Probably cilantro: Cyclosporiasis outbreak hits 358

The stories we could – and will — tell about implementing on-farm food safety programs for the past 15 years.

cilantro.slugs_.powell.10-300x225Don’t have a shit around fresh produce; don’t make the worker incentives such that they crap in the fields because they lose money if they go to the bathroom; provide decent handwashing facilities, and stop with nonsensical soundbites.

As of July 30, 2015 (11am EDT), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been notified of 358 ill persons with confirmed Cyclospora infection from 26 states in 2015.

Most (199; 56%) ill persons experienced onset of illness on or after May 1, 2015 and did not report international travel prior to symptom onset.

Clusters of illness linked to restaurants or events have been identified in Texas, Wisconsin, and Georgia.

Cluster investigations are ongoing in Texas and Georgia.

Cluster investigations in Wisconsin and Texas have preliminarily identified cilantro as a suspect vehicle.

Investigations are ongoing to identify specific food item(s) linked to the cases that are not part of the identified clusters.

Previous U.S. outbreaks of cyclosporiasis have been linked to imported fresh produce, including cilantro from the Puebla region of Mexico. Read the related FDA Import Alert issued July 27, 2015.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state public health officials have identified annually recurring outbreaks (in 2012, 2013, and 2014) of cyclosporiasis in the United States which have been associated with fresh cilantro from the state of Puebla, Mexico. There is currently (in July 2015) another ongoing outbreak of cyclosporiasis in the United States in which both the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection have identified cilantro from the Mexican state of Puebla as a suspect vehicle with respect to separate illness clusters.

From 2013 to 2015, FDA, SENASICA, and COFEPRIS inspected 11 farms and packing houses that produce cilantro in the state of Puebla, 5 of them linked to the US C. cayetanensis illnesses, and observed objectionable conditions at 8 of them, including all five of the firms linked through traceback to the U.S. illnesses.

Conditions observed at multiple such firms in the state of Puebla included human feces and toilet paper found in growing fields and around facilities; inadequately maintained and supplied toilet and hand washing facilities (no soap, no toilet paper, no running water, no paper towels) or a complete lack of toilet and hand washing facilities; food-contact surfaces (such as plastic crates used to transport cilantro or tables where cilantro was cut and bundled) visibly dirty and not washed; and water used for purposes such as washing cilantro vulnerable to contamination from sewage/septic systems. In addition, at one such firm, water in a holding tank used to provide water to employees to wash their hands at the bathrooms was found to be positive for C. cayetanensis.

Based on those joint investigations, FDA considers that the most likely routes of contamination of fresh cilantro are contact with the parasite shed from the intestinal tract of humans affecting the growing fields, harvesting, processing or packing activities or contamination with the parasite through contaminated irrigation water, contaminated crop protectant sprays, or contaminated wash waters.


Army food inspectors run gamut

My knapsack is my go-to place.

It’s got everything in it – passports, computer, pictures of my wife and daughters, just in case I need to make a quick exit.

warrant.officer.jul.15But there’s one thing I treasure that may seem weird: my U.S. Army warrant officer badge.

For several years when I was at Kansas State, I would give talks about food safety for folks headed to Afghanistan or Iraq to work on projects. I always felt goofy because there were many in the audience who knew far more about such safety matters than I did.

A couple of years ago I went to Germany to hang out with U.S. Army types and talk mainly about sprouts.

I had a few beers with Greg.

The Preventative Medicine and the Veterinary Public preventive medicine type functions – you actually are taking care of problems before they happen,” said Chief Warrant Office 4 Gregory Scher, veterinary technician with 86th Combat Support Hospital.

Army regulation 40-657, Veterinary/Medical Food Safety, Quality Assurance and Laboratory Service, sets out all of the job responsibilities of Veterinary Food Inspectors and Preventative Medicine Specialists.

Between the two departments, food served on military installations the world over is checked for compliance starting at the farm where it is first grown or raised to the serving line, and everywhere in between.

“As far as food safety goes, the military’s probably got the safest food in the world because we are actually monitoring the food all the way,” he said. “As far as the flavor, we take no credit.”

Scher said he was also trained by the state of Washington as a health inspector. Other officers receive degrees in health education and food science. Veterinarians that want to perform inspections can receive extra training as well, becoming Veterinary Preventative Medicine specialists.

Scher and his team deploy with 86th CSH and are in charge of checking that all food from local sources meet Army standards.

“We are responsible for the sources of food in Afghanistan and then everything that’s coming into Afghanistan, making sure it is coming in the proper condition and within the contractual requirements,” Scher said.

He said because almost all food sent from the United States would be spoiled by the time it reached Afghanistan, many contractors sub-contract with companies in countries closer, such as Germany. The veterinary core officers do commercial sanitary audits on those factories.

Although they are not part of the Federal Department of Agriculture, Scher said they fill the position for the military outside of the United States.

“We’re the ones that are going to the factories and making sure they’re within the Army and federal standards,” he said.

When the food arrives on a post, his team rechecks it to ensure it has not been contaminated in transit.

They also have the authority to extend the shelf life of foods that are near or past their use by date.

“When you go to an [Army and Air Force Exchange Services] shoppette, you’ll find a whole lot of potato chips that are half off,” Scher said. “The reason why is it takes the entire shelf life printed on the label for them to even get to Afghanistan, or else when they get there they might have just a week or two left.”

The colossal hoax of organic agriculture

Henry I. Miller, a physician, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA. Drew L. Kershen is the Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law (Emeritus), University of Oklahoma College of Law.

organic-manure1Consumers of organic foods are getting both more and less than they bargained for. On both counts, it’s not good.

Many people who pay the huge premium—often more than a hundred percent–for organic foods do so because they’re afraid of pesticides.  If that’s their rationale, they misunderstand the nuances of organic agriculture. Although it’s true that synthetic chemical pesticides are generally prohibited, there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act, while most “natural” ones are permitted. However, “organic” pesticides can be toxic.  As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a 2012 Scientific American article (“Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not.”): “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.

Another poorly recognized aspect of this issue is that the vast majority of pesticidal substances that we consume are in our diets “naturally” and are present in organic foods as well as non-organic ones. In a classic study, UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues found that “99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.” Moreover, “natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.” Thus, consumers who buy organic to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on just one-hundredth of one percent of the pesticides they consume.

Some consumers think that the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires certified organic products to be free of ingredients from “GMOs,” organisms crafted with molecular techniques of genetic engineering. Wrong again. USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free. (In any case, the methods used to create so-called GMOs are an extension, or refinement, of older techniques for genetic modification that have been used for a century or more.) As USDA officials have said repeatedly:

Organic certification is process-based. That is, certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices which meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the [National Organic Program] regulations . . . If all aspects of the organic production or handling process were followed correctly, then the presence of detectable residue from a genetically modified organism alone does not constitute a violation of this regulation. [emphasis added]

Putting it another way, so long as an organic farmer abides by his organic system (production) plan–a plan that an organic certifying agent must approve before granting the farmer organic status–the unintentional presence of GMOs (or, for that matter, prohibited synthetic pesticides) in any amount does not affect the organic status of the farmer’s products or farm.

Under only two circumstances does USDA sanction the testing of organic products for prohibited residues (such as pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or antibiotics) or excluded substances (e.g., genetically engineered organisms). First, USDA’s National Organic Production Standards support the testing of products if an organic-certifying agent believes that the farmer is intentionally using prohibited substances or practices. And second, USDA requires that certifying agents test five percent of their certified operations each year. The certifying agents themselves determine which operations will be subjected to testing.

The organic community, including the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), supports the USDA’s lenient testing protocols and opposes more frequent mandatory testing of organic products for prohibited and excluded substances.

The organic community and USDA offer two explanations for such minimal testing. First, they emphasize that organic farming is process-based, not product-based, meaning that what counts for organic certification are the approved organic system (production) plan and the farmer’s intention to comply with that plan as reflected through record-keeping obligations.

Second, widespread testing would impose substantial costs on organic farmers, thereby increasing production costs beyond the already greater expenses that organic farmers incur. Organic farmers offset these higher productions costs by earning large premiums for organic products, but there is always a price point beyond which consumers will shift to cheaper non-organic.

Few organic consumers are aware that organic agriculture is a “trust-based” or “faith-based” system. With every purchase, they are at risk of the moral hazard that an organic farmer will represent cheaper-to-produce non-organic products as the premium-priced organic product. For the vast majority of products, no tests can distinguish organic from non-organic—for example, whether milk labeled “organic” came from a cow within the organic production system or from a cow across the fence from a conventional dairy farm. The higher the organic premium, the stronger the economic incentive to cheat.

Think such nefarious behavior is purely theoretical? Think again. USDA reported in 2012 that 43 percent of the 571 samples of “organic” produce tested violated the government’s organic regulations and that “the findings suggest that some of the samples in violation were mislabeled conventional products, while others were organic products that hadn’t been adequately protected from prohibited pesticides.”

How do organic farmers get away with such chicanery?  A 2014 investigation by the Wall Street Journal of USDA inspection records from 2005 on found that 38 of the 81 certifying agents–entities accredited by USDA to inspect and certify organic farms and suppliers—“failed on at least one occasion to uphold basic Agriculture Department standards.” More specifically, “40% of these 81 certifiers have been flagged by the USDA for conducting incomplete inspections; 16% of certifiers failed to cite organic farms’ potential use of banned pesticides and antibiotics; and 5% failed to prevent potential commingling of organic and non-organic products.”

Speaking of trust and faith—or lack thereof–in organic foods, there was the example of holier-than-thou Whole Foods importing large amounts of its supposedly “organic” produce from China, of all places. Those imports even included Whole Foods’ house brand, “California Blend.” (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Organic agriculture is an unscientific, heavily subsidized marketing gimmick that misleads and rips off consumers, both because of the nature of the regulations and cheating. The old saying that you get what you pay for doesn’t apply when you buy overpriced organic products.

How to publish a scientific paper (not)

Apparently I’ve published another peer-reviewed paper.

In 2011.

wayne' on some research I did in 1986.

My undergraduate degree is in molecular biology and genetics from the University of Guelph (like Chapman), and in the summer between third and fourth year I worked in a lab and met a girl.

That girl was a veterinary student, and I wanted to hang around, so we moved in together, started a family and I started a MSc.

I spent a lot of time with tomato plants.

And our efforts at gene sequencing were slow and labor-intensive.

I eventually quit the MSc and became editor of the school paper.

And eventually I went back to Guelph and did a PhD.

My contribution was probably minimal, I’m grateful to Dr. Robb for paying me, but when I publish a paper, I make sure all authors have a chance to review it and offer their edits.

Vascular coating: a barrier to colonization by the pathogen in Verticillium wilt of tomato

Canadian Journal of Botany (Impact Factor: 1.4). 02/2011; 67(2):600-607. DOI: 10.1139/b89-082

Jane Robb, Douglas A. Powell, P. F. S. Street


Massive infusion of conidia of Verticillium albo-atrum.

Reinke & Berthier induced synchronous secretion of vascular coating in the petiolar xylem vessels of resistant and susceptible tomato near-isolines. More coating formed earlier in resistant than in susceptible plants. In the susceptible plants secretion was delayed in colonized trapping site vessels, but initiated in surrounding uncolonized ones. Controls were infused with water. Samples were quantified by light microscope assay techniques at 18, 48, and 120 h postinoculation for the following parameters: (i) delayed coating effect, (ii) overall coating capacity, and (iii) ability of fungus to “escape” laterally from trapping site vessels. The results showed that susceptibility to Verticillium was absolutely correlated with the presence of the delayed coating effect in the plant and increased ability of the fungus to spread laterally. Treatment of inoculated resistant plants with an inhibitor of coating secretion resulted in conversion to the susceptible phenotype. The progeny of a genetic backcross for the dominant (Ve) and recessive (ve) alleles at the Ve locus (Velve × velve) were assayed for the same parameters as well as for disease resistance based on symptom expression. The results confirmed the previous observations and suggested that in tomato the delayed phenotype is recessive. The data strongly supports two hypotheses: (i) coating forms a barrier against fungal penetration and (ii) the timing of the coating response in trapping site vessels results, directly or indirectly, from expression of the Ve gene.

Chapman wins young researcher award from IAFP

It’s not often a graduate student will bail their professor out of jail.

powell.chapman.hoserOr talk about it.

Ben Chapman has learned many lessons along the way, from coaching hockey, to his own kids, and the much deserved Larry Beuchat Young Researcher Award from the International Association of Food Protection.

Thanks to Linda Harris, who was on my PhD committee, and Stan Bailey, who I’ve respected over the years, for presenting Chapman with the award.

  • With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements and evaluates food safety strategies, messages and media, from farm to fork. Through reality-based research, Dr. Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers and organizational decision-makers: the gatekeepers of safe food.
  • He co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk, and co-publishes
  • Chapman joined IAFP in 2002. Since then, he has chaired the Student PDG and the Food Safety Education PDG. He currently serves as Chair of the New Media Task Force. Dr. Chapman is also President of the IAFP Affiliate, Carolinas Association for Food Protection.

And happy birthday to Geddy Lee. Rush played at my high school in 1975.

But I’m really not that into them.

‘I recognize long-haired employee’ Winnipeg delivery of pig carcasses sparks provincial investigation

CBC News reports that Manitoba health authorities are investigating after photos of pig carcasses which appear to have been improperly handled during deliveries to two Winnipeg businesses surfaced on social media.

pigs-two“The first thing that popped out from the pictures in my mind was that the meat, the quarter and half sections of pork, had been thrown on the floor of the truck,” said Rick Holley, a University of Manitoba food safety expert. “You can see there are some non-meat items which are also on the floor of the truck.”

The photos were posted to a public Facebook page and obtained by CBC news. They show two trucks delivering half and quarter pork carcasses to businesses at 303 King Street in Chinatown.

The owner of a butcher shop in the building declined an interview, but told CBC News he recognized the long-haired employee in the photos and said he works for one of their suppliers, a Portage la Prairie abattoir.

Cyclospora: Mexican cilantro contamination spurs partial U.S. import ban

I try to grow my own cilantro, but the birds and cats and skinks find it yummy.

So there’s not much left.

cilantro.slugs.powell.10And this is why I’m not a farmer.

As the Cyclospora count in Texas reached 203, some Mexican cilantro is being banned in the U.S. after health officials found human feces and toilet paper in growing fields from which herbs have been linked to hundreds of intestinal illnesses among Americans dating back to 2012.d

The Food and Drug Administration will detain Mexican cilantro at the border from April to August and won’t allow products from the state of Puebla, Mexico, into the U.S. without inspections and certification, according to an import ban dated Monday by the agency. Cilantro from other parts of Mexico will need documentation to prove the product isn’t from Puebla, about a two-hour drive southeast of Mexico City.

The cilantro is linked to outbreaks of cyclosporiasis, according to the alert. Last year, at

Since 2013, the FDA and Mexican authorities have inspected 11 farms and packing houses that produce cilantro from Puebla. At eight, health officials found bathrooms without soap, toilet paper or running water, in addition to the human feces and toilet paper in growing fields. Some had a complete lack of toilet facilities.

“Based on those joint investigations, FDA considers that the most likely routes of contamination of fresh cilantro are contact with the parasite shed from the intestinal tract of humans affecting the growing fields, harvesting, processing or packing activities or contamination with the parasite through contaminated irrigation water, contaminated crop protectant sprays, or contaminated wash waters,” the alert said.

A 2013 cyclosporiasis outbreak in 25 states was linked to Puebla cilantro as well as salad mix from Taylor Farms de Mexico that was sold to Olive Garden and Red Lobster, both then owned by Darden Restaurants Inc. The FDA and Mexican officials found conditions at Taylor Farms de Mexico in Guanajuato met food safety protocols, the FDA said.

Inconceivable: UK shellfish farms closed amid sewage fears

Sewage bacteria, thought to be E. coli, was found in the Camel Estuary, St Austell and Falmouth Bays, said the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

inconceivableThe Shellfish Association of Great Britain contests the move, claiming the test results are “inconceivable”.

The FSA said it was “monitoring the situation” but the shellfish beds would remain closed.

David Jarrard, of the Shellfish Association, said: “The industry treats food safety as paramount.

“But I was astonished with these results, we have never seen any of this magnitude before and I just don’t believe them.

“The results we have had are akin to raw sewage and for that to happen in one river might be possible but to find it in all these areas is inconceivable.”

It has asked the FSA to disregard the results while an investigation takes place.

An FSA spokesperson said: “The results are unusually high which is why they require further investigation.

“We are monitoring the situation by taking further samples but until we have evidence to the contrary the beds must remain closed to protect public health.”

Recommend a thermometer? Australia says 6-2-2 a sizzling success in pork project

How hard is it to recommend a thermometer?

The study does not account for temperature variations of the grill or stove, so seemingly impossible to assess.

curtis.thermomet.pork.oct.24.14But, marketers be marketing.

Pork CRC and APL conducted a study (Pork CRC Project 3C-106) across three retail partners in metropolitan Adelaide to ‘test’ the 6-2-2 (i.e. 6 mins one side, 2 mins the other & 2 mins to rest) messaging for cooking pork steaks.

Pork CRC research has demonstrated experimentally in large studies that cooking temperature influences consumer perception of the eating quality of pork steaks, with over cooking markedly reducing eating quality. APL research in homes showed that 78% of bad eating experiences with pork were due to cooking failure and 53% of these were associated with the loin, which is the fresh pork cut most consumed by Australians.

The objective of the Pork CRC and APL study was to create awareness of the 6-2-2 cooking message to prevent cooking failure  It used different promotional activities, ranging from TV advertising through to retail labelling and the use of 6-2-2 stickers on retail packs.

barfblog.Stick It InThe bottom line was that the sale of pork steaks increased in all retail outlets. The increase in sales above what was expected (based on sales determined before the promotion and store history) ranged from 16% to 56%, depending on the promotional strategy used. Even better news was that the increase in sales of pork steaks was not at the expense of other pork cuts/products.

A major learning outcome from the project was that communicating the rewards associated with 6-2-2 is the best way to entrench the purchase of pork steak and avoid relying on a continuous advertising push.

The findings will form the basis of future advertising and promotional campaigns by APL, which will, hopefully, lead to further increases in demand for Australian pork.

Raw eggs in any menu items? Ritzy Melbourne hotel kitchen under focus in Salmonella outbreak

Cockroach infestation, mice and multiple failed food safety inspections ard reportedly other disasters to have hit the prestigious Langham Hotel in Melbourne over a year before a massive salmonella outbreak.

langham.tea.salmThe Herald Sun reports that senior chefs had regularly been summoned to meetings in January and February of last year to combat health and safety issues and improve standards.

‘The kitchen almost got shut down a couple of times,’ the source said.

‘Melbourne City Council had been in there a bunch of times and fined them. There were cockroaches, mice, and all sorts of vermin that should not have been anywhere near a kitchen.’

The information comes after a pregnant woman, who did not want to be named, told the Herald Sun how she nearly lost her unborn child after suffering food poisoning from her baby shower at a prestigious Melbourne hotel.

The angry mother said that there are still serious concerns for the health of her premature baby boy who had breathing issues when he was born.

A hotel spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia food samples had been frozen in line with hotel guidelines, which have now been provided to investigators.

‘This has never happened before and now we’re cooperating with the Department of Health and Human Services, and providing details of preparation logs and samples,’ she said.

‘As the safety and well-being of the guests and colleagues are of the highest priority, the hotel has extensive protocols in place to ensure food safety.’