US school lunches safe

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchases boneless and ground beef for distribution to recipients through federal nutrition assistance programs, including the National School Lunch Program, which represents 93% of the overall volume.

lunchlady.simpsonsApproximately every 2,000 lb (ca. 907 kg) of boneless beef and 10,000 lb (ca. 4,535 kg) of ground beef are designated a “lot” and tested for Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, standard plate count organisms (SPCs), E. coli, and coliforms. Any lot of beef positive for E. coli O157:H7 or for Salmonella, or any beef with concentrations of organisms exceeding critical limits for SPCs (100,000 CFU g–1), E. coli (500 CFU g–1), or coliforms (1,000 CFU g–1) is rejected for purchase by AMS and must be diverted from federal nutrition assistance programs. From July 2011 through June 2014, 537,478,212 lb (ca. 243,795,996 kg) of boneless beef and 428,130,984 lb (ca. 194,196,932 kg) of ground beef were produced for federal nutrition assistance programs.

Of the 230,359 boneless beef samples collected over this period, 82 (0.04%) were positive for E. coli O157:H7, 924 (0.40%) were positive for Salmonella, 222 (0.10%) exceeded the critical limit for SPCs, 69 (0.03%) exceeded the critical limit for E. coli, and 123 (0.05%) exceeded the critical limit for coliforms. Of the 46,527 ground beef samples collected over this period, 30 (0.06%) were positive for E. coli O157:H7, 360 (0.77%) were positive for Salmonella, 20 (0.04%) exceeded the critical limit for SPCs, 22 (0.05%) exceeded the critical limit for E. coli, and 17 (0.04%) exceeded the critical limit for coliforms.

Cumulatively, these data suggest beef produced for the AMS National School Lunch Program is done so under an adequate food safety system, as indicated by the low percentage of lots that were pathogen positive or exceeded critical limits for indicator organisms.

Microbiological testing results of boneless and ground beef purchased for the national school lunch program, 2011 to 2014

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 9, September 2015, pp. 1624-1769

Doerscher, Darin R.; Lutz, Terry L.; Whisenant, Stephen J.; Smith, Kerry R.; Morris, Craig A.; Schroeder, Carl M.

Not much E. coli on Romaine at retail

A total of 720 whole, romaine lettuce heads were purchased from retail locations in the Upper Midwest and assessed for coliform and Escherichia coli contamination and for the presence of E. coli O157:H7.

Romaine-Lettuce-PhotosDuring a 16-month period (August 2010 through December 2011), coliform and E. coli counts were enumerated on Petrifilm, and the presence of E. coli O157:H7 and the virulence gene eae was evaluated by real-time PCR (qPCR). Over half (400 of 720) of the lettuce samples were processed with an immunomagnetic separation step before the qPCR assay. All retail lettuce samples were negative for E. coli O157:H7 when tested with the R.A.P.I.D. LT qPCR targeting a region of the O-antigen, and only two (0.28%) were positive for the eae gene when tested with LightCycler qPCR.

On Petrifilm, coliform counts of most lettuce samples (96.4%) were between <101 and 103 CFU/g, and E. coli counts for nearly all lettuce samples (98.2%) were <101 CFU/g. No seasonal trend in coliform and E. coli counts was observed throughout the examination period nor was a difference in coliform counts observed between packaged and nonpackaged lettuce heads.

These results contribute to the limited recorded data and understanding of microbial contamination of whole romaine lettuce heads purchased from retail locations, specifically revealing the absence of E. coli O157:H7 and low levels of contamination with coliforms and other E. coli strains.

 Occurrence of coliform and Escherichia coli contamination and absence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on romaine lettuce from retail stores in the Upper Midwest

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 9, September 2015, pp. 1624-1769

Greve, Josephine D.; Zietlow, Mark S.; Miller, Kevin M.; Ellingson, Jay L. E.

Peel produce rather than brush to reduce pathogens

Consumers are being advised to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables to reduce their risk of chronic disease.

carrot.peelerHowever, to achieve that goal, consumers must be able to implement protocols in their kitchens to reduce their risk of consuming contaminated produce.

To address this issue, a study was conducted to monitor the fate of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella on produce (cantaloupe, honeydew melon, carrots, and celery) that were subjected to brushing or peeling using common kitchen utensils.

Removal of similar levels of Salmonella from carrots was accomplished by peeling and by brushing, but significantly greater removal of E. coli O157:H7 from carrots was accomplished by peeling than by brushing under running water (P < 0.05). Brushing removed significantly fewer pathogens from contaminated cantaloupes than from other produce items (P < 0.05), suggesting that the netted rind provided sites where the pathogen cells could evade the brush bristles. A Sparta polyester brush was less effective than a scouring pad for removing Salmonella from carrots (P < 0.05). In all cases, brushing and peeling failed to eliminate the pathogens from the produce items, which may be the result of contamination of the utensil during use. High incidences of contamination (77 to 92%) were found among peelers used on carrots or celery, the Sparta brush used on carrots, and the scouring pad used on carrots and cantaloupe. Of the utensils investigated, the nylon brush had the lowest incidence of pathogen transference from contaminated produce (0 to 12%). Transfer of pathogens from a potentially contaminated Sparta brush or peeler to uncontaminated carrots did not occur or occurred only on the first of seven carrots processed with the utensil. Therefore, risk of cross-contamination from contaminated utensils to uncontaminated produce may be limited.

Role of brushes and peelers in removal of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella from produce in domestic kitchens

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 9, September 2015, pp. 1624-1769

Erickson, Marilyn C.; Liao, Jean; Cannon, Jennifer L.; Ortega, Ynes R.

UK national burger day: Idiocy on how to prepare and serve burgers safely

The Brits are forever complicating things.

barfblog.Stick It InAnd they’re supposed to be science-based, when they’re just rhetoric-based (with that charming but difficult to understand British accent; don’t get me started on Wales).

For National Burger Day, Big Hospitality provides 750 words of advice on what controls can be put in place to ensure that diners are not put at risk from the serving of pink or rare burgers.

It’s hard to blame this restaurant rag when the science-based UK government authority barfs out the same advice.

Color is a lousy indicator.

Stick it in: use a thermometer.

hamburger-safe and unsafe-thumb-450x138-175

A magazine study isn’t the same as peer review and just cook it doesn’t cut it: Consumer reports says more bacteria, superbugs in conventional beef than organic

Ground beef from conventionally raised cattle is more contaminated and contains a heavier concentration of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than samples from antibiotic-free and organic or grass-fed animals, a new study shows.

ben-newA report published Monday by Consumer Reports is one of the first of its kind to compare ground beef from the two sources. It found that nearly 20 percent of the beef from cows that finish their lives in crowded feedlots were tainted with superbugs compared with less than 10 percent of the group largely raised on pastures. Conventional samples also had much higher levels of E. coli, an indication of fecal contamination.

“This is really one of the more significant studies showing the difference in prevalence rates based on those production practices,” said Urvashi Rangan, head of food safety at Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports tested 300 packages or nearly 500 pounds of ground beef that was purchased last October from big box stores and groceries specializing in sustainable products in 26 cities across the country, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles on the West Coast. The samples included a variety of labels, leanness, packaging and countries of origin. Just over 60 percent of the ground beef was from conventionally produced cattle and the rest came from cows raised without antibiotics that were either organic, grass-fed or both.

At what point can consumers have E. coli levels on labels? These are just catch-phrases.

The samples were tested for five common pathogens associated with beef: E. coli, salmonella, enterococcus, Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus.

The North American Meat Institute said, in response to the study’s findings, that the research in fact “confirms strong safety of ground beef,” noting that the results did not report findings of highly pathogenic E. coli or Salmonella.

“A review of Consumer Reports’ new study on the safety of ground beef in the U.S. confirms that pathogenic bacteria is rarely found in meat,” the organization said in a release. “The bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing are types that rarely cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not considered pathogenic bacteria.

“The real headline here is the bacteria that Consumer Reports doesn’t report finding in their testing — Shiga toxin-producing E. coli and Salmonella — which are the foodborne bacteria of greatest public health concern in beef,” said North American Meat Institute Vice President of Scientific Affairs Betsy Booren, in NAMI’s statement.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association likewise saw a different picture.

“I have relied on Consumer Reports when purchasing cars and electronics but unfortunately this report will not help consumers when purchasing safe ground beef,” said Mandy Carr Johnson, senior executive director, Science and Product Solutions, for NCBA. “The bacteria found in the Consumer Reports tests are not the type of bacteria commonly associated with foodborne illness in ground beef.”

Said NCBA’s Carr: “The only helpful takeaway from the report for consumers is that all ground beef should be cooked to and internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit and confirmed with an instant-read meat thermometer, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Just cook it doesn’t cut it, and doesn’t deal with cross-contamination. Lower loads.

‘We can do better’ More transparency for LA restaurant grading

For more than a decade, NBC4 I-Team has been investigating Los Angeles County’s restaurant grading system.

Big changes were recommended for the food safety program Tuesday by the Interim Director of L.A. County’s Public Health Department, many of them addressing concerns that the I-Team investigations raised.

In May, an investigation revealed how the public is rarely told about foodborne illness outbreaks. In fact, more about those outbreaks could be gleaned from websites like Yelp and Trip Advisor than from county health officials.

When questioned about the lack of transparency back in May, Angelo Bellomo, who supervises the county’s food safety program, said there were ways that officials could improve the system.

“We could be doing a better job in many areas,” he said.

The proposed changes to the county’s restaurant grading system would address many of the existing shortcomings that have been the focus of NBC4 reports over the years, including:

-Preventing a restaurant from receiving an “A” grade if they receive two major violations during an inspection.

-The online disclosure of all restaurant closures and those restaurants believed to be associated with a foodborne illness.

-Revoking more restaurant permits for businesses with “chronic unsafe practices.”

The changes to the food facility grading system were included in a memo sent to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and obtained by the I-Team.

Public Health plans on implementing these changes immediately and say they will work with the Board of Supervisors if any laws needed to be revised.

Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network—2 decades of achievements, 1996–2015

The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) provides a foundation for food safety policy and illness prevention in the United States.

FoodNet.pyramid.fbi.OverviewFoodNet conducts active, population-based surveillance at 10 US sites for laboratory-confirmed infections of 9 bacterial and parasitic pathogens transmitted commonly through food and for hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Through FoodNet, state and federal scientists collaborate to monitor trends in enteric illnesses, identify their sources, and implement special studies. FoodNet’s major contributions include establishment of reliable, active population-based surveillance of enteric diseases; development and implementation of epidemiologic studies to determine risk and protective factors for sporadic enteric infections; population and laboratory surveys that describe the features of gastrointestinal illnesses, medical care–seeking behavior, frequency of eating various foods, and laboratory practices; and development of a surveillance and research platform that can be adapted to address emerging issues.

The importance of FoodNet’s ongoing contributions probably will grow as clinical, laboratory, and informatics technologies continue changing rapidly.

Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network—2 decades of achievements, 1996–2015

Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 21, Number 9,  September 2015

Olga L. Henao Comments to Author , Timothy F. Jones, Duc J. Vugia, Patricia M. Griffin, and for the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) Workgroup

Irrigation water, produce and pathogens

The microbiological sanitary quality and safety of leafy greens and strawberries were assessed in the primary production in Belgium, Brazil, Egypt, Norway and Spain by enumeration of Escherichia coli and detection of Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and Campylobacter.

strawberryWater samples were more prone to containing pathogens (54 positives out of 950 analyses) than soil (16/1186) and produce on the field (18/977 for leafy greens and 5/402 for strawberries). The prevalence of pathogens also varied markedly according to the sampling region. Flooding of fields increased the risk considerably, with odds ratio (OR) 10.9 for Salmonella and 7.0 for STEC.

A significant association between elevated numbers of generic E. coli and detection of pathogens (OR of 2.3 for STEC and 2.7 for Salmonella) was established. Generic E. coli was found to be a suitable index organism for Salmonella and STEC, but to a lesser extent for Campylobacter. Guidelines on frequency of sampling and threshold values for E. coli in irrigation water may differ from region to region. 

Risk Factors for Salmonella, shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli and Campylobacter occurrence in primary production of leafy greens and strawberries

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Siele Ceuppens, Gro S. Johannessen, Ana Allende, Eduardo César Tondo,  Fouad El-Tahan, Imca Sampers, Liesbeth Jacxsens, and  Mieke Uyttendaele

Beef contaminated with E. coli caught before leaving Montana meat plant

Livestock officials say an equipment malfunction allowed E. coli to survive in beef at a Montana meat plant.

carcass.cow.cleanMeat Inspection Bureau Chief Gary Hamel will report to the Board of Livestock on Monday that contaminated ground beef was identified during a weekly sampling in early June and destroyed. He says none of it was shipped to consumers.

Hamel says a water machine used to clean cow carcasses at the facility was clogged and could not reach a high enough temperature to kill pathogens.

The machine was fixed and the bureau increased inspections at that facility.

Can phage control E. coli O157 on raw meatballs?

With an Escherichia coli O157:H7 virulent bacteriophage, M8AEC16, biocontrol efficiency of phages on a highly risky, ready-to-eat, traditional delicacy food called “raw meatball” under different storage conditions was investigated.

bacteriophagePhage, belonging to the Myoviridae family, was isolated from the wastewater of a local slaughterhouse and showed a broad lytic activity toward many E. coli O157:H7 strains with high efficiency of plating and O157 specificity.

Our experimental study provided favorable results, with 0.69–2.09 log colony-forming unit (cfu)/g E. coli O157:H7 reductions in the first 5 h of the replica trials. Major reductions of viable E. coli O157:H7 counts were observed in the beginning of the storage period, reaching up to 1.85 log cfu/g. Although a significant reduction in E. coli O157:H7 was observed with increased phage concentration, storage conditions had minor effect on efficiency of phage biocontrol. This is the first study in Turkey that investigates applicability of phage biocontrol for a traditional food model.

Biocontrol of shiga toxigenic Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Turkish raw meatball by bacteriophage

Wiley Online Library, Journal of Food Safety, 16 AUG 2015

Yilmaz Emre Gencay, Naim Deniz Ayaz, Gizem Copuroglu and Irfan Erol