Food Safety Talk 71: Bungee Jumping vs. Skydiving

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.1422538910457

The fellows start the podcast by catching up on their travels, and Don talks about Brazil and Ben about Canada. Don also talked about his new podcast workflow using an app that converts webpages to PDF files and sends it directly to Dropbox.

Surprisingly, they immediately embark in a food safety conversation and Ben mentioned a recent C. perfringens outbreak in Maryland at a food safety conference where 266 people became ill presumably by eating Chicken Marsala. The actual food served was not sampled, however stool samples were positive for C. perfringens. This outbreak sparks a discussion of the work by food safety expert Frank Bryan. In response to an outbreak at a school, Frank performed an observation study, where he had the cafeteria staff redo everything identifying the risk associated with that outbreak.  The discussion turns to Denmark where three individuals died of Listeriosis after eating asparagus soup. Dr. Charles Haas tweeted the asparagus soup recipe has a dairy component and the soup may be served hot or cold which might be the risk associated with the outbreak.

Once again, they talk about cutting boards in response to Don’s Facebook post. There has been previous discussion about how many cutting boards a kitchen should have. Don who himself owns 10 cutting boards, raises a better question to how risk is managed, or when to throw away a used cutting boards. Dr. Cliver, a former professor at UC Davis, has done published on plastic and wooden cutting boards.  Ben recalled that Dr. Cliver compared raw milk and apple cider with bungee jumping and skydiving. While Don does not agree with this metaphor, he thinks that Dr. Cliver would have been a great podcast guest. Speaking of guests, the hosts updated their short list to include retired government scientists Jack Guzewich, and Carl Custer.  The show-noter for this episode also gives a shout out to Dr. Freeze who was not just an awesome podcast guest, but also an inspiration and role model for female food safety scientists.

Ben turns the talk to tech by mentioning an iTunes application that he uses to scan receipts and important notes, and Don counters with his PDF app of choice, which reminds him of his dislike of university reimbursement logistics. Don calms down to recommends music software that helps him focus.

The show wraps, up with discussion of a blog post by Doug Powell: “Who are you? Scientist, Writer, Whatever”, and Don adds that to be a good scientist, one must be a good writer, since one must write to publish, and doing experiments without publishing them is not science. Then they talk about how social media can be useful in helping in food safety, citing a restaurant in Alaska that was closed after a Facebook post led to health department inspection.

Go Salmonella: Raw brand 100% Organic Sprouted Sunflower Seeds recall expanded

The food recall warning issued on January 15, 2015 has been updated to include additional product information.

go.raw_.seed_.salm_-168x300Ecomax Nutrition is recalling Go Raw brand 100% Organic Sprouted Sunflower Seeds from the marketplace due to possible Salmonella contamination. Consumers should not consume the recalled product described below.

Recalled products

Brand Name- Go Raw        

Common Name- 100% Organic Sprouted Sunflower Seeds

Size- 454 g                

Code(s) on Product- ENJOY BEFORE AUG/22/2015 R5 HH:MM *

(* HH:MM indicates the time)                   

UPC- 8 59888 00009 7         

What you should do

Check to see if you have recalled product in your home. Recalled product should be thrown out or returned to the store where it was purchased.

Food contaminated with Salmonella may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems may contract serious and sometimes deadly infections. Healthy people may experience short-term symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Long-term complications may include severe arthritis.

This recall was triggered by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) test results. The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

The CFIA is verifying that industry is removing recalled product from the marketplace.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

But what does it really mean? Campylobacteriosis cases stable, listeriosis cases continue to rise in EU

Campylobacteriosis infections reported in humans have now stabilised, after several years of an increasing trend, but it is still the most commonly reported foodborne disease in the EU. Listeriosis and VTEC infections in humans have increased, while reported salmonellosis and yersiniosis cases have decreased. These are some of the key findings of the European Union Summary Report on Trends and Sources of Zoonoses, Zoonotic Agents and Foodborne Outbreaks in 2013.

surveillance“The stabilisation of campylobacteriosis cases and the continuing downward trend of salmonellosis is good news, but we should not lower our guard as reporting of other diseases such as listeriosis and VTEC infections is going up,” says Marta Hugas, Head of Department of EFSA’s Risk Assessment and Scientific Assistance Department, who stresses the importance of monitoring foodborne illnesses in Europe.

Last year’s report showed that human cases of campylobacteriosis decreased slightly for the first time in five years. The 2013 figures have stabilised to the levels reported in 2012. Nevertheless, with  214,779  cases, campylobacteriosis remains the most commonly reported foodborne disease in the EU. In food , the causative agent, Campylobacter, is mostly found in chicken meat.

Listeriosis cases increased by 8.6 percent between 2012 and 2013 and have been increasing over the pastfive years. Although the number of confirmed cases is relatively low at 1,763, these are of particular concern as the reported Listeria infections are mostly severe, invasive forms of the disease with higher death rates than for the other foodborne diseases.  “The rise of reported invasive listeriosis cases is of great concern as the infection is acquired mostly from ready-to-eat food and it may lead to death, particularly among the increasing population of elderly people and patients with weakened immunity in Europe”, says Mike Catchpole, the Chief Scientist at ECDC. Despite the rise of listeriosis cases reported in humans, Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium that causes listeriosis in humans and animals, was seldom detected above the legal safety limits in ready-to-eat foods.

Reported cases of verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC) infection rose by 5.9 percent – possibly an effect of increased awareness in Member States following the outbreak in 2011, which translated into better testing and reporting. No trends were observed on the presence of VTEC in food and animals.  

Salmonellosis cases fell for the eighth year in a row, with 82,694 cases –a 7.9 percent decrease in the notification rate compared with 2012. The report attributes the decrease to Salmonella control programmes in poultry and notes that most Member States met their reduction goals for prevalence in poultry for 2013. In fresh poultry meat, compliance with EU Salmonella criteria increased – a signal that Member States’ investments in control measures are working. 

Yersiniosis, the third most commonly reported zoonotic disease in the EU with 6,471 cases, has been decreasing over the past five years and declined by 2.8 percent compared with 2012.  

The EFSA-ECDC report covers 16 zoonoses and foodborne outbreaks. It is based on data collected by 32 European countries (28 Member States and four non-Member States) and helps the European Commission and EU Member States to monitor, control and prevent zoonotic diseases.

Willy Wonka would be proud: Microbiological Safety of Low Water Activity Foods and Spices

Chapman has written about his obsession with low moisture foods and how he terrifies his children about Salmonella in chocolate.

Now he has a month worth of bedtime reading: The Microbiological Safety of Low Water Activity Foods and Spices

Gurtler, Joshua B., Doyle, Michael P., Kornacki, Jeffrey L. (Eds.)

willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-17594222-640-480Describes the microbial challenges to ensuring the safety of low water activity (aw) food

Gives insight into regulatory issues, and appropriate product sampling and testing methods

Explores the efficacy of industrially-used and potential product decontamination interventions

Low water activity (aw) and dried foods such as dried dairy and meat products, grain-based and dried ready-to-eat cereal products, powdered infant formula, peanut and nut pastes, as well as flours and meals have increasingly been associated with product recalls and foodborne outbreaks due to contamination by pathogens such as Salmonella spp. and enterohemorrhagic E. coli. 

In particular, recent foodborne outbreaks and product recalls related to Salmonella-contaminated spices have raised the level of public health concern for spices as agents of foodborne illnesses.

Presently, most spices are grown outside the U.S., mainly in 8 countries: India, Indonesia, China, Brazil, Peru, Madagascar, Mexico and Vietnam. Many of these countries are under-developed and spices are harvested and stored with little heed to sanitation. The USDA has regulatory oversight of spices in the United States; however, the agency’s control is largely limited to enforcing regulatory compliance through sampling and testing only after imported foodstuffs have crossed the U.S. border. Unfortunately, statistical sampling plans are inefficient tools for ensuring total food safety. As a result, the development and use of decontamination treatments is key. 

Willy_Wonka_by_lovelookalikeThis book provides an understanding of the microbial challenges to the safety of low aw foods, and a historic backdrop to the paradigm shift now highlighting low aw foods as vehicles for foodborne pathogens.  Up-to-date facts and figures of foodborne illness outbreaks and product recalls are included.  Special attention is given to the uncanny ability of Salmonella to persist under dry conditions in food processing plants and foods.  A section is dedicated specifically to processing plant investigations, providing practical approaches to determining sources of persistent bacterial strains in the industrial food processing environment.  Readers are guided through dry cleaning, wet cleaning and alternatives to processing plant hygiene and sanitation.  Separate chapters are devoted to low aw food commodities of interest including spices, dried dairy-based products, low aw meat products, dried ready-to-eat cereal products, powdered infant formula, nuts and nut pastes, flours and meals, chocolate and confectionary, dried teas and herbs, and pet foods. 

The book provides regulatory testing guidelines and recommendations as well as guidance through methodological and sampling challenges to testing spices and low aw foods for the presence of foodborne pathogens.  Chapters also address decontamination processes for low aw foods, including heat, steam, irradiation, microwave, and alternative energy-based treatments.

Farming science, without the conscience

Following an account by Michael Moss in the N.Y. Times last week, a Times editorial says the little-known U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, financed by American taxpayers, which employs the sophisticated tools and scientific expertise of modern animal management — apparently without a conscience.

govtcrueltyThe details Mr. Moss’s article exposes are sickening. In engineering animals to maximize industry’s bottom line, the center, at a sprawling, secluded site in Nebraska, has created pigs that bear freakishly large litters of frail piglets, which are often crushed by their mothers. Cows give birth to triplets, many of them deformed. Lambs are born in open fields, where they starve, are eaten by predators and are overcome by the elements. These so-called easy-care sheep are bred to eliminate the need for shelters and human help at birthing time.

(Reuters has reported that the secretary of agriculture, in the wake of Mr. Moss’s article, has directed the agency to create a new animal welfare plan, which will involve employee training and a review of research practices.)

The humans who work at the center are not necessarily oblivious to its failings. Some veterinarians and researchers told The Times they were appalled by the suffering and abuse. They should not have their consciences degraded by what is supposed to be beneficial work. Congress founded the center 50 years ago. It should oversee it and reform it — or shut it down.

Salmonella and raw leafy greens most dangerous according to EU risk assessment model

Foods of non-animal origin (FoNAO) are consumed in a variety of forms, being a major component of almost all meals. These food types have the potential to be associated with large outbreaks as seen in 2011 associated with VTEC O104.

lettuce.skull.noroIn order to identify and rank specific food/pathogen combinations most often linked to human cases originating from FoNAO in the EU, a semi-quantitative model was developed using seven criteria: strength of associations between food and pathogen based on the foodborne outbreak data from EU Zoonoses Monitoring (2007–2011), incidence of illness, burden of disease, dose–response relationship, consumption, prevalence of contamination and pathogen growth potential during shelf life.

The top ranking food/pathogen combination was Salmonella spp. and leafy greens eaten raw followed by (in equal rank) Salmonella spp. and bulb and stem vegetables, Salmonella spp. and tomatoes, Salmonella spp. and melons, and pathogenic Escherichia coli and fresh pods, legumes or grains.

Despite the inherent assumptions and limitations, this risk model is considered a tool for risk managers, as it allows ranking of food/pathogen combinations most often linked to foodborne human cases originating from FoNAO in the EU. Efforts to collect additional data even in the absence of reported outbreaks as well as to enhance the quality of the EU-specific data, which was used as input for all the model criteria, will allow the improvement of the model outputs. Furthermore, it is recommended that harmonised terminology be applied to the categorisation of foods collected for different reasons, e.g. monitoring, surveillance, outbreak investigation and consumption. In addition, to assist future microbiological risk assessments, consideration should be given to the collection of additional information on how food has been processed, stored and prepared as part of the above data collection exercises.

Risk ranking of pathogens in ready-to-eat unprocessed foods of non-animal origin (FoNAO) in the EU: Initial evaluation using outbreak data (2007–2011)

International Journal of Food Microbiology, Volume 195, 16 February 2015, Pages 9–19

M.T. Da Silva Felícioa, , , T. Haldb, E. Liebanaa A. Allendec, M. Hugasa, C. Nguyen-Thed, e, G. Skoien Johannessenf, T. Niskaneng, M. Uyttendaeleh, J. McLauchlin

Marler gets his New Yorker profile

Late one night in September of 2013, Rick Schiller awoke in bed with his right leg throbbing. Schiller, who is in his fifties, lives in San Jose, California. He had been feeling ill all week, and, as he reached under the covers, he found his leg hot to the touch. He struggled to sit upright, then turned on a light and pulled back the sheet. “My leg was about twice the normal size, maybe even three times,” he told me. “And it was hard as a rock, and bright purple.”

marler.devilSchiller roused his fiancée, who helped him hobble to their car. He dropped into the passenger seat, but he couldn’t bend his leg to fit it through the door. “So I tell her, ‘Just grab it and shove it in,’ ” he recalled. “I almost passed out in pain.”

At the hospital, five employees helped move Schiller from the car to a consulting room. When a doctor examined his leg, she warned him that it was so swollen there was a chance it might burst. She tried to remove fluid with a needle, but nothing came out. “So she goes in with a bigger needle—nothing comes out,” Schiller said. “Then she goes in with a huge needle, like the size of a pencil lead—nothing comes out.” When the doctor tugged on the plunger, the syringe filled with a chunky, meatlike substance. “And then she gasped,” Schiller said.

That night, he drifted in and out of consciousness in his hospital room. His temperature rose to a hundred and three degrees and his right eye oozed fluid that crusted over his face. Schiller’s doctors found that he had contracted a form of the salmonella bacterium, known as Salmonella Heidelberg, which triggered a cascade of conditions, including an inflamed colon and an acute form of arthritis. The source of the infection was most likely something he had eaten, but Schiller had no idea what. He spent four days in intensive care before he could stand again and navigate the hallways. On the fifth day, he went home, but the right side of his body still felt weak, trembly, and sore, and he suffered from constant headaches. His doctors warned that he might never fully recover.

Three weeks later, Schiller received a phone call from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An investigator wanted to know whether he had eaten chicken before he became sick. Schiller remembered that he’d bought two packages of raw Foster Farms chicken thighs just before the illness. He’d eaten a few pieces from one of the packages; the other package was still in his freezer. Several days later, an investigator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stopped by to pick it up. She dropped the chicken into a portable cooler and handed him a slip of paper that said “Property Receipt.” That was the last time Schiller heard from the investigators. More than a year later, he still wasn’t sure what was in the chicken: “I don’t know what the Department of Agriculture found.”

By the time Schiller became infected by salmonella, federal officials had been tracking an especially potent outbreak of the Heidelberg variety for three months—it had sent nearly forty per cent of its victims to the hospital. The outbreak began in March, but investigators discovered it in June, when a cluster of infections on the West Coast prompted a warning from officials at the C.D.C.’s PulseNet monitoring system, which tracks illnesses reported by doctors. Scientists quickly identified the source of the outbreak as Foster Farms facilities in California, where federal inspectors had discovered the same strain of pathogen during a routine test. Most of the victims of the outbreak confirmed that they’d recently eaten chicken, and many specifically named the Foster Farms brand. On August 9th, investigators joined a conference call with Foster Farms executives to inform them of the outbreak and its link to the company.

Identifying the cause of an outbreak is much simpler than trying to stop one.

During the past twenty years, Marler has become the most prominent and powerful food-safety attorney in the country.

Given the struggles of his clients—victims of organ failure, sepsis, and paralysis—Marler says it can be tempting to dismiss him as a “bloodsucking ambulance chaser who exploits other people’s personal tragedies.” But many people who work in food safety believe that Marler is one of the few functioning pieces in a broken system. Food-borne illness, they point out, is pervasive but mostly preventable when simple precautions are taken in the production process.

And lots more at

Which cut of meat is least likely to make you sick?

I like Schaffner’s response: There is no such thing as risk-free meat, or risk-free food in general. Donald Schaffner, a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University, told Kiera Butler of Mother Jones that if the food isn’t cooked sufficiently, or if the preparation area isn’t clean, it doesn’t matter whether you’re eating chicken, steak, or pork,” he says. “Food prepared in an unclean environment is always going to be high risk.”

GrilledSteak-main_FullI told her that requesting your meat “well done” or “medium” won’t save you from illness, either. Those terms are vague and subjective, says Doug Powell, a former professor of food safety and current publisher of the foodborne illness site “When I go to a restaurant and they ask me how I want my steak, I say ‘140 degrees,'” he says. “If they give me a funny look I get up and leave.”

Butler writes that every time you eat, you’re rolling the germ dice.

But some cuts are more likely to make you sick. In 2013, researchers from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) analyzed data about outbreaks, illnesses, and hospitalizations from foodborne pathogens in particular kinds of meat between 1998 and 2010.

Contaminated chicken sickens more people than any other meat. That’s partially because we eat so much of it—more than 50 pounds a year per person. But it’s also because of the way that chicken is prepared and cooked, says Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI’s director of food safety. Commercial chicken plants typically dip the meat in several baths before packaging, giving bacteria plenty of opportunity to spread. What’s more, says Smith DeWaal, it’s harder to cook away bacteria in chicken. “Chicken has creases and folds in the skin,” she says. “Pathogens can hide in those folds. A lot of other meat doesn’t even come with skin on.”

Ground beef is the second riskiest kind of meat. One reason for this, says Smith DeWaal, is that during grinding, “the pathogens on the surface of the meat get pushed into the center.” If that ground meat isn’t properly cooked—say, in the middle of a rare burger—the germs get a free ride into your digestive tract.

rowan.atkinson.steak.tartareSteaks, pork chops, and other whole-muscle meats are the safest bet. That’s because the cooking process can easily kill off bacteria on the cut’s surface, while the inside of the meat is essentially sterile, protected from any potential pathogens—in theory.

But steak isn’t as safe as it should be. According to the US Food Safety and Inspection Service, about 10.5 percent of steaks are subjected to a process called mechanical or needle tenderization, where metal blades or pins repeatedly puncture the meat before packaging. While this technique improves the meat’s texture, it also moves bacteria from the surface into the center of the cut, where the germs may survive cooking. The scary part: Processors are not required to label cuts that have been mechanically tenderized—so there’s no way to know whether your steak might have extra interior bacteria. Mechanically tenderized beef has caused several recent outbreaks, including one in Canada in 2012, which sickened 18 people and led to the biggest beef recall in Canadian history. In 2013, the US Department of Agriculture promised to require labeling on mechanically tenderized beef, but the agency is stalling on finalizing that rule.

115 sickened: Multistate outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis infections linked to bean sprouts (Final update)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports this outbreak appears to be over.

wonton.foodA total of 115 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis were reported from 12 states.

Twenty-five percent of ill persons were hospitalized. No deaths were reported.  

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicated that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. were the likely source of this outbreak.

In interviews, 61 (72%) of 85 ill persons reported eating bean sprouts or menu items containing bean sprouts in the week before becoming ill.

In November 2014, Wonton Foods Inc. agreed to destroy any remaining products while they conducted a thorough cleaning and sanitization and implemented other Salmonella control measures at their firm. The firm resumed shipment of bean sprouts on November 29, 2014.

Contaminated bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. are likely no longer available for purchase or consumption given the maximum 12-day shelf life of mung bean sprouts.

sprouts.kevinAlthough this outbreak appears to be over, sprouts are a known source of foodborne illness. CDC recommends that consumers, restaurants, and other retailers always follow food safety practices to avoid illness from eating sprouts.

Be aware that children, older adults, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts).

We count 61 outbreaks associated with raw sprouts, sickening at least 11,179.

Going public: The California Salmonella outbreak no one knew about

Laurel Maloy of Food Online writes that state and local public health officials have a responsibility to inform the public. In this particular incident… it didn’t happen

brent's.deliDuring the summer of 2014, 21 people fell ill after eating at Brent’s Deli in Westlake Village, CA. However, no one, except the people who suffered, the public health officials, and the owners of the deli were ever made aware of the outbreak.

The outbreak first came to light when seven people living in Ventura and Los Angeles counties were identified as being infected with a somewhat uncommon genetic strain of Salmonella Montevideo. Patient interviews turned the attention to Brent’s Deli. Eventually 19 patients were diagnosed with S. Montevidea (JIXX01.0645), and another two diagnosed with JIXX01.1565, a clonal offshoot of the outbreak strain. The strains were positively identified through the use of pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) performed by the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Microbial Disease Laboratory (MDL). Two of the infected patients were employees of the deli. And still, the outbreak was kept under wraps, a remarkable feat in and of itself when you consider the speed with which information normally travels today.  If just one ill person had posted about it via social media, this outbreak would not have gone unnoticed.

According to Bill Marler’s blog, he was notified by Trevor Quirk, a California attorney, who was retained by one of the outbreak victims.

The onset of illnesses occurred on April 30, 2014, with illnesses from this same outbreak being identified as late as August 16, 2014. The largest numbers of patients were reported in June and August, with eight patients requiring hospitalization. What stands out is that though the onset of illness can be tracked back to April, with a significant cluster in June, it wasn’t until mid-July that the MDL raised the level of awareness. Apparently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was never brought into the loop.

brent's.deli.reubenOn July 9 the Environmental Health (EH) staff of Ventura County performed an on-site inspection at the Deli. During the inspection, numerous violations — including sanitation, storage, and cooling problems — were discovered. The manager was directed by EH to immediately take action to correct the violations. A follow-up inspection occurred on July 22, with major violations again observed and annotated.

Though it may seem surprising that this outbreak was not elevated to warrant at least a local news report, no laws were broken. Unless an outbreak involves a large number of people or affects people in many states, Federal agencies, such as the CDC,  may or may not be called in. The question then, is: “How many people constitutes a large number?” It is also common for a state health department to work with the state department of agriculture when more than one city or county is involved.  That did not happen, though two counties, Los Angeles and Ventura, saw patients.

The CDC defines a foodborne-disease outbreak (FBDO) as “an incident in which two or more persons experience a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food.” If you look at the timeline, one case was identified on April 27, another on May 18, one on June 1 and then two on June 8. The largest number of confirmed cases, three, happened on June 29, but no action was taken until July 18.

Consider this — what if the unsanitary conditions at Brent’s Deli was discovered before the outbreak? These conditions evidently existed, but went undiscovered, for an extended period of time. An unscheduled short visit from EH would have led to a more thorough inspection.  What if,  after the first two cases, someone had thought to warn the public or to immediately question the patients on where they had eaten? What if the first inspection at Brent’s Deli had been conducted in early June, rather than in late July?  There are any number of solutions that could have been implemented to prevent illnesses.

Anyone in the food-processing industry — from farms providing processors with raw products to the delivery person that supplies corned beef to the local deli — has a moral responsibility to report. The industry can, to a great extent, police itself. It simply takes a commitment to be aware and to get involved to prevent the blatant conditions that cause foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and death.