Just market food safety at retail, government is hopeless: FSA plan to name and shame supermarkets selling Campylobacter chicken ditched after pressure from retailers

Maybe there’s something lost in translation; I’m barely starting to understand Australian.

chickenBut if I read this right, the piping hot UK Food Standards Agency has put retail over public health after scrapping plans to regularly name and shame supermarkets selling chicken contaminated with Campylobacter.

Lots of chuckles next time FSA proclaims they are a science-based agency.

According to the Daily Mail, FSA had promised to carry out regular surveys of chicken sold on the high street and publish the results, including the names of the stores, every three months.

The idea was that the public naming and shaming exercise would put pressure on the stores to clean up their chicken and reduce the food poisoning risk to customers.

However, the officials at the watchdog now want to scrap this idea and instead only publish data on the number of birds that are contaminated without identifying the stores involved.

The move has been condemned by a leading academic, who suggested it was driven by pressure from the industry and Government departments, who are keen support supermarkets, farmers and processors.

chicken.thermThe changes represent a major victory for the commercial interests of the big retailers, putting concerns for their sales and profits ahead of consumer safety and their right to know what they are eating.

The fact that the supermarkets have managed to water down the scheme is just the latest evidence as to how lobbying by big business has driven a change in official policy on food and health issues.

Similar lobbying killed off a plan for a blanket ban on junk food snacks and drinks from displays around supermarket check-outs.

The FSA recently revealed that more than one million people are falling victim to food poisoning every year with supermarket chicken named as the greatest threat.

Campylobacter, which is most often found on raw chicken, is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the country.

An official study published in 2009 revealed that two in three of all fresh chicken on shelves was contaminated with campylobacter. More than one in four – 27 per cent – were classed as being highly contaminated.

Despite the fact the FSA has asked supermarkets and farmers to make combatting campylobacter a top priority, the situation appears to have shown no improvement since then.

An FSA paper on the food poisoning caused by campylobacter warned: ‘In addition to the attendant economic costs, cases cause inconvenience, discomfort and misery to those who become infected and a small proportion of cases result in death or long-term consequences, such as reactive arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and Guillain-Barré syndrome, the latter of which affects the peripheral nervous system.’

Despite the clear threat, the FSA’s executives are now asking its board to redraw the rules for its surveys to ensure the stores selling contaminated chicken are not identified in its quarterly results.

A paper prepared by officials states this is in response to ‘legitimate concerns expressed by the industry and other government departments’. The references to other departments relates to the food and farming department, DEFRA, which sees itself as a champion of British farmers, including those producing chicken.

The FSA paper states: ‘In the last update to the Board in March 2014 it was stated that the FSA intended to release the full results, including the names of the retailers and processors, of testing of around 1,000 samples every 3 months during the survey, with the first results published around June/July 2014.’

However, it says it has now decided to change this approach because there is a risk the results will be incomplete and misleading and it would – in some way – be unfair to the stores.

The FSA said: ‘One of the drawbacks of this approach is that no interpretation can properly be placed on interim raw data until the full year’s sampling is complete and fully analysed.

The watchdog’s board is being asked to approve this new approach at a meeting tomorrow.

Erik Millstone, the Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, condemned the move to let the supermarkets off the hook.

Cyclospora surge in Texas

Tarrant County Public Health issued a warning Monday about an outbreak of Cyclosporiasis.

pesto.basil.cyclosporaPrior to this month, there were just eight cases reported in the State of Texas, and Tarrant County had seen just one.

But there are now 69 Cyclosporiasis cases in Texas, nine of them in Tarrant County.

So far, health officials have not found the source of the outbreak. They are asking health care providers to test patients who have intestinal issues lasting more than a few days.

Tarrant County Public Health says past outbreaks in the U.S. have been linked to imported fresh produce, including fresh cilantro, pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, snow peas, and mesclun lettuce.

Scientists find a way to block botulism poisoning

Scientists have discovered how bacterial toxins that cause food-borne botulism are absorbed through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream. The study offers insight into developing new approaches for blocking this poisonous substance.

baby.logan.botulism.ukBotulism is a rare and often fatal paralytic illness due to a neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which can appear in rotted, uncooked foods and in soil. Listed as a Tier 1 agent by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the botulinum toxin is also a potential biological weapon.

Using a crystal structure of a complex protein compound of botulinum neurotoxin, UCI News reports how researchers have found that these compounds – called clostridial hemagglutinin (HA) – bind with epithelial cell proteins in the intestines of patients, initiating a process that disrupts the close intercellular seals, enabling the complex toxin molecules to slip through the epithelial barrier.

By identifying this novel process by which the toxin compound manages to, in a sense, open the door from inside, scientists can better understand how to seek new methods to prevent these deadly toxins from entering the bloodstream.

In further tests the research group designed a mutated version of the botulism compound, based on the novel crystal structure, in which HA would not bind with the epithelial cell protein E-cadherin. Even though this lab-made toxin compound contains the fully active live toxin molecule, it was not orally toxic when tested on mice because the mutated HA cannot break up the intercellular seals and, therefore, the toxin compound cannot be absorbed through the epithelial layer.

The researchers are hopeful that this could lead to the identification of small molecules able to stop HA from binding with epithelial cell proteins, thus preventing the toxin invasion.

The study has been reported to the journal PLOS Pathogens. The study is titled “Structure of a Bimodular Botulinum Neurotoxin Complex Provides Insights into Its Oral Toxicity.”

Barbecue alert after spike in UK Campylobacter food poisoning

I’m tired of the summer BBQ rhetoric. I lived in Canada and BBQed throughout the winter.

The risk isn’t that more people are BBQing, it’s that livestock have higher levels of pathogens in warmer weather.

ben-newBut way to blame consumers.

More than 1,000 people have become ill with vomiting and diarrhea in five weeks – up 27 per cent on the average figure for the same period over the past three years.

Experts are reminding barbecue lovers about the importance of handling and cooking chicken properly following the surge in illness cause by the campylobacter bacteria.

These UK experts don’t know shit; probably the same ones who say cook until piping hot.

NHS Scotland laboratories have confirmed a total of 1,073 infections with Campylobacter but, as not all patients will have contacted the health service for advice, the actual number of people who have developed symptoms is likely to be higher.

Who knew? Measles outbreak linked to Kansas eatery

Who gets measles from eating in a restaurant? Apparently people in Wichita (that’s in Kansas).

5279798333_360c20d1d1_zIt is extremely contagious. If you have been exposed or think you have it, do not go to your doctor — call them. You can spread it just sitting in the waiting room,” said Skip Cowan, community services coordinator for the Harvey County Health Department.

There have been six cases in Sedgwick — several of them traced back to a restaurant worker who was working at the end of June and beginning of July.

Due to the concern of transmission to the public, health officials are requesting anyone who dined at Sal’s Japanese Steakhouse, 6829 E. Kellogg Dr. in Wichita, on the following dates: June 20, 23, 25, 29, July 3, 5, and July 7, and later developed an illness with fever and rash to contact their health care provider.

Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. With the creation of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, measles cases have generally been rare in the United States; however, it still sickens approximately 20 million and kills 164,000 people worldwide each year.

Cowan said the disease spreads most quickly among those who are not vaccinated — and the first vaccination doses begin with infants between 12 and 15 months old.

Ecuador investigating cases of mass food poisoning in Santa Rosa

The Ministry of Health took samples to investigate the causes that led to a weekend a mass poisoning in Santa Rosa, in the province of El Oro. Meanwhile, of the 405 intoxicated, 10 remain hospitalized with abdominal pain, fever and dehydration.

Ecuador-food-streetvendorThe case was then submitted that these people ate chicken and tuna sandwiches during the holidays proclamation of Medina Estero community.

“I could not resist, I came here (hospital) and I put a drip, can not stand, can not resist the pain,” said Elicia Guerrero.

Food Safety Talk 63: The Great One

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.1405348895819

Don and Ben have Skype issues but this time it was actually Don. Don announced that there will be help for people like Ben who aren’t so good at managing their time and attention at IAFP 2014, with Merlin Mann presenting on Wednesday in a special lunch session. The guys estimate about 0.1% of IAFP annual meeting attendees will be excited to see him – including Ben and Don, and probably Batz. Ben mentions his excitement that Professor Dr. Donald Schaffner, PhD was name checked on Back to Work Episode 173.

The first mention of The Wire comes at 12 minutes in when the guys give a shout out to Baltimore resident Manan Sharma who says that this is his favorite part of the show.

In follow-up from Episode 61, friend of the show MDD says that there are not rats in Alberta  Ben and Don remark while there may not be any snakes in New Zealand and Ireland (although Ben thinks that Don is thinking of potatoes) there are rats in small pockets in Alberta. While Alberta has had a rat eradication program since the 1950s, a colony of Norwegian rats, of Roanoke Island proportion, was found in Medicine Hat (that’s in Canada) in 2012 and 2014. Ben tells Don that he wears big pockets to avoid rats, and that and on a pilgrimage to Edmonton to see a statue of The Great One, his pockets were not checked.

The guys then talk about a question from IAFP’s Dina (not Dinah). Dina asked the guys to discuss their thoughts on a recent JFP paper about non-intact steak cooking using temperature, flipping/turning and different cooking methods. The practical, take-home message (as dictated using Dragon Dictate) was that that flipping and covering with a lid (which allows cooking to occur both through conduction and convection heat) and using a thermometer for all cuts of meat helps reduce risk.

Ben talked a bit about some future work that his group is doing looking at mechanically tenderized beef messaging, perception and behavior – including cubed steak.  Cube steak is sometimes made by slapping two pieces of meat together and running through a cuber – although not according to Wikipedia, which is never wrong. The discussion moved to steak eating preferences as detailed by FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver’s cadre of numbers nerds who dissect a lot of pop culture and sports questions.

The guys then both talked about message variability projects they have going on. Ben’s group is looking at  cook book recipes (and how the messages and instructions in the culinary world often are not evidence-based). And Don’s group is looking at messaging on handwashing signs, something that his second favorite graduate student Dane, is undertaking.

In outbreak flashback the guys talked about 1854’s Broad St. Pump  cholera outbreak. Using a map and analyzing cases of human disease, John Snow, largely recognized as one of the founders of epidemiology, created a blueprint for the next generation of disease hunters. Removing the handle on the pump is commonly thought to have ended the outbreak except that modern epi-curve analysis suggests that the outbreak was already on the decline. Ben’s favorite part was what one of his undergraduate professors, Anthony Clarke talked about in class 15 years ago: the monks in a local monastery did not get sick because they didn’t drink the water, just home brewed beer.

The guys then ended the show talking about an outbreak linked to food service hamburgers made by Wolverine Packing. Or is that Wolverine Packing with it’s adamantium slicers and grinders? In either case, It’s unclear whether illnesses are linked to undercooked burgers or cross contamination – although anecdotally undercooked burgers have been reported. One of Ben’s graduate student’s Ellen Thomas has been working on a project related directly to this type of product, where secret shoppers have been speaking with servers at burger-serving family style restaurants throughout the U.S. The results of the project will be shared at IAFP in Indianapolis.

In after dark the guys chuckle and guffaw about Ben’s Beatles references, time and attention management, and Tony Robbins who Ben thinks is in prison. But he’s not. He was thinking of James Arthur Ray. Don mentions that the author Kurt Vonnegut (who explains the universal shapes of storytelling) has a memorial library in Indianapolis.

Hotel guests get sick at Orlando Marriott

An outbreak of gastrointestinal upset that affected several dozen guests who attended a conference at the Orlando World Center Marriott is under investigation by the Orange County Health Department, officials said Thursday.

Orlando World Center MarriottThe guests stayed at the hotel between June 29 and July 7 and have all gone home, said Gary Dybul, director of sales and marketing for the resort. Health officials said it was too early to tell whether the illness was caused by a virus or was foodborne.

Symptoms included nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and lasted on average from 24 to 48 hours, said Dain Weister, health department spokesman.

Most of those affected were adult guests, but a handful of children also fell ill as well as one employee, Weister said. Most symptoms were minor, but one person went to the emergency room for treatment and was released.

Child dies from digestive infection at French camp

An 8-year-old child died at a camp in Ariège from “acute intestinal infection,” probably due to the ingestion of non-potable water.

Ariège .campThe center has closed until further notice, pending the results of analyzes of food served at holiday center and its water. The story notes camp water was contaminated since early July by coliform bacteria and leaders of the colony were instructed to drink only bottled water.

Three other children, who had been hospitalized for similar but less severe symptoms, were discharged from the hospital Thursday and joined the colony.

One hundred and forty children were staying in the cottage at the time of the tragedy, from four different groups – Villeneuve-le-Roi, Paris, Aubergenville (Yvelines) and La Ciotat (Bouches-du-Rhône). A group of children of employees of Airbus in Toulouse, staying in a nearby cottage, had no problems.