People are getting sick E. coli O157 outbreak at Boston’s Chicken & Rice Guys

Megan Woolhouse of the Boston Globe reports an E. coli O157 outbreak shuttered three locations of the Chicken & Rice Guys, as well as its fleet of Middle Eastern food trucks, Boston health inspectors said Tuesday.

The department confirmed seven cases of E. coli stemming from the Chicken & Rice Guys Allston location, which supplies food to the chain’s other outposts. The problems led to the temporary suspension of its operating license, Boston Inspectional Services Commissioner William Christopher Jr. said.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” Christopher said. “People are getting sick.”

He added that he did not know the condition of any of the people who were affected.

The company’s four food trucks, which rotate locations around Greater Boston, were taken off the road Tuesday afternoon, said Phanna Ky, general manager of the chain’s Medford restaurant, the only location that remained open Tuesday evening.

Christopher said Boston does not have jurisdiction over the Medford location.

Chicken & Rice Guys officials could not be reached.

According to Boston Inspectional Services, the city received an anonymous complaint and opened an investigation Tuesday. Public health officials remained at the Allston site throughout the afternoon trying to determine a specific source of the outbreak, Christopher said.

He added that the department will meet with the chain’s owner on Wednesday morning to discuss a course of action.

Steak tartare: A special kind of stupid

A favorite line in the ice hockey linesman course I take every year to be recertified is, “that player exhibited a special kind of stupid”

Cooks and purveyors of food porn exhibit their own special kind of stupid, especially around raw beef.

The N.Y. Times continues its long history of bad food porn-based advice because, they’re New Yorkers, and they are their own special kind of stupid: at least the uppity ones.

Gabrielle Hamilton writes in the New York Times Cooking section that a hand-chopped mound of cold raw beef, seasoned perfectly, at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon on New Year’s Day, with a cold glass of the hair of the Champagne dog that bit you the night before, will make a new man out of you.

Hamilton writes the recipe calls for 8-10 ounces highest-quality beef tenderloin … and to nestle each yolk, still in its half shell if using raw, into the mound, and let each guest turn the yolk out onto the tartare before eating.

Nary a mention of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli or Salmonella or Campylobacter.

23 sick: E. coli O157 from I.M. Healthy soy nut butter

And who produces this shit that someone slaps a label on? According to legal eagle Bill Marler, it’s Dixie Dew Soy Nut Butter.

What follows is a joint composition, like Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, except we can’t figure out how to post it appropriately, and despite years of asking journalists to make us look cool, we recognize our role in life (hockey coaches).

And since there will be no royalties to haggle over, it’s not a concern.

In 2007, CDC foodborne illness outbreak guru Rob Tauxe told a group of food safety folks that the next big thing for food safety was low-moisture ingredients.

Salmonella is hardy, especially when stressed through drying, so it sticks around for a while in dry ingredients.

The comments were post-Salmonella Tennessee in Peter Pan peanut butter and pre-Salmonella Wandsworth in Veggie Booty (and other outbreaks) and he talked about dried spices and flavorings and peanut butter-type products like hummus and tahini.

Since Rob’s talk, the food safety community has seen lots of Salmonella in low- moisture foods like nuts, spices, chia seed powder and food grade lime stone

Not a food, but the pathogen has even been shown to persist in playground sand.

There’s  been Listeria in hummus and pathogenic E. coli in flour, cookie dough and now soy nut butter (which sounds pornographic).

I.M. Healthy, one of the most ironic product names in the history of food, has been linked to at least 23 E. coli O157 illnesses (including 8 hospitalizations) in nine U.S states.

The good public health folks in Oregon found the outbreak strain in a sample of soy nut butter taken in one of the victim’s homes.

According to CDC,  in interviews, ill people or their family members answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill.

In 2009 when PCA was distributing Salmonella-contaminated peanut paste products to lots of manufacturers, lots of folks were asking questions about how the pathogen survived in the low-moisture environment and whether the outbreak was an indicator that the snack food industry was facing a larger issue. Since then there have been numerous low-moisture food outbreaks (here’s a review from Sofia Santillana Farakos and Joe Franks).

Friends of barfblog Larry Beuchat and Scott Burnett did some of the early work on peanut and Salmonella following an outbreak in Australia and showed that the  pathogen could survive for a long, long time:

Post-process contamination of peanut  butter and spreads with Salmonella may to result in survival in these products for the duration of their shelf life at 5 degrees C and possibly 21 degrees C, depending  on the formulation.’

The almond industry, partnering with the Almond Queen, and friend of barfblog, Linda Harris led the way addressing this issue about a decade ago. After numerous  studies examining Salmonella survival, movement, transfer, persistence and  destruction they’ve implemented a kill-step in their process. The peanut industry, in the wake of two outbreaks followed.

What will the soy nut folks do?

As the outbreak investigation unfolds, and the lawsuits pop up, lots of questions remain:

How much contamination was there (10 cfu/g? 1,000,000 cfu/g)?

Was it co-packed?

Did they have a sanitation clean break between lots?

Why was I.M. Healthy so specific about the recalled lots initially, and then expanded the recall?  Did FDA investigators feel the procedures weren’t effective?

Have they validated their sanitation procedures?

How well did the sanitation crew do their job?

Twenty-three people infected with the outbreak strains of STEC O157:H7 have been reported from nine states. A list of the states and the number of cases in each can be found on the Case Count Map page.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from January 4, 2017, to March 5, 2017. Ill people range in age from 1 to 48 years, with a median age of 8. Twenty (87%) of the 23 ill people are younger than 18 years. Among ill people, 61% are male. Ten ill people have been hospitalized and seven people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses that occurred after February 24, 2017, might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 2 to 3 weeks.

In interviews, ill people or their family members answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill. Twenty (87%) of the 23 people reached for interview reported either eating I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter at home (14 people) in the week before they became ill, attending a facility that served I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter (2 people), or attending childcare centers that served I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter and I.M. Healthy brand granola coated with SoyNut Butter (4 people). SoyNut Butter is a nut-free substitute for peanut butter.

Investigators have reported to CDC two more ill people who either developed HUS or had a diagnostic test showing they were infected with STEC bacteria. In interviews, both of these ill people reported eating I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter in the week before becoming ill. However, CDC is not including these people in the outbreak case count because no bacterial isolates, or samples, were available for DNA fingerprinting. Public health investigators use DNA fingerprinting to identify illnesses that are part of outbreaks.

Laboratory testing identified STEC O157:H7 in opened containers of I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter collected from the homes of ill people in California, Oregon, and Washington. Officials in California also isolated STEC O157:H7 in unopened containers of I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter collected from retail locations. Further testing using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) showed that the STEC O157:H7 in all of these containers of SoyNut Butter had the same DNA fingerprints as the STEC O157:H7 isolates from ill people.

The investigation is ongoing. CDC will update the public when more information becomes available.

Good rock and roll is straightforward, in your face. Bad recalls are slippery, slimey affairs, involving bureaurocratic fucks who can’t imagine life without a job rather than submitting a kid to lifelong kidney problems.

So on the 40th anniversary of AC/DC’s Let There be Rock, please, people, develop a public health spine.

Beam me up Scotty: Health Canada approves radiation to treat fresh and frozen raw ground beef

Rob Mancini writes:

Food irradiation is the treatment of food with a type of radiation energy known as ionizing radiation used to kill microorganisms. In Canada, irradiation has been used on products such as potatoes, onions, wheat and spices.  Health Canada has now authorized the use of ionizing radiation to treat fresh and frozen raw ground beef and permit the sale of these products in Canada.

A number of concerns regarding the use of irradiation were brought forth to the attention of Health Canada including the formation of hydrogen peroxide and alkylcyclobutanones. Health Canada states that hydrogen peroxide is relatively unstable and any residues that may remain on the meat after irradiation are expected to break down to water and oxygen during post-irradiation storage. Alkylcyclobutanones are products referred to as “Unique Radiolytic Products” (URPs) that are derived from fat when irradiated and therefore their presence is directly related to the fat content of the food. These URPs are found in extremely small quantities in irradiated foods, in the order of parts per billion. The overall weight of evidence indicates that the very low levels of these compounds found in irradiated beef do not pose a risk to human health.

I currently live in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada) and have been asked a number of times what I’m doing here, cause of the ridiculous cold and short summers. Family is everything to me and they all live in Winnipeg. My parents have kindly suggested that if I take away their grandkids, nothing good will come from that scenario. Winnipeg is also home to food microbiologist guru Dr. Rick Holley whom I have had the pleasure of working with in the past on the CFIA modernization project ranking biological hazards with food commodities. Here is Dr. Holley speaking on food irradiation:

Jim, maple syrup and anxiety

My friend Jim calms me down almost as much as my puppy, Ted.

I’ve known Jim since about 1996. We collaborated to shut down emotion-not-evidence-based rules on genetically engineered foods in Canada, and he has always brought a practical sense of what a farmer goes through to make a buck.

He also used to terrorize my then young girls by telling them how he shot stray cats left at his dairy farm, because cats carry toxoplasmosis, and it impacted his money-making side.

We were grateful for the three cats from Walkerton.

Jim and Donna’s Walkerton farm is across the road from the source of the E. coli O157 outbreak in 2000 that killed seven and sickened thousands, and I still get chills when Jim recalls another chopper going over the farm, probably another dead person.

Media outlets were broadcasting live from Walkerton, like it was a dam about to collapse.

Or as I said at the time (Jim had to remind me), media wanted cows, manure, river, and townhouses all in one photo.

I spoke with Jim the other day, primarily to balance myself against the most moderate person I know.

Jim has gotten into the maple syrup biz in Ontario (that’s in Canada), he’s got grandkids, like I do, and a seemingly stable situation, running his B&B with Donna, substitute teaching, and new farming ventures.

I admire that.

 

it’s the poop

I was wearing one of our 2006 don’t eat poop T-shirts today as I walked Sorenne to school with Ted the wonderdog.

Most families noticed Ted, but one parent said, “sage advice.”

Clearly someone I could chat with.

He knew all the Australian outbreaks, and said he was in California when spinach happened in 2006, so was a good chat.

But maybe we talk about poop too much. From our artistic (and spelling-challenged) daughter:

12 sick: E. coli O121 outbreak in Canada

This is my dog chewing on kangaroo ribs.

ted-kangeroo-rib-jan-17Go with the protein that is available.

It’s about the same amount of effort the boffins at Public Health Agency of Canada put into announcing an outbreak of E. coli O121 that has sickened at least 12 people from B.C. to Newfoundland.

kangeroo-rib-ted-jan-17There have been 12 cases of E. coli O121 with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in three provinces: British Columbia (4), Saskatchewan (4), and Newfoundland and Labrador (4). The illness onset dates range from November to December 2016. Four individuals have been hospitalized. These individuals have recovered or are recovering. The investigation into the source of the outbreak is ongoing.

I’ll continue to bond with my dog.

Reinfection of cattle with E. coli

Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), like E. coli O157:H7 are frequently detected in bovine faecal samples at slaughter. Cattle do not show clinical symptoms upon infection, but for humans the consequences after consuming contaminated beef can be severe.

epa01322503 View of some of the more than 7,000 cattle that arrived to Liniers Market in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 22 April 2008, to be slaughtered. Argentinean government and the biggest agriculture organizations had been discussing, this morning, the situation of milk sector that is one of the most conflictive topics on the negotiations with cow meat, grains and regional economies. EPA/CEZARO DE LUCA

The immune response against EHEC in cattle cannot always clear the infection as persistent colonization and shedding in infected animals over a period of months often occurs. In previous infection trials, we observed a primary immune response after infection which was unable to protect cattle from re-infection. These results may reflect a suppression of certain immune pathways, making cattle more prone to persistent colonization after re-infection.

To test this, RNA-Seq was used for transcriptome analysis of recto-anal junction tissue and ileal Peyer’s patches in nine Holstein-Friesian calves in response to a primary and secondary Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection with the Shiga toxin (Stx) negative NCTC12900 strain. Non-infected calves served as controls.

In tissue of the recto-anal junction, only 15 genes were found to be significantly affected by a first infection compared to 1159 genes in the ileal Peyer’s patches. Whereas, re-infection significantly changed the expression of 10 and 17 genes in the recto-anal junction tissue and the Peyer’s patches, respectively. A significant downregulation of 69 immunostimulatory genes and a significant upregulation of seven immune suppressing genes was observed.

Although the recto-anal junction is a major site of colonization, this area does not seem to be modulated upon infection to the same extent as ileal Peyer’s patches as the changes in gene expression were remarkably higher in the ileal Peyer’s patches than in the recto-anal junction during a primary but not a secondary infection. We can conclude that the main effect on the transcriptome was immunosuppression by E. coli O157:H7 (Stx) due to an upregulation of immune suppressive effects (7/12 genes) or a downregulation of immunostimulatory effects (69/94 genes) in the ileal Peyer’s patches. These data might indicate that a primary infection promotes a re-infection with EHEC by suppressing the immune function.

Potential immunosuppressive effects of Escherichia coli O157:H7 experimental infection on the bovine host

BMC Genomics; 2016; 17:1049; DOI: 10.1186/s12864-016-3374-y; Published: 21 December 2016

E. Kieckens, J. Rybarczyk, R. W. Li, D. Vanrompay, and E. Cox

http://bmcgenomics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12864-016-3374-y

Huckster: Shed no tears for Odwalla exec making another go of it (and making millions)

This is why avant-garde jazz saxophonists shouldn’t be responsible for food safety

And that’s nothing against avant-garde jazz saxophonists, although I hate jazz.

greg-steltenpohlBut what I really hate is when people make dumb decisions that lead to another’s death, all marketed with the halo of natural, and yet still heralded as some titan of business.

In late Oct. 1996, an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 was traced to juice containing unpasteurized apple cider manufactured by Odwalla in the northwest U.S. Sixty-four people were sickened and a 16-month-old died from E. coli O157:H7. During subsequent grand jury testimony, it was revealed that while Odwalla had written contracts with suppliers to only provide apples picked from trees rather than drops – those that had fallen to the ground and would be more likely to be contaminated with feces, in this case, deer feces — the company never verified if suppliers were actually doing what they said they were doing. Earlier in 1996, Odwalla had sought to supply the U.S. Army with juice. An Aug. 6, 1996 letter from the Army to Odwalla stated, “we determined that your plant sanitation program does not adequately assure product wholesomeness for military consumers. This lack of assurance prevents approval of your establishment as a source of supply for the Armed Forces at this time.”

Once a huckster, always a huckster.

Stephanie Strom of the N.Y. Times reports for the past 20 years, Greg Steltenpohl, an avant-garde jazz saxophonist turned beverage entrepreneur, has worked to rekindle the magic behind his greatest hit — and make peace with a nightmare that led to an abrupt fall.

Food safety issue: Mr. Steltenpohl started the juice company Odwalla in 1980, selling drinks out of his band’s Volkswagen van in and around San Francisco. Within a few years, the company was a multimillion-dollar business, flying high as one of the first breakout healthy drinks now commonplace in grocery aisles.

Then, in 1996, a child died and dozens were sickened because of contaminated apple juice produced by Odwalla, changing everything. About 90 percent of the company’s revenue evaporated almost overnight in the wake of the outbreak. With the company on the brink of bankruptcy, Mr. Steltenpohl and his partners were forced to sell a controlling interest in Odwalla to private equity firms, the equivalent — to him — of selling out to the devil. Not long after, the company was sold to Coca-Cola.

odwalla-cider-e-coliDude, you sold out long before that, pushing production and foregoing safety to make bucks.

Quite a fairytale he spins.

“Odwalla took him to the top of the world and then to the bottom,” said Berne Evans, his business partner today. “I don’t think he’s ever gotten over it.”

But now Mr. Steltenpohl, a gentle and avuncular 62, is once again near the center of beverage industry buzz as the head of Califia Farms, a nut milk business that is fast expanding into bottled coffees and other drinks. This time, he is taking advantage of a new trend sweeping the industry, as young beverage companies — empowered by changes in distribution and consumer tastes — are rising and competing successfully with titans like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

Only a few years after its founding, in 2012, Califia is on track to ring up $100 million in sales and is adding products at a fast clip. The company is considered one of the hottest young brands in the beverage world, leading to whispers about whether one of the big competitors will soon swoop in with a buyout offer that Mr. Steltenpohl and his partners can’t refuse.

Not this time, he insists. “I’ve had to sell out once,” Mr. Steltenpohl said. “That was enough.”

The story has lots of financial stuff, and how people who know shit about food safety market and sell shit to people who don’t know better, and the people who know shit make billions.

With Trump as President, the time is ripe for a comeback, I guess.

Duane Stanford, the editor of Beverage Digest, said a young beverage company today can buy its flavors from a flavor house, branding expertise from a branding expert and manufacturing from a producer on contract.

“You have this situation where these companies can become viable, robust, cash-generating businesses without the help of a big company,” he said. “They’re even getting creative at building independent distribution networks.”

Odwalla came together out of a necessity to eat. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in environmental sciences, Mr. Steltenpohl joined with some friends to start a band called the Stance. He also got hooked on the taste of fresh-squeezed orange juice, which his father made for him.

“We were a band of musicians who weren’t really that accomplished — or popular,” Mr. Steltenpohl said of himself and the band members, who became his partners in Odwalla. “We were broke and starving, and we figured if we started a juice business, we could live off the juice and maybe make a little extra.”

He read a book, “100 Businesses You Can Start For $100,” and the partners invested in a juicer and started making juice. They didn’t even try to break into groceries and convenience stores, instead stocking refrigerators in video stores and laundromats with Odwalla fresh juice each day. “Everyone who was a musician back then was basically living out of a VW bus,” Mr. Steltenpohl said. “We quit living in ours and began selling juice out of the back.”

For most of its early years, the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union financed the company. But as consumers cottoned on to its intensely flavored, wacky mixes of unpasteurized juice, it needed something more.

In October, 1996, a 16-month-old Denver girl drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, California. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider — and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believed that some of the apples used to make the cider might have been ins

The brand’s claims about the healthiness came back to haunt it as reporters dug into its failure to heed warnings about food-safety lapses.

Those failures are legendary in the food safety world, and a similar failure for Steltenpohl to say, “(Coke) never saw the enormous potential of the Odwalla brand and instead saw it as just another product in the juice portfolio.”

It’s also a failure for the N.Y Times to not report how those Odwalla failures went straight to the top..

Odwalla’s brand is nothing more than a cautionary food safety fairytale.

I have many.

Maybe Cafia will become one.

Hucksters.

The story notes that Steltenpohl is also trying to avoid past mistakes. The plant is equipped with cutting-edge food-safety monitors that share alerts about problems as they happen with the entire senior management team. Josh Butt, who previously oversaw food safety systems at Danone, the big French dairy company, presides over the plant’s operations.

Cutting-edge is a phrase that appeals to investors but means shit to any food safety type.

Cutting corners is this guy’s calling card.

And making a buck.

This is what I wrote at the time:

Sometime in late September 1996, 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver has a glass of Smoothie juice manufactured by  Odwalla Inc. After her parents noticed bloody diarrhea, Anna was admitted to Children’s Hospital on Oct. 16.  On 8 November 1996 she died after going into cardiac and respiratory arrest.  Anna had severe kidney problems, related to hemolytic uremic syndrome and her heart had stopped several times in previous days.

The juice Anna — and 65 others who got sick — drank was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, linked to fresh, unpasteurized apple cider used as a base in the juices manufactured by Odwalla.  Because they were unpasteurized, Odwalla’s drinks were shipped in cold storage and had only a two-week shelf life.  Odwalla was founded 16 years ago on the premise that fresh, natural fruit juices nourish the spirit.  And the bank balance: in fiscal 1996, Odwalla sales jumped 65 per cent to $60 million (U.S.).  Company chairman Greg Steltenpohl told reporters that the company did not routinely test for E. coli because it was advised by industry experts that the acid level in the apple juice was sufficient to kill the bug.

Who these industry experts are remains a mystery.  Odwalla insists the experts were the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA isn’t sure who was warned and when.   In addition to all the academic research and media coverage concerning verotoxigenic E. coli cited above, Odwalla claimed ignorance.

In terms of crisis management — and outbreaks of foodborne illness are increasingly contributing to the case study literature on crisis management — Odwalla responded appropriately.  Company officials responded in a timely and compassionate fashion, initiating a complete recall and co-operating with authorities after a link was first made on Oct. 30 between their juice and illness.  They issued timely and comprehensive press statements, and even opened a web site containing background information on both the company and E. coli O157:H7.  Upon learning of Anna’s death, Steltenpohl issued a statement which said, “On behalf of myself and the people at Odwalla, I want to say how deeply saddened and sorry we are to learn of the loss of this child.  Our hearts go out to the family and our primary concern at this moment is to see that we are doing everything we can to help them.”

For Odwalla, or any food firm to say it had no knowledge that E. coli O157 could survive in an acid environment is unacceptable.  When one of us called this $60-million-a-year-company with the great public relations, to ask why they didn’t know that E. coli O157 was a risk in cider, it took over a day to return the call.   That’s a long time in crisis-management time.  More galling was that the company spokeswoman said she had received my message, but that her phone mysteriously couldn’t call Canada that day.

Great public relations; lousy management.  What this outbreak, along with cyclospora in fresh fruit in the spring of 1996 and dozens of others, demonstrates is that, vigilance, from farm to fork, is a mandatory requirement in a global food system.  Risk assessment, management and communication must be interlinked to accommodate new scientific and public information.  And that includes those funky and natural fruit juices.

How the hell could we have known? 10 years later, spinach soundbites fit for the post-truth era

In sentencing me to jail in 1982, the judge said I had a memory of convenience.

I had said I had a memory of not much.

cabbage-head-kithSpinach and lettuce growers seem to have a memory of not much, given the produce industry’s revisions to the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in spinach that killed four and sickened 200.

In October, 1996, a 16-month-old Denver girl drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, California. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider — and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believed that some of the apples used to make the cider might have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces.

Almost 10 years later, on Sept. 14, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that an outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 had killed a 77-year-old woman and sickened 49 others (United States Food and Drug Administration, 2006). The FDA learned from the Centers for Disease Control and Wisconsin health officials that the outbreak may have been linked to the consumption of produce and identified bagged fresh spinach as a possible cause.

In the decade between these two watershed outbreaks, almost 500 outbreaks of foodborne illness involving fresh produce were documented, publicized and led to some changes within the industry, yet what author Malcolm Gladwell would call a tipping point — “a point at which a slow gradual change becomes irreversible and then proceeds with gathering pace” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_Point) — in public awareness about produce-associated risks did not happen until the spinach E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the fall of 2006. At what point did sufficient evidence exist to compel the fresh produce industry to embrace the kind of change the sector has heralded since 2007? And at what point will future evidence be deemed sufficient to initiate change within an industry?

lettuce-skull-e-coli-o145In 1996, following extensive public and political discussions about microbial food safety in meat, the focus shifted to fresh fruits and vegetables, following an outbreak of Cyclospora cayetanesis ultimately linked to Guatemalan raspberries that sickened 1,465 in 21 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1997), and subsequently Odwalla. That same year, Beuchat (1996) published a review on pathogenic microorganisms in fresh fruits and vegetables and identified numerous pathways of contamination.

Date Product Pathogen Cases Setting/dish State
Apr-92 Lettuce S. enteriditis 12 Salad VT
Jan-93 Lettuce S. Heidelberg 18 Restaurant MN
Jul-93 Lettuce Norovirus 285 Restaurant IL
Aug-93 Salad E. coli O157:H7 53 Salad Bar WA
Jul-93 Salad E. coli O157:H7 10 Unknown WA
Sep-94 Salad E. coli O157:H7 26 School TX
Jul-95 Lettuce E. coli O153:H48 74 Lettuce MT
Sep-95 Lettuce E. coli O153:H47 30 Scout Camp ME
Sep-95 Salad E. coli O157:H7 20 Ceasar Salad ID
Oct-95 Lettuce E. coli O153:H46 11 Salad OH
May-96 Lettuce E. coli O157:H10 61 Mesclun Mix  ML
Jun-96 Lettuce E. coli O153:H49 7 Mesclun Mix NY

Table 1. Outbreaks of foodborne illness related to leafy greens, 1992-1996.

By 1997, researchers at CDC were stating that pathogens could contaminate at any point along the fresh produce food chain — at the farm, processing plant, transportation vehicle, retail store or foodservice operation and the home — and that by understanding where potential problems existed, it was possible to develop strategies to reduce risks of contamination. Researchers also reported that the use of pathogen-free water for washing would minimize risk of contamination.

Date Product Pathogen Cases Setting/dish State
Feb-99 Lettuce E. coli O157:H9 65 Restaurant NE
Jun-99 Salad E. coli O111:H8 58 Texas Camp TX
Sep-99 Lettuce E. coli O157:H11 6 Iceberg WA
Oct-99 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 40 Nursing Home PA
Oct-99 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 47 Restaurant OH
Oct-99 Salad E. coli O157:H7 5 Restaurant OR

Table 2. 1999 U.S. outbreaks of STEC linked to leafy greens

 

Yet it would take a decade and some 29 leafy green-related outbreaks before spinach in 2006 became a tipping point.

 

Date Product Pathogen Cases Setting/dish State
Oct-00 Salad E. coli O157:H7 6 Deli IN
Nov-01 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 20 Restaurant TX
Jul-02 Lettuce E. coli O157:H8 55 Bagged, Tossed WA
Nov-02 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 13 Restaurant IL
Dec-02 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 3 Restaurant MN

Table 3: Leafy green outbreaks of STEC, 2000 — 2002.

 

What was absent in this decade of outbreaks, letters from regulators, plans from industry associations and media accounts, was verification that farmers and others in the farm-to-fork food safety system were seriously internalizing the messages about risk, the numbers of sick people, and translating such information into front-line food safety behavioral change.

Date Product Pathogen Cases Setting/dish State
Sep-03 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 51 Restaurant CA
Nov-03 Spinach E. coli O157:H7 16 Nursing Home CA
Nov-04 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 6 Restaurant NJ
Sep-05 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 11 Dole, bagged Multiple

Table 4: Leafy green STEC outbreaks, 2003 — 2005.

So why was spinach in 2006 the tipping point?

It shouldn’t have been.

But it lets industry apologists say, how the hell could we known?

Tom Karst of The Packer reports the crisis of confidence in the status quo of produce safety practices arrived with a thud a little more than 10 years ago.

Beginning Sept. 14 and continuing until Sept. 20, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued daily news releases that flatly advised consumers “not to eat fresh spinach or fresh spinach-containing products until further notice.”

The agency had never before issued such a broad warning about a commodity, said Robert Brackett, who in 2006 was director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutritions. Brackett is now vice president and director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology,

“In this particular case all we knew (was) that it was bagged leafy spinach, but we had no idea whose it was or where it was coming from,” he said in December of this year.

“It was a very scary couple of days because we had all of these serious cases of hemolytic-uremic syndrome popping up and people getting sick, and it was so widespread across the country.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about half of those who were ill were hospitalized during the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak.

“It was shocking how little confidence that FDA and consumers had in the produce industry at that moment,” said David Gombas, retired senior vice president of food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

Given the history of outbreaks, the only thing shocking was that the industry continued to expect blind faith.

“For FDA to say ‘Don’t eat any spinach,’ they blamed an entire commodity, and it became very clear to the produce industry at that moment they had to do something to restore public confidence and FDA confidence in the safety of fresh produce,” Gombas said Nov. 30.

“One of the things that was very different and had the greatest impact was the consumer advisory against spinach — period — regardless of where it came from,” said Trevor Suslow, extension research specialist and director of the University of California-Davis Postharvest Technology Center.

The stark warning — immediately followed by steeply falling retail spinach sales — was issued in the midst of a multistate E. coli foodborne illness outbreak eventually linked to Dole brand baby spinach.

The product was processed, packed and shipped by Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista, Calif., which markets the Earthbound Farm brand.

U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that California’s spinach shipments plummeted from 258,774 cartons in August 2006 to 138,278 cartons in September, a drop of nearly 50%.

Shipping point prices for spinach on the California coast dropped from $8.45-10.45 per carton on Sept. 14 — the day that FDA first issued its advice to avoid for consumers to avoid spinach — to $4.85-6.15 per carton on Sept. 15.

No market was reported by the USDA for the rest of September because supplies were insufficient to quote.

The final update on the 2006 spinach outbreak was published by the CDC in October. By March 2007, the FDA issued its own final report about its investigation on the cause of the outbreak.

The CDC said in October 2006 that 199 persons infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 were reported to CDC from 26 states. Later, the tally of those sickened was raised to 205.

Gombas said the FDA warning in mid-September caused leafy green sales to crash, not fully recovering for nearly a decade.

“There were outbreaks before that, but none of them were as devastating to industry or public confidence as that one.”

The FDA and the California Department of Public Health issued a 51-page report on the extensive investigation into the causes of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with the contaminated Dole brand baby spinach.

The report said investigators identified the environmental risk factors and the areas that were most likely involved in the outbreak. However, they were unable to definitely determine the source of the contamination.

The investigation explored the source of the spinach in 13 bags containing E. coli O157:H7 isolates that had been collected nationwide from sick customers, according to a summary of the report.

Using the product codes on the bags, and employing DNA fingerprinting on the bacteria from the bags, the investigators were able to match environmental samples of E. coli O157:H7 from one field to the strain that had caused the outbreak, according to the report.

The report said E. coli O157:H7 isolates located on the Paicines Ranch in San Benito had a (pulsed-field gel electrophoresis) pattern indistinguishable from the outbreak strain. The report said the pattern was identified in river water, cattle feces and wild pig feces on the Paicines Ranch, the closest of which was just under one mile from the spinach field.

According to investigators, the sources of the potential environmental risk factors for E.coli contamination at or near the field included the presence of wild pigs and the proximity of irrigation wells and waterways exposed to feces from cattle and wildlife.

From 1995 to 2006, researchers had linked nine outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 infections to, or near, the Salinas Valley region. But the 2006 spinach outbreak was different.

There were guidelines for growers in 2006, but not a way to make sure growers were following them, said Joe Pezzini, CEO of Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif.

Convenient.