Texas family bouncing back after two boys sickened by E. coli last year

In May 2013, public health buffoon Dr. Eric Wilke of the Brazos County Health Department in College Station, Texas, declared to a press conference that an E. coli O157 outbreak that landed two brothers in hospital was “a fluke” as he chowed down on a beef taco from the implicated Coco Loco Mexican restaurant.

A year later, KBTX.com reports Jack and Noah Melton were hospitalized for weeks at Texas Children’s Hospital and they haven’t fully recovered from what happened last April 16th when the family went for a meal at Coco Loco Mexican Restaurant on George Bush Drive in College Station.

“We had several touch and go moments,” said Alissa Melton, the boys’ mother.

“Potential life and death situations,” said their dad Greg Melton.

“There were times we weren’t sure they were going to make it the next hour you know. And when you have your 18-month-old staring at you lifeless, pale and white and doctors are rushing in there’s nothing more terrifying. And they were sick you know just from eating a taco,” said Alissa Melton.

The Meltons are grateful for all the prayers, encouragement and help from the community as they reflect on this Good Friday.

“I think if we learned anything it’s that we’re not in control and that we can’t control every aspect of our lives and that you know that we can trust God with our lives and with our kids’s lives,” said Alissa Melton.

The U.S. can do better than faith-based food safety.

Just wash it doesn’t cut it; new research shows how E. coli O157:H7 binds to fresh vegetables

Research presented today at the Society for General Microbiology’s Annual Meeting in Liverpool shows that the disease-causing E. coli O157:H7 interacts directly with plant cells, allowing it to anchor to the surface of a plant, where it can multiply.

cow.poop.spinachResearchers from the James Hutton Institute in Scotland have identified that E. coli O157:H7 uses whip-link structures on its surface known as flagella – typically used for bacterial motility – to penetrate the plant cell walls. The team showed that purified flagella were able to directly interact with lipid molecules found in the membranes of plant cells. E. coli bacteria lacking flagella were unable to bind to the plant cells.

Once attached, the E. coli are able to grow on, and colonize, the surface of the plant. At this point, they can be removed by washing, although the researchers showed that a small number of bacteria are able to invade inside the plant, where they become protected from washing. The group have shown that E. coli O157:H7 is able to colonise the roots of both spinach and lettuce.

Dr Nicola Holden, who led the research, says: “This work shows the fine detail of how the bacteria bind to plants. We think this mechanism is common to many foodborne bacteria and shows that they can exploit common factors found in both cow.poop2plants and animals to help them grow. Our long term aim is to better understand these interactions so we can reduce the risk of food-borne disease.”

The researchers believe that the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria use the same method of colonizing the surface of plants as they do when colonizing the intestines of animals. The work shows that these bacteria are not simply transported through the food chain in an inert manner, but are actively interacting with both plants and animals.

21 sick, 1 dead from E. coli O157 linked to Gort’s cheese in Canada last year; source not known

Seven months after their world was shaken, the owners of Gort’s Gouda cheese farm are still working to get their business back on solid ground.

“It’s been a tough haul. We’re working hard at rebounding, it’s looking positive. It’s going to be a long haul, but that’s okay,” said Kathy Wikkerink, who owns the farm with her spouse Gary.

gorts.cheese.O157In February, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a report on its food safety investigation at the farm. It was initiated on Sept. 14, 2013 following a cluster of E.coli 0157:H7 illnesses that were believed to be related to consumption of cheese products from Gort’s.

Twenty-one people were eventually reported with E.coli-related illness and recovered, while one woman died.

Pinpointing the contamination couldn’t be done.

“Despite extensive efforts, the CFIA concluded that there was no evidence available to confirm the source of the E. coli O157:H7 contamination,” states the report.

“The CFIA identified areas for improvements at the processing facility and requested Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm to submit a corrective action plan. The company was requested to make enhancements in sanitation practices, equipment design and building maintenance.”

It adds that, “all food safety concerns identified during the investigation have been corrected. Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm corrected other administrative and non-food safety related issues within accepted time frames.”

Kathy says the bulk of the requirements for the business involved paper work, “bigger paper trails.”

Under “root cause analysis,” the report points to raw milk cheese products.

“Overall evidence indicated that there were a number of opportunities for contamination to occur in the earlier stages of the raw milk cheese manufacturing process.

“The potential for contamination during cutting, handling and packaging was also found to be a possible risk factor.”

Handheld inspection tool may increase food safety for soldiers

Military food inspectors may one day hold the key to avoiding foodborne illness in the palms of their hands. The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is working to develop a small, sensitive, hand-held device that will both capture and detect dangerous pathogens that can cause food-related illness. 

The effort received a 2013 U. S. Food and Drug Administration leveraging and collaboration award. Under the award, scientists from Food Protection Team and Macromolecular Sciences and Engineering Team at the Natick Soldier Research, napoleonDevelopment and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, are collaborating with the FDA, Winchester Engineering and Analytical Center, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NSRDEC originally came up with the idea of conductive membrane sensors and performed the initial research under the Army’s 6.1 basic research programs. This research is the basis for the collaboration with the FDA and MIT.

The food inspection tool will reduce the danger soldiers face from contaminated food. Food safety is critical to combat readiness. Soldier performance, quality of life, and health can be seriously affected by undetected pathogens in food.

“Military operations at some overseas locations where food is procured locally and food safety laws are lenient, are especially problematic. Soldiers can lose a lot of time from work because they get sick from pathogens present in water and food,” Andre Senecal said. “We are starting our work with E. coli O157:H7, but the goal is to look at all microbial pathogens and toxins that they produce.”

“The leading cause of illness among troops has historically been gastroenteritis, with one of the primary culprits being E. coli,” McGraw explained.

Biosensors consist of a biological component, such as an antibody or DNA that is capable of capturing, detecting and recording information about a measurable physical change in the biosensor system.

E. coli O157 death of Minnesota 4-year-old seen as isolated case

The death of a 4-year-old Pelican Rapids girl, who fell ill after becoming infected with a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria, was an isolated case, a health official said Monday.

Sophia Amy Odens started having flu-like symptoms Feb. 5, and she was hospitalized the next day in Detroit Lakes, according to her obituary, which ran Sunday in The Forum.

Odens was soon transferred to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, and tests revealed she was infected with the O157:H7 strain of E. coli. The strain brought on hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which caused her kidneys to shut down, the obituary said.

On Feb. 7, she was flown to Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., and she underwent multiple surgeries and dialysis. She died Feb. 11, a day after her fourth birthday, her obituary said.

Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health, said his agency was aware of Odens’ death and that no other related cases had been reported. Schultz did not know how the girl became infected. E. coli can be spread through contaminated food or water, or contact with people or animals.

235 sickened; settlement in 2008 Harvey’s E. coli O157 outbreak

In October, 2008, 235 cases of E. coli O157:H7 were linked to a Harvey’s restaurant in North Bay, Ontario, Canada.

Health authorities fingered Spanish red  onions as most likely source of the outbreak
, and that poor sanitation of onion dicer may have prolonged harvey'sthe outbreak.

Justice Patricia Hennessy of the Superior Court of Justice approved a settlement earlier this month that would see class members receive between $1,000 and $7,250, depending on how long their symptoms lasted.

Under the settlement, some claimants who had symptoms for more than two days can be assessed to receive out-of-pocket expenses, including lost wages.

During the outbreak, 360 symptomatic people were reported to public health for investigation and 235 met the outbreak case definitions.

A total of 50 cases were laboratory confirmed for E. coli, three of which were secondary cases.

No deaths were associated with the outbreak, but 26 people were hospitalized, and one case of hemolytic uremic syndrome in a child was reported.

Evaluating E. coli O157 control in Finnish primary production

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 3, March 2014, pp. 352-521 , pp. 371-379(9)

Leimi, Anna; Mikkelä, Antti; Tuominen, Pirkko


Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) has become a threat in the modern cattle sector because of its adverse impact on human health. Systems have been developed to reduce the risk of EHEC infection associated with the beef production chain. In Finland, the risk management of EHEC is mainly targeted at primary production, which is controlled by a national program. The prevalence of E. coli O157 in slaughter animals and herds finnish-04appears to have remained relatively low over the years (0.2 to1.2% and 0.3 to 1.5%, respectively). The effectiveness of the Finnish EHEC control program (FECP) was analyzed with a Bayesian statistical model based on the results from 2006 through 2010. According to the model, the estimated true prevalence of EHEC in slaughter animals was at its highest in 2007 (95% credible interval [CI], 0.94 to 1.85% of animals), and the estimated true prevalence in herds was its highest in 2007 (95% CI, 1.28 to 2.55% of herds). However, the estimated probability of the FECP detecting an EHEC-positive slaughter animal or herd was 0.52 to 0.58% and 4.74 to 6.49%, respectively. The inability to detect EHEC-positive animals was partly due to animal-based random sampling, which ignores herd-level testing and therefore emphasizes the testing of slaughter animals from herds that send more animals to slaughter. Some slaughterhouses collected samples incorrectly as a consequence of an incorrectly implemented FECP. Farmers may also have questionable reasons for choosing to send animals to be slaughtered in small abattoirs, in which testing is less likely, to avoid suspicion of EHEC or other zoonotic infections.

On-farm food safety; don’t keep cattle next to watercress; 25 sickened with E. coli O157

Public Health England has provided an update on two separate E. coli O157 outbreaks linked to watercress – that stuff on cucumber sandwiches and in salads — in 2013.

In September 2013, a national increase in cases of verotoxigenic E. coli O157 phage type 2 VT2 was observed in England. Between 30 August and 19 September, 19 cases (14 in England, four in Wales and one in Scotland) were reported sharing the same distinct Multi Locus Variable Number Tandem Repeat Analysis (MLVA) pattern (and single locus variants), not cucumber-tea-sand-300x202previously seen in the UK. Onset dates ranged from 17 to 29 August and the cases had an unusual demography for VTEC cases: they were predominantly female with a median age of 64 years. Seven cases were hospitalized, although no deaths or cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) were reported. Interviews with patients and the use of detailed food questionnaires revealed the link to the consumption of pre-packaged watercress purchased from a particular supermarket chain. This led to the prompt voluntary withdrawal and recall of watercress products by the retailer.

Despite trace-back investigations, microbiological testing of watercress and environmental sampling at farms, the source of contamination of the watercress remains unclear. Two additional cases with an identical MLVA profile were retrospectively identified with onset dates in February 2013. One had consumed watercress and one pre-packaged salad, both from retailers representing a different supply chain, suggesting that the contamination is unlikely to have occurred at the farms. Following restocking of watercress at the supermarket chain, one additional case was reported with an onset date of 21 October 2013. The case reported consuming bagged mixed salad containing watercress from that supermarket. No further cases of the outbreak profile have been reported.

During outbreak investigations, a second, smaller outbreak of six cases of VTEC O157 PT 2 VT2 with a different MLVA profile was identified: two cases reported consuming watercress from the implicated retailer prior to watercress.ukthe recall, one consumed watercress prior to the recall but with no detail on where it was purchased, and one consumed mixed salad from the retailer during the period that watercress was withdrawn from sale. Two further cases with onsets of 1 October 2013 were members of a family who had consumed watercress as part of a meal at a pub. Local trace-back confirmed that the pub purchased unwashed watercress from the same supplier as was involved in the first outbreak.

During sampling of the farms supplying watercress, VTEC O157 PT 2 VT2 identical on typing to isolates from the second outbreak was isolated from one of the watercress beds. Environmental investigations revealed that this watercress bed was in close proximity to an adjacent field containing cattle – the primary reservoir for VTEC. It seems likely that the cause of this second cluster of cases was transfer of VTEC from the field to the watercress bed either from wildlife entering the watercress farm or run-off water. 

E. coli O157 in Michigan cider in 2012 leads to conviction

After nearly two years of investigation and legal action, James Ruster, owner of Mitchell Hill Farm in Ellsworth, was sentenced Feb. 18 for one felony violation of Michigan’s Food Law, the first felony conviction under this law.

Ruster pled guilty to willful misbranding and adulteration of food products and was sentenced to 14 to 48 months in prison plus fines and court costs.

“It’s paramount that we maintain the safety of Michigan’s food and agriculture products. Ruster showed a blatant neglect for not only the safety of his food products, but the health powell_kids_ge_sweet_corn_cider_00of his customers. It’s tragic that people were so greatly impacted by his willful disregard for food safety rules and regulations,” said Jamie Clover Adams, MDARD director.

Clover Adams stressed this incident in no way reflects the integrity and food safety record of apple cider producers who are licensed and use good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to produce safe, wholesome cider.

“No foodborne illness outbreaks have been associated with cider producers following the GMPs or meeting the requirements of the law. Michigan’s apple industry as a whole works closely with regulators to make sure production practices use the best science available to keep products safe,” Clover Adams said. “It is unfortunate that it takes a case like this to point out the potential for harm from producing food items in an unsafe manner.”

A MDARD food inspector investigated a consumer tip that Ruster was selling apple cider at a local farmers market in October 2011. Mitchell Hill Farm had been previously licensed as a maple syrup producer, but it was not approved to produce cider. After repeatedly being informed that he wasn’t meeting safe cider production standards, Ruster continued to make and sell cider.

MDARD received notification of an outbreak associated with Ruster’s cider on Nov. 6, 2012. Subsequent investigation by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, MDARD and the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) determined the improperly processed cider caused an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak putting four individuals in the hospital, including two children. Several individuals affected by the outbreak continue to report symptoms today, more than a year after consuming the cider.

Piping hot? 15 now sick with E. coli O157 linked to burgers from Scotland’s Hydro stadium

As the number of cases of E. coli O157 linked to burgers sold at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro stadium rose to 15, the only statement from operators remains, “We wish to assure the hamburger.thermometerpublic that at this time we have no significant concerns in relation to catering for our patrons.”

Maybe instead of hiding behind public health, the food service types at the stadium could provide a public accounting of where their hamburgers are sourced, how they are prepared, whether burgers are occasionally temped to verify standard operating procedures, or do they go with the UK standard of, piping hot?