Doering: Label raw milk cheese

Ronald L. Doering, BA, LL.B. MA, LL.D., a past president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and now counsel in the Ottawa offices of Gowling WLG, writes in his Food in Canada column that the science keeps piling up.

ron.doeringIt is not safe to consume raw milk and its products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced studies that show again that pathogens from raw milk including tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, Salmonella, Listeria, and many other bacterial infections make it unsafe for human consumption. A comprehensive study was released last month by Belgian authorities that concluded that “raw milk poses a realistic health threat due to possible contamination with human pathogens.” Interestingly, the same study found that there was “no substantial change in the nutritional value of raw milk or other benefits associated with raw milk consumption,” but that’s a story for another day. And, of course, the unfortunate proof keeps coming, with hundreds of outbreaks, many deaths and thousands of illnesses just in the last few years due to raw milk and raw milk cheese.

Just because raw milk and raw milk cheese are not as safe as if they were pasteurized doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be banned. That is why regulations around the world are so inconsistent. The sale of raw milk is illegal in Scotland, but legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (indeed our future king will drink nothing else, a fact that could be used by both sides of the debate!). South of the border the states are roughly evenly divided, but interstate commerce is banned. Raw milk and most raw milk cheeses are banned in Australia but legal in New Zealand. In Canada, the sale of raw milk directly to consumers is prohibited by a variety of provincial provisions and it is a federal crime to sell unpasteurized milk under B.08.002.2(1) of the Food and Drug Regulations.

Canada continues to allow the sale of raw milk cheeses aged over 60 days, but provides this clear warning: “Health Canada’s ongoing advice to pregnant women, children, older adults and people with a weakened immune system is to avoid eating cheese made from raw milk as it does present a higher risk of foodborne illness than pasteurized milk cheeses. If consumers are unsure whether a cheese is made from pasteurized milk, they should check the label or ask the retailer.”

raw-milk-cheeseWhen I first wrote about this issue three years ago I pointed out the regulatory absurdity of the last sentence in the Health Canada (HC) warning. There is no requirement to label and most retailers have no idea if the cheese is made from raw milk, and have no means to determine if it is. At the time I received an informal response to my article from a senior official advising me that before moving to mandatory labelling, HC was going to partner with FDA to do a risk assessment of raw milk cheese, focusing specifically on the risk of illness from Listeria monocytogenes. The results of this risk assessment were released last summer: “The risk of listeriosis from the consumption of soft-ripened cheese made from raw milk is substantially larger than that for consumption of soft-ripened cheese made from pasteurized milk and the 60-day aging regulation actually increases the risk of listeriosis for consumption of raw milk cheeses.” The risk was found to be from 50 to 160 times greater. This resulted in HC issuing a Voluntary Guidance to manufacturers that included suggestions to industry to do regular testing of both the raw milk and the cheese and that “Manufacturers should consider labelling their products with the words ‘made from raw or unpasteurized milk’ on the front panel display and/or in the list of the ingredients.”

The Guidance document seeks feedback from stakeholders before developing new “policy and/or regulatory options.” Here’s mine, again: stop the bureaucratic dithering and do what the Americans, Brits and Europeans have already done – make it mandatory for all manufacturers to label their raw milk cheeses. It’s useless, as they say, to try to reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, so if we can’t stop people from consuming raw milk and its products, then let’s at least ensure that it is not consumed unknowingly particularly by children, the elderly or expectant mothers. HC now requires unpasteurized juice to be labelled. Who’s against mandatory labelling of raw milk cheese?

Parasites at retail: Not so much (cause testing don’t tell ya much)

Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium are protozoan parasites which infect humans, primarily through contaminated food and water. Cyclospora is endemic in a number of subtropical and tropical countries. Cryptosporidium infection can be found in people worldwide. Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium infections can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including, but not limited to, diarrhea, weight loss, cramping, flatulence, nausea, fatigue and low grade fever.

basil.salmonellaCyclospora and Cryptosporidium were ranked 13th and 5th, respectively, out of 24 parasites in overall global ranking for their public health importance by a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) expert committee (September 3 to 7, 2012). Produce such as fresh herbs and berries have been identified in the past as sources of Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium contamination in Canada. This survey focused on fresh herbs, berries, green onions and mushrooms.

The objective of this survey was to determine the occurrence and distribution of Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium contamination in fresh produce such as herbs, berries, mushrooms and green onions. A total of 1,590 samples were analyzed for the presence of Cyclospora and 1,788 samples were analyzed for Cryptosporidium. Samples were collected at retail from various regions across Canada between May 2011 and March 2013.

raspberryOf the samples analyzed for Cyclospora, none were positive for the parasite. Of the samples analyzed for Cryptosporidium, six samples of green onions, one sample of parsley, and one sample of mushroom were positive, however, the analytical method used to detect the parasites in the samples cannot determine if the parasite is viable and potentially infectious. It is important to note that there were no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of the products found to be positive for Cryptosporidium. Positive results are followed up by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). In this case, because of the perishable nature of the products and the time elapsed between sample pick up and the completion of analysis, the fresh product was no longer available on the market when the parasite was detected. As such, no direct follow up was possible. This information was used to inform CFIA’s programs and inspection activities.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates and provides oversight to the industry, works with provinces and territories, and promotes safe handling of foods throughout the food production chain. However, it is important to note that the food industry and retail sectors in Canada are ultimately responsible for the food they produce and sell, while individual consumers are responsible for the safe handling of the food they have in their possession. Moreover, general advice for the consumer on the safe handling of foods is widely available. The CFIA will continue its surveillance activities and inform stakeholders of its findings.

Who came first? US says Canada has comparable food safety

Not only the title of a great Pete Townsend solo record, or pissing matches of varying degrees, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) signed an arrangement with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Department of Health Canada (Health Canada) recognizing each other’s food safety systems as comparable to each other. The arrangement was signed at a meeting of the FDA-CFIA Health Canada Joint Committee on Food Safety. This is the second time that the FDA has recognized a foreign food safety system as comparable, the first being New Zealand in 2012. A similar system recognition process is underway between FDA and Australia and the European Commission.

Fancy food ain’t safe food: Brits pushing for full restaurant grade disclosure, including Michelin starred

Australia take note: Even though Toronto, Los Angeles and New York City have all figured out mandatory disclosure of restaurant inspection grades on the door – you know, when people might actually make a decision – the Brits and Aussies opted for a voluntary system, so if a restaurant gets a 2-out-of-5 it’s just not posted.

wtf_mate_ornament_roundWales already has a mandatory system and Northern Ireland will have one in October.

But not England or Scotland.

The Telegraph reports that the UK government came under pressure last night from council leaders who called for a change in the law to force high-class establishments – even Michelin starred ones — to publicise their hygiene rankings in a bid to reduce the risk of diners eating unsafe food and becoming ill.

The change would affect all restaurants but those with Michelin stars are set to be hit particularly hard, as research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows their rankings are generally lower than many familiar chain restaurants.

I repeat, Michelin-starred restaurants generally rank lower than chain restaurants.

Fancy food ain’t safe food.

In December, FSA found 83pc of high street chains were given the best rating of five out of five, compared to just 55pc of Michelin star restaurants.

Michelin stars, a mark of exceptional quality food, are awarded to businesses by mystery shoppers and are judged independently of the official hygiene ratings.

Safety and quality are altogether different measures.

(Safety and quality are different measures, see below.} 

The FSA said all businesses should be able to reach this top rating of five.

But Bruce Poole, owner of Chez Bruce, a Michelin star restaurant in Wandsworth with a hygiene rating of lower than five, defended top restaurants which did not score top marks.

fancy.food.shitHe said: “It is very difficult for restaurants like ours as unlike high street chains which have restricted menus, we have fresh food coming through the day – sometimes up to 70 different items. We have to be able to show that all these pieces of produce have been handled correctly. For example we were downgraded from five stars because we couldn’t prove that we had frozen some fish at the correct temperature.” 

Simon Blackburn, Blackpool councilor and chairman of the Local Government Association safer and stronger communities board, said: “It’s not always easy for people to judge hygiene standards simply by walking through the front door of a premise and know whether they are about to be served a ‘dodgy’ meal that could pose a serious risk to their health.”

An FSA spokesperson said: “We very much favour making this system compulsory in England too, as we believe this will be better for consumers. It will also be better for businesses that achieve good standards as they will get more recognition and it will increase the spotlight on those not meeting the grade.”

“Anyone in England who sees a business without a hygiene rating sticker currently has to decide if they want to eat or buy food there without knowing what’s going on in the kitchen” said councillor Simon Blackburn, the chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board.

“It’s not always easy for people to judge hygiene standards simply by walking through the front door of a premise and know whether they are about to be served a ‘dodgy’ burger or kebab that could pose a serious risk to their health.

“Councils always take action to tackle poor or dangerous hygiene and improve conditions and see first-hand what shockingly can go on behind closed doors at rogue food premises.

smiley.faces.denmark.rest.inspection“Businesses have recently been prosecuted for being riddled with mice or cockroach infestations, rodent droppings on food and caught with a chef smoking when preparing food.”

Mandatory display of food hygiene ratings is supported by the consumer organization Which?, the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health and many environmental health officers.

Last year Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant in Mayfair, London, scored just two out of five after inspectors found cockroaches on the premises. Immediate steps were taken and Maze now scores top marks.

The LGA released details of recent food safety breaches, including in Croydon where more than 100 food outlets failed to meet expected hygiene standards last year, including 22 on a single street.

Over to you, Australia.

Diamond Pet Food, Costco pay settlement in Canadian Salmonella cases in pets

Diamond Pet Food and Costco have begun paying settlements to Canadian pet owners who say their pets required screening and/or treatment, or the pets died, after they were exposed to Salmonella in 2011 and 2012.

diamond.pet.foodA class action lawsuit was filed against Diamond Pet Foods and its distributor, Costco, after pet illnesses and some deaths occurred. While admitting no liability, the companies agreed to settle the lawsuit to avoid lengthy litigation. The settlement was announced in March 2016.

Attorney Jeff Ornstein, who heads the class action firm, Consumer Law Group, said Costco is notifying 115,000 customers who purchased the pet food by an automated phone call, announcing that the settlement is available.

To be eligible, consumers must have purchased Diamond Pet Food, recalled on April 6, 26 or 30, 2012,  or on May 4-5, 2012, and did not return the recalled produced or exchange, and did not already sign a release with Diamond or Costco.

The amount of payment depends on the damages sustained and varies from the cost of replacing the pet food to larger amounts to cover the costs of veterinary care, or costs related to the death of the animal.

The class action filing says one consumer’s dog became extremely ill after eating Kirkland Signature Super Premium Adult Dog Lamb, Rice & Vegetable Formula – a Diamond Pet Food Brand made for Costco – and required treatment and lab tests by a veterinarian.

The companies told the consumer about the Salmonella contamination but would not compensate the consumer for the veterinary bills because the consumer did not have an empty bag or proof of purchase for the dog food.

Collaboration two-step: 12 sick with hep A from frozen cherries grown who knows where

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with federal and provincial public health partners to investigate an outbreak of Hepatitis A infections in three provinces linked to the frozen fruit product: Nature’s Touch Organic Berry Cherry Blend.

clear.present.dangerThe Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a food recall warning advising Canadians of the recall of the frozen fruit product that has been distributed in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Public Health Agency of Canada advises Canadians not to consume the frozen fruit product Nature’s Touch Organic Berry Cherry Blend sold exclusively at Costco warehouse locations in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.  If you suspect you have been exposed to the recalled product, or have symptoms consistent for Hepatitis A, see your health care provider immediately. Vaccination can prevent the onset of symptoms if given within two weeks of exposure.

Currently, there are 12 cases of Hepatitis A in three provinces related to this outbreak: Ontario (9), Quebec (2), and Newfoundland and Labrador (1). Individuals became sick in February and March of this year. Some of the individuals who became ill have reported eating the recalled product. The majority of cases (58%) are male, with an average age of 37 years. Three cases have been hospitalized.

Costco, where you getting those cherries from?

 

Beaver fever: Petting zoos, untreated water primary sources of Giardia at home and abroad

The purpose of this study is to determine how demographic and exposure factors related to giardiasis vary between travel and endemic cases.

beaver.feverExposure and demographic data were gathered by public health inspectors from giardiasis cases reported from the Region of Waterloo from 2006 to 2012. Logistic regression models were fit to assess differences in exposure to risk factors for giardiasis between international travel-related cases and Canadian acquired cases while controlling for age and sex. Multinomial regression models were also fit to assess the differences in risk profiles between international and domestic travel-related cases and endemic cases.

Travel-related cases (both international and domestic) were more likely to go camping or kayaking, and consume untreated water compared to endemic cases. Domestic travel-related cases were more likely to visit a petting zoo or farm compared to endemic cases, and were more likely to swim in freshwater compared to endemic cases and international travel-related cases. International travellers were more likely to swim in an ocean compared to both domestic travel-related and endemic cases.

These findings demonstrate that travel-related and endemic cases have different risk exposure profiles which should be considered for appropriately targeting health promotion campaigns.

Beaver_FeverA comparison of exposure to risk factors for giardiasis in non-travellers, domestic travellers and international travellers in a Canadian community, 2006–2012

Epidemiology and Infection, Volume 144, Issue 5, April 2016, pages 980-999, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0950268815002186

L. Swirski, D. L. Pearl, A. S. Peregrine, and K. Pintar

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=10216090&utm_source=Issue_Alert&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=HYG

Going public: During a foodborne illness outbreak, fewer people barfing at bottom of CFIA’s priorities

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a Protocol for CFIA’s sharing of information during food safety investigations and recalls.

bureaucrat.pink.flyodThe document contains lots of boilerplates about how “CFIA and the food industry share a common goal of safeguarding food in Canada,” and “high profile food recall situations can create intense media scrutiny, increased expectations from stakeholders as well as heightened public interest for the desire for more information and transparency around food safety investigations and outcomes.”

Recent independent reviews and government action plans, such as the Independent Review of XL Foods Inc. Beef Recall 2012 and the 2013 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada have recommended improvements in communication and increased information sharing with both stakeholders and the public during food safety investigations and recalls (they seem to have forgotten the Weatherill report on the 2008 Listeria outbreak that killed 22 Canadians and highlighted abysmal communications).

There’s lots of bureau-speak and legalese, and a noseestretcher that describes the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Health Canada, Provincial and Municipal Health Authorities as “other governments.”

There’s also lots of predictions about a rosy disclosure future under the Safe Food for Canadians Act, but two key issues are vaguely disregarded.

“When a food product has been assessed as representing a risk, information relating to the nature of the problem and level of risk posed may be shared with the CFIA’s Canadian government partners.”

How is that risk assessed? Does epidemiology count? Or only a direct positive in an unopened package, which is virtually impossible in produce-related outbreaks.

bureaucratThe other is “CFIA’s obligation to protect confidential business information and personal information significantly limits releasing information to third parties and the public during active food safety investigations. In addition, the integrity of the food safety investigation, namely the ability to collect and analyze information, including product samples, needs to be maintained.

“For food safety investigations that are complex, have potentially broad implications or are otherwise likely to result in high profile situations, the CFIA engages with potentially affected national industry associations by sharing information that is not confidential business information or personal information for the purpose of providing advanced notice. This may occur, for example, after a public alert is issued in a foreign country, or a foodborne illness outbreak is declared in Canada and is pointing to a specific commodity.”

Government finds everything complex and high profile, so how this test is applied remains a mystery.

Remain calm: CFIA says no Canadian meat plants at risk of being delisted in US, but questions remain

Kelsey Johnson of iPolitics reports the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says no Canadian meat plants are at risk of losing their trade status with the United States and that issues raised in a 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture audit of meat, poultry and egg plants have been resolved.

remain.calm.animal.house“There are no outstanding issues and there was never any impact on trade,” CFIA Associate Director of Operations Barbara Jordan said in teleconference Tuesday afternoon.

“The final audit report confirms that Canada’s meat, poultry and egg inspection systems are equivalent to the U.S. inspection systems and that all Canadian federally registered establishments permitted to export to the U.S. can continue to export goods.”

The CFIA’s response came after The Globe and Mail reported Monday the agency had until March to respond to the Americans final findings. Failure to do so, the Globe report indicated, could see audited Canadians plants lose their ability to export products to the United States.

That’s simply not the case, the CFIA said Tuesday. “No, there is no risk of delisting,” Jordan stressed.

Canada’s food safety system, Jordan said, undergoes “routine” international equivalency audits and conducts similar audits on other countries. These audits, she said, are expected to “identify opportunities for improvement” in Canadian plants.

“This is very routine to have findings in all audits. It would be an unusual to have an audit that results in no findings.”

Still, the 2014 USDA audit of five meat inspection plants came two years after another USDA audit of seven meat plants raised similar sanitary concerns.

At the time, then Health Minister Rona Ambrose defended the CFIA, insisting Canada had one of the “healthiest and safest food safety systems in the world.”

Asked Tuesday about the USDA findings on plant sanitation, Jordan said the agency takes immediate action to rectify issues at the plant level. “Certainly, the sanitation issues are dealt with immediately, on the spot and inspectors have a range of tools they can use.”

So who does the Listeria and other microbial testing, the plants or CFIA or both? And why aren’t those results public?

They ain’t growing cantaloupes in Vancouver in Feb.

Freshpoint Vancouver, Ltd. is recalling Del Monte and Sysco Imperial Fresh brand cantaloupes from the marketplace due to possible Salmonella contamination. Consumers should not consume and retailers, hotels, restaurants and institutions should not sell, serve or use the recalled products described below.

cantaloupe.salmonellaConsumers who are unsure if they have the affected cantaloupes are advised to check with their retailer.

Recalled products

Brand Name Common Name Size Code(s) on Product UPC
Del Monte Cantaloupe 1 count Sold up to and including February 18, 2016 PLU 4050
Del Monte Cantaloupe (case) 12 count Lot 360012 None
Sysco Imperial Fresh Cantaloupe 3 count Lot 127 12 035 5 None

Check to see if you have recalled products in your home. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased.

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.

Illnesses

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.