It was the raw milk that sickened 40 in Wisconsin: Report

State health officials Thursday made public more evidence that raw milk was the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak that sickened nearly 40 people associated with the Durand High School football team, including many players.

santa.barf.sprout.raw.milkIn an investigation report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel through a state open records request, officials said among the 38 people sickened, 32 drank unpasteurized milk and six drank milk which might have been unpasteurized.

Those who fell ill from the Sept. 18 dinner included 33 students and five coaches.

State officials said it was one of the largest raw-milk illness outbreaks they’ve seen. Twenty-six of the illnesses were laboratory confirmed to stem from Campylobacter jejuni, a harmful bacteria sometimes found in unpasteurized milk or undercooked meat and poultry. Ten of those who fell ill were hospitalized.

“Analysis of data pertaining to foods consumed during the team dinner demonstrates that consuming milk during the team dinner was associated with illness,” the report noted.

Last week, state officials said publicly for the first time that the unpasteurized milk served at the dinner came from a farm operated by Roland and Diana Reed, of Arkansaw, located near Durand in Pepin County.

colbert.raw.milkAt least some of the adults and students didn’t know that it was raw milk, according to public health officials. Diana Reed, however, said she had served it at team dinners for seven years.

In an interview, she said she doesn’t believe the milk was to blame for the illnesses — despite evidence that showed Campylobacter in manure on the farm had the same unique genetic “fingerprint” as Campylobacter found in football players’ stool samples.

 

Lesson in epidemiology (not): Wisconsin farmer says raw milk may not have made Durand football team ill

Now that the Reed ranch has been named and shamed as the source of the raw milk linked to at least 38 illnesses of Campylobacter jejuni related to players and staff of the Durand High School football team, the owner is speaking out.

raw.milk.death.1917Diana Reed, whose farm provided the milk said, “Some people got sick who did not drink the milk,” she said Saturday.

State health officials also tested manure of the cows at the Reed ranch and concluded some of the cows contained the strain of Campylobacter that sickened the students.

On Friday, state health officials identified the Reed farm as the source of the milk following an open records inquiry by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But Reed said there could have been other sources of the bug.

“I discussed it with the epidemiologist in Madison. He gave me some statistics — 56 people ate chicken, 38 got sick; 43 people chose to drink milk and 33 got sick,” she said. “They interviewed everyone who was there.”

That leaves five people who did not drink milk, but who still had Campylobacter.

State identifies farms tied to two raw milk illness outbreaks, refuses to hear appeal

A day after The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel publicly revealed that government types weren’t willing to identify two farms that were the sources of raw milk that sickened dozens at school events, some type of sanity has prevailed; the farms have been identified and separately, the state Supreme Court has refused to consider whether a Sauk County farmer was properly convicted of selling raw milk in 2013.


napoleon.raw.milkIn the most recent incident, this fall in Durand, 38 people associated with the Durand High School football team fell ill after a potluck dinner where unpasteurized milk was served. Twenty-six of the illnesses were laboratory confirmed to stem from Campylobacter jejune, a bacteria sometimes found in unpasteurized milk or undercooked meat and poultry.

A state Department of Health Services memo released Friday by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said the milk came from a farm operated by Roland and Diana Reed, of Arkansaw, located near Durand in Pepin County.

The agency also identified a local farm whose unpasteurized milk was tied to the illnesses of 16 people, including students, at North Cape elementary school in Racine County in 2011. It was identified as the Schaal Dairy Farm, according to state officials, who said a relative of the farmer took the milk from the farm to the school, without the farmer’s permission. No action was taken against the owner of the farm.

colbert.raw.milkMeanwhile, Vernon Hershberger had asked the court to review his 2013 conviction for violating a holding order on the sales of raw milk from his farm.

He argued he operates a private buying club that’s not subject to the same rules as a farmer. He also argued that he wouldn’t have been found guilty had an unedited copy of the order been placed into evidence and a judge blocked him from introducing evidence to bolster his defense.

The 4th District Court of Appeals rejected his arguments this past summer. The high court announced Friday it wouldn’t take the case.

UK Health Secretary admits call from Tesco boss over chicken Campylobacter tests

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt (right), has admitted that a Tesco director who is also a former head of the Food Standards Agency contacted the government this summer to argue against FSA plans to publish food poisoning contamination rates for chicken in each supermarket chain.

jeremy.huntThe Guardian reports that the first set of results naming retailers over contamination was supposed to be published in June, but after pressure from other government departments, the FSA backed down. It only put out results in anonymized form in August. When it published individual supermarket results in November, they revealed that, on average, 70% of fresh retail chicken was contaminated with the potentially lethal Campylobacter bug. Campylobacter contamination was found in 64% of Tesco chicken.

Hunt has now acknowledged that Tim Smith, who went directly from his role as regulator at the FSA to a post as technical director of Tesco, requested a telephone meeting in June with one of the health department’s most senior civil servants to discuss the FSA results.

The Department of Health (DoH) refused to answer the Guardian’s requests for information about the incident last month but, responding to a formal letter from the Labour shadow ministerial team, Hunt has now agreed that Smith questioned the naming of individual retailers and the value of publishing the results.

Hunt also acknowledges that Smith’s view were passed by DH to the FSA and the Cabinet Office. He denies, however, that there was any improper influence on the FSA decision. “These communications in no way influenced the decision to delay publication of the names of the retailers,” he wrote. The delay in publishing the names arose because the sample size was deemed insufficiently robust “and may have given a false picture of the situation across the country”, he said.

chickenThe shadow environment secretary, Maria Eagle, accused the government of complacency over the issue. She said: “Consumers will be appalled to learn that ministers have repeatedly failed to take any action to tackle the alarming levels of campylobacter in supermarket chicken. After clearly inappropriate lobbying of the government, the Food Standards Agency decided not to name and shame the retailer[s] alongside levels of campylobacter contamination.

“Instead of being the champion of the consumer, the government is acting as the mouthpiece of the food poisoners.”

Smith’s move from the regulator to a supermarket he had been regulating in October 2012 was approved by the prime minister after guidance from the advisory committee on business appointments (ACOBA), on condition that Smith did not lobby civil servants or ministers on behalf of Tesco for two years.

Tesco is understood to maintain that the contact over campylobacter did not constitute lobbying. A Tesco spokesperson said: “Tim Smith has abided by the restriction agreed with ACOBA on lobbying the government on behalf of Tesco.”

53 sickened with campy in chicken liver pate in 2013, lawsuit likely in Australia

Victims of a mass food poisoning at Australian National University celebration last year intend to launch legal action against the caterer.

pate.beet.dp.mar.12The Canberra Times reports that 53 students fell ill with gastroenteritis after the end of year celebration at Burgmann College.

Some have engaged lawyers with the intention of suing Scolarest, the company that feeds the college of 350 students.

An ACT Health investigation found the likely cause of the outbreak had been “insufficient cooking of campylobacter contaminated chicken livers used in the pate.”

The outbreak was first identified in October 2013 after ANU health service was swamped by gastroenteritis cases among residents of Burgmann College.

Victims reported suffering from symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps, sweating, headache, nausea, and back pain.

ACT Health were notified and found a Valete or valedictory dinner function attended by about 289 people at the college on October 25 was the likely cause.

Fifty-three of the guests were struck down and analysis found those who ate the chicken liver pate carried an increased risk of illness.

Testing of victims revealed the presence of Campylobacter jejuni.

Leftover pate from the function tested positive to the bacteria; however, the strain was different to that found in victims.

chicken-liver-pate-2But a summary of the ACT Health report on the probe concluded that the poisoning was likely to have been  caused by the pate.

Canberra law firm Aulich Civil Law confirmed it had been engaged to act on behalf of 20 poisoned students.

Burgmann College caterer, Scolarest, which is part of the Compass Group, said it had the claims under review.

Shock and shame: Supermarket food safety failings make case for scrutiny

Perhaps my Scottish food safety friend can comment. Thermometers would help.

chicken.thermRichard Lloyd, executive director of Which? makes a strong case in The Scotsman for strong control of Campylobacter.

For the first time, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) named and shamed seven of the biggest supermarkets based on its testing results for Campylobacter. It wasn’t pretty reading, with the food safety watchdog detailing how more than 70 per cent of the fresh chickens it tested were contaminated with the potentially lethal bug.

Asda was found to have the highest levels, at 78 per cent, but none of the major retailers did well in this survey or met the FSA’s agreed joint industry target. The lowest rates were found in Tesco but it still had nearly two-thirds of samples contaminated (64 per cent). The results are a damning indictment of our big supermarkets, and consumers will be shocked at the failure of trusted household brands to stem the tide of increasingly high levels of Campylobacter. Supermarket bosses should hang their heads in shame.

The FSA’s retailer results were actually worse than a previous survey last August which didn’t name individual stores but showed around six in ten fresh chicken samples tested were contaminated with campylobacter. In research we undertook, as part of our new Make Chicken Safe campaign, we found six in ten people (61 per cent) expressed concern about these high levels, with three-quarters (77 per cent) saying they thought they were too high. More than half (55 per cent) thought that there wasn’t enough information available regarding Campylobacter levels in chicken.

By releasing information about which supermarkets are most affected, in the face of extreme pressure from industry to keep it anonymous, we hope the FSA will pile public pressure on the poor performers to improve and give consumers better information about campylobacter levels. We now want to see supermarkets not only publish effective plans to tackle these scandalously high levels but also demonstrate they’re taking real action to make chicken safe.

Although Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning, cooking chicken at temperatures above 70ºC (165ºF) will kill the bacteria. And there are simple ways to minimize cross-contamination at home, for example not washing raw chicken, because the water can spray bacteria onto the surrounding area of your kitchen.

But we don’t think the onus should be on consumers to tackle this bug. Nearly nine in ten people (86 per cent) say they assume the food they buy from supermarkets won’t make them ill, and three-quarters of people (76 per cent) trust that the fresh chicken supermarkets stock is safe to eat. That is why Which?’s Make Chicken Safe campaign is calling for joint action from the supermarkets, regulator and the chicken processing industry to set out action to bring Campylobacter levels under control; and to publish the results of all the campylobacter testing they undertake.

barfblog.Stick It InControls need to be tightened at every stage of the supply chain, from farms to supermarkets. There can be no shirking responsibility – everyone involved in producing and selling chickens must act now and tell consumers what they’re doing to make sure the chicken we eat is safe. It’s now vital that the industry cleans up its act and works hard to restore consumer confidence.

Reducing Campylobacter levels must also be firmly on the agenda for the new food safety body for Scotland, Food Standards Scotland (FSS), which will shortly be established as part of the Food (Scotland) Bill. Consumers need to be confident in the food they are buying and we want the FSS to put consumers at the heart of its work, right from the start.

To do this, FSS needs teeth and a team of experts led by a proactive chief executive who will be a true consumer champion – starting with tackling the campylobacter scandal.

Aussies getting the thermometer message; when will the Brits?

ABC News Australia reports that chicken is Australia’s favorite meat.

chicken.bbq.thermometerThe story goes with the just-cook-it-approach and ignores cross-contamination (isn’t there a better term? I say be the bug, but there’s lots of marketing geniuses out there), but at least Dr Duncan Craig, the principal microbiologist with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), says, “It’s about making sure that the center of the poultry meat gets up to a high enough temperature that would kill off the Campylobacter. So the advice that we put out is that the temperature should be up around 75 degrees [on the inside],” Craig says.

The best way to test whether poultry has been cooked to the right temperature is to use a meat thermometer; Craig says this is especially the case when you’re cooking a large bird such as a turkey.

“I was a skeptic but I use one at home and it actually is really quite effective, and on the converse it saves you from over cooking the poultry, just as much as making sure it’s cooked properly,” Craig says.

Someone’s been reading my soundbites – or not – but it’s gratifying to see the Aussies gravitate towards evidence-based advice, rather than what the Brits offer up: juices run clear and piping hot.

barfblog.Stick It InIn the past, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has found 84 per cent of chicken carcasses tested positive to Campylobacter (22 per cent tested positive to salmonella, another common cause of food poisoning).

Regarding cross-contamination, Dr. Craig says, “I’ve rescued a number of mates who have brought out the plate of marinated chicken skewers and popped them on the barbie. They then cook them to within an inch of their life and go to put them back on the plate, which had the raw chicken meat and the marinade on it.”

UK supermarkets named and shamed over Campylobacter on chicken contamination

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published the cumulative results from the first two quarters of its year-long survey of campylobacter on fresh chickens.

FunkyChickenHiIndividual results by major retailer have also been published.

Retailers aren’t happy.

One of the companies that has helped develop a way to flash freeze the surface of birds to kill campylobacter bacteria after slaughter, Bernard Matthews, said that retailers had been resistant to the extra cost, which is about 4-5p per bird.

However, the Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Asda and Sainsbury’s all told the Guardian they were supporting the trials of technology which rapidly chills or steams the surface of a chicken to significantly reduce levels of campylobacter.

Tesco said it would be helping to fund a full-scale trial of rapid chill technology with one of its suppliers from January to test feasibility on a commercial scale.

Andrew Large, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, which represents the largest producers and processors, said the industry was focusing on about 10 measures that looked promising, but he warned that there was “no silver bullet” to end campylobacter contamination.

The results to date show:

18% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter above the highest level of contamination

70% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter

6% of packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter with only one sample at the highest level of contamination (>1,000 cfu/g)

chicken* Above 1,000 colony forming units per gram (>1,000 cfu/g). These units indicate the degree of contamination on each sample.

In total, 1,995 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens have now been tested, with packaging also tested for most of these samples. Data show variations between retailers but none are meeting the end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.

This 12-month survey, running from February 2014 to February 2015, will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.

Campylobacter is killed by thorough cooking; however it is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 people a year. Poultry is the source of the majority of these cases.

But-just-cook-it doesn’t cut it and fails to account for cross-contamination.

In response, a number of retailers have introduced ‘roast in the bag’ chickens which help limit cross-contamination by minimizing the handling of the raw chicken in the home.

The FSA advises that the data for individual retailers have to be interpreted carefully. Confidence intervals are given for each retailer and the ‘others’ category. These show the likely range of the results allowing for the number of samples taken.

At this half-way stage in the survey the results show, taking the confidence intervals into account, that Tesco is the only one of the main retailers which has a lower incidence of chicken contaminated with campylobacter at the highest level (>1,000 cfu/g), compared to the industry average. Asda is the only main retailer which has a higher incidence of chicken that is contaminated by campylobacter at the highest level, compared to the industry average. However, the results suggest that none of the retailers is achieving the joint industry end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.

chicken.thermAnd what FSA chicken advice would be complete without a recommendation to  “make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.”

This is ridiculous advice from a supposedly science-based agency: use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Meanwhile, The Guardian revealed this week that Tim Smith, the former boss of the FSA who left the regulator to become a director of Tesco, is said to have contacted a senior official in the Department of Health in June to warn that the FSA’s plans could provoke a major food scare, in an apparent breach of the terms approved by David Cameron for his move to industry.

And Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at London’s City University, told The Guardian the results are schocking and that “public should refuse to buy poultry until this is sorted out. This is a public health scandal easily on a par to those of the 1980s and 1990s and reminds me of the outrage over food adulteration and contamination in the mid 19th century. Have we really sunk back to that level?”

Dear British public, be outraged, act, withhold your money until you can have confidence in what you consume. This may not be orthodox public health strategy but it is definitely what history shows works when standards are as dire as these results show them to be.

Marks & Spencer to tackle challenge of reducing levels of Campylobacter in whole chickens

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has announced details of its five point action plan to tackle the industry-wide challenge of reducing levels of Campylobacter in whole chickens.

borat.chickenThe measures, which have been in place for the majority of M&S chickens sold since the end of September, include even clearer front-of-pack labelling and double bagging whole chickens so they can be placed straight into the oven without the need to unwrap and handle the chicken. Action is also underway on M&S farms with bonuses paid to farmers who produce Campylobacter free farms and innovative new safety technology in place on the production line.

The M&S five point action plan has been implemented with 2 Sisters Food Group (M&S’ biggest supplier of whole chickens) since the end of September and will be rolled out to the remainder of the M&S supply chain by the end of the year.

Thermometers?

Step away from the turkey II: bad advice from experts?

Thanksgiving brings a flurry of turkey tips, but the folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension seem to have some conflicting advice.

More-doctors-smoke-Camels-than-any-other-cigaretteUniversity of Illinois Extension says, “Wash the turkey inside and out and pat skin dry with paper towels,” yet most other Extension advice is, don’t wash the damn bird, you’ll have bacteria flying everywhere.

And, if smoking is allowed inside, provide guests with deep ashtrays After the guests leave, check inside, under upholstery and in trash cans for smoldering cigarette butts.