GAO: FDA sorta slow responding to produce industry

From the U.S. Government Accountability Office:

Although the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, foodborne illness is a common public health problem. Some of this illness can be linked to produce. In 2006, for example, an E. coli outbreak associated with baby spinach sickened 205 people and killed 3; in 2011, 147 people fell ill and 33 died as a result of eating melons contaminated with Listeria. Other produce-related outbreaks in recent years have involved cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, and packaged salads.

lettuce-skull-e-coli-o145The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has responsibility for ensuring the safety of produce, along with many other foods. Overall, FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of more than 80 percent of the U.S. food supply.

Because produce is often consumed raw without processing to reduce or eliminate contaminants, preventing contamination is key to ensuring safe consumption. In January 2011, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law, representing the largest expansion and overhaul of U.S. food safety law since the 1930s.1 FSMA, according to FDA, marked a historic turning point by focusing on preventing rather than reacting to foodborne illnesses. FSMA did so, in part, by requiring FDA to promulgate new rules that together provide a framework for industry to implement preventive measures and for FDA to oversee implementation. In response to FSMA, FDA developed seven foundational rules; among them was the rule entitled Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption—widely referred to as the produce safety rule.2 This rule, which FDA promulgated in November 2015, established the first enforceable national standards for on-farm growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of domestic and imported produce.3 Among other things, the rule established standards related to agricultural water quality; the use of soil amendments, such as raw manure; the presence of domesticated and wild animals; worker training, health, and hygiene; and sanitation of equipment, tools, and buildings. The rule includes staggered compliance dates depending on average annual produce sales of a business and other factors. For example, compliance for some of the largest businesses comes due beginning in 2017 and 2018, while compliance for certain smaller businesses is not due until 2020. FDA has been developing guidance and training for those affected by the new standards under the produce rule; the agency has also set aside funding for states to help them support implementation of the rule. In addition, the agency is hiring experts with backgrounds in science and policy to work in different regions of the country assisting state officials with implementation of the rule, according to FDA officials.

Some in the produce industry have expressed concerns about the new produce rule standards, including concerns about the scientific basis for standards in such areas as water quality. Some have also expressed concerns about the costs associated with meeting the new standards, particularly for smaller businesses. The Agricultural Act of 2014, also referred to as the 2014 Farm Bill, required that FDA ensure the final produce rule include “a plan to systematically…develop an ongoing process to evaluate and respond to business concerns.”4

The act included a provision for GAO to report, 1 year after the promulgation of the final produce rule and again the next year, on the ongoing evaluation and response process. This first report examines (1) how FDA evaluates and responds to business concerns regarding the produce rule and (2) how FDA plans to assess the effectiveness of its efforts to evaluate and respond to business concerns regarding the rule.5

lettuceTo examine how FDA evaluates and responds to business concerns regarding the produce rule, we reviewed the final rule, including FDA’s responses to public comments on the rule; reviewed relevant information on FSMA and the produce rule on FDA’s website; interviewed FDA officials involved in implementation of the rule; and interviewed representatives from two organizations assisting FDA with implementation of the rule.6 We also interviewed representatives from six produce industry associations and one large retailer for their views on any FDA efforts to respond to business concerns.7 We selected industry associations with large memberships, those representing both large and small businesses, and those representing differing types of produce. These interviews provided a sampling of views and are not generalizable to all produce industry associations, businesses, or others affected by the produce rule. To determine how FDA plans to assess the effectiveness of its efforts to evaluate and respond to business concerns, we interviewed FDA officials to learn about any ongoing or planned efforts.

We conducted this performance audit from August 2016 to November 2016 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

FDA has developed an information clearinghouse to evaluate and respond to concerns from businesses and other stakeholders regarding any of the FSMA rules, including the produce rule. Operational since September 2015, this clearinghouse, called the Technical Assistance Network (TAN), serves as a central source of information to support understanding and implementation of the FSMA rules. Businesses and other stakeholders—such as industry associations, academia, and consumers—can submit questions online or by phone or traditional mail. Phase 1 of the TAN, which is currently operational, evaluates and responds to questions related to the publication of FSMA rules. Phase 2, which FDA expects to begin in 2017, will evaluate and respond to questions from FDA and state inspectors working to ensure industry compliance with FSMA rules. FDA officials we interviewed told us the agency intends to maintain the TAN as a mechanism to respond to stakeholder questions and concerns even after the produce rule and other FSMA rules are fully implemented.8

We examined FDA data on TAN questions received by the agency from early September 2015 through early September 2016.9 During that period, FDA received 2,626 TAN questions, most of which had been submitted online.10 About 14 percent of questions (363) pertained to the produce rule, and about 60 percent of questions (218) pertaining to the produce rule came from those who identified as belonging to “industry/business.”11 According to FDA, the agency tracks TAN questions to help inform FSMA policy, guidance, and training. For example, officials at FDA told us that many of the questions it received related to the produce safety rule sought clarification regarding uses of water that meet the definition of “agricultural water.” FDA also received many questions seeking clarification on the requirements for collecting samples of agricultural water. Because of the large number of questions on both of these topics, FDA considers them high-priority areas to address in developing guidance. Specifically, FDA identified these topics as those most important to include in the first phase of its general compliance and implementation guidance for the produce rule, whereas other topics will be addressed in the second phase of the guidance.

In addition to addressing business concerns through the TAN, FDA officials told us they will continue to reach out to industry during produce rule implementation, just as they did while developing the rule. For example, FDA officials plan to meet with industry as they develop guidance documents, which provide direction on complying with produce rule standards. According to these officials, the guidance development process will provide another opportunity to hear and respond to business concerns. FDA may incorporate industry suggestions into the final guidance, as appropriate. Representatives from industry associations we interviewed generally praised FDA’s level of collaboration during the rulemaking process, noting that FDA had been willing to engage with them and address their concerns.12

FDA Is Developing a Survey and Other Metrics to Assess Its Information Clearinghouse

FDA officials we interviewed said the agency is developing a stakeholder survey to assess the effectiveness of its information clearinghouse, the TAN. FDA will send a copy of the survey to businesses and other stakeholders when providing responses to TAN questions submitted online. Most TAN questions are submitted online. Officials told us surveys will be sent starting in fiscal year 2017, after the required Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review is complete.13 FDA plans to implement the survey in two parts, according to officials. The first part will begin in early fiscal year 2017 and will solicit feedback from stakeholders about the web page FDA provides for submitting questions online. In late fiscal year 2017, FDA will begin soliciting feedback about the quality of information the agency provided in its responses to TAN questions. In addition, officials said the agency is developing metrics to measure overall success in implementing the produce rule and plans to begin using these metrics in January 2018, when compliance with most of the produce rule standards comes due for most large businesses. These metrics will be used to examine how effective the TAN is in responding to questions and will ultimately be used to assess whether additional training and outreach to business are needed to help implement the produce rule.

We asked representatives from industry associations and other organizations we interviewed about their experiences submitting questions to the TAN. These representatives generally told us that wait times for answers from the TAN can be long, and some had not yet received answers to their questions. For example, representatives from one industry association told us it took 4 months to get an answer through the TAN.

FDA officials told us that, as of early October 2016, the agency had responded to about 72 percent of all TAN questions received. Officials said FDA is currently studying how long it takes, on average, to respond to questions submitted to the TAN, and the agency is working to decrease its response time. Also, according to FDA officials, response times to TAN questions may be longer in some cases because agency guidance on the produce rule and other FSMA rules is still under development, and the agency does not want to provide information through the TAN that might conflict with the subsequent guidance. In addition, officials said that while simpler questions can often be addressed immediately by FDA staff that monitor the TAN, about 95 percent of the questions are more complex. These questions are forwarded to subject matter experts within the agency and, consequently, require more time for a response. According to FDA, median response time for questions forwarded to subject matter experts is 22 business days. FDA officials told us that if a question is still unaddressed after 30 days, FDA will send an automated message saying the agency is working on a response; a second automated message is sent after 60 days if the question is still unresolved.

I don’t see gender: Sorenne can be an engineer, artist, whatever; it’s mindnumbing to limit over 50% of the populations’ potential

On December 6th, 1989, a lone 25-year-old gunman walked into a class of engineering students at École Polytechnique, affiliated with the Université de Montréal, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife, separated the men from the women, shot 28 people and killed 14 women – primarily engineering students – before turning the gun on himself.

montreal-massacre-victimsWhen he entered a second floor mechanical engineering class of about 60 students, he approached the student giving a presentation, he asked everyone to stop everything and ordered the women and men to opposite sides of the classroom. No one moved at first, believing it to be a joke until he fired a shot into the ceiling.

He then separated the nine women from the approximately 50 men and ordered the men to leave. Speaking in French, he asked the remaining women whether they knew why they were there, and when one student replied “no,” he answered: “I am fighting feminism.”

One of the students, Nathalie Provost, said, “Look, we are just women studying engineering, not necessarily feminists ready to march on the streets to shout we are against men, just students intent on leading a normal life.”

Lépine responded that “You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.” He then opened fire on the students from left to right, killing six, and wounding three others, including Provost.  Before leaving the room, he wrote the word shit twice on a student project.

The Montreal Massacre, as it is referred to, led to a self-examination of engineering programs across Canada. I benefitted from that, offering a course for engineers while working at the University of Waterloo, beginning in 1991.

court-hockeyThe more things change, the more they stay the same

Twenty-seven years later, the Ontario Hockey League has announced its mandatory program to teach players to respect women.

Probably because a lot of hockey players are goons – on and off the ice (not my friend Kevin, he’s just a goon on the ice).

I got five daughters, and I have and always will support them in whatever they do.

They all did and do play hockey.

Like engineering, it can be tough.

No one needs condescension, but clearing a few roadblocks can help.

One of the goals of the OHL Onside program, announced in Peterborough, includes teaching players to consider how their words and actions demonstrate respect.

I’ve had several chats with male adults and kids on the ice, in terms of comments made toward females.

And the other way.

Girls and women can give it back just as severe.

League vice president Ted Baker expects players and staff to buy into the curriculum, which will be taught by sexual assault experts in communities that have OHL teams.

“This will be something that will really be one of the pillars of our league,” he said.

The two-hour program will be delivered once-a-year. According to Lydia Fiorini, the executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre of Essex County, the culture is changing in sports, especially in professional leagues.

“You’re starting to see different shifts with regards to NFL players, NHL players in terms of their charges of domestic violence and the league really being really punitive as a result of those potential charges,” Fiorini said.

She hopes early starts for programs like this with feeder teams like the OHL will prevent some of those negative behaviours.

“Many times they witness a lot of things, but don’t know what to say,” Fiorini said. “This is an opportunity for them to start doing some preplanning in case they are confronted with those negative behaviours or stereotypes. So that they can actually speak out and actually work towards ending violence.”

A pilot project started last year with the Kitchener Rangers and the Peterborough Petes last year. 

gender

First we take Manhattan, then Berlin: Zoonoses in the food chain

I may have spoken at this in 1998.

quote-first-we-take-manhattan-then-we-take-berlin-leonard-cohen-87-88-65Or something else.

My parents warned me Germans would not get my sense of humor, and I hobbled around Berlin with my first affliction of what I later understood to be familial-associated gout.

The beer probably didn’t help.

Regardless, the occurrence of zoonotic pathogens and toxigenic bacteria in the food chain and the associated risk for humans were the focus of the4th Symposium for Zoonoses and Food Safety” at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Berlin.

Around 250 participants were discussing strategies to combat zoonotic pathogens in livestock, their occurrence in foods of animal origin and the role of toxigenic bacteria for food safety.

“The sharp decline of salmonellosis in humans in recent years can be seen as a success of the measures taken to combat this pathogen in poultry flocks,” says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. “Accordingly, there is now more focus on other sources of human infection”. This includes the occurrence of Salmonella in pig farming and in reptiles kept as pets.

For this reason, the symposium also focused on how to reduce the spread of salmonella in pig herds and pork meat. To do so, the food chain was examined from feedstuffs all the way through to food retail. New goals and initiatives of the federal states were presented too. The possible role of household pets as a source of infection for humans was also thematised using the example of reptiles.

The risk posed to humans by other zoonotic pathogens was also looked at. New laboratory methods play an important role in estimating these risks and assessing possible infection chains. This was illustrated by describing the investigation of a listeriosis outbreak. Another current example is the appraisal of the gut bacteria Clostridium difficile as a zoonotic pathogen.

one-healthA second main focus of the symposium was toxigenic bacteria. These are bacteria whose metabolites can trigger illnesses known as food intoxications (poisonings) that can sometimes be severe. It is not the bacterium but rather the toxin produced by it that is the cause of the health impairment.

The number of cases of foodborne diseases through toxigenic bacteria reported on EU level is increasing continuously. With approx. 16%, overall food intoxications took third place in reported cases of foodborne disease outbreaks after viruses and salmonella in 2014.

The main focus of the symposium was on the significance, occurrence and detection of toxigenic Staphylococci, Bacilli and Clostridia. The results of outbreak investigations in Germany were presented among other things, along with suitable examination methods for detecting toxigenic bacteria in prepared foods. The experts also picked up on the question of whether more efforts have to be made to better estimate and minimise the risk posed by toxigenic bacteria in the future.

 

Surveys still suck: Australians identify ingredients hate list, so retailers can make a buck

Nielsen research has found almost half of Australian consumers wish there were more “all natural” food products on supermarket shelves.

trump-snake-oilA reflection of the way the question was asked.

Would you like all natural food products that contained dangerous microorganisms?

Probably not.

The findings from the Global Health and Ingredient Sentiment Survey show Australians are adopting a “back-to-basics mindset”, focusing on simple ingredients says Nielsen.

Close to nine in 10 respondents said they avoid specific ingredients because they believe them to be harmful to their own or their family’s health, while six in 10 consumers said they are concerned about the long-term health impact of artificial ingredients in their diet.

“Informed and savvy consumers are demanding more from the foods they eat and are happy to pay more if they believe it is better for them,” said Michael Elam-Rye, associate director – retail at Nielsen.

They are not informed; they are responding to what grocery stores, TV, the Internet and friends tell them.

But in a Donald Trump era, it’s a fact-free world.

Trump won because he told people what they wanted to hear.

People embrace natural foods and are anti-vaccine because someone is telling them what they want to hear.

It’s seductive.

And it’s big bucks for the purveyors of food porn – farmers, processors, retailers – especially retailers – and media outlets that make a buck telling people what they want to hear.

I get it. I’ve always said – since I was about 20-years-old – getting attention in the public domain is a mixture of style and substance. Scientists can work on their style, everyone else can work on their substance (and just because you eat does not make you an expert).

But substance has to win out, about 60-40.

It’s a peculiarity that society expects bridges and other engineering feats, along with medicine, to be exceeding current and revolutionary, yet many expect to produce food as in the old days.

trump-special-kind-stupidIt’s not peculiar: it’s advertising, messaging and manipulation.

John Defore writes about a new documentary Food Evolution, which defends the place of genetically engineered food in agriculture.

Neil deGrasse Tyson – who seamlessly blends the 60-40 suggestion of substance over style – and director Scott Hamilton Kennedy challenge enviro-activist orthodoxy, much in the same way I’ve been doing for 30 years.

But they’re more skilled at the style.

Food Evolution sounds on paper like it might be one of those hack-job rebuttals in which moneyed right-wing interests disguise propaganda as a documentary. Many on the left will likely dismiss it as such, which is a shame … the movie makes an excellent case against those who seek blanket prohibitions against genetically modified organisms — and … against those of us who support such bans just because we assume it’s the eco-conscious thing to do.

[I]t investigates the motives of some prominent anti-GMO activists — like those who are “very entrepreneurial,” finding ways to make money off fears the film believes are baseless, or like researcher Chuck Benbrook, whose work was financed by companies making billions from customers afraid of GMOs.

Hope bridges don’t start falling down because people want them more natural.

The folks who did the survey say, “This presents an opportunity for food manufacturers to increase share by offering and marketing products that are formulated with good-for-you ingredients, and an opportunity for retailers to trade consumers up with more premium priced products.”

snakeoilTell lies. Bend rules. Make a buck.

Trump is the embodiment for the times.

Top 10 ingredients Australian consumers avoid:

Antibiotics/hormones in animals products

MSG

Artificial preservatives

Artificial flavours

Artificial sweeteners

Foods with BPA packaging

Artificial colours

Sugar

Genetically modified foods

Sodium

I avoid dangerous microorganisms, which sicken 1-out-of-8 people every year.

That’s a lot of barfing.

And it’s not on the list.

What is the infectious dose of Listeria? Who are susceptible?

The relationship between the number of ingested Listeria monocytogenes cells in food and the likelihood of developing listeriosis is not well understood.

listeria4Data from an outbreak of listeriosis linked to milkshakes made from ice cream produced in 1 factory showed that contaminated products were distributed widely to the public without any reported cases, except for 4 cases of severe illness in persons who were highly susceptible. The ingestion of high doses of L. monocytogenes by these patients infected through milkshakes was unlikely if possible additional contamination associated with the preparation of the milkshake is ruled out.

This outbreak illustrated that the vast majority of the population did not become ill after ingesting a low level of L. monocytogenes but raises the question of listeriosis cases in highly susceptible persons after distribution of low-level contaminated products that did not support the growth of this pathogen.

Infectious dose of listeria monocytogenes on outbreak linked to ice cream, United States, 2015

Emerging Infectious Diseases, December 2016, Volume 22, Number 12, https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2212.160165

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/22/12/16-0165_article

Effective inspections: Be kind and considerate

Conducting food safety inspections requires interpersonal skills and technical expertise. This requirement is particularly important for agencies that adopt a compliance assistance approach by encouraging inspectors to assist industry in finding solutions to violations.

george-carlin-honestyThis article describes a study of inspections that were conducted by inspectors from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Food and Dairy Division at small-scale processing facilities. Interactions between inspectors and small processors were explored through a qualitative, ethnographic approach using interviews and field observations. Inspectors emphasized the importance of interpersonal skills such as communication, patience, empathy, respect, and consideration in conducting inspections.

This article examines how these skills were applied, how inspectors felt they improved compliance, the experiences through which inspectors attained these skills, and the training for which they expressed a need. These results provide new insights into the core competencies required in conducting inspections, and they provide the groundwork for further research.

Interpersonal skills in the practice of food safety inspections: A study of compliance assistance

Journal of Environmental Health , December 2016, Volume 79, No. 5, 8–12

Jenifer Buckley, PhD

https://www.netforumpro.com/eweb/shopping/shopping.aspx?site=neha&webcode=shopping&shopsearchcat=merchandise&productcat=jeh%20articles&prd_key=8a34823b-b79b-4f9c-819f-1ce7b3410c3a

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.”

UK regulator types on antimicrobial resistance in food

In 1969, the Swann report recommended strict oversight and restrictions on the use of antibiotics used in human medicine as growth promoters in agriculture. That was in the UK, and 37 years later, the UK Food Standards Agency has published a systematic review of the available evidence on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in food. The review looked at research on the presence of AMR in bacteria in a number of different foods sold at retail.

fda-antibiotics-agricultureThe research has confirmed the need for extra surveillance of AMR in food at retail level, to support the wider programme of work currently underway across government to help reduce levels of AMR.

The study was produced by the Royal Veterinary College, on behalf of the Food Standards Agency, and looked at the areas where consumers are more likely to be exposed to AMR in bacteria from the food chain. Researchers examined published evidence between 1999 and 2016 for pork and poultry meat, dairy products, seafood and fresh produce sold in shops.

FSA action includes:

Working to encourage the adoption of clear transparent reporting standards that help consumers have access to and understand information about the responsible use of antibiotics in the food chain. 

Continued focus on improving the scientific evidence base relating to antimicrobial resistance in the food chain through supporting relevant research and improving surveillance. 

Setting up an independent group to advise us on responsible use of antibiotics in agriculture to support the above work.

Background

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major public health issue worldwide. It is a complex issue driven by a variety of interconnected factors enabling microorganisms to withstand antimicrobial treatments to which they were once susceptible. The overuse and/or misuse of antibiotics has been linked to increasing the emergence and spread of microorganisms which are resistant to them, rendering treatment ineffective and posing a risk to public health.

People can become exposed to AMR bacteria through a number of routes such as human-to-human spread, animals, through the environment and food chain. There is currently uncertainty around the contribution food makes to the problem of AMR and the types of AMR bacteria found in foods on retail sale in the UK. There is a need to consider the literature in this area to gain a better understanding of the potential risk to consumers through contaminated foods and also to identify the key evidence gaps.

Research Approach

The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in retail pork, poultry meat, dairy products, seafood and fresh produce that could pose a risk to UK consumers. For this purpose a systematic review was undertaken following the PRISMA guidelines (Liberati et al., 2009) through which current existing evidence present in scientific databases and grey literature is collected and assessed. A protocol, which describes the methodology used, has been made accessible through the International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO). The protocol is available at http://www.york.ac.uk/crd/. Please search PROSPERO using registration number CRD42016033082.

ab-res-prudent-may-14Research questions were developed taking into consideration current evidence for relevant resistant foodborne pathogens and commensal bacteria observed in animals, food and humans in European countries published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) (EFSA, 2015), feedback provided by experts and findings from scoping searches of the literature (i.e. PubMed).

Key recommendations: 

There is a need to standardise the selection of antimicrobials for antimicrobial susceptibility testing panels, harmonising criteria for assessment of resistance per bacteria/drug combination for surveillance purposes, using a standardised definition for multidrug resistance (MDR) and the adoption of random sampling and adequate study design for epidemiological studies.

Identification of a core set of relevant antimicrobials when developing and implementing prospective testing for surveillance systems for determination of AMR in the food chain.

Surveillance priorities could be set using a risk-based approach, taking into account the importance of antimicrobials used for treatment in both humans and animals, and continued surveillance of the incidence and emerging resistance (including MDR) in commensal bacteria (Enterococcus spp. and E. coli) should be encouraged.

Data on AMR bacteria from British and imported pork meat in the UK are limited and dated. Further research and surveillance efforts are needed to ascertain AMR levels in both foodborne and commensal bacteria in pork meat in the UK.

There is evidence of increasing levels of resistance to antimicrobials in foodborne bacteria (i.e., Campylobacter spp.) from poultry meat in the UK. Research and surveillance efforts should be continued to monitor AMR trends in both foodborne and commensal bacteria in British and imported chicken and poultry meats in the UK.

There is a lack of information on AMR bacteria in foods of animal origin other than meat at retail level. In recent years, there have been growing numbers of outbreaks associated with milk and dairy products (cheese, butter, yogurt), seafood (fish and shellfish) and fresh produce (fruit, vegetables and salads) at national and international levels but there is scarce, scattered evidence of resistance and MDR occurrence in foodborne and commensal bacteria in these food products and its implications for public health. These gaps should be addressed also using a risk-based approach following evidence of resistance in food items as well as the extent of expected consumer exposure using consumption and import volumes.

Data on antimicrobial usage in food-producing animals in the UK are important to explain the occurrence and dynamics of AMR, resistance genes and MDR phenotypes in a defined geographical area. More complete information should therefore be collected on the type of production system from which food samples originate to assess the impact of animal husbandry practices as risk factors for resistance.

There is a need for more studies to quantify the contribution of both domestic and imported foods to AMR occurrence. Information on country of origin for imported products should be collected.

Priorities should be set according to the importance of a food item in terms of exposure of consumers. Consumption data will be essential for assessing the risk of exposure of British consumers.

Finally, further research and surveillance are needed to establish and quantify the risk of transmission of AMR against critically important antimicrobials in organisms from foods of animal and non-animal origin) to humans.

A systematic review of AMR bacteria in pork, poultry, dairy products, seafood and fresh produce at UK retail level

August 2015-October 2016

Food Standards Agency

https://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/foodborneillness/b14programme/b14projlist/fs102127/a-systematic-review-of-amr-in-pork-and-poultry-dairy-products-seafood-and-fresh-produce

Raw is risky: Searching for answers behind Vibrio-in-raw-oyster outbreaks

Michael Casey of The Charlotte Observer reports that for the past 25 years, researcher Stephen Jones has tried to understand the threat that bacteria may pose to oysters in New Hampshire’s Great Bay estuary. He often couldn’t get funding to study the problem. But that is beginning to change as scientists notice “something is going on.”

Oyster-Vancouver, B.C.- 07/05/07- Joe Fortes Oyster Specialist Oyster Bob Skinner samples a Fanny Bay oyster at the restuarant. Vancouver Coastal Health now requires restaurants to inform their patrons of the dangers of eating raw shellfish.  (Richard Lam/Vancouver Sun)   [PNG Merlin Archive]

Scientists are recognizing that a waterborne disease sickening tens of thousands of people each year is associated with warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico moving northward, partly due to climate change. The problem is extremely rare in New Hampshire and neighboring Maine, but scientists have seen cases elsewhere in New England and expect it to become a bigger problem.

Cases of human illness have been piling up since Sept. in Florida, Massachusetts and Western Canada.

“We have this situation in the northern part of the United States and other cooler climates where people haven’t thought this had been a problem,” said Jones, of the Northeast Center for Vibrio Disease and Ecology at the University of New Hampshire. “In the last 10 or 20 years, it’s become very apparent that there is something going on.”

In a paper in the science journal PLOS One, Jones and other scientists reported their findings that illnesses from vibrio bacteria have jumped significantly in New England — from five cases in 2000 to 147 in 2013. Disease-causing bacteria can contaminate oysters, leading to infections such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Jones and his colleague, Cheryl Whistler, concluded that warmer waters in the Great Bay, higher salinity and the presence of chlorophyll all contributed to higher concentrations of one of the more common vibrio species that makes people sick — vibrio parahaemolyticus. The researchers are hoping their findings will serve as the foundation of an early warning system for the region’s booming oyster industry.

oysters-grillCurrently, all experts can do is monitor the waters and rapidly cool harvested oyster to halt bacteria growth.

An August report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that warming waters were linked to waterborne food poisoning, especially from eating raw oysters.

“There is similar reporting in Alaska where it has been found that increased cases have been occurring where it has not been reported before because of the temperature rise,” said the study’s lead author, Rita Colwell, of the University of Maryland.

The industry has welcomed Jones and Whistler’s work, noting that outbreaks like the one that occurred last month in Massachusetts need to be avoided. Nearly 75 people were sickened.

“When you are involved with a recall because people have gotten sick, you are a losing tremendous amount of money and a tremendous amount of credibility,” said Tom Howell, president of Spinney Creek Shellfish Inc., in Eliot, Maine, which harvests oysters from the Great Bay. A predictive model would allow the industry to move more aggressively to avoid an outbreak, he said.

But Howell and Chris Nash, New Hampshire’s shellfish program manager, said that day could be far off.

“We are still learning what seems to trigger these pathogenic strains to multiply … We don’t have that knowledge yet and it may be that we never do,” Nash said. “We are talking about biological organisms … They react to their environment different, the same way humans do.”

Marketing food safety: Denmark, schnapps and Salmonella

I’ve been a long-time proponent that those farmers, processors and retailers that are really good at microbial food safety should be able to market such evidence directly to consumers.

salm-free-chicken-denmarkThis has nothing to do with food safety being a non-competitive issue, or whatever else industry types claim: It has everything to do with providing a market-based incentive for those in the farm-to-fork food safety system to brag about what they do.

There are good actors, there are bad actors: if trade associations were really concerned about their customers barfing, they’d stop saying everyone cares about food safety and support efforts to make such information readily available at retail.

But such microbiologically-safe claims are only valid with publicly available data: And there’s no such thing as no risk – or no Salmonella.

As that foodborne Salmonella infections in Denmark reached a historic low, some Danish processors are, according to Steve Sayer of Meatingplace.com, claiming on labels their chicken is Salmonalla-free.

Right, is a retail package containing raw skinless/boneless chicken that was recently purchased in Denmark (DK) Europe.

The labeling on the package is claiming to Danish consumers (where there’s an orange drawing of a chicken within a round circle): “Dansk Salmonelllafri Kylling,” when translated means – “Danish salmonella-free chicken.”

The DK packer is Rose Packing that claims their chicken is “salmonella free” on their website.

The long and winding road that the Danes labored to lowering salmonella within their hatcheries, layer hens, broiler chickens and eggs are impressive.

In 2015 a total of 925 salmonella infections were reported among Danes, which is equivalent to 16.2 infected cases per 100,000 inhabitants. This is the lowest number of salmonella infections since 1988, which is the first year from which researchers at the National Food Institute have used data to map the sources of foodborne salmonella infections.

2015 is also the first year since the introduction of the salmonella source account that Danish eggs have not caused illness. There have also been no registered cases of infection due to Danish chicken meat, which has been the case in four of the previous five years.

“The good results regarding Danish eggs and poultry are very encouraging. However, salmonella still constitutes a risk. Therefore it is important to maintain the preventive measures that researchers, governments and industry have jointly implemented over the years to ensure that salmonella is kept out of Danish products,” Senior Scientific Officer Birgitte Helwigh from the National Food Institute says.

Campylobacter continued to be the cause of most of the registered foodborne infections in Denmark in 2015 with 4,348 cases of illness. This represents a 15% increase from 2014 and is the highest number of cases ever recorded.

denmark-chickenImprovements in the reporting system and changes in diagnostic methods mean that more cases of illness are registered than in the past. Therefore it is unclear whether more people actually got a campylobacter infection in 2015 compared to previous years.

In 2015, only 39 foodborne disease outbreaks have been registered. This is the lowest number of outbreaks since a nationwide database for food and waterborne disease outbreaks was established almost ten years ago. A total of 1,233 people have become sick in connection with the 39 outbreaks.

As in previous year norovirus was the leading cause of outbreaks (42%).