1 toddler dead, 4 sick, so protesters will demand raw milk be sold for drinking in Victoria

Just weeks after health types in the Australian state of Victoria (that’s where Melbourne is) declared a three-year-old had died and four other children sickened from consuming raw milk, natural types are planning a drink-in Saturday to get even more unpasteurized milk on store shelves.

Spew milkThree of the four children – all under five — developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, usually associated with shiga-toxin producing E. coli, such as E. coli O157, and the other developed cryptosporidiosis.

How many others developed milder forms of illness is unknown.

In response to the outbreak in early Dec., Victoria Consumer Affairs Minister Jane Garrett ordered a gag-inducing chemical to be poured into all raw milk sold in stores from Sunday, ensuring no one is able to drink it (raw milk is legally sold as bath milk, side-by-side with pasteurized milk; that would be an expensive bath).

The move has apparently infuriated food activists, who are now planning a protest on Saturday to demand that the unpasteurized product be made available for drinking.

The government’s approach so far has been a very knee-jerk reaction,” said organic food store owner Rebecca Freer, who is planning the “drink-in” outside the minister’s Brunswick East office.

I think they’re in denial that there’s a large subculture of raw milk drinkers, who are well-informed, educated people.”

The Australian Raw Milk Movement is encouraging people to “BYO cup” and drink raw milk outside Garrett’s office.

Supporters of drinking unprocessed milk like Ms Freer dispute the product’s link with the child’s death and instead stress the supposed health benefits from consuming a natural product.

colbert.raw.milkBut they never mention the other kids who developed HUS.

“It’s our consumer right to define what we eat and drink,” she said. “Australia is really backwards on this issue.”

After being contacted by Guardian Australia, Freer posted to the Australian Raw Milk Movement’s Facebook wall that she had been contacted by journalists and that “the fight is on.”

“I think it is fair to say we are in the midst of a violent resistance,” she wrote.

Nutritionist Arabella Forge, who will speak at Saturday’s protest, said current food safety laws could be amended to get raw milk on store shelves without compromising food safety.

“What we’re really asking for is a system of regulation that supports safe, raw milk,” she said. “People should have access to this product.”

CSIRO research microbiologists Narelle Fegan and Edward Fox, who have studied raw milk safety on Victorian farms, have both warned against drinking raw milk, even from farms with the highest of standards.

“When the milk comes out of the animal it should be sterile, but then it’s immediately contaminated by its environment,” Dr Fegan said. “When things go wrong they can go wrong pretty badly with people getting seriously ill.”

Dr Fox said there was no evidence that raw milk was more nutritious – a common claim made by raw milk supporters.

“Pasteurised milk is as nutritional as raw milk and it has, due to the pasteurisation process, a lower associated risk,” he said.

Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr Rosemary Lester, has also stood behind her recent raw milk health warnings.

Ms Garrett defended her decision to add a bittering agent to raw milk on Thursday, saying it’s meant to prevent illness and death.

“The actions we have taken are designed to stop people from putting themselves and their children at risk,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Adelaide, South Australia, a court heard a temperature rise in samples taken from a farm owned by a couple being prosecuted for selling unpasteurised milk to when it was tested would have caused a “marginal” rise in bacteria readings.

santa.barf.sprout.raw.milkMoo View Dairy owners Mark and Helen Tyler, who on Wednesday brought a cow to the front of the court building, are contesting charges of breaching the food act by selling the raw milk commercially.

The couple have been operating a “House Cow Share Scheme” where people can buy shares in one of their cows which entitles them to a percentage of the milk produced by the herd.

The raw milk was also found to have higher than the legally acceptable amount of bacteria — leading to one of the two counts of selling food in contravention of the food standards code against them in April and May, 2013.

In cross examination on Thursday, SA Dairy Authority general manager John Crosby said that rise would only have had a “marginal affect” on the milk’s bacteria count.

Mr Tyler and shareholder Rachel Tyson, who on Wednesday came to court dressed in a cow suit in a sign of support for the couple, are expected to give evidence on Friday.

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.

UK Chinese takeaway fined for poor hygiene and violating regulations

The Fortune House takeaway has been fined for poor hygiene in its kitchen and violating health and safety regulations.

fortune.houseThe Chinese takeaway in Chessington Road, Ewell, was fined £1,200 and ordered to pay £400 towards the legal costs incurred by Epsom Council who brought the prosecution.

An inspection by environmental health officers found raw chicken defrosting at the sink next to a bag of cooked rice while raw meat and ready to eat foods were being prepared on the same work surface.

The cross-contamination, which might have caused food poisoning, came after the owner Simon Tsang had previous given assurances that hygiene would be improved.

He pleaded guilty to three food safety offences at South East Surrey Magistrates Court on Tuesday, January 13.

He admitted to not having a food safety management system in place, not supervising or training staff in food hygiene and not taking steps to prevent cross-contamination.

Councillor Jean Steer, chairman of the social committee, said: “In premises such as the Fortune House, safe and hygienic handling and storage of raw meats and other foods is essential in preventing against the risk of food poisoning, especially that of E. coli O157 cross contamination.

“The council’s environmental health officers aim to work with local businesses to maintain and improve standards and offer advice to help them improve food safety and to comply with food safety regulations.

“However, when a business ignores the advice given to them and puts consumers at risk through their failure to meet accepted hygiene standards, the council will not hesitate to step in to protect the public.”

UK Tesco recalls ‘disgusting smelling’ squash (cordial) drink

I didn’t know what cordial was until I came to Australia, and had to look up the UK version of squash. Seems to be the same: a concentrated fruit extract added with water or other things – I prefer the lime.

tsco.squashTesco has recalled one of its own-brand squash drinks after customers complained of a ”disgusting smell” and parents raised the possibility that it could have caused their children’s stomach upsets.

The supermarket said it had withdrawn the Tesco No Added Sugar Double Concentrate Apple and Blackcurrant 750ml and 1.5l products and was investigating complaints.

They later said a flavour additive had been added in error to the squash, but said it posed no food safety risk

A post on the PlayPennies website alerting users to the recall prompted a flurry of replies from those who said they had opened the squash and noticed an unusual smell while others reported their children had vomited after drinking it.

One poster wrote: ”I bought 2 bottles of this squash over a week to a fortnight ago. We opened one and it smelt absolutely disgusting … the only way to describe the smell was that it had been mixed with used toilet water …”

Clairedavies85 said: ”Had this other day. The smell was horrendous but drank it anyway as I thought they just changed it. Since then both my daughter and partner have had bad bellies.”

A Tesco spokesman said: “A flavour additive, which is not part of the ingredients for this product, has been added in error. The additive is called Dimethyl Disulphide and is a common ingredient in food products.

“It is an approved additive and poses no food safety risk. However, it does have a strong odour, similar to garlic, which customers are likely to find unpleasant.

“We have withdrawn the product from sale. Only products bought since the New Year may be affected, they will have a best-before date of October 2015.

“Any customers can return this product, open or unopened, to any Tesco store.”

The Food Standards Agency has not issued an alert, explaining that it would only do so if it was aware of a ”food safety implication.”

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.

A single food inspection agency: Will it make food safer? Will fewer people get sick?

When it comes to the safety of the food supply, I generally ignore the chatter from Washington and company-types. If a proposal does emerge, such as the creation of a single food inspection agency, I ask, Will it actually make food safer? Will fewer people get sick?

vomit.toiletThat was valid in 2008, the last time Durbin and DeLauro introduced a bill for a single food agency in the U.S., and still valid today.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois plan to introduce the Safe Food Act of 2015, which would create a single, independent federal food safety agency.

The fragmented Federal food safety system and outdated laws preclude an integrated, system-wide approach to preventing foodborne illness,” it says.

Currently most of the responsibility for food safety lies with FDA. USDA oversees meat, poultry and processed eggs.

The bill would merge food safety oversight into a single agency, providing authority to recall unsafe food and improve inspections of imported food.

“Food safety is a critical public health issue,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “But right now, responsibility for food safety is scattered among 15 different agencies. We need one independent agency focused on the safety of the entire food supply.”

“A single food safety agency would allow us to better focus our resources where the greatest risks lie,” Waldrop said. “The Safe Food Act is a strong vision for the future of food safety.”

Maybe.

Or not.

Countries, states, counties and cities have different forms of restaurant inspection oversight and disclosure. It’s a mess, but there’s no clear evidence that one approach works better than another.

With national food safety systems, Canada went single agency in 1997, but it’s got problems, as do Ireland, the U.K., and others.

I’m not against a single food agency (although the U.S. was founded on a series of checks and balances) but would like to see some evidence for the claims that are going to spew forth in the future, based on the rhetoric of 1998, repeated here:

vomit_here_by_seedpix_at_flickrA 1998 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office claimed the U.S. is lagging behind other countries – countries that have single food inspection systems.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said,

“Today’s GAO report shows that America ranked eighth out of eight countries — dead last — in terms of national food safety systems.”

There was no such ranking in the report. There was no ranking at all in the report.

Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-3) said,

“This GAO report highlights how effectively a single food safety agency could protect our food supply. … By focusing on the entire food supply chain, placing primary responsibility for food safety on producers, and ensuring that food imports meet equivalent safety standards. …”

The U.S. system already does that. And the report says nothing about how a single food inspection agency could better accomplish such tasks.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says,

“The GAO report also shows that creating a unified food safety program is technologically and economically feasible, and most important, effective in helping to reduce foodborne illness.”

There were no measures of effectiveness for any of the single food inspection agencies, other than whether public opinion or confidence in the shiny, happy new agencies increased over time based on self-reported surveys. A few advertisements could have accomplished that.

There was certainly no mention of any agency reducing the incidence of foodborne illness. The seven countries studied – Canada, UK, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands – said they reorganized their food inspection agencies to improve effectiveness and efficiency; not one said to improve public health and have fewer sick people.

cat vomitThe GAO report — Selected Countries’ Systems Can Offer Insights into Ensuring Import Safety and Responding to Foodborne Illness – did say:

“The burden for food safety in most of the selected countries lies primarily with food producers, rather than with inspectors, although inspectors play an active role in overseeing compliance. This principle applies to both domestic and imported products.”

That’s good.

“None of the selected countries had comprehensively evaluated its reorganized food safety system … Most of the selected countries use proxy measures, such as public opinion surveys, to assess their effectiveness. Public opinion in several countries has improved in recent years.”

That’s bad.

In Canada, “At the consumer end of the spectrum, the food safety agency educates Canadians about safe food-handling practices and various food safety risks through its Web site, food safety fact sheets, and the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education, a group of industry, consumer, and government organizations that jointly develop and implement a national program to educate consumers on how to safely handle food.”

That’s awful.

To summarize: no rankings, no measures of effectiveness, and not much fact-checking.

Should there be a single food inspection agency in the U.S.? Maybe. But will it enhance the safety of the food supply? Will it mean fewer sick people?

Campy hasn’t stabilized in Ireland

Within Ireland, the Food Safety Authority (FSAI) today stated that campylobacteriosis continues to be the most commonly reported foodborne illness in Ireland with 10 times more cases of campylobacteriosis being reported than salmonellosis. 

campy.chickenSome 2,288 cases of food poisoning due to Campylobacter were recorded in 2013, compared to over 2,600 in 2014.* The FSAI noted the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) annual figures for foodborne illness published today which suggests that the campylobacteriosis figures across Europe have stabilised, but that is not the experience in Ireland. 

The FSAI states that the figures recorded by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland are the highest since campylobacteriosis became legally notifiable in 2004 and requires cross industry and consumer responses to be undertaken to tackle the problem.  The FSAI would support setting a microbiological hygiene standard for poultry meat at European level.  This would create a maximum tolerance level for Campylobacter in poultry which could be reviewed over time.  A similar approach was adopted as part of European controls for Salmonella which proved successful.

According to Dr Wayne Anderson, Director of Food Science and Standards, FSAI, salmonellosis was a major issue in Ireland 15 years ago, but due to the efforts of the Irish industry to control and reduce Salmonella contamination in eggs and poultry there has been a radical decrease in its incidence and impact on public health.

 “A similar effort is now required to reduce Campylobacter infections which can be serious and life threatening in vulnerable people. For Salmonella control, regulations were put in place which set a maximum tolerance for Salmonella in raw poultry amongst other controls. There is a need to set similar tolerance levels for Campylobacter and this would drive new control measures throughout the food chain to reduce its occurrence,” he says. “If the industry from producer right through to retailer comes together to put in specific measures to reduce the level of Campylobacter on poultry like it did for Salmonella, it would have a positive impact on the number of people becoming sick,” he said.

Washington firm recalls boneless beef trim product due to possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination

Washington Beef, LLC, a Toppenish, Wash., establishment, is recalling 1,620 pounds of boneless  beef trim product that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

Beef-Trimmings-85-15The following boneless beef product produced on Nov. 28, 2012, is subject to recall:

  • 60 lb. bulk packs of “TRIM 65/35 (FZN)”        

The product subject to recall bears the establishment number “EST. 235” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The problem was discovered during an internal records audit by the company, which notified FSIS. Product was shipped for further processing to a single grinding facility, then on for use in hotels, restaurants and institutions in Oregon and Washington.         

FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with 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.

Should I stay or should I go? California deli being sued over Salmonella outbreak

A lawsuit was filed this week on behalf of an Oxnard woman alleging she and at least seven others contracted Salmonella poisoning after eating last year at Brent’s Deli in Thousand Oaks.

The suit, filed Monday in Ventura County Superior Court, indicates as many as 21 people might have been victims of the outbreak, including two employees of Brent’s. Yet Ventura County and state health officials never issued a public warning.

Trevor Quirk, a Ventura attorney representing the woman, Stephanie Wehr, said the owners of Brent’s knew there was a problem with Salmonella contamination at the restaurant when his client ate there Aug. 2.

“They had numerous chances to deal with the problem but they failed to do so,” Quirk said.

Marc Hernandez, a managing partner with Brent’s, would not comment on the lawsuit, saying he had yet to see it. But he said “the health and safety of our customers and employees is of the absolute importance.”

“Our focus has always been customer satisfaction and providing a high-quality experience to the thousands of loyal customers who visit our restaurants,” he said in an email.