Leafy green cone of silence: Salad producers say don’t be scared by ‘ridiculous’ study

In a time when facts don’t matter and Donald Trump is President-elect, there is scrutiny of any new study, and rhetoric is increasingly common.

spongebob-oil_-colbert-may3_-10Socrates, via Plato, had some thought on rhetoric (yes I dabbled in philosophy many decades ago, didn’t everyone experiment in university?).

Still no comment from the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement but they sent a few of their spokesthingies out to counter a study that says Salmonella grows in cut leafy greens, even at refrigerator temperatures..

Ashley Nickle of The Packer reports that Bruce Taylor, CEO and founder of Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Farms, emphatically denounced the study.

“We find the artificial conditions created by this study to be ridiculous,” Taylor said in an e-mail. “Producers of bagged salads do not have ‘juice’ in the salad bag, and producers take painstaking steps to avoid the introduction of salmonella or any other pathogen.”

The conclusion regarding refrigeration was the only notable one in the study, said Trevor Suslow, a member of the technical committee of the Center for Produce Safety. Scientists would expect salmonella to be able to survive at the temperature recorded in the study but would not expect it to grow, he said.

“People will definitely be trying to reproduce their results as far as growth under refrigeration temperature for salmonella,” Suslow said. “That’s, for me, the key issue.”

Suslow, an extension research specialist at the University of California-Davis, said it is already known that a bagged salad is an environment in which salmonella can have the nutrients it needs to grow, which is why the industry has focused so intently on ensuring no pathogens make it into bags into the first place.

Drew McDonald, vice president of quality, food safety and regulatory affairs at Salinas-based Church Brothers Farms, said in an e-mail that, although the researchers did some things well, he also had some issues with the study.

“From my read, the study essentially grew salmonella in juices extracted from actual bagged salads in a mixture of sterile water,” McDonald said. “The issue is that in the ‘real’ world the salmonella has to come from somewhere (the surface of the leaf for example) but along with this would be many other microorganisms. That they were able to grow salmonella under these forced, artificial conditions without any competition from other organisms is not surprising.”

lettuceAlong with the growth conditions, the washed status of the lettuce also gave McDonald pause.

“From my understanding, (the) project used ‘bagged salad,’” McDonald said. “I am assuming this means it was already washed. The fact that they added salad juice and salmonella after it had already been bagged and washed really just shows how important it is to not cross-contaminate cleaned product.”

The researchers, as a result of their findings, suggested people eat bagged salads as soon as possible after purchase to minimize risk. They wrote in a question-and-answer supplement to the release that they no longer keep their bagged salads in the refrigerator longer than one day.

“Ridiculous recommendation,” Taylor said in his e-mail. “For 30 years consumers have enjoyed hundreds of millions of bagged salads weekly with great benefit to their health and wellbeing.”

Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology at United Fresh Produce Association, also disagreed with the recommendation.

“People should always follow the instructions, including best-by dates, on packages, mainly so that they experience the best quality product,” McEntire said in an e-mail. “People shouldn’t be afraid to keep salad in their refrigerators for the full duration of the shelf life.”

She may mean use-by dates.

Suslow described the study as another piece of the puzzle in trying to find long-term solutions for food safety issues, but he was not impressed by it.

“Sort of generating a lot of additional concern and fear without any real basis for changing what (is) sort of standard practice isn’t necessarily helpful,” Suslow said. “Could hurt the category, but probably no more so than other things such as those instances when there are outbreaks or recalls.

“I think consumers understand that there’s no such thing as zero risk,” Suslow said (smartest thing anyone said in this story). “They understand and appreciate the convenience of packaged salads with multiple ingredients with very healthy mixed leafy greens, and that’s how the category has grown.”

Washing is futile: Leafy green cone of silence

Lettuce is overrated.

lettuce-skullThat’s my response to people who ask about the proportionally high rates of foodborne illness in lettuce and other leafy greens eaten raw.

I like spinach – in a lasagna or stir-fry – but not raw.

Raw is risky.

There’s a bunch of new findings on foodborne pathogens and leafy greens which are summarized below.

In the sphere of public conversation, it is notable the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, the group formed after the 2006 E. coli-in-spinach outbreak that killed four and sickened at least 200 in the U.S. – has been once again silent on any research or outbreaks that associate risk with greens.

The leafy green cone of silence.

Investigations by University of Leicester microbiologists have revealed that just a small amount of damage to salad leaves can massively stimulate the presence of the food Salmonella in ready-prepared salad leaves.  

The scientists have discovered that juices released from damaged leaves also had the effect of enhancing the virulence of the pathogen, potentially increasing its ability to cause infection in the consumer.  

The research is led by Dr Primrose Freestone of the University’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation and PhD student Giannis Koukkidis, who has been funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) i-case Studentship.  

Their research investigates novel methods of preventing food poisoning pathogens from attaching to the surface of salad leaves to help producers improve food safety for consumers.

This latest study, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, found that juices from damaged leaves in bagged spinach and mixed salad increased Salmonella pathogen growth 2400-fold over a control group and also enhanced their adherence to surfaces and overall virulence, or capacity to cause disease.  

Dr Freestone said: “Salad leaves are cut during harvesting and we found that even microliters of the juices (less than 1/200th of a teaspoon) which leach from the cut-ends of the leaves enabled Salmonella to grow in water, even when it was refrigerated. These juices also helped the Salmonella to attach itself to the salad leaves so strongly that vigorous washing could not remove the bacteria, and even enabled the pathogen to attach to the salad bag container.  

“This strongly emphasizes the need for salad leaf growers to maintain high food safety standards as even a few Salmonella cells in a salad bag at the time of purchase could become many thousands by the time a bag of salad leaves reaches its use by date, even if kept refrigerated. Even small traces of juices released from damaged leaves can make the pathogen grow better and become more able to cause disease.  

 “It also serves as a reminder to consume a bagged salad as soon as possible after it is opened. We found that once opened, the bacteria naturally present on the leaves also grew much faster even when kept cold in the fridge.  

“This research did not look for evidence of Salmonella in bagged salads. Instead, it examined how Salmonella grows on salad leaves when they are damaged.”  

Leafy green and other salad vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, providing vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Ready to eat prepared salads are particularly popular, are widely consumed and so of significant economic importance. Over recent years there has however been a number of outbreaks associated with fresh salad produce contaminated with Salmonella and E. coli both in the USA and Europe. 

lettuce-harvestThis has triggered considerable interest in effective strategies for controls and interventions measures both in UK industry, the EU and key research funding bodies. 

Despite a number of published reports on improving the microbiological safety of salad leaf production, very few studies have investigated the behavior of Salmonella once the leaves have been bagged.  

Giannis said: “Anything which enhances adherence of foodborne pathogens to leaf surfaces also increases their persistence and ability to resist removal, such as during salad washing procedures.  Even more worrying for those who might eat a Salmonella contaminated salad was the finding that proteins required for the virulence (capacity to cause infection) of the bacteria were increased when the Salmonella came into contact with the salad leaf juices. “Preventing enteric pathogen contamination of fresh salad produce would not only reassure consumers but will also benefit the economy due to fewer days lost through food poisoning. We are now working hard to find ways of preventing salad-based infections.”  

No comment from the LGMA.

While this research may make it seem like pre-packaged salads pose a scary risk, the researchers themselves were quick to say they still eat bagged salads. But they make sure to look for packages that have appropriate use-by dates and crisp-looking leaves. They stay away from salads that have mushy, slimy-looking greens, or bags with accumulated salad juice at the bottom. And they make sure to eat the greens within one day of purchase.

“Our project does not indicate any increased risk to eating leafy salads, but it does provide a better understanding of the factors contributing to food poisoning risks,” said Freestone. 

If you feel like it, you can wash greens that have already been pre-washed by manufacturers just before eating, but Freestone says this doesn’t have much of an effect on the salmonella bacteria that may already be attached or internalized by the leaves. 

Her study was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

No comment from LGMA.

Assessment of irrigation water quality and microbiological safety of leafy greens in different production systems

Journal of Food Safety, 2 November 2016, DOI: 10.1111/jfs.12324

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jfs.12324/abstract;jsessionid=883317B2001984CC39815B1792B68759.f04t01

Foodborne disease outbreaks associated with fresh produce irrigated with contaminated water are a constant threat to consumer health. In this study, the impact of irrigation water on product safety from different food production systems (commercial to small-scale faming and homestead gardens) was assessed.

spongebob-oil-colbert-may3-10Hygiene indicators (total coliforms, Escherichia coli), and selected foodborne pathogens (Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli O157:H7) of water and leafy green vegetables were analyzed. Microbiological parameters of all irrigation water (except borehole) exceeded maximum limits set by the Department of Water Affairs for safe irrigation water. Microbial parameters for leafy greens ranged from 2.94 to 4.31 log CFU/g (aerobic plate counts) and 1 to 5.27 log MPN/100g (total coliforms and E. coli). Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 were not detected in all samples tested but L. monocytogenes was present in irrigation water (commercial and small-scale farm, and homestead gardens).

This study highlights the potential riskiness of using polluted water for crop production in different agricultural settings.

No comment from LGMA.

Adaptive response of Listeria monocytogenes to heat, salinity and low pH, after habituation on cherry tomatoes and lettuce leaves

PLOS

Sofia V. Poimenidou, Danai-Natalia Chatzithoma, George-John Nychas, Panagiotis N. Skandamis

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0165746

Pathogens found on fresh produce may encounter low temperatures, high acidity and limited nutrient availability. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of habituation of Listeria monocytogenes on cherry tomatoes or lettuce leaves on its subsequent response to inhibitory levels of acid, osmotic and heat stress.

Habituation was performed by inoculating lettuce coupons, whole cherry tomatoes or tryptic soy broth (TSB) with a three-strains composite of L. monocytogenes, which were further incubated at 5°C for 24 hours or 5 days. Additionally, cells grown overnight in TSB supplemented with 0.6% yeast extract (TSBYE) at 30°C were used as control cells. Following habituation, L. monocytogenes cells were harvested and exposed to: (i) pH 3.5 adjusted with lactic acid, acetic acid or hydrochloric acid (HCl), and pH 1.5 (HCl) for 6 h; (ii) 20% NaCl and (iii) 60°C for 150 s.

Results showed that tomato-habituated L. monocytogenes cells were more tolerant (P < 0.05) to acid or osmotic stress than those habituated on lettuce, and habituation on both foods resulted in more stress resistant cells than prior growth in TSB. On the contrary, the highest resistance to heat stress (P < 0.05) was exhibited by the lettuce-habituated L. monocytogenes cells followed by TSB-grown cells at 5°C for 24 h, whereas tomato-habituated cells were highly sensitized. Prolonged starvation on fresh produce (5 days vs. 24 h) increased resistance to osmotic and acid stress, but reduced thermotolerance, regardless of the pre-exposure environment (i.e., tomatoes, lettuce or TSB).

lettuce-woolies-sep_-12-300x225These results indicate that L. monocytogenes cells habituated on fresh produce at low temperatures might acquire resistance to subsequent antimicrobial treatments raising important food safety implications.

No comment from LGMA.

Efficacy of post-harvest rinsing and bleach disinfection of E. coli O157:H7 on spinach leaf surfaces

Food Microbiology, April 2017, vol 62, pg 212-220, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fm.2016.10.019

Attachment and detachment kinetics of Escherichia coli O157:H7 from baby spinach leaf epicuticle layers were investigated using a parallel plate flow chamber. Mass transfer rate coefficients were used to determine the impact of water chemistry and common bleach disinfection rinses on the removal and inactivation of the pathogen. Attachment mass transfer rate coefficients generally increased with ionic strength. Detachment mass transfer rate coefficients were nearly the same in KCl and AGW rinses; however, the detachment phase lasted longer in KCl than AGW (18 ± 4 min and 4 ± 2 min, respectively), indicating that the ions present during attachment play a significant role in the cells’ ability to remain attached. Specifically, increasing bleach rinse concentration by two orders of magnitude was found to increase the detachment mass transfer rate coefficient by 20 times (from 5.7 ± 0.7 × 10−11 m/s to 112.1 ± 26.8 × 10−11 m/s for 10 ppb and 1000 ppb, respectively), and up to 88 ± 4% of attached cells remained alive.

lettuceThe spinach leaf texture was incorporated within a COMSOL model of disinfectant concentration gradients, which revealed nearly 15% of the leaf surface is exposed to almost 1000 times lower concentration than the bulk rinse solution.

No comment from LGMA.

Development of growth and survival models for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes during non-isothermal time-temperature profiles in leafy greens

Food Control, Vol 71, Part A, Jan 2017, Pg 32-41

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2016.06.009

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713516303164

Leafy greens contaminated with Salmonella enterica have been linked to large number of illnesses in many countries in recent years. Listeria monocytogenes is also a pathogen of concern for leafy greens because of its prevalence in the growing and processing environment and its ability to grow at refrigeration temperatures. Experimental data for the growth and survival of S. enterica and L. monocytogenes under different conditions and storage temperatures were retrieved from published studies. Predictive models were developed using the three-phase linear model as a primary growth model and square-root model to calculate specific growth rate (ln CFU g−1 h−1) at different temperatures (°C). The square-root model for S. enterica was calculated as μ = (0.020(Temperature+0.57))2. The square-root model for L. monocytogenes was fitted as μ = (0.023(Temperature-0.60))2. The growth-survival model for S. enterica and growth model for L. monocytogenes were validated using several dynamic time-temperature profiles during the production and supply chain of leafy greens. The models from this study will be useful for future microbial risk assessments and predictions of behavior of S. enterica and L. monocytogenes in the leafy greens production and supply chain.

No comment from LGMA.

 

Is there a relation between the microscopic leaf morphology and the association of Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 with iceberg lettuce leaves?

Journal of Food Protection, Number 10, October 2016, pp. 1656-1662, pp. 1784-1788(5)

I Van der Linden, M  Eriksson, M Uyttendaele, F Devlieghere

http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2016/00000079/00000010/art00017

To prevent contamination of fresh produce with enteric pathogens, more insight into mechanisms that may influence the association of these pathogens with fresh produce is needed.

lettuce-washIn this study, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella were chosen as model pathogens, and fresh cut iceberg lettuce was chosen as a model fresh produce type. The morphological structure of iceberg lettuce leaves (stomatal density and length of cell margins per leaf area) was quantified by means of leaf peels and light microscopy of leaves at different stages of development (outer, middle, and inner leaves of the crop) on both leaf sides (abaxial and adxial) and in three leaf regions (top, center, and bottom). The morphology of the top region of the leaves was distinctly different from that of the center and base, with a significantly higher stomatal density (up to five times more stomata), different cell shape, and longer cell margins (two to three times longer). Morphological differences between the same regions of the leaves at different stages of development were smaller or nonsignificant. An attachment assay with two attenuated E. coli O157:H7 strains (84-24h11-GFP and BRMSID 188 GFP) and two Salmonella strains (serovars Thompson and Typhimurium) was performed on different regions of the middle leaves. Our results confirmed earlier reports that these pathogens have a higher affinity for the base of the lettuce leaf than the top. Differences of up to 2.12 log CFU/g were seen (E. coli O157:H7 86-24h11GFP). Intermediate attachment occurred in the central region.

The higher incidence of preferential bacterial attachment sites such as stomata and cell margins or grooves could not explain the differences observed in the association of the tested pathogens with different regions of iceberg lettuce leaves.

No comment from LGMA.

The N.Y Times reports the one place the one place the Salinas Valley’s bounty of antioxidants does not often appear is on the tables of the migrant workers who harvest it.

sponge-bob-handwashingMore than a third of the children in the Salinas City Elementary School District are homeless; overall diabetes rates are rising and projected to soar; and 85 percent of farmworkers in the valley are overweight or obese, partly because unhealthy food is less costly, said Marc B. Schenker, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies the health of farmworkers.

No comment from LGMA.

Sponge Bob wants answers.

Floodwater, E. coli and leafy greens

The California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) requires leafy green crops within 9 m of the edge of a flooded field not be harvested due to potential contamination (California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Board, Commodity Specific Flood Safety Guidelines for the Production and Harvest of Lettuce and Leafy Greens, 2012). Further, previously flooded soils should not be replanted for 60 days.

lettuceIn this study, the suitability of the LGMA metrics for farms in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States was evaluated. The upper end of a spinach bed (in Beltsville, MD) established on a −5% grade was flooded with water containing 6 log CFU/ml Escherichia coli to model a worst-case scenario of bacterial movement through soil. Escherichia coli prevalence in soil and on foliar tissue was determined by most probable number (MPN) analysis at distances up to 9 m from the edge of the flood for 63 days. While E. coli was quickly detected at the 9-m distance within 1 day in the spring trial and within 3 days in the fall trial, no E. coli was detected on plants outside the flood zone after 14 days. On day 63 for the two trials, E. coli populations in the flood zone soil were higher in the fall than in the spring. Regression analysis predicted that the time required for a 3-log MPN/g (dry weight) decrease in E. coli populations inside the flood zone was within the 60-day LGMA guideline in the spring but would require 90 days in the fall. Overall, data suggest that the current guidelines should be revised to include considerations of field and weather conditions that may promote bacterial movement and survival.

Metrics proposed to prevent the harvest of leafy green crops exposed to floodwater contaminated with Escherichia coli

Appl. Environ. Microbiol. July 2016 vol. 82 no. 13 3746-3753, DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00052-16

Mary Theresa Callahan, Shirley A. Micallef, Manan Sharma, Patricia D. Millner, Robert L. Buchanan

http://aem.asm.org/content/82/13/3746.abstract?etoc

The long and winding road of frozen spinach in organic, industrially-produced food

It started on Sunday, when Amy’s Kitchen, of Petaluma, Calif., issued a voluntary recall of nearly 74,000 cases of products that may include frozen spinach potentially tainted with Listeria, such as include frozen vegetable lasagna, brown rice and vegetable bowls, and stuffed pasta shell bowls. The products were distributed nationwide in the U.S. and Canada.

spongebob.oil.colbert.may3.10Next up was Wegman’s Food Markets, an East Coast grocery chain, that on Monday issued a voluntary recall for about 12,500 packages of organic frozen spinach and said the spinach was supplied by Twin City Foods, of Stanwood, Washington.

A person who answered the phone at Twin City Foods on Monday told JoNel Aleccia of The Seattle Times it wasn’t clear that the company had supplied frozen spinach to Amy’s Kitchen. She said Twin Cities could not say what volume of product might have been contaminated with listeria and that owners were not prepared to make a statement. She declined further comment.

On Tuesday, Twin City Foods announced a recall of a bunch of products containing frozen spinach, that was used in a whole bunch of frozen products. Hence the rolling recalls.

Noteworthy: “The Recalled Product was supplied to Twin City Foods by Coastal Green Vegetable Company LLC of Oxnard, CA which initiated a recall of the bulk spinach on March 20, 2015 due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. Twin City Foods immediately notified all affected customers and initiated recalls of the retail packages on March 20, 2015.”

Cadia-frozen-spinach-labelCoastal Green spokesman Paul Fanelli said his company is cooperating with the Food and Drug Administration in the voluntary recall. Coastal Green has contacted “all the companies” who might have received the suspect spinach, he said. He declined to release the number of affected businesses.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

What is known about Coastal Green? Not much.

But their website says it got a superior rating by AIB (American Institute of Baking).

Oh-oh.

That’s a red flag.

Where was the spinach grown? Probably California. Where’s the Leafy Greens Marketing Association on this one?

Probably under the leafy greens cone of silence.

Did the Listeria contamination happen in the plant or in the field?

Who knows.

No one is confirmed sick – yet – so people will soon go on with their business and LGMA will continue to blow itself instead of taking on more substantive issues.

Market microbial food safety, not adjectives.

 

 

Evaluation? E. coli victims appeal to workers in LGMA training video

Coral Beach of The Packer writes that victims of the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to fresh spinach tell their stories in a new food safety training video co-produaced by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and the non-profit group STOP Foodborne Illness.

Lauren Bush tells her story in the video, describing how as a 20-year-old college student she contracted an infection from a spinach salad that ultimately sent her to the hospital with hemorrhaging and other severe symptoms.

“I’m so pleased with the video,” Bush said during a Nov. 19 Internet press conference. “I hope it reminds everyone who sees it of the importance of what they are doing. I know it must be a lot of extra work, but it does save lives.”

Dan Sutton, LGMA member and general manager of Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange, said he attended a training session a week before the press conference and watched the reactions of people seeing it for the first time.

“There was absolute silence when it was over,” Sutton said. “It had an impact.”

The video is bilingual with segments presented in Spanish and English.

Respectable Leafy greens food safety hucksterdum

To finish my tri-part Rolling-Stones inspired critique of leafy greens bullshit –outbreaks are only confirmed with direct testing and Bill Keene would be rolling in his grave — the Leafy Green Marketing Agency has done what all bureaucracies do:

Made a website.

With a dollop of PR hackerdom and an underpinning of how to tell the story better – tell the story better — The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has updated its website to provide easier access to news, information, and resources on leafy greens food safety and the program created in 2007.

The home page of the revised website takes users to the most current news item, highlights the organization’s current Twitter post, and is followed immediately by two of the most-visited sections of the website: the LGMA’s mandatory Food Safety Practices and its list of Certified LGMA Members.

With continual outbreaks involving dangerous pathogens on leafy greens., the California-based self-appointed Leafy Greens Marketing Association has been reduced to the tried, twisted and why not twerking, public relations strategy of telling the story better.

But good stories rely on good data, And consumers have no clue which companies are better at providing reduced E. coli or Salmonella spinach and lettuce.

Because they aren’t told.

Early research/North American outbreaks

Fresh fruits and vegetables were identified as the source of several outbreaks of foodborne illness in the early 1990s, particularly leafy greens (Table 1).

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

Powell, D.A., Jacob, C.J. and Chapman, B. 2009. Produce in public: Spinach, safety and public policy in Microbial Safety of Fresh Produce: Challenges, Perspectives, and Strategies ed. by X. Fan, B.A. Niemira, C.J. Doona, F.E. Feeherry and R.B. Gravani. Blackwell Publishing, pp 369-384.

So, as could have been predicted 20 years ago, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has completely revised its website to provide easier access to a wealth of news, information and resources concerning leafy greens food safety, and this important program created in 2007

Why did it take the outbreak in the fall of 2006 to compel the leafy green types 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 in the future?

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Regardless of regulation, actually employing best practices matters

A lot of folks in the food system are concerned about the potential for FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and associated rules, to negatively impact businesses. There’s been a bunch of rhetoric and uncertainty around the final rules and what will be needed to comply. The majority of the content of the proposed Produce and Preventive Controls Rules summarizes the industry’s best practices and lists the references behind decisions.tomato_dump_tank

Not much in there that’s a surprise for folks who have been paying attention.

The focus of FSMA is on identifying hazards, putting steps in place to manage them and actually doing it. The best businesses are already doing this.

There are some specifics like manure incorporation and what a qualified individual is (who is supposed to be responsible for written plans) that need to be worked out. But employing practices and putting systems in place based on the best available science goes a long way in the absence of a regulation.

Back in the day when we were working with produce farmers and packers in Ontario (that’s in Canada) that’s what we tried to do – to stay ahead of the market requirements and regulation.

It’s not a unique approach – the almond industry took a similar path, so did Florida tomato growers and leafy greens producers in California and Arizona to some extent.

According to Lancaster Online, Pennsylvania farmers, through ag educators might be focusing on the uncertainty.

Ag educator Jeff Stoltzfus said he has learned a lot about food safety in the past five years.

But when it comes to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to overhaul food safety regulations, he’s still trying to figure out the impact it will have on the growers he works with.

“What we don’t know is more than what we do know,” he told a group of growers gathered recently at Yoder’s Restaurant for New Holland Vegetable Day.

Keeping good records, he said, could be the most important thing for growers to protect themselves in case a problem arises.

“Records are going to be very important and policies will be even more important, especially if you’re taking stuff from other growers.”

I disagree – actually employing the correct risk-reduction practices based would top my list. The documentation is nice and shows a regulator or a buyer that you know what you’re talking about – but doing it is more important.

Food safety culture and leafy green hacks

Ever since the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to bagged spinach from California in 2006 killed four and sickened 200, the leafy green folks have begged for government inspection and flogged their apparent transparency.

Anyone who brags about having government inspection has nothing to brag lettuce_skull__e_coli__O145_1_story(1)about; see XL Foods in Canada from yesterday.

And why it took 29 outbreaks before something was publicly done to allegedly improve food safety conditions remains one of those unanswered mysteries.

But for their seven years of food safety investment – which has succeeded only in lowering the Sponge Bob cone of silence over any outbreak involving California leafy greens – the best these PR flunkies can do is respond to a week-old article about food safety culture by CNN’s Dr. Gupta with a link to their own website which shows … nothing.

The phrase food safety culture has certainly jumped the shark and is bandied about by people who have no idea. I’m fairly sure Chris Griffiths came up with the phrase in the early 2000s, I used it publicly at IAFP in Calgary in 2006, based on the cultural influence of my French professor wife, and Wal-Mart Frank wrote a book about it in 2009.

Now every hack uses it.

The leafy green folks claim the LGMA website “provides access to the food safety practices, the audit checklist and annual reports which provide inspection and citation data.”

No it doesn’t.

Not anything meaningful.

And these folks are now telling Washington that food safety programs should spongebob_oil_colbert_may3_10(3)(1)(1)(1)be based on what they’ve done.

Bullshit.

If the leafy Green Marketing Folks want to be truly transparent, they will make actual inspection data public for mere mortals to review, they will market microbial food safety at retail, and stop stonewalling every time there is an outbreak linked to leafy greens.

Like the E. coli O145 outbreak that sickened 30 people in New Brunswick (that’s in Canada) in 2012.

Or the E. coli O145 linked to Romaine lettuce that sickened some 50 people in Michigan and other states in 2010.

That lettuce was grown in Arizona, but they have also adopted the LGMA model.

And were silent during the outbreak.

A table of leafy green related outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/leafy-greens-related-outbreaks.

Multistate outbreak of Escherichia coli O145 infections associated with Romaine lettuce consumption, 2010

03.jun.13

Journal of Food Protection, Number 6, June 2013, pp. 928-1108 , pp. 939-944(6)

Taylor, E.V.; Nguyen, T.A.; Machesky, K.D.; Koch, E.; Sotir, M.J.; Bohm, S.R.; Folster, J.P.; Bokanyi, R.; Kupper, A.; Bidol, S.A.; Emanuel, A.; Arends, K.D.; Johnson, S.A.; Dunn, J.; Stroika, S.; Patel, M.K.; Williams, I.

Non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) can cause severe illness, including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). STEC O145 is the sixth most commonly reported non-O157 STEC in the United States, although outbreaks have been infrequent. In April and May 2010, we investigated a multistate outbreak of STEC O145 infection. Confirmed cases were STEC O145 infections with isolate pulsed-field gel electrophoresis patterns
indistinguishable from those of the outbreak strain. Probable cases were STEC O145 infections or HUS in persons who were epidemiologically linked. Case-control studies were conducted in Michigan and Ohio; food exposures were analyzed at the restaurant, menu, and ingredient level. Environmental inspections were conducted in implicated food establishments, and food samples were collected and tested. To characterize clinical findings associated with infections, we conducted a chart review for case patients who sought medical care. We identified 27 confirmed and 4 probable cases from five states. Of these, 14 (45%) were hospitalized, 3 (10%) developed HUS, and

none died. Among two case-control studies conducted, illness was significantly associated with consumption of shredded romaine lettuce in Michigan (odds ratio [OR] = undefined; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.6 to undefined) and Ohio (OR = 10.9; 95% CI = 3.1 to 40.5). Samples from an unopened bag of shredded romaine lettuce yielded the predominant outbreak strain. Of 15 case patients included in the chart review, 14 (93%) had diarrhea and abdominal cramps and 11 (73%) developed bloody diarrhea. This report documents the first foodborne outbreak of STEC O145 infections in the United States. Current surveillance efforts focus primarily on E. coli O157 infections; however, non-O157 STEC can cause similar disease and outbreaks, and efforts should be made to identify both O157 and non-O157 STEC infections. Providers should test all patients with bloody diarrhea for both non-O157 and O157 STEC.

foodsafetyinfosheet-5-6-10

Lettuce sickens, hacks hack; ‘leafy green marketing agreements set a bar, but it’s still too low’

Last week, Western Growers released food safety guidelines for the production, harvest and processing of fresh culinary herbs.

According to The Packer, in April 2011, the Food and Drug Administration urged the industry to take action to improve the safety of fresh cilantro. In response, Western Growers lettucestarted an initiative to develop commodity-specific guidelines for all fresh herbs as opposed to cilantro only.

Good.

But in the wake of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control study fingering produce as the biggest source of foodborne illness amongst known outbreaks, several groups decided this was an ideal moment to lecture consumers rather than explain the food safety challenges of fresh.

And none of them mentioned cantaloupe.

Bad.

ConAgra Foods, purveyors of peanut butter and pot pies that have poisoned hundreds of Americans, teamed with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to tell Americans, rather than avoid certain foods, practice safe food handling at home instead.

My Food Safety Network apparently lives on at the University of Guelph, dispensing advice I never would have provided, because there is little evidence consumers can do much when it comes to fresh produce.

And then there’s the blandness of FightBac, which used the study to remind people, “Any day is a good day to share a reminder about the importance of checking food safety steps at home!”

I’m not even sure that’s a sentence.

Much better and more realistic is the effort by Matt McClure of the Calgary Herald, who wrote the faraway fields of California were the source last year of lettuce tainted with a potentially-fatal bacteria that sickened scores of Canadians in at least three outbreaks.

Media attention has focused on a recent surge of 30 illnesses in the eastern half of the country linked to E. coli-tainted iceberg lettuce distributed to fast-food restaurants, and another outbreak last spring
lettuce.tomato.skullinvolving 23 patients in New Brunswick and Quebec who ate bagged romaine lettuce that was laden with the bacteria.

But federal documents — not made public until now — also show a Calgary senior was one of at least three patients who fell sick in a separate outbreak last summer that was also linked to tainted lettuce.

The 84-year-old woman — whom the Herald has agreed not to identify — died last month after being in and out of hospital for months following a severe infection from a strain of E.coli O157: H7 that was a genetic match to the bacteria found in a package of Tanimura and Antle brand lettuce.

“You assume the companies providing a product have all the controls in place to make sure it’s safe,” the woman’s daughter said.

“For our family, that assumption proved deadly.”

The leafy greens marketing types remain under the Sponge Bob cone of silence.

Mansour Samadpour, a microbiologist and lab executive based in Washington, said illness statistics show that programs like California’s Leafy Green Marketing Agreement are failing to make salads safer.

More than 1,200 people around North America have fallen sick after eating the product in the half decade since the program was introduced, twice the number who became ill in the previous five-year period.

“The size and number of lettuce outbreaks in Canada during the last year suggest a serious situation, one that’s arguably worse than the recall of tainted beef from XL Foods,” Samadpour said.

“The leafy green marketing agreements set a bar, but it’s still too low.”

While some retailers like Costco require testing of their suppliers, Samadpour said some in the produce industry balk at the additional cost of about four cents a bag.

“The industry says we triple wash with chlorine but we know that’s not effective in killing bacteria if they are present in large numbers,” Michael Doyle said.

“I think we need to require a reliable regimen of testing of these bagged products, but the problem is it costs money.”

He said one large manufacturer had confessed to him recently it was cheaper to recall product found to be tainted than to have advanced food safety interventions at their processing plants.

Tanimura and Antle did not respond to a request for an interview about its food safety program and how its tainted shipment of lettuce to Canada last summer was only detected when a CFIA official took a random swab at an import facility in Winnipeg.

Leafy greens cone of slience.

A table of leafy green outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/leafy-greens-related-outbreaks.

The abstract of the CDC report is below:

Each year, >9 million foodborne illnesses are estimated to be caused by major pathogens acquired in the United States. Preventing these illnesses is challenging because resources are limited and linking individual illnesses to a particular food is rarely possible except during an outbreak. We developed a method of attributing illnesses to food commodities that uses data from outbreaks associated with both simple and complex foods. Using data from outbreak-associated illnesses for 1998–2008, we estimated annual US foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths attributable to each of 17 food commodities. We attributed 46% of illnesses to produce and found that more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity. To the extent that these estimates reflect the commodities causing all foodborne illness, they indicate that efforts are particularly needed to prevent contamination of produce and poultry. Methods to incorporate data from other sources are needed to improve attribution estimates for some commodities and agents.

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/3/11-1866_article.htm

Produce primary source of US foodborne illness

The folks who grow lettuce and spinach in California would make a great comedy act: if only so many people didn’t get severely sick.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has confirmed what some of us have been saying for 15 years: fresh produce is the biggest source of lettuce.tomato.skullfoodborne illness in the U.S.

This isn’t surprising: produce is fresh, not cooked, so there is ample opportunity for cross-contamination and pathogen transfer, such as norovirus.

This is nothing new, and nothing to be scared of.

It means that food safety starts on the farm, and goes all the way through to the fork.

I don’t know what it is about moral outrage in the U.S. but it was rampant when we were there for the past two months and it seems like every group out there feels a higher duty to dictate to the masses.

So it was predictable when the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement  said with a straight face today, that produce food safety is a “shared responsibility” and that “we believe this program is the best model for producing safe food because it establishes a culture of food safety on the farm.”

No evidence was offered to substantiate such a claim; but they got all the groovy words in their PR.

For the number of outbreaks, for the number of severely ill and dead, for the decade of inaction, you don’t get to lecture Americans about how it’s a shared responsibility.

Take care of your own stuff, admit when California leafy greens are involved in outbreaks instead of stalling and obstructing, and if you’re program is so great, publish all test results and market food safety at retail.

Otherwise, save the morality lectures and go back to growing crops, making money, and try not to make people barf.

A table of leafy green outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/leafy-greens-related-outbreaks.

The abstract of the CDC report is below:

Each year, >9 million foodborne illnesses are estimated to be caused by major pathogens acquired in the United States. Preventing these illnesses is challenging because resources are limited and linking TheMasterOscarPageindividual illnesses to a particular food is rarely possible except during an outbreak. We developed a method of attributing illnesses to food commodities that uses data from outbreaks associated with both simple and complex foods. Using data from outbreak-associated illnesses for 1998–2008, we estimated annual US foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths attributable to each of 17 food commodities. We attributed 46% of illnesses to produce and found that more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity. To the extent that these estimates reflect the commodities causing all foodborne illness, they indicate that efforts are particularly needed to prevent contamination of produce and poultry. Methods to incorporate data from other sources are needed to improve attribution estimates for some commodities and agents.