Pigeons: Rats with wings (and Salmonella factories)

Sane New Yorkers regard them as rats with wings, and they make use of the many tools to combat pigeons on their property. But things get complicated when a neighboring property owner doesn’t care that pigeons are emitting toxic piles of excrement in a shared space between buildings.

pigeon-rats-wingsSuch was the case on the Upper West Side, where pigeons set up housekeeping on a grocery store’s outdoor air vents and cooling system. Residents of a co-op that shares a courtyard with the grocery store hired an exterminator, but the nests remain. The store’s management did not respond to calls. What’s a co-op board to do?

“The mere presence of pigeon droppings in the courtyard is an unsanitary condition” and could be grounds for a violation, Kempshall McAndrew, a real estate lawyer at Anderson Kill, tells the New York Times’ Ask Real Estate column. The board should keep the courtyard free of pigeon droppings in case an inspector visits.

Beyond that, McAndrew advises the co-op board to call the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene directly, bypassing 311. The board should photograph the area, documenting the nests as the source of the problem. It should also keep records of calls to the grocery store and of the exterminator’s efforts.

A Tale of Three Outbreaks: ConAgra plea deal reached

A couple of weeks ago I left my cozy bubble of Raleigh and travelled to Wayne County NC for an evening talk at the Farm-City Banquet. As I was driving I thought about Doug and Gord Surgeoner’s mentorship – both instilled the importance of engaging with real people around issues and chatting over dinners.

Research and extension activities need grounding in reality.caddyshack_be_the_ball_small

The morning of the event I wasn’t entirely sure what to talk about – so I asked Schaffner for input during a podcast recording. He suggested ‘A Tale of Two Outbreaks’ – comparing Jensen Farms to PCA. Both tragic outbreaks, both resulting in criminal charges. One was due to an egregious disregard for public health. The other seemed to be a couple of folks who meant well but didn’t quite get microbiology.

Be the bug.

For the next talk I’m gonna add in ConAgra’s Peter Pan/Salmonella outbreak as part of the story.

The Associated Press reports that ConAgra pled guilty and has agreed to pay $11.2 million in fines and other fees as a result of an outbreak a decade ago.

ConAgra admitted to a single misdemeanor count of shipping adulterated food. No individuals at the leading food conglomerate faced any charges in the 2006 outbreak, which sickened at least 625 people in 47 states.

Disease detectives traced the salmonella to a plant in rural Sylvester, Georgia, that produced peanut butter for ConAgra under the Peter Pan label and the Great Value brand sold at Wal-Mart. In 2007 the company recalled all the peanut butter it had sold since 2004.

Leo Knowles, president of ConAgra Grocery Products, offered no testimony as he entered the misdemeanor plea Tuesday on behalf of the Chicago-based corporation’s subsidiary.

“It made a lot of people sick,” federal prosecutor Graham Thorpe said Tuesday as he described ConAgra’s decision to continue shipments from the Georgia plant in late 2006, before corrective actions were completed, despite lab tests that had twice detected salmonella in samples.

“The industry has taken notice of this prosecution,” Thorpe added.

Though the Justice Department called $8 million the heftiest criminal fine ever imposed in a U.S. food safety case, it represents just one-tenth of one percent of ConAgra’s current $8 billion market capitalization. The company also will pay $3.2 million in cash forfeitures to the federal government.

ConAgra said it didn’t know peanut butter was contaminated with salmonella before it was shipped. However, the plea agreement documents noted that ConAgra knew peanut butter made in Georgia had twice tested positive for salmonella in 2004. Problems weren’t all fixed by the time of the outbreak.

The judge noted that others had already received cash from ConAgra in civil settlements, which he said totaled $36 million to 6,810 people.

About 2,000 of them were represented by Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in food-safety cases. He said the case shows corporations can be prosecuted even when there’s no evidence of intentional criminality. The misdemeanor charge, he said, required only that ConAgra shipped the contaminated food.

“Companies are very concerned, they’re very worried,” Marler said. “They’re very interested in knowing: How can they charge us with a crime even if we don’t mean to do it? People are paying attention to that and hopefully it’s going to drive positive food behavior.”

The folks in the food and agriculture world in Wayne County seemed to pay attention.

Mac and cheese products recalled due to possible salmonella contamination

TreeHouse Foods, Inc. has announced a voluntary recall of certain macaroni and cheese cup products containing cheddar cheese seasoning which may be contaminated with Salmonella.

salm-mac-cheeseThe company said it was notified by its supplier that the milk powder used in the seasoning has the potential for Salmonella contamination.

The following products are affected by the recall:

Big Win Original Macaroni & Cheese Dinner with a UPC number of 001182258403 and a best-by date of 10/25/2017

Cheese Club Express Mac Macaroni & Cheese Dinner with a UPC number of 004149817167 and any of the following best-by dates: 11/3/2017; 11/4/2017; 11/18/2017; 11/22/2017; 10/20/2017; 10/21/2017; 10/23/2017; 10/29/2017; 11/1/2017; 11/2/2017; 11/11/2017; 11/16/2017; 11/17/2017; 11/22/2017; 11/23/2017; or 11/28/2017

Great Value Macaroni & Cheese Original Cups with a UPC number of 007874208249 and any of the following best-by dates: 10/22/2017; 10/19/2017; 10/27/2017; 10/28/2017; 11/3/2017; 11/7/2017; 11/18/2017; 11/20/2017; or 11/21/2017

Consumers who have purchased any of the above products are urged to dispose of or return the products to the place of purchase for a full refund. They were sold at stores nationwide, including Walmart.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

$11.2M settlement: ConAgra finalizes deal in tainted peanut butter case

Russ Bynum of Federal News Radio reports that in November 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and state health officials began investigating an outbreak of salmonella infections ultimately blamed for sickening at least 625 people in 47 states and killing nine.

peanut-butter-peter-panInvestigators traced the salmonella to jars of Peter Pan and Great Value brand peanut butter produced in Sylvester, Georgia.

ConAgra officials blamed moisture from a leaky roof and a malfunctioning sprinkler system at the Georgia plant for helping salmonella bacteria grow on raw peanuts.

ConAgra launched a huge recall in February 2007, destroying and urging consumers to throw out all of its peanut butter produced since 2004.

Peter Pan peanut butter vanished from store shelves for months. Meanwhile, ConAgra spent $275 million on upgrades at the Georgia plant and adopted new testing procedures to screen peanut butter for contaminants.

Six months later, in August 2007, ConAgra announced it was ready for Peter Pan to return to supermarkets.

Today, ConAgra faces a court hearing to finalize an $11.2 million settlement — including the largest criminal fine ever in a U.S. food safety case — to resolve federal charges in a salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds who ate tainted Peter Pan peanut butter.

A federal criminal investigation followed the outbreak. More than eight years after the Peter Pan recall, in May 2015, the Justice Department announced charges and a pre-arranged plea deal with ConAgra.

The agreement called for ConAgra Grocery Products Company, a ConAgra subsidiary, to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of shipping adulterated food. No charges were brought against executives of ConAgra, which was based in Omaha, Nebraska, at the time but has since moved its headquarters to Chicago.

ConAgra issued a statement saying the company didn’t know its peanut butter was contaminated with salmonella before it was shipped. However, the plea agreement documents note that ConAgra knew peanut butter made in Georgia had twice tested positive for salmonella in 2004. Prosecutors said the company destroyed the tainted peanut butter and identified likely sources of contamination, but ConAgra had not finished fixing those problems by the time of the 2007 outbreak.

Going public: FDA not liable for $15 million in damages sought by tomato grower for food safety warning error

I remember. I was in Quebec City with a pregnant Amy when all this went down. Doing hour-long iradio interviews where midnight callers asked about aliens and Salmonella.

tomato

Michael Booth of the National Law Journal reports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cannot be held liable for financial damages suffered by farmers when it issues emergency, but erroneous, food safety warnings, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled.

In its Dec. 2 ruling, the Fourth Circuit refused to allow a South Carolina tomato farmer to seek more than $15 million in damages from the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act after the FDA issued a warning that an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul was caused by contaminated tomatoes, when it was later determined that the outbreak was caused by contaminated peppers imported from Mexico.

A South Carolina tomato farm, Seaside Farm on St. Helena Island, sued the federal government, claiming that the incorrect warnings issued by the FDA, beginning in May 2008 and later corrected, cost it $15,036,294 in revenue. The Fourth Circuit agreed with a trial court that the FDA was acting within its authority to issue emergency food safety warnings based on preliminary information in order to protect public health.

“We refuse to place FDA between a rock and a hard place,” wrote Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson for the panel, sitting in Richmond.

“One the one hand, if FDA issued a contamination warning that was even arguably overbroad, premature, or of anything less than perfect accuracy, injured companies would plague the agency with lawsuits,” he said.

“On the other hand, delay in issuing a contamination warning would lead to massive tort liability with respect to consumers who suffer serious or even fatal consequences that a timely warning might have averted,” Wilkinson said.

Judges Paul Niemeyer and Dennis Shedd joined in the Dec. 2 ruling.

The medical crisis arose on May 22, 2008, when the New Mexico Department of Health notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that a number of residents had been diagnosed as having Salmonella Saintpaul, a strain that causes fever, diarrhea, nausea and, if left untreated, death. Soon after, similar reports came in from Texas.

The CDC determined that a “strong statistical” analysis determined that the illnesses were caused by people eating raw tomatoes. By June 1 of that year, CDC was investigating 87 illnesses in nine states.

tomato-irradiationThe FDA then issued a warning to consumers in New Mexico and Texas. By June 6, 2008, however, reported cases grew to 145 incidents in 16 states. In New Jersey, three people were reported to have been diagnosed with the illness. On June 7, the FDA issued a blanket nationwide warning telling consumers that they should be wary of eating raw tomatoes. (New Jersey tomatoes were not implicated, since they do not ripen until later in the season.)

The warning listed a number of countries and states, including South Carolina, that were not included and were not implicated, but those states were not listed in media reports. Eventually, 1,220 people were diagnosed as having Salmonella Saintpaul.

Raw tomatoes were not the cause of the illnesses, however. The contamination was traced to imported jalapeño and serrano peppers imported from Mexico.

Seaside Farm, which had just harvested a large crop of tomatoes, sued in May 2011. The farm claimed the erroneous FDA warning about tomatoes cost it $15 million-plus damages in revenue. 

FSA idiots: Cooking until the juices run clear is a bad way to tell if the meat is done

It’s sorta sad when the PhD boffins at the UK Food Standards Agency get stood up by Cooks Illustrated.

chicken-thermWorse when they fail to acknowledge the error of their ways, but still earn the big bucks.

Cooking a chicken until its “juices run clear when pricked” is pretty standard poultry advice but, according to Cook’s Illustrated, it’s not a very dependable way to tell if your chicken is properly cooked.

As reported by Claire Lower of Skillet, though myoglobin (the molecule that gives meat its pink or red hue) does lose its color when heated, the temperature at which the color change occurs can vary depending on a whole bunch of factors. In fact, when Cook’s Illustrated tested this theory, they found the color of the juice had very little to do with the temperature of the meat:

But when we cooked whole chickens, in one case the juices ran clear when the breast registered 145 degrees and the thigh 155 degrees—long before the chicken was done. And when we pierced another chicken that we’d overcooked (the breast registered 170 degrees and the thigh 180 degrees), it still oozed pink juices.

The takeaway? Get a thermometer, use it, and never under-cook or overcook your chicken again.

Stick it in and use a thermometer.

barfblog-stick-it-in

 

First we take Manhattan, then Berlin: Zoonoses in the food chain

I may have spoken at this in 1998.

quote-first-we-take-manhattan-then-we-take-berlin-leonard-cohen-87-88-65Or something else.

My parents warned me Germans would not get my sense of humor, and I hobbled around Berlin with my first affliction of what I later understood to be familial-associated gout.

The beer probably didn’t help.

Regardless, the occurrence of zoonotic pathogens and toxigenic bacteria in the food chain and the associated risk for humans were the focus of the4th Symposium for Zoonoses and Food Safety” at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Berlin.

Around 250 participants were discussing strategies to combat zoonotic pathogens in livestock, their occurrence in foods of animal origin and the role of toxigenic bacteria for food safety.

“The sharp decline of salmonellosis in humans in recent years can be seen as a success of the measures taken to combat this pathogen in poultry flocks,” says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. “Accordingly, there is now more focus on other sources of human infection”. This includes the occurrence of Salmonella in pig farming and in reptiles kept as pets.

For this reason, the symposium also focused on how to reduce the spread of salmonella in pig herds and pork meat. To do so, the food chain was examined from feedstuffs all the way through to food retail. New goals and initiatives of the federal states were presented too. The possible role of household pets as a source of infection for humans was also thematised using the example of reptiles.

The risk posed to humans by other zoonotic pathogens was also looked at. New laboratory methods play an important role in estimating these risks and assessing possible infection chains. This was illustrated by describing the investigation of a listeriosis outbreak. Another current example is the appraisal of the gut bacteria Clostridium difficile as a zoonotic pathogen.

one-healthA second main focus of the symposium was toxigenic bacteria. These are bacteria whose metabolites can trigger illnesses known as food intoxications (poisonings) that can sometimes be severe. It is not the bacterium but rather the toxin produced by it that is the cause of the health impairment.

The number of cases of foodborne diseases through toxigenic bacteria reported on EU level is increasing continuously. With approx. 16%, overall food intoxications took third place in reported cases of foodborne disease outbreaks after viruses and salmonella in 2014.

The main focus of the symposium was on the significance, occurrence and detection of toxigenic Staphylococci, Bacilli and Clostridia. The results of outbreak investigations in Germany were presented among other things, along with suitable examination methods for detecting toxigenic bacteria in prepared foods. The experts also picked up on the question of whether more efforts have to be made to better estimate and minimise the risk posed by toxigenic bacteria in the future.

 

Spread the safe salad message – at retail

The Packer writs in an editorial that the produce industry is justified in being upset about the latest accusation of lax food safety practices, but also acknowledges the industry has a strong food safety message and should be eager to share it.

lettuceIt’s important that retailers and foodservice providers know the industry’s response to the most recent attack, this time from a United Kingdom study that raises concerns about salmonella in bagged salads

How to do that?

Because at retail, the person consumers are going to ask is some minimum-wage kid who is stocking produce when a shopper walks by.

Most people want to go shopping, not do homework.

They are an abundance of tools that have been developed to help support risk communication at retail.

On the front lines.

Where sales are won and lost.

Market microbial food safety at retail rather than offering boilerplates.

Data says so: Australia does have a raw egg problem

Statistics show that the consumption of foods containing raw or minimally cooked eggs is currently the single largest source of foodborne Salmonella outbreaks in Australia.

garlic_aioliI based a large part of my research career on verifying the soundbite, ‘we have released guidelines’ or, ‘we follow all recommendations’ by arranging to have students see what actually goes on.

In October 2014, the New South Wales Food Authority released Food Safety Guidelines for the Preparation of Raw Egg Products (the Guidelines). Despite this, outbreaks continued to take place, particularly where business hygiene and temperature control issues were apparent. In addition, businesses and councils approached the Food Authority for advice on desserts containing raw eggs and other unusual raw egg dishes. As a result, the Guidelines were recently updated and give specific reference to Standard 3.2.2, Division 3, clause 7 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to ensure that only safe and suitable food is processed.

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks caused by Salmonella, retail businesses are advised to avoid selling food containing raw or minimally cooked eggs. The Guidelines give food businesses that do sell food containing raw egg specific safety steps for its preparation and clear guidance and advice on what they must do to meet food safety regulations. The revised Food Safety Guidelines for the Preparation of Raw Egg Products is available at www. foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/_Documents/ retail/raw_egg_guidelines.pdf.

raw-eggsOr as the Australian Food Safety Information Council now says, buy, don’t make aioli or mayonnaise.

This is nice but of no use to consumers at a restaurant who order fish and chips  with a side of mayo or aioli. I’ve already begun an ad hoc investigation – because I don’t want my family to get sick – and can say that out of the 15 times I’ve asked over the past few years – is the aioli or mayo made at the restaurant or bought commercially – the server invariably returns and proclaims, We only use raw eggs in our aioli or mayo.

Wrong answer.

Only once, so far, has an owner or chef said, we know of the risk, we only use the bought stuff. And they’re ex-pat Canadians.

Giv’r, eh.

A table of Australian egg outbreaks is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-10-9-15.xlsx

Leafy green cone of silence: Salad producers say don’t be scared by ‘ridiculous’ study

In a time when facts don’t matter and Donald Trump is President-elect, there is scrutiny of any new study, and rhetoric is increasingly common.

spongebob-oil_-colbert-may3_-10Socrates, via Plato, had some thought on rhetoric (yes I dabbled in philosophy many decades ago, didn’t everyone experiment in university?).

Still no comment from the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement but they sent a few of their spokesthingies out to counter a study that says Salmonella grows in cut leafy greens, even at refrigerator temperatures..

Ashley Nickle of The Packer reports that Bruce Taylor, CEO and founder of Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Farms, emphatically denounced the study.

“We find the artificial conditions created by this study to be ridiculous,” Taylor said in an e-mail. “Producers of bagged salads do not have ‘juice’ in the salad bag, and producers take painstaking steps to avoid the introduction of salmonella or any other pathogen.”

The conclusion regarding refrigeration was the only notable one in the study, said Trevor Suslow, a member of the technical committee of the Center for Produce Safety. Scientists would expect salmonella to be able to survive at the temperature recorded in the study but would not expect it to grow, he said.

“People will definitely be trying to reproduce their results as far as growth under refrigeration temperature for salmonella,” Suslow said. “That’s, for me, the key issue.”

Suslow, an extension research specialist at the University of California-Davis, said it is already known that a bagged salad is an environment in which salmonella can have the nutrients it needs to grow, which is why the industry has focused so intently on ensuring no pathogens make it into bags into the first place.

Drew McDonald, vice president of quality, food safety and regulatory affairs at Salinas-based Church Brothers Farms, said in an e-mail that, although the researchers did some things well, he also had some issues with the study.

“From my read, the study essentially grew salmonella in juices extracted from actual bagged salads in a mixture of sterile water,” McDonald said. “The issue is that in the ‘real’ world the salmonella has to come from somewhere (the surface of the leaf for example) but along with this would be many other microorganisms. That they were able to grow salmonella under these forced, artificial conditions without any competition from other organisms is not surprising.”

lettuceAlong with the growth conditions, the washed status of the lettuce also gave McDonald pause.

“From my understanding, (the) project used ‘bagged salad,’” McDonald said. “I am assuming this means it was already washed. The fact that they added salad juice and salmonella after it had already been bagged and washed really just shows how important it is to not cross-contaminate cleaned product.”

The researchers, as a result of their findings, suggested people eat bagged salads as soon as possible after purchase to minimize risk. They wrote in a question-and-answer supplement to the release that they no longer keep their bagged salads in the refrigerator longer than one day.

“Ridiculous recommendation,” Taylor said in his e-mail. “For 30 years consumers have enjoyed hundreds of millions of bagged salads weekly with great benefit to their health and wellbeing.”

Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology at United Fresh Produce Association, also disagreed with the recommendation.

“People should always follow the instructions, including best-by dates, on packages, mainly so that they experience the best quality product,” McEntire said in an e-mail. “People shouldn’t be afraid to keep salad in their refrigerators for the full duration of the shelf life.”

She may mean use-by dates.

Suslow described the study as another piece of the puzzle in trying to find long-term solutions for food safety issues, but he was not impressed by it.

“Sort of generating a lot of additional concern and fear without any real basis for changing what (is) sort of standard practice isn’t necessarily helpful,” Suslow said. “Could hurt the category, but probably no more so than other things such as those instances when there are outbreaks or recalls.

“I think consumers understand that there’s no such thing as zero risk,” Suslow said (smartest thing anyone said in this story). “They understand and appreciate the convenience of packaged salads with multiple ingredients with very healthy mixed leafy greens, and that’s how the category has grown.”