumed, are very unlikely to have those issues.”

Including low- and no-contamination risk commodities is a waste of both growers’ and the governments’ time and money.

“Instead of shrinking the size of the haystack in which they’re looking for that public health threat needle, by choosing to regulate all produce, they’re only making that haystack bigger, which neither farmers nor government inspectors and regulators have the resources for,” Ludlum said.

Specifically, because considerable changes to the draft rules are expected to be made as a result of public comments, the Farm Bureau believes a second draft of the proposed rule should be put out in order to work through the regulatory process adequately. Congressional lawmakers agree and are also calling for another round of comments. 30 senators and 45 House members said they were concerned about the impact of proposed rules on farmers and businesses that an additional comment period could help alleviate.

“We encourage the FDA to release a second draft of the combined produce safety, preventive controls for human food and animal feed, foreign supplier verification program and third-party audit certification rules to allow for sufficient review as to how all the rules are intended to work together,” Farm Bureau wrote.

Farmers are clearly concerned by the possibility of over-regulation that may not be necessary to ensure the safety of the food supply. While new regulation has clearly been needed and food safety is of the utmost importance to all Americans, the Farm Bureau’s concerns certainly pose a significant question regarding the FDA’s overarching approach to the issue. Time and money are important resources for both the government and America’s farmers. We’d be happy to see a second round of public comments to help the FDA arrive at a sensible set of much needed food safety rules that work for the government, the growers and consumers.

http://fbnews.fb.org/Templates/Article.aspx?id=38139

The FDA can’t seem to meet its schedule for modifying U.S. Food Safety Regulations

FoodFacts.com has some interesting news to report tonight coming out of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Back in January of 2011 a new law was signed requiring the F.D.A. to modernize food safety regulations. The F.D.A. has stated that the scope of the project is tremendous and will require additional time to complete. A lawsuit has been filed against them because of their failure to meet the deadlines given and now the Agency is fighting to have that lawsuit dismissed.

Here at FoodFact.com, we do feel that the U.S. can be behind other nations in our determinations regarding certain ingredients and their overall safety for the population. There are many food additives that have been banned in other countries that are still permitted in the U.S. food supply. There are many other ingredients that haven’t been studied to the degree required to deem them safe and yet the F.D.A. has allowed their use. So we can’t claim to be completely surprised by this latest news.

The lawsuit was actually filed back in August by the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Environmental Health. The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was passed into law at the beginning of 2011 was designed to help prevent food-borne illnesses that result in thousands of deaths each year. The two non-profit groups are accusing the F.D.A. of repeatedly missing hundreds of mandatory deadlines for issuing the regulations required by this law. They have asked the court to order the Agency to comply.

The F.D.A.’s efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed include a statement that their decisions regarding the law’s enforcement aren’t subject to judicial review. We don’t necessarily understand that as it seems to infer that the F.D.A. can’t be taken to court. They’ve also stated that they haven’t “unreasonably delayed” the dissemination of regulations. While the Agency isn’t arguing the fact that they have missed deadlines, they are trying to say that the deadlines aren’t really that important.

Sadly there are thousands of Americans who would have a different opinion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3,000 people die from food-borne illnesses each year and another 48 million (fully one in six citizens) get sick from food contamination.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is the first overhaul of food safety laws in over 70 years in the U.S. The new regulations are designed to establish standards for the sources of contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables. It would also hold importers responsible for the safety of their own products. Food companies would also be required to identify possible causes of contamination and take action to prevent them. While FoodFacts.com does realize that this is a tremendous undertaking, we also understand that it’s a very necessary step for the United States to take to protect our own consumers from a variety of dangers related to foods. We’ll keep an eye on this developing story and keep you updated. In the meanwhile, remember you can always check out FoodFacts.com to find out about the latest food recalls and their reasons.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/03/usa-food-lawsuit-idUSL1E8MUCSC20121203

One in Twelve U.S. Children May suffer from Food Allergies

food-allergies-children
Foodfacts.com realizes that more and more children are now suffering from food allergies. Nearly 6 million U.S. children or about one in 12 kids are allergic to at least one food, with peanuts, milk and shellfish topping the list of the most common allergens, a new study finds.

Researchers conducted a nationally representative survey of the parents of more than 40,000 children. About 8 percent reported having a child who had a food allergy. Of those, about 30 percent said their child was allergic to multiple foods.

Among kids with food allergies, 25 percent were allergic to peanuts, 21 percent were allergic to milk and 17 percent had an allergy to shellfish. Those were followed by tree nuts (13 percent), eggs (nearly 10 percent), finned fish (6 percent), strawberries (5 percent), wheat (5 percent), and soy (just under 5 percent).

While the study was a snapshot of the prevalence of food allergies in America and did not track change over time, researchers said anecdotal evidence — including reports from schools and the numbers of patients coming in to allergists’ offices — suggests that the rate is rising.

“Eight percent is a pretty significant amount of kids,” said lead study author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University and a pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hospital, both in Chicago. “We are seeing a lot more cases. We are seeing a lot more in schools than we used to see. It does seem that food allergy is on the rise.”

The study is published in the July issue of Pediatrics.

Allergic reactions to foods can range from mild to severe. In the survey, about 61 percent of food allergic children had a mild to moderate reaction, including swelling of the lips and face, hives, itching, flushing or an eczema flare.

The remaining 39 percent had a severe or even potentially life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis — wheezing and trouble breathing, vomiting, swelling, persistent coughing that indicates airway swelling and a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

The foods most commonly associated with a severe reaction included tree nuts and peanuts, shellfish, soy and finned fish.eatingpeanutsduringpregnancymayincreasechildrensriskoffoodallergies_2248_800211243_0_0_7052658_300

“Especially for kids with multiple food allergies, it complicates their lives and makes it really tough on these kids to avoid multiple foods to stay healthy and stay alive,” Gupta said.

Parents of children with food allergies should always carry antihistamine and an epinephrine shot (i.e., an EpiPen) with them, Gupta said. Even with those close at hand, witnessing a child having a serious food reaction can be terrifying for parents, who don’t know how bad it’s going to get and need to decide within moments whether to administer the shot and call 911.

Often, reactions happen when parents least expect them — while they’re at a family gathering or some other social event, and the child accidentally ingests something.

Dr. Susan Schuval, a pediatric allergist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., agreed that food allergies seem to be getting more common.

“We are seeing tons and tons of food allergies. There also seems to be an increase from what we’ve seen in the past,” Schuval said.

Right now, the only treatment available to most food allergic kids is avoidance. For parents and children, that means paying close attention to labels, taking precautions when eating out, bringing along their own food when they travel or go to social events such as birthday parties. It also means educating teachers, caregivers and other parents who may have their kids over to play about using an epinephrine shot and the seriousness of the allergy.

“They need to maintain their full alertness out of the home, in the schools and in restaurants,” Schuval said.

For some children, food allergies get better over time. Previous research has found many kids outgrow allergies to milk, egg, soy and wheat. Fewer outgrow peanut, tree nut, fish and shellfish allergies.

A wheat allergy is different from celiac disease, in which wheat cannot be digested properly and, over time, damages the lining of the intestines.

For more information on food allergies and how to avoid them check out blog.foodfacts.com.

Information provided by: MSN News

Changes coming on food safety rules

food20regulation
The country is about to witness dramatic changes in food norms, impacting the industry significantly, if initiatives being taken by the Food Safety & Standards Authority (FSSAI) are a yardstick.

Formulation of food recall procedures in case of unsafe or hazardous products , mandatory compliance with GAP (good agricultural practices) for big retailers, labelling changes for packaged food items, organic food certification, setting water quality standards and verification of claims by food supplement companies are among the major reforms being planned by the sector regulator and the government.

FSSAI is currently in the process of consulting with industry stakeholders on food recall procedures. Speaking to Business Standard, FSSAI chairman P I Suvrathan said food recall was a rather complex process and the Authority would be able to come out with related norms early next year.

The provision of recall exists in the new integrated food safety law, expected to come into effect this August, but “we have not developed a recall procedure yet”, said Suvrathan. According to him, many countries do not have a recall procedure. The draft food recall rules state the objective of the procedure as “guiding food business operators on how to carry out a food recall through an efficient, rapid identification, as well as removal of unsafe food and food that violate the Act and Rules & Regulations…” Informing consumers about the food hazard, establishing a written recall plan, and having a follow-up action plan are also part of the draft.

OTHER PRIORITIES
The Authority is also set to look at GAP (good agricultural practice) as an effective way of assuring food safety. FSSAI will now start putting GAP-certification as a mandatory condition for large retail companies in India. “GAP is important because a major part of all food products originate from agriculture,” the FSSAI chairman said. If we know the extent of pesticide a farmer is using, checking food safety and level of contamination will be that much simpler.

Organic food is another area of focus for the Authority. What can be called organic and what is near-organic are some of the things that FSSAI will look at. “We have plans of taking up organic food certification,” said Suvrathan. Many agencies and ministries are working in this area and FSSAI is consulting with all of them on the issue.

Another priority area are new guidelines on labelling and claims by manufacturers of food products and health supplements. If a food product or supplement manufacturer claims something, it will have to establish it. The Authority has developed the first part of the regulation and the new norms should be in place by the end of this year.

“We are updating the current labeling provisions. Scientific backing for claims will be necessary. What study have you done, what is the evidence — you have to prove your claims. These are the questions we will ask,” said Suvrathan.

As for contents on the cover/packaging, the print size and logo, everything will be vetted. “Often companies say that they have to make the print very small because they need to put in so many things as part of labelling.” Now, they have been told that only relevant information like expiry date and ingredients should be there. Take away all that is irrelevant.”

Setting standards for quality of water used in food products is also on the to-do list of the Food Safety Authority. “Water is dealt with by 15 agencies, including several ministries in India,” said Suvrathan . The Authority will come out with a standard for potable water within six months.

Information provided by: http://www.business-standard.com