Mycobacterium marinum cluster linked to handling shrimp in Canada

Health officials with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) continues their investigation into a cluster of six cases of an unusual skin infection that appears to be associated with handling raw shrimp in the Campbellford area.

aquaculture-shrimp-matters-shutterstock_87364793Preliminary lab reports suggest the infections are caused by the slow growing bacterium, Mycobacterium marinum.

The HKPR District Health Unit has investigated five of six cases of the infection with people from the Campbellford area, and all seem to be associated with handling shrimp grown at a local shrimp farm.

Health officials did not name the shrimp farm in question.

Handwashing is never enough: 50 now sick with Salmonella from chicks in Canada

Sure, Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux own 17 chickens, but they’re celebrities, so their poop don’t stink: The Public Health Agency of Canada says contact with live poultry can be a source of Salmonella, even if a bird appears healthy and clean.

jen-aniston-800You can get Salmonella from a bird, its droppings or from environments where birds have been. Proper hand washing is the key to protecting yourself from illness. Always wash your hands immediately after handling birds, cleaning up after them or being in an area where birds have been.

Currently there are 50 cases of Salmonella illness in four provinces: Alberta (27), British Columbia (18), Saskatchewan (4), and Manitoba (1). Eight people have been hospitalized, and all individuals have recovered or are recovering. Individuals became sick between April 5 and May 30, 2015, and all have reported contact with live baby poultry including chicks, turkey poults and goslings. Many individuals reported purchasing live poultry by mail-order or from feed supply storefronts for backyard flocks to produce eggs or meat. Poultry varieties commonly reported include: broiler chickens (meat birds) such as Cornish Giants; egg layers; dual-purpose breeds and turkeys. Traceback investigations have indicated that these birds were ordered from Miller Hatcheries and Rochester Hatchery catalogues. Both catalogues ship birds supplied by a single hatchery in Alberta.

Safest food in the world? Canada sucks, no answers after 130 sick from E. coli in pork

Contaminated pork left Andrea Rohachuk curled for hours in agony next to an Emergency Room toilet.

e.coli.porkIt sickened more than 100 other Albertans – far more than those made ill by the 2012 XL Foods outbreak. Many of the people affected by last summer’s E.coli outbreak were small children left with failing kidneys.

“It was the worst stomach pain,” Rohachuk recalled in an interview.

“I ended up sleeping on the floor of the bathroom in the hospital. It was so horrible.”

After several hospitalized hours on an IV drip she was sent home, armed with meds that made life bearable in four-hour intervals. In hindsight, she’s just glad her young kids didn’t get sick themselves: They usually share their mom’s meal; it was only by chance Rohachuk relented and let them order fried spring rolls of their own.

“You can imagine how narrowly they missed being brutally sick.”

Almost a year later, nobody knows where the bad meat came from or how to stop a similar E. coli outbreak from sickening as many people again.

“It is not known if pork was contaminated as a result of swine infected at time of slaughter, or, contaminated via other sources after slaughter,” Alberta Health Services spokesperson Shannon Evans wrote in an email.

More than a month after dozens of Albertans came down with gastrointestinal illnesses thanks to foodborne E. coli last summer, Alberta Health Services named Edmonton’s Hiep Thanh and Calgary’s V&T Meat as retailers connected with the outbreak. Hiep Thanh was closed by an Alberta Health Services order on Sept. 3, 2014, and re-opened Sept. 18. V&T Meat was closed Sept. 2, reopened Sept. 8, according to the health agency.

Edmonton’s Vinh Fat Foods and Calgary’s Trimming Fresh Meats and Hiep Hoa Asian also recalled products connected to the outbreak.

But the province’s food-safety inspectors never found the slaughterhouse or processing plant where the tainted meat came from.

The retailers involved are part of “a complex pork supplier matrix,” Health Services’ e-mailed statement reads. Each had more than five suppliers and the province doesn’t know which of these five was responsible for the tainted meat.

Asked if not knowing the source of the contaminated pork is cause for concern, Evans wrote:

“The source of illness was pinpointed: it was contaminated pork products. As AHS, our concern is determining the source of human illness, and that has been determined. There is no ongoing concern for public health, related to this outbreak.”

Unknown1Canada is supposed to have health regulations preventing the food you eat from killing or sickening you and ensuring steps are taken to fix things when something goes wrong. Health Minister Rona Ambrose has said Canada has “the safest food system in the world” and accused those raising concerns of fearmongering.

(Ambrose was unavailable to speak with us for this story. Her office referred us to Canadian Food Inspection Agency President Bruce Archibald, who was not available. We’ve been told a Food Inspection Agency vice-president will be able to speak with us this week. We’ll post that once we have it. )

Seventy-eight per cent of Canadians are concerned about the safety of the food they eat, according to an Ipsos poll of 1,005 Canadians conducted for Global News in late May.

And Global News has found at least two occasions in the past year when authorities were left in the dark as to what foodborne illness was making Canadians sick and how to prevent that contamination from recurring.

Canada pledged to beef up food inspection in the wake of the 2008 Maple Leaf listeria outbreak and the 2012 XL Foods E. coli outbreak. But the regulatory backbone to a food safety act passed in 2012 has yet to be put in place. And even as food supply chains become more complex, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has fewer resources to police it and less of an emphasis on preventing outbreaks rather than responding to them after the fact.

On April 15, Canada’s Public Health Agency issued a warning regarding “leafy greens” contaminated with E. coli that had made a dozen Canadians sick in Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan the month before.

“A specific product has not been identified yet, and the investigation is ongoing,” the release stated, adding that consumers should wash their produce and food-preparation tools well, and keep vegetables away from raw meat in the fridge.

Almost a month later, the number of sickened Canadians was up to 13, 10 of them in Alberta. But the tainted vegetable’s source, or even the type of “leafy green” involved, was never identified.

On May 25, the Public Health Agency of Canada posted a notice online saying it had closed the leafy green investigation two weeks earlier — without ever identifying what “leafy green” made 13 Canadians sick.

It’s a problem when no one knows the source of an outbreak, says food safety expert Doug Powell.

“People talk a lot about [food] traceability. But it’s really not that good,” he said. That’s bad for those seeking to nip an outbreak in the bud and prevent the next one.

“You want to learn: ‘How did that happen? And where are the failures? And what can we learn from this going forward?’

“… That costs money.”

The CFIA vowed to clean up its act after numerous regulatory shortcomings were uncovered in the wake of the Maple Leaf and XL Foods outbreaks. An audit by the U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service, which inspects Canadian plants exporting food to the United States, gave the CFIA the lowest possible passing grade (“Adequate”) and found multiple instances where processing plants weren’t in compliance with safety regulations.

An independent review that found the XL Foods outbreak was “preventable” and due to lax safety inspection recommended the CFIA adopt a stronger “food safety culture;” train its inspectors better; do a better job of enforcing its own rules at the plant level; require better documentation and labelling; and be more transparent about recalls and similar issues.

But the government has yet to enact regulations that would bring its 2012 Safe Food for Canadians Act into force. After consulting with the food industry last summer, the federal government is doing more consultations now, this time with smaller businesses. A spokesperson for Ambrose said there’s no timeline to publish the new regulations but “we’ll take the time to get it right.”

Global News went through a years-long access-to-information process to obtain incident reports on E. coli found in Canadian food plants. When we received printouts and a static PDF of the database containing the reports, much of the information pertaining to safety violations or steps taken to address them was censored, apparently due to privacy concerns of the companies involved.

But when it comes to the safety of your food, Powell argues, corporate privacy shouldn’t be an issue: He argues we need more transparency, not less.

Powell compared it to the pass/fail signs on the windows of restaurants: The more a plant is required to tell the public about its safety record, the more pressure there is to do well.

“What they should do is be very public about their food safety efforts. And actually market food safety,” he said. “If you hold them accountable up front, they’ll do a better job of preventing [product contamination].”

The way things stand now, he argues, grocery shopping “is all faith-based.”

“We know there are certain bad performers. How is a consumer supposed to know who a bad performer is?”

Canadian Meat Council spokesperson Ron Davidson says there’s no need for the public to know every time there’s a pathogen at a processing plant.

“If it’s not going on the market then I’m not sure what benefit you would have to that,” he said.

Ten months after she was sickened by tainted pork whose source we still don’t know, Andrea Rohachuk is much more skeptical of the system supposed to keep her food safe.

The same day Rohachuk ordered that ill-fated bowl of pho, provincial health inspectors were at the Calgary restaurant where she ordered it.

They found dirty cooler doors, dishes, grill and ventilator; poorly stored food; open containers of garbage; and a leaky walk-in cooler repaired with duct tape. They were back two days later, and two days after that. But she heard nothing for ages even after reporting her illness to health authorities.

“I think they did drop the ball. They dropped the ball on the inspections and the rest,” Rohachuk said.

“Why did it take weeks to even track it to that pork? …

“I want to forget about it. [But] I think that something needs to be done.”

Canada, how long does it take to write a PR? 13 sick with E. coli infections and possible link to leafy greens

The leafy greens cone of silence continues to silence or impair epidemiology across North America. Public Health Agency of Canada says today that 13 people across Canada were sickened with E. coli O157:H7 with a possible link to leafy greens, and that the investigation concluded on May 12, 2015.

Two weeks is a long time to get approval for a simple press release.

“Although leafy greens were identified as a possible source of illness, a specific source of the outbreak could not be confirmed.

“During the investigation, exposure to leafy greens was identified as a possible source of illness. Leafy greens can include all varieties of lettuces and other green leaf vegetables such as kale, spinach, arugula, or chard. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducted an investigation into leafy greens, however no specific food products were identified as the source of the outbreak.”

And the usual boilerplate:

waynes-world-monkeys-might-fly-out--e1297873880696“Canadians are reminded to always follow safe food handling practices to avoid illness. Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing or eating food. Wash raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly with clean, safe running water before you prepare and eat them.”

Yup, 13 people from Alberta to Newfoundland got sick with the same E. coli because of bad handwashing (not).

Food safety used as union trump card, to no effect, and public discussion of food safety hits new low in Canada

It’s a recurring story, one that Jim Romahn has reported on for decades: the good meat gets exported, the inferior stuff stays at home.

audit.checklist-241x300It’s the same with Australian seafood, unless you know where to buy.

According to Canadian union thingy Bob Kingston, cuts to Canada’s food inspection programs have created a double standard, where meat sold to Canadians is not as well inspected than that destined for export.

“Lives are at risk, [there’s] the real likelihood that people will die. And I hope they wake up to this.”

At a news conference in Edmonton today, Kingston said since January, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has quietly rolled back inspections at meat plants in northern Alberta. Increased inspections were put in place following a 2008 listeriosis outbreak tied to Maple Leaf Foods products, which resulted in 22 deaths.

“There’s no public debate. There isn’t even an industry debate about what’s going on. It’s the rollback of those commitments to protect Canadians,” he said.

He said the CFIA has cut the presence of inspectors in facilities from five days a week to three – but only in plants that produce meat for the domestic market. The presence of inspectors in plants inspecting for export have stayed the same.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, a University of Guelph professor who studies food safety, said the changes do not mean Canadian meat is less safe to eat.

“I don’t think the health of Canadians has been compromised,” he said.

“Canadian-destined meat doesn’t get less attention. It just gets different attention.”

He said given the CFIA’s resources, the agency’s changes are the “right way” to approach inspections. Reducing inspections of plants making domestically bound meat was done because the government has confidence in those facilities. Putting resources towards protecting exports is a vital task, he argued.

Charlebois don’t know much about food safety.

Keith Warriner, director of the food safety and quality assurance program at the University of Guelph, who knows more, said the implication that the meat sold in Canada is unsafe is “a little bit of scare-mongering.”

He said the union’s argument, that fewer inspectors inherently means people are at risk, isn’t true. 

“If you had a policeman on every corner, yes, crime might go down,” he said. 

“But the better thing is, isn’t it, to instill into people not to commit the crime in the first place.”

Warriner pointed to events like the 2012 E. coli outbreak centred around beef from the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., which sickened over a dozen people. He said in that case, the plant had enough inspectors, but that they were not doing the work properly. 

He said a much better solution is to get the meat industry to “take ownership” of food safety.

“You can’t test your way to food safety. You can’t inspect your way to food safety,” he said.

Instead, Warriner would like to see most of the inspection duties being handled by the plants themselves, with federal inspectors looking over a company’s internal inspection records.

Yes, we wrote a paper about that:

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety


Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman


Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.

Oh Canada: Finding source of BSE ‘a needle in a haystack’

Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry-what-Listeria-Ritz says figuring out how an Alberta cow was infected with BSE is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

ITALY-G8-G5-AGRICULTURE-FARMThe beef breeding cow was discovered last month on a farm near Edmonton and was born on a nearby farm.

Another cow born on the same farm in 2004 tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2010.

He says the feed system is also being checked to see if there’s any kind of “smoking gun.”

Ritz says a number of countries that have temporarily suspended imports of Canadian beef are being kept in the loop, but he points out they only account for about five per cent of Canada’s worldwide market.

Because trade is more important than safety.

So Ger, how effective is that ban on mammalian protein in ruminant feed? Got any proof?

Don’t worry, exports won’t be harmed: Another mad cow case in Canada

Gotta wonder just how effective Canada’s ban on mammalian protein in ruminant feed is, given the number of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cases there have been over the past decade.

ITALY-G8-G5-AGRICULTURE-FARMWhen there’s a BSE case, or a foodborne illness outbreak like Listeria in the $5.5 billion a year Maple Leaf Foods, government agencies fall over themselves to assure the public – and trading partners – that everything is fine.

Would the Canadian economy sink were it not for the agricultural behemoths? Probably.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says little more than a week passed from the time the most recent case of mad cow disease was first suspected to when it was confirmed and national trading partners were notified.

A timeline of the case at an Alberta farm has been released on the agency’s website.

The website says a private veterinarian took samples on February 4 at the undisclosed farm and submitted them to a provincial lab.

It says they were tested on February 6 and the lab recorded a “non-negative” test result.

The lab repeated the test the following day with the same finding and reported the case to the CFIA, where the agency conducted its own test in Lethbridge, Alta, to confirm the result.

The CFIA says it started gathering information on the animal’s herd on Tuesday, officially confirmed the case on Wednesday and posted the case to its website and notified Canada’s trading partners on Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Friday that the infected animal was not born on the farm where it was discovered.

Ritz also said the discovery won’t affect Canada’s international beef trade because it won’t change the county’s controlled BSE risk status from the World Organization for Animal Health. He said Canada has stayed below international protocols that allow for up to a dozen BSE cases a year.

Throwing darts: Supposed determinants of future microbial food safety in Canada for risk communication

I don’t know how such shit gets published, but it’s out there.

And has nothing to do with risk communication.

dartThis paper investigates the factors that are affecting food safety in Canada today, and those that will become increasingly important in the future. The tools used to complete this analysis are primarily the review of scientific and “gray” literature, and the analysis of multiple sources of data. We develop a methodology for ranking the factors and rank the factors according to their predicted effect on foodborne disease in Canada. The analysis reveals the top three factors that will be detrimental to food safety as pathogen evolution, increase in temperatures and increase in extreme weather events. Future studies may benefit from an analysis of factors by commodity.

Food regulatory bodies, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, have a finite number of resources to address emerging food safety risks. A framework for ranking factors effecting food safety discussed in this paper will help determine the optimal distribution of resources designated for preventative and mitigative food safety programs and can better assist food regulators in anticipating emerging systemic risks. Although the focus of this paper is on the Canadian context, many of the results may be applied to other Western countries.

 Determinants of future microbial food safety in Canada for risk communication

Journal of Food Safety [ahead of print]

Sylvain Charlebois and Amit Summan;jsessionid=E2E30C24CA9EBAEF43F47AB4DEEA332D.f04t01

More needles found in potatoes at Canada’s Cavendish Farms

Cavendish Farms has confirmed that more potatoes with needles in them have been found at their New Annan, P.E.I. production facility.

potato-needles-720The discovery was made between Dec. 27 and 28.

A representative for Cavendish Farms said Monday that the affected potatoes were harvested in 2014 and that an investigation has narrowed down their farm of origin. These needles (they did not say how many) did not come from Linkletter Farms Ltd. like those found previously.  

They did not, however, say where these new potatoes were from or what led them to believe they are not from Linkletter Farms Ltd.

This would mark the first time tampered potatoes have been traced back to a second farm.

Since October there have been 10 potatoes with needles shoved in them reported to P.E.I. RCMP, though the original discoveries were made in several provinces. All the needles, until now, came from bags of table potatoes from Linkletter Farms Ltd.

“Our established food safety processes and technology worked as they were designed. Food safety is the number one priority for Cavendish Farms,” said Bill Meisner, vice-president of operations.

“The needles were detected through our hazard analysis critical control point processes and technology. Our employees responded as trained. We have full confidence in our safety processes and the safety of our product.”

US finds fault in Canadian inspection

BMG Trading, Inc. an Oakville, Ontario establishment, is recalling approximately 26,108 pounds of pork products that were produced without the benefit of federal inspection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

pork_leg_familyThe Pork Leg Flank products were produced on December 16, 2014. The following product is subject to recall: [View Label]  

1800 lb. (approximate) combo bins containing 65 – 75 legs of “PORK LEG FLANK ON COMBO.”

The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “394” inside the Canadian mark of inspection as well as a health certificate number listed as “CERT. No. CERT. 097400.” These products were shipped to retail locations for further processing in Arizona.

The problem was discovered using the Public Health Information System (PHIS) during a weekly review of import shipment data. It was found that the product failed to present at the Canadian border for FSIS reinspection and was distributed into U.S. commerce.

FSIS and the company have received no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about a reaction should contact a healthcare provider. 

FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution lists will be posted on the FSIS website at