Italian child in hospital with Listeria from homemade cheese

A child of 18 months in Vigevano, in the province of Pavia, is hospitalized in serious condition in the pediatric ward of the Policlinico San Matteo in Pavia due to listeriosis, after eating a homemade cheese made with unpasteurized milk.

cheese_mites430x300Talking with the parents of the young patient, doctors have learned in recent days that the child ate a cheese that had been prepared at home. Once arrived at San Matteo, the child has undergone brain surgery to reduce complications of meningoencephalitis.

Blue Bell lays off 1,450 workers; 1,400 more furloughed

The Blue Bell Creameries Listeria-in-ice-cream saga seems to be unraviling by the day, with the company announcing it will lay off hundreds of workers and reduce hours and pay for others in wake of its voluntary recall last month of all of its ice cream.

blue.bell.creameriesAlmost 4 in 10 in the Blue Bell workforce of 3,900 will lose their jobs. That’s 750 full-time employees and 700 part-time workers. Another 1,400 employees will be furloughed.

Ten illnesses in four states, including three deaths in Kansas, are now linked to the ice cream.

Thunderbirds Are Go: Jeni’s says ‘We plan to fire this baby up by the end of the week’

I’m not sure what baby Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, is talking about but that’s what she posted on Facebook, along with, “Mr. Sulu, stand by to take us to maximum warp.”

thunderbirds_10241The Columbus-based ice cream maker has been shut down for nearly three weeks after Listeria was found in a pint of its ice cream in Nebraska. Last week it pinpointed the source of the bacteria to a spout on a pint-filling machine and began instituting a series of changes both inside its Michigan Avenue production kitchen and to its operations there.

“It’s been a flurry of activity this past week in our production kitchen,” Britton Bauer wrote. “We removed walls, set up foot foaming stations; we now have a conveyor belt!

Fabulous. Maybe you could outline your Listeria testing protocols and make the results public.

Increased inspections mean little: FDA unaware of Listeria in Blue Bell plant before outbreak

I’ve always told my daughters, whenever someone says, “trust me,” immediately do not trust them.

Do-Not-Trust-MeTrust is earned by actions, not words.

Amidst reports that Listeria-contaminated Blue Bell ice cream is selling well on Craiglist and other Internet markets, U.S. Food and Drug Administration types said they were never told of repeated findings of Listeria at a Blue Bell Creameries facility before an outbreak linked to the ice cream turned deadly.

Results of a Food and Drug Administration investigation released last week showed the company had found 17 positive samples of Listeria on surfaces and floors in its Oklahoma plant dating back to 2013. The FDA said Friday that it “was not aware of these findings” before doing its own inspection this year.

“Although Blue Bell’s testing did identify Listeria, the company did not further identify the strain to determine if it was pathogenic,” FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher said.

Which is why all test results should be public.


Good Seed not so good: Sprouts recalled for Listeria

Good Seed Inc. of Springfield, Virginia has issued a recall of soybean and mung bean sprouts for possible listeria contamination.

seed_packets_small-300x225The company issued the recall on its one-, two- and ten-pound products produced on or after April 1.

The contamination was discovered after sampling by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Food Safety Program.

Consumers who bought the soybean and mung bean sprouts in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey or North Carolina should return them to the store for a full refund.

This is the second recall for soybean sprouts from a company in Virginia.

Listeria, advice, and pregnancy

My  latest from Texas A&M’s Center for Food Safety. Check them out on the Intertubes at

HomePage_Soliloquy_powellsworld_MayMy second grandson will be born about the time this is published and, with five daughters, I’ve had my share of conversations about what moms-to-be should and should not eat.

I learned a long time ago that preaching is futile: telling people what to do just doesn’t work.

I can cite lots of risk communication research to support this view, but I’d rather have a chat, provide information, and see where it goes.

It’s a confusing mess of informational goop out there, with a newspaper and even Toronto Sick Kids hospital saying it’s OK for pregnant women to eat “unpasteurized cheeses, shellfish and other ‘edgy foods.’” 

They’re not edgy, they’re microbiologically risky because the immune system of expectant moms is ratcheted down by a factor of 10 to avoid harming the fetus. To say the rates of listeriosis is lower in France where pregnant woman eat unpasteurized cheese (and this applies to any refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods) is to ignore deficiencies in surveillance. One of the largest French cheese producers said it was switching to all-pasteurized in 2008 because it didn’t want any more bodies – born or unborn.

An outbreak of Listeria in cheese in Quebec in fall 2008 led to 38 hospitalizations, of which 13 were pregnant and gave birth prematurely. Two adults died and there were 13 perinatal deaths.

A Sept. 2008 report showed that of the 78 residents of the Canadian province of British Columbia who contracted listeriosis in the previous six years, 10 per cent were pregnant women whose infections put them at high risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

The majority — nearly 60 per cent — of pregnant women diagnosed with listeriosis either miscarry or have stillbirths.

jaucelynn.pregnantA few months ago, my daughter e-mailed to ask, “So I know I can’t eat deli meat due to risk of Listeria but what about pepperettes?” (apparently they’re a Canadian thing).

I said they’ve probably been heat-treated if they’re commercially available, but copied Chapman to get another opinion.

I failed.

Dr. Ben wrote back that “most are shelf stable based on acidity and water activity (pH and Aw) — they have been fermented and dried (not cooked). “Sometimes they are smoked. Sometimes not.

“I’d cook it because you’d have to know that the pH and Aw was correct and what the steps were to validate the process.

“They are probably fine, but hard to know without the specifics.”

We all make our own risk decisions. And around pregnancy, some folks — like Chapman — choose to be super-cautious.

When our partners were pregnant, Chapman and I would have arguments about whether brie cheese made from pasteurized milk was safe because of its ability to support Listeria growth in a post-processing contamination scenario, and my wife would look at me and go, “nerd.”

She was right. And it was of no help to the pregnant ones (the toasted brie on crackers apparently did help).

What I’ve found through all these pregnancies is the enormous amount of conflicting advice provided to the moms-to-be.

It’s stressful enough being pregnant (not that I would know) without having Dr.-this-that giving bogus advice.

And from Dr. Oz to the Food Babe, the BS detector is rising in public circles.

Back in 2000, the American media was filled with coverage of lLsteria after the 1998-1999 Sara Lee Bil Mar hot dog outbreak in which 80 were sickened, 15 killed and at least 6 pregnant women had miscarriages. Risk assessments had been conducted, people were talking about warning labels, and especially, the risks to pregnant women.

About the same time, I was at a meeting and watched a pregnant PhD load up on smoked salmon, cold cuts and soft cheese for lunch and wondered, do I say something?

One of the biggest risks in pregnancy is protein deficiency. What if smoked salmon, cold cuts and soft cheeses were this woman’s biggest source of protein? (Turns out they were.)

Another big risk factor is stress. I didn’t want to freak her out. Besides, who the hell am I to say anything?

This competes with the duty of care in that, if you have knowledge of something, you have a responsibility to act. 

amy.pregnant.listeriaI sat with the woman during lunch and chatted about babies, her aspirations and how she was feeling. Eventually I introduced the subject of Listeria by talking about a risk assessment that had recently been published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and that maybe she would be interested in looking at the results.

I felt sorta goofy.

And the pregnant woman? When I saw her at another meeting a couple of months later, she thanked me for providing her with information about Listeria and risky foods for pregnant mothers.

But I’m just providing information – the peer-reviewed kind. It’s that duty of care thing.

It’s more than just hope and faith I wish for my daughter and her birth. She knows her science.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia. 

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University.


So much for the image: FDA says Blue Bell found Listeria in its factory as early as 2013

It’s a classic case of avoiding the safety.

listeria4The safety in this case was Listeria testing. Not much of a safety, but it’s a necessary evil that procedures are working. And when positives come back, action should be taken.

Lauren Raab of the Los Angeles Times writes that Blue Bell Creameries knew it had a listeria problem as early as 2013, and it has failed to make its ice creams and sorbets in a way that would minimize the possibility of contamination, according to Food and Drug Administration reports made public Thursday.

The report on the Blue Bell plant in Broken Arrow, Okla., found the most egregious problems.

On five occasions in 2013 and 10 in 2014, Listeria was found in the plant’s processing room and kitchen on surfaces that did not come in contact with food, the FDA said. And the report found that on at least one occasion, after the plant performed its usual cleaning and sanitizing procedures, Listeria was found again in the same place, and the coliform bacteria count was higher than before the cleaning.

The plant also failed to test for bacteria on food contact surfaces, the report said.

The FDA found lapses in hand-washing and glove-changing as well. For example, the report said, one worker was observed picking up buckets of orange puree from “wet wood pallets which had black mold-like residue and red stains” and then, without changing gloves, touching the rims and insides of the buckets.

Water used to clean equipment, utensils and food-packaging materials was not sufficiently hot, the report found, and ingredients, including unpasteurized milk products, were stored at temperatures that were not sufficiently cold.

Furthermore, the report said, condensation that gathered on equipment dripped into tanks containing ingredients and even into quart containers of finished product.

The plant also used some equipment that was difficult or impossible to clean properly, such as porous wood pallets and a stainless-steel mixer with rough welding, the report said.

The FDA reported shorter lists of similar problems at Blue Bell plants in Brenham, Texas, and Sylacauga, Ala.

Blue Bell did not respond Thursday afternoon to phone calls and emails requesting comment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people — five in Kansas, three in Texas and one each in Arizona and Oklahoma — are confirmed to have had listeriosis linked to Blue Bell products. All 10 patients were hospitalized, and three in Kansas died, officials said. The illnesses date as far back as January 2010.

Blue Bell recalled all of its products worldwide last month because of Listeria concerns.

The company has said it is expanding its testing and safety procedures. The measures include “expanding our system of swabbing and testing our plant environment by 800% to include more surfaces” and “sending samples daily to a leading microbiology laboratory for testing,” it says on its website.

The situation at Blue Bell “is pretty bad,” said Doug Powell, a former Kansas State University professor of food safety who now publishes the food safety website Given the FDA’s findings, he said, “it’s not surprising there was an outbreak.”

Blue Bell should have told customers when listeria was first found at the Broken Arrow plant in 2013, and it should have moved to fix the problem right away, Powell said.

By contrast, Powell said, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which is also dealing with a Listeria problem, has done a much better job: “They have not been linked to any sick people, but as soon as they found Listeria, they just shut down everything.”


French raw sheep’s milk cheese contaminated with Listeria

Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department today (May 7) urged the public not to consume certain batches of PERAIL raw sheep’s milk cheese imported from France, as the product might have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogen. The trade should also stop using or selling the product concerned immediately.

French-cheese-3-of-1“The Centre received a notification from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) of the European Commission that certain batches of PERAIL raw sheep’s milk cheese were found to have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The French producer concerned has initiated a recall of all batches of all specialties of the product produced between the aforesaid dates.

According to the information provided by the RASFF, a small volume of the affected product (with best before dates of May 23, 29 or 30, 2015) has been imported into Hong Kong,” a spokesman for the CFS said.

The CFS is contacting the importer concerned in Hong Kong as notified by the RASFF to instruct it to stop the sale and initiate a recall of the affected product, and trace the distribution of the food concerned.

It was the pint-filling machine at Jeni’s that lead to Listeria recall

The listeria found at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams’ plant was on the spout of one of its pint-filling machines.

listeria4The company plans to spend at least $200,000 to rework its manufacturing line at its Michigan Avenue plant to ensure listeria never visits again, according to a press release.

“We will spend whatever it takes,” said CEO John Lowe, in a statement today.

Jeni’s recalled all of its products and shut down all 21 scoop shops on April 23 after a pint of Dark Chocolate ice cream bought at a Whole Foods in Lincoln, Neb., tested positive for listeria. The test was part of a random sampling of food conducted by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
Jeni’s tested other pints and its production kitchen. Listeria was found in at least one other flavor and at the plant. The machine on which the listeria was found is used only to fill pints, not the large bins, known as buckets, used at scoop shops.

The shops will remain closed, though, while Jeni’s works through its plant revisions.

The company has estimated that in all, it will destroy about 535,000 pounds of product. The recall will cost more than $2.5 million, Lowe said.
The biggest change at the production kitchen announced today is that fresh produce and vegetables, a hallmark of Jeni’s flavors, will be processed at a separate location. Jeni’s did not say where.
The company will also use a new testing regime that includes periodic swabbing of the plant to actively search for contaminants. The protocol is similar to one used by Smith Dairy, of Orrville, which supplies Jeni’s ice cream base. Smith Dairy swabs its facilities twice a month to check for listeria and other contaminants, according to Nate Schmid, chief operating officer.

Jeni’s will also test and hold all of its products prior to shipment in order to ensure their safety, Lowe said in today’s statement.

Do people cook ice cream?

Foodborne illness outbreaks are teachable moments: people are paying more attention to a particular topic.

listeria4Listeria in Blue Bell ice cream is one of those moments in the news cycle where people may pay attention.

So what does the U.S. Institute of Food Technologists tell people?

IFT Spokesperson Kantha Shelke, PhD, CFS offers four tips consumers can use to avoid getting sick from Listeria:

  • cook animal products thoroughly to make sure bacteria is killed;
  • wash raw vegetables and fruits very well in order to reduce bacterial pathogens;
  • keep uncooked meat and any utensils or cutting boards that touch the uncooked meat separate from cooked products and anything else you might be eating raw like fruits and vegetables; and,
  • avoid raw milk or food products that have been made with raw milk as they don’t adhere to proper temperature and hygiene standards.

It’s reworded cook-clean-chill-separate dogma and would do nothing to prevent Listeria in ice cream.