‘We meet all standards’ Fresh Express uses Pinto defense after dead bat found in salad

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working with the Florida Department of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support an investigation of a dead bat that was found in a packaged salad purchased from a grocery store in Florida. Two people in Florida reported eating some of the salad before the bat was found. The bat was sent to the CDC rabies lab for laboratory testing because bats in the United States sometimes have been found to have this disease. The deteriorated condition of the bat did not allow for CDC to definitively rule out whether this bat had rabies.

Transmission of rabies by eating a rabid animal is extremely uncommon, and the virus does not survive very long outside of the infected animal. CDC is supporting Florida local and state health officials in evaluating the people who found the bat in the salad. In this circumstance, the risk of rabies transmission is considered to be very low, but because it isn’t zero, the two people who ate salad from the package that contained the bat were recommended to begin post-exposure rabies treatment. Both people report being in good health and neither has any signs of rabies. CDC is not aware of any other reports of bat material found in packaged salads.

On April 8, 2017, Fresh Express issued a recall of a limited number of cases of Organic Marketside Spring Mix. The salads were sold in a clear container with production code G089B19 and best-if-used-by date of APR 14, 2017 located on the front label. The recalled salads were distributed only to Walmart stores located in the Southeastern region of the United States. All remaining packages of salad from the same lot have been removed from all store locations where the salad was sold.

The company said in a statement it worked quickly with officials to remove the entire batch of salads from store shelves, and only one line of its products had been affected.

“Fresh Express takes matters of food safety very seriously and rigorously complies with all food safety regulations including the proscribed Good Agricultural Practices.”

Maybe install bat filters as the lettuce goes through a wash?

Tennessee man finds $10 bill is bagged salad

Kyle Hubbard bought a bagged salad at a Target in Cordova, Tennessee, and found another green item among the lettuce — a $10 bill.

moneylettuce_croppedHubbard purchased the Fresh Express 50/50 Mix on October 21, which contains baby spinach and spring mix. He was concerned that the $10 bill might have contaminated other salads before they were bagged.

 “You’ve seen some salad tainted with E. coli and listeria and those are germs and that’s hard to see,” Hubbard told WMC Action News 5. “But when it’s a more blatant object that’s clearly visible, it’s quite concerning how that made it outside the doors of that facility.”

Target’s corporate offices were notified of this incident.

“At Target, we take food quality very seriously,” a spokesperson told WMC Action News 5. “I have shared the information with our team and would encourage you to reach out to Fresh Express directly.”

Target also offered Hubbard $24 worth of coupons, but he declined. It is unclear whether he kept the $10 bill or not.

Fresh Express marketing missteps 2.0

Issuing a press release before publishing food safety data is a bad idea; launching an entire advertising campaign before publishing is worse.

But that’s exactly what Fresh Express is doing.

I’m all for marketing food safety directly to consumers and at retail – but only if such claims can be verified, and the most credible way to do that is publish in a peer-reviewed journal. Supermarkets are already overflowing with hucksterism.

In Sept. 2000, I called Procter & Gamble to substantiate claims their consumer-oriented FIT Fruit and Vegetable Wash removed 99.9 per cent more residue and dirt than water alone.

The PR-thingies hooked me up with some scientists at P&G in Cincinnati, who verbally told me that sample cucumbers, tomatoes and the like were grown on the same farm in California, sprayed with chemicals that would be used in conventional production, and then harvested immediately and washed with FIT or water. The FIT removed 99.9 per cent more, or so the company claimed.

One problem. Many of the chemicals used had harvest?after dates, such as the one tomato chemical that must be applied at least 20 days before harvest.

Residue data on produce in North American stores reveals extremely low levels, in the parts per million or billion. So that 99.9 per cent reduction was buying consumers an extra couple of zeros in the residue quantity, all well below health limits.

I also asked why the results hadn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the P&G types said it was an important advance that had to be made available to consumers as soon as possible, without the delays and messiness of peer-review.

In Oct. 2010, Chiquita Brands, the owners of Fresh Express and also based in Cincinnati, followed the same PR playbook for its new produce rinse, Fresh Rinse.

The new rinse, for use in the packing shed and which the company says removes microorganisms from leafy greens more effectively than conventional chlorine sanitizers, was unveiled yesterday at a news conference at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit to gushing reviews.

Today, Fresh Express gushed again that its salads sold nationwide are now manufactured using its new breakthrough produce wash, Fresh Rinse. The company claims that Fresh Rinse has been scientifically validated to dramatically reduce certain bacteria while at the same time continuing to provide high levels of freshness, taste and quality consumers expect from Fresh Express salads.

The effectiveness of this new patent-pending technology has been validated by studies performed at the National Center for Food Safety and Technology – a recognized third-party research and testing facility. These independent studies confirmed that Fresh Rinse demonstrated superior effectiveness in removing pathogens from wash water and from certain leafy greens compared to traditional chlorine washes. An article detailing the Fresh Rinse technology has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by the Journal of Food Protection.

I have an article in press by JFP right now but I don’t blabber about it until it’s published. Because until then, other mortals or food safety nerds can’t see what anyone is bragging about. Why is Fresh Express above the process?

Sometimes the faster it gets?
The less you need to know?
But you gotta remember?
The smarter it gets the further it’s going to go?
When you blow at high dough

Tragically Hip, Canadian national anthem, 1989.

A table of leafy green foodborne illness outbreaks is available at:
http://bites.ksu.edu/Outbreaks%20related%20to%20leafy%20greens%201993-2010
 

Fresh Express makes marketing missteps

That’s the headline on Greg Johnson’s column in The Packer today, criticizing the way Fresh Express’ announced its super-duper new produce wash.

I’m all for marketing food safety, but only if it can be thoroughly backed up.

Johnson complains this kind of promotion violates the generally agreed upon, though nonbinding, industry standard after the 2006 E. coli spinach outbreak that the produce industry is in food safety together. ?

Once companies say they’re safer than others, consumers can infer that some produce is less safe or worse, unsafe, and they stop buying.

Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, said, “Food safety should never be a competitive advantage. If a new product improves food safety, we should share it with the whole industry.”

Ed Loyd, director of corporate communications for Chiquita, said the company isn’t marketing its method as safer than others because it’s offering FreshRinse technology to competitors.

Several competitors say Fresh Express’ claims about its new wash are exaggerated or flat-out false, and they have not been verified by any third party.

Bagged salad: press release before publishing a bad idea

In Sept. 2000, I called Procter & Gamble to substantiate claims their consumer-oriented FIT Fruit and Vegetable Wash removed 99.9 per cent more residue and dirt than water alone.

The PR-thingies hooked me up with some scientists at P&G in Cincinnati, who verbally told me that sample cucumbers, tomatoes and the like were grown on the same farm in California, sprayed with chemicals that would be used in conventional production, and then harvested immediately and washed with FIT or water. The FIT removed 99.9 per cent more, or so the company claimed.

One problem. Many of the chemicals used had harvest?after dates, such as the one tomato chemical that must be applied at least 20 days before harvest. Residue data on produce in North American stores reveals extremely low levels, in the parts per million or billion. So that 99.9 per cent reduction was buying consumers an extra couple of zeros in the residue quantity, all well below health limits.

I also asked why the results hadn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the P&G types said it was an important advance that had to be made available to consumers as soon as possible, without the delays and messiness of peer-review.

Maybe Chiquita Brands, the owners of Fresh Express and also based in Cincinnati, are using the same PR flunkies as P&G because the public relations around the new produce rinse – FreshRinse – is strikingly familiar and equally lame as FIT in 2000.

For the most part, pathogens and chemicals in fresh produce need to be controlled on the farm, and in transportation and distribution.

The new rinse, for use in the packing shed and which the company says removes microorganisms from leafy greens more effectively than conventional chlorine sanitizers, was unveiled yesterday at a news conference at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit to gushing reviews.

Fernando Aguirre, Chiquita’s chairman and chief executive officer, said,

"Based on our extensive research, we are proud to introduce the biggest invention since the creation of prepackaged salads. … Compare FreshRinse technology to current wash standards. Chlorine is the abacus and FreshRinse is the iPad. An abacus is what people use with the beads, a great thing at the time, just like chlorine rinse was. We believe FreshRinse sets a new standard in food safety.”

Also jumping aboard the metaphor train, Mike Burness, vice president of global quality and food safety said,

“As a matter of magnitude, that’s the equivalent of chlorine walking a mile and FreshRinse making two round trips to the moon. If chlorine walked one mile, FreshRinse would have walked a marathon. We have seen a significant reduction of potential foodborne organisms that cause disease.”

Scientific advisors who gave more qualified endorsements included project advisor Dr. Michael Osterholm, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, Dr. David Acheson, managing director of food and import safety for Leavitt Partners and the former the Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner for food protection and chief medical officer, and Dr. Robert Buchanan, director and professor, University of Maryland Center for Food Safety & Security Systems.

Did any of you esteemed science types say to Fresh Express, we should publish these results in a peer-reviewed journal first, because that’s the way this credibility thing works?

I told Ilan Brat of the Wall Street Journal yesterday that I couldn’t judge whether the new wash worked better or not without publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Fresh Express had three recalls of its bagged salads this year, and was the source of a Salmonella typhirmirium outbreak that sickened eight people in May, but decided it wasn’t worth telling anyone about it.

Metaphor-man Burness, told the Journal the company chose to market the product before submitting supporting research for publication in peer-reviewed journals because "anything that advances food safety, we believe we need to leverage that for our consumers."

Sounds familiar.

He added that the company plans to submit its research to the Journal of Food Protection by the end of the year.

Dude, I’ve got a bunch of graduate students who say they have papers they are going to prepare for the Journal of Food Protection. I have about a dozen in my head too. Except that doesn’t count for shit.

If the company had instead spent the time it used coming up with terrible risk communication metaphors preparing the results for publication, they would at least have a paper submitted. Until then, I’m thinking cold fusion.

"All this data is nice—why isn’t it published in a peer-reviewed journal?" Powell said.

Still, he added, "if it does what it says it can do, that would be important, because it would be an additional tool to lower the risk" that eating salad greens could cause outbreaks of disease.

Fresh Express, you’re an industry leader and this year’s winner of the International Association for Food Protection’s Black Pearl award for food safety leadership. But I don’t get this. I’m all for marketing food safety, but with a strong caveat: be able to back it up.

A table of leafy green foodborne illness outbreaks is available at:

http://bites.ksu.edu/Outbreaks%20related%20to%20leafy%20greens%201993-2010
 

A new way to clean the greens

The New York Times is reporting tonight that the produce industry — rocked by several major recalls in recent years linked to outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria — has been searching for a better way to wash the lettuce, spinach and other greens it bags and sells in grocery stores and to restaurants.

Now, the nation’s leading producer of bagged salad greens, Fresh Express, says that washing them in a mild acid solution accomplishes the task.

The company plans to announce on Friday that it is abandoning the standard industry practice of washing leafy greens with chlorine and has begun using the acid mixture, which it claims is many times more effective in killing bacteria. The new wash solution, called FreshRinse, contains organic acids commonly used in the food industry, including lactic acid, a compound found in milk.

Mike Burness, vice president of global quality and food safety at Chiquita Brands International, which owns Fresh Express, said,

“We do believe it provides a much higher level of effectiveness versus the chlorine sanitizers in use today. This technology was developed to raise the bar.”

Mr. Burness said the breakthrough came when researchers at the company combined lactic acid with another organic acid, peracetic acid. The two together, he said, worked much better than either one separately and also achieved markedly better results than chlorine.

Fresh Express issued three separate recalls this year of packaged salad greens after random testing found salmonella, E. coli and listeria in bags of its products.
Fresh Express said that its new cleaning mixture was 750 times as effective as chlorine in killing bacteria suspended in wash water. It is also at least nine times as effective as chlorine in killing bacteria that has become attached to the leaves of produce.

Mr. Burness said that lettuce and other greens were cut up in the company’s plants, washed in water containing the acid mixture, typically for 20 to 40 seconds, then rinsed, dried and bagged. He said another advantage is that the acid wash did not bleach the greens, making them pale in color, as chlorine can.
The company said that it planned to license the mixture for use by other producers.

Fresh Express has not published its research, so food safety experts said on Thursday that they were unable to adequately evaluate the company’s claims.
Fresh Express said that it had informed the F.D.A. about its use of the acid wash mixture, but that it was not required to get approval for the switch because the ingredients were already approved for use in the food industry.

 

Fresh Express recalls some Romaine lettuce products because of E. coli O157:H7

No matter how good any firm’s food safety programs are, poop happens. And when it does, tell others about it. The story will get out eventually, so it’s best to go public first.

Fresh Express is voluntarily recalling certain Romaine lettuce salad products with expired Use-by Dates of July 8 – 12 and an "S" in the Product Code because they may have the potential to be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. No other Fresh Express salads are included in the recall.

No illnesses have been reported in association with the recall. The precautionary recall action is being conducted to reach retailers as well as consumers.

The recall notification is being issued out of an abundance of caution due to an isolated instance in which one package of Fresh Express Hearts of Romaine salad yielded a positive result for E. coli O157:H7 in a random sample test collected and conducted by a third-party laboratory for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Lost in Translation: Time to end don’t ask, don’t tell, in food safety outbreak reporting

There are some new Fresh Express bagged salad commercials running on the television; they don’t mention anything about Salmonella or the many efforts Fresh Express takes to control dangerous pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli in its products.

Which is too bad.

There have been many reinterpretations of history regarding fresh produce and microbial food safety. We have argued the tipping point was 1996, involving both the Odwalla E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in unpasteurized juice, coupled with the cyclospora outbreak which was initially and erroneously linked to California strawberries (it was Guatemalan raspberries). This led to the first attempts at comprehensive on-farm food safety programs for fresh produce because, these bugs ain’t going to be washed off; they have to be prevented, as much as possible, from getting on or in fresh produce on the farm.

For the growers of leafy greens, things apparently didn’t tip until the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in bagged spinach from California that sickened 200 and killed four.

Ultimately, investigators showed that the E. coli O157:H7 was found on a transitional organic spinach field and was the same serotype as that found in a neighboring grass-fed cow-calf operation. These findings, coupled with the public outcry linked to the outbreak and the media coverage, sparked a myriad of changes and initiatives by the industry, government and others. What may never be answered is, why this outbreak at this time? A decade of evidence existed highlighting problems with fresh produce, warning letters were written, yet little was seemingly accomplished. The real challenge for food safety professionals, is to garner support for safe food practices in the absence of an outbreak, to create a culture that values microbiologically safe food, from farm-to-fork, at all times, and not just in the glare of the media spotlight.

One of the responses out of California was to create the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement – after 29 outbreaks, at the time, linked to leafy greens and after years of warning from FDA. The most noticeable achievement since the Agreement has been the containment cone of silence that has descended upon outbreaks involving leafy greens, and an apparent shift in FDA policy that sets epidemiology aside and requires positive samples in unopened product – a ridiculous standard since no one routinely tests for other Shiga-toxin producing E. coli like O145. That was referring to the Freshway Foods E. coli O145 in romaine lettuce outbreak earlier this year that sickened some 50 people near colleges in Michigan, Ohio and New York.

These are all confirmed outbreaks. Every day, I receive a couple of messages about people sick here and there, and the public health types have dozens of potential foodborne outbreaks under scrutiny at any one time.

When to provide public information is a contentious issue: the public has a right to know about outbreaks of foodborne illness and rapid provision of information may prevent additional illnesses, but going too early and too often can be like crying wolf – especially if health types get it wrong and businesses are unduly harmed.

There is a lot of public and private frustration about the lack of guidelines for going public with information about outbreaks. Recent events won’t help.

An e-mail was circulated on May 12, 2010, asking food safety and public health types about a possible salmonella in lettuce outbreak in the Midwest U.S. with links to California.

On Thurs. May 20, lawyer Bill Marler speculated about a lettuce-related Salmonella outbreak in the "upper-Midwest, that appears linked to industry leader, Fresh Express. It is interesting that the Health Department and FDA remain silent on this one too.”

I didn’t publish anything because it was speculation – which I deal with everyday. We have guidelines for what we choose to publish or not. They are available at http://bites.ksu.edu/about-bites.

On May 24, 2010, Fresh Express publicly announced a recall of certain romaine-based ready-to-eat salads with the expired Use-by Dates of May 13th through May 16th and an "S" in the Product Code because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

The recall notification is being issued out of an abundance of caution based on an isolated instance in which a single package of Fresh Express Hearts of Romaine Salad with a use by date of May 15 was confirmed positive for Salmonella in a random sample test conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

I immediately took to barfblog.com, having been sitting on all this lettuce-related poop for awhile, and asked, when was the sample test conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because there have been rumors of a positive circulating on the Intertubes? When was the positive confirmed? What strain of Salmonella is involved? Why go public now instead of earlier? How incompetent does the Fresh Express PR person have to be to ignore these questions in the press release? Sounds like the Sponge Bob leafy greens cone of silence.

Shortly thereafter, I got a phone call from Dr. Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota expert on infectious diseases and public health and a paid consultant to Fresh Express since 1999.

He didn’t like the post, and didn’t like the picture, which we use for every leafy green outbreak or incident (thank you Christian, former student who created it in my Guelph kitchen).

Osterholm and I bantered back and forth about going public and I stressed, if Fresh Express has a great food safety story to tell, they should tell it.

About 30 minutes later, Osterholm called me back and said, OK, Fresh Express says I can tell you whatever you want to know.

We talked at 6 a.m. central time the next day.

Osterholm repeatedly stressed how committed Fresh Express was to food safety and how that attracted him to consult for the firm. He talked about how the company had ‘boots on the ground’ rather than relying on outsiders for food safety audits, and that the safety culture trumped the legal culture that dominated other firms.

Good for them.

Osterholm stressed that Fresh Express tested irrigation water and product, but did not know if those results would be made public (although they were shared with regulators).

Osterholm told me he was informed a couple of weeks earlier – thereabouts to May 12, 2010 – there were eight people sick Salmonella typhirmirium linked to Fresh Express salad, but they had all consumed it several weeks earlier so there was no public health purpose in going public. The May 24, 2010 Salmonella recall was a completely separate incident. According to Osterholm, FDA types showed up at the Fresh Express office, didn’t know the Salmonella species, and yet Fresh Express executed a traceback and recall within hours and that showed how awesome the company was.

“Clearly having a salmonella positive in one of your bags is something you don’t want; here was a company that walked the talk, they had a traceback system and within hours could tell everyone about those fields.”

It didn’t say that in the Fresh Express press release, and it’s not up to me to tell their story.

On May 27, 2010, California’s organicgirl produce announced a precautionary recall of 10 oz organicgirl baby spinach with use-by date of May 22.

“organicgirl produce immediately conducted a traceability analysis and an appraisal of its food safety documentation, which were all in compliance. Additionally, organicgirl raw product testing records for the relevant time period did not show the presence of any pathogens.”

Not sure why Fresh Express couldn’t say the same. Maybe they need better PR people.

After talking with Osterholm, I sent an e-mail to the media relations folks at FDA regarding the May 24/10 Fresh Express Salmonella recall, and, after a few days, they responded:

Q. When was the sample collected i.e. when was the bag pulled?
A. May 5, 2010

Q. When was Fresh Express notified of the Salmonella positive?
A. May 21, 2010

Q. What kind of Salmonella was it?
A. S. Anatum

Q. Does FDA review and approve press releases such as the May 24/10 one from Fresh Express?
A. Recall press releases are reviewed at the District primarily.

I then sent a follow-up question, asking why so long between when the sample was pulled – May 5/10 – and the company informed of a positive – May 21/10.

No answer.

FDA, Fresh Express and the leafy greens folks all sorta suck at this communications thing.

FDA is responsive to – who knows, and has no policy for when or how to go public. Oh, they have some things they tell journalists, like this story in the Packer, but it’s full of fudge-factors. I understand there are uncertainties, but, like any good risk assessment, you go public and admit uncertainties rather than trying to act all-knowing.

FDA types also made a big splash in May when their transparency plan was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The task force also said the FDA should regularly share basic information about facility inspections it conducts and the result of each inspection. Routinely sharing the information could give the public a clearer understanding of the FDA’s role in protecting public health and would make firms accountable not just to the FDA, but to the larger public.

The information would also give other firms more information about the companies they choose to do business with, the group said. "Market pressures may create incentives for firms to correct violations quickly or prevent violations from occurring in the future."

OMG, FDA is talking about marketing food safety.

But Fresh Express, you’re an industry leader and this year’s winner of the International Association for Food Protection’s Black Pearl award for food safety leadership. Forget government, lead by example. Make your test results public, market food safety at retail so consumers can choose, and if people get sick from your product, you better be the first to tell the public.

A table of leafy green foodborne illness outbreaks is available at:

http://bites.ksu.edu/Outbreaks%20related%20to%20leafy%20greens%201993-2010











Salmonella found in salad, no one sick – yet

Fresh Express, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International, is voluntarily recalling a specific selection of Fresh Express Romaine-based ready-to-eat salads with the expired Use-by Dates of May 13th through May 16th and an "S" in the Product Code because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. The recall extends only to products with these Use-by Dates and Product Codes and sold in the following states: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Nebraska, Montana, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota

The recall notification is being issued out of an abundance of caution based on an isolated instance in which a single package of Fresh Express Hearts of Romaine Salad with a use by date of May 15 was confirmed positive for Salmonella in a random sample test conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

When was the test conducted, because there have been rumors of a positive circulating on the Intertubes? When was the positive confirmed? What strain of Salmonella is involved? Why go public now instead of earlier? How incompetent does the Fresh Express PR person have to be to ignore these questions in the press release?

Sounds like the Sponge Bob leafy greens cone of silence.