Wyoming Food Freedom Act threatens public safety

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle writes in an editorial that House Bill 56, the Food Freedom Act, is a bad move for public health.

food-freedom-statute-of-libertyThe bill would let Wyomingites make direct purchases of foodstuffs from farmers and ranchers but there are more than a few examples – and plenty of data – that show allowing the unregulated sale of food items from one buyer to another (which HB 56 would do) has the potential to sicken Wyoming residents. Consider:
– The chances of an outbreak from raw milk (one of the items that the bill’s supporters want) are at least 150 times greater than those of pasteurized milk, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
– Non-outbreak (more sporadic) cases of foodborne illness in raw milk are estimated to be 25 times larger than the number of documented cases.
– There have been 41 documented cases of illness from raw milk in Wyoming in five years.
– Some 180 people became ill with salmonella in North Dakota in 2006 when they were served unlicensed food by a caterer. One victim’s family spent $4,000 just traveling back and forth to the hospital. That did not include their medical expenses.

But, supporters of HB 56 say, informed Wyoming residents should have the right to buy these food items if they so choose (meat would be limited to poultry only). Problem is, not all buyers of these products are informed. They see them for sale, they consume them and they get sick.

raw.milk.food.freedomAnd then there is the fact that children could be fed tainted food products. How can they be “informed”? And it is important to note that even if the elderly and pregnant women know what they are consuming, they are at much greater risk for serious illness if the food is contaminated.

This is a bad bill. That it flew through the House without real consideration of its potential impacts shows it simply has become a political statement about individual liberty. HB 56 should be killed before it takes the life of even one Wyomingite.

1 toddler dead, 4 sick, so protesters will demand raw milk be sold for drinking in Victoria

Just weeks after health types in the Australian state of Victoria (that’s where Melbourne is) declared a three-year-old had died and four other children sickened from consuming raw milk, natural types are planning a drink-in Saturday to get even more unpasteurized milk on store shelves.

Spew milkThree of the four children – all under five — developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, usually associated with shiga-toxin producing E. coli, such as E. coli O157, and the other developed cryptosporidiosis.

How many others developed milder forms of illness is unknown.

In response to the outbreak in early Dec., Victoria Consumer Affairs Minister Jane Garrett ordered a gag-inducing chemical to be poured into all raw milk sold in stores from Sunday, ensuring no one is able to drink it (raw milk is legally sold as bath milk, side-by-side with pasteurized milk; that would be an expensive bath).

The move has apparently infuriated food activists, who are now planning a protest on Saturday to demand that the unpasteurized product be made available for drinking.

The government’s approach so far has been a very knee-jerk reaction,” said organic food store owner Rebecca Freer, who is planning the “drink-in” outside the minister’s Brunswick East office.

I think they’re in denial that there’s a large subculture of raw milk drinkers, who are well-informed, educated people.”

The Australian Raw Milk Movement is encouraging people to “BYO cup” and drink raw milk outside Garrett’s office.

Supporters of drinking unprocessed milk like Ms Freer dispute the product’s link with the child’s death and instead stress the supposed health benefits from consuming a natural product.

colbert.raw.milkBut they never mention the other kids who developed HUS.

“It’s our consumer right to define what we eat and drink,” she said. “Australia is really backwards on this issue.”

After being contacted by Guardian Australia, Freer posted to the Australian Raw Milk Movement’s Facebook wall that she had been contacted by journalists and that “the fight is on.”

“I think it is fair to say we are in the midst of a violent resistance,” she wrote.

Nutritionist Arabella Forge, who will speak at Saturday’s protest, said current food safety laws could be amended to get raw milk on store shelves without compromising food safety.

“What we’re really asking for is a system of regulation that supports safe, raw milk,” she said. “People should have access to this product.”

CSIRO research microbiologists Narelle Fegan and Edward Fox, who have studied raw milk safety on Victorian farms, have both warned against drinking raw milk, even from farms with the highest of standards.

“When the milk comes out of the animal it should be sterile, but then it’s immediately contaminated by its environment,” Dr Fegan said. “When things go wrong they can go wrong pretty badly with people getting seriously ill.”

Dr Fox said there was no evidence that raw milk was more nutritious – a common claim made by raw milk supporters.

“Pasteurised milk is as nutritional as raw milk and it has, due to the pasteurisation process, a lower associated risk,” he said.

Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr Rosemary Lester, has also stood behind her recent raw milk health warnings.

Ms Garrett defended her decision to add a bittering agent to raw milk on Thursday, saying it’s meant to prevent illness and death.

“The actions we have taken are designed to stop people from putting themselves and their children at risk,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Adelaide, South Australia, a court heard a temperature rise in samples taken from a farm owned by a couple being prosecuted for selling unpasteurised milk to when it was tested would have caused a “marginal” rise in bacteria readings.

santa.barf.sprout.raw.milkMoo View Dairy owners Mark and Helen Tyler, who on Wednesday brought a cow to the front of the court building, are contesting charges of breaching the food act by selling the raw milk commercially.

The couple have been operating a “House Cow Share Scheme” where people can buy shares in one of their cows which entitles them to a percentage of the milk produced by the herd.

The raw milk was also found to have higher than the legally acceptable amount of bacteria — leading to one of the two counts of selling food in contravention of the food standards code against them in April and May, 2013.

In cross examination on Thursday, SA Dairy Authority general manager John Crosby said that rise would only have had a “marginal affect” on the milk’s bacteria count.

Mr Tyler and shareholder Rachel Tyson, who on Wednesday came to court dressed in a cow suit in a sign of support for the couple, are expected to give evidence on Friday.

Marler gets his New Yorker profile

Late one night in September of 2013, Rick Schiller awoke in bed with his right leg throbbing. Schiller, who is in his fifties, lives in San Jose, California. He had been feeling ill all week, and, as he reached under the covers, he found his leg hot to the touch. He struggled to sit upright, then turned on a light and pulled back the sheet. “My leg was about twice the normal size, maybe even three times,” he told me. “And it was hard as a rock, and bright purple.”

marler.devilSchiller roused his fiancée, who helped him hobble to their car. He dropped into the passenger seat, but he couldn’t bend his leg to fit it through the door. “So I tell her, ‘Just grab it and shove it in,’ ” he recalled. “I almost passed out in pain.”

At the hospital, five employees helped move Schiller from the car to a consulting room. When a doctor examined his leg, she warned him that it was so swollen there was a chance it might burst. She tried to remove fluid with a needle, but nothing came out. “So she goes in with a bigger needle—nothing comes out,” Schiller said. “Then she goes in with a huge needle, like the size of a pencil lead—nothing comes out.” When the doctor tugged on the plunger, the syringe filled with a chunky, meatlike substance. “And then she gasped,” Schiller said.

That night, he drifted in and out of consciousness in his hospital room. His temperature rose to a hundred and three degrees and his right eye oozed fluid that crusted over his face. Schiller’s doctors found that he had contracted a form of the salmonella bacterium, known as Salmonella Heidelberg, which triggered a cascade of conditions, including an inflamed colon and an acute form of arthritis. The source of the infection was most likely something he had eaten, but Schiller had no idea what. He spent four days in intensive care before he could stand again and navigate the hallways. On the fifth day, he went home, but the right side of his body still felt weak, trembly, and sore, and he suffered from constant headaches. His doctors warned that he might never fully recover.

Three weeks later, Schiller received a phone call from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An investigator wanted to know whether he had eaten chicken before he became sick. Schiller remembered that he’d bought two packages of raw Foster Farms chicken thighs just before the illness. He’d eaten a few pieces from one of the packages; the other package was still in his freezer. Several days later, an investigator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stopped by to pick it up. She dropped the chicken into a portable cooler and handed him a slip of paper that said “Property Receipt.” That was the last time Schiller heard from the investigators. More than a year later, he still wasn’t sure what was in the chicken: “I don’t know what the Department of Agriculture found.”

By the time Schiller became infected by salmonella, federal officials had been tracking an especially potent outbreak of the Heidelberg variety for three months—it had sent nearly forty per cent of its victims to the hospital. The outbreak began in March, but investigators discovered it in June, when a cluster of infections on the West Coast prompted a warning from officials at the C.D.C.’s PulseNet monitoring system, which tracks illnesses reported by doctors. Scientists quickly identified the source of the outbreak as Foster Farms facilities in California, where federal inspectors had discovered the same strain of pathogen during a routine test. Most of the victims of the outbreak confirmed that they’d recently eaten chicken, and many specifically named the Foster Farms brand. On August 9th, investigators joined a conference call with Foster Farms executives to inform them of the outbreak and its link to the company.

Identifying the cause of an outbreak is much simpler than trying to stop one.

During the past twenty years, Marler has become the most prominent and powerful food-safety attorney in the country.

Given the struggles of his clients—victims of organ failure, sepsis, and paralysis—Marler says it can be tempting to dismiss him as a “bloodsucking ambulance chaser who exploits other people’s personal tragedies.” But many people who work in food safety believe that Marler is one of the few functioning pieces in a broken system. Food-borne illness, they point out, is pervasive but mostly preventable when simple precautions are taken in the production process.

And lots more at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/02/bug-system.

Public health ispectors are there for a reason: Law frowns on California students’ front-yard, food-sharing fridge

An experiment by University of California, Davis students to share food with the community proved to be a successful, yet illegal, venture.

davis.front.lawn.fridge.jan.15Yolo County health officials say Ernst Bertone and his roommates broke the law by putting a refrigerator on their lawn with a sign reading, “Take what you need. Leave what you don’t.”

The students say their experiment worked because people began sharing food.

Bertone and his roommates charted it all, posting photos of the food people put in the communal refrigerator and what they took out. They kept a database too, showing that 122 items were collected in more than 30 days.

Their neighbors, the Swinehearts, liked it and used it. But someone complained, prompting county environmental health to shut down the sharing fridge.

The director said the open refrigerator doesn’t assure safe and pure food and that it can lead to people getting sick.

CEO draws link between food safety, worker treatment

There’s a strong link between food safety and how a company’s employees are treated, according to the CEO of a major baked goods company.

food.safety.workerWorkers who play a critical role in handling food products often aren’t paid much or given opportunities for advancement, said Paula Marshall, CEO of the Bama Companies.

“There’s a problem, in my mind, with that model,” said Marshall, who delivered a keynote address this week at the Northwest Food Processors Association’s annual conference in Portland.

Farmers and food manufacturers face a threat from employees who simply don’t care about the final product or even hold a grudge against the company, she said.

To get workers committed to food safety, companies must show them respect — not only with better pay, but with opportunities for training and education that allow them to rise in the corporation, Marshall said.

Australian raw milk charlatans

Selling the raw milk for human consumption is illegal in Australia but many health stores offer the product for cosmetic use, suggesting people can bathe in the substance.

colbert.raw.milkThis has allowed the unpasteurised milk to be available in several niche outlets in Sydney positioned alongside regular pasteurised milk.

UNSW’s Associate Professor of Food and Microbiology, Julian Cox, said marketing raw milk as a cosmetic product was nothing but retailers attempting to dodge the ban and could lead to infection.

Certain bacteria can get into the raw milk during the milking process if the cow has mastitis, or “milk fever,” he explained.

This can trigger skin infections in humans if they use it on the skin and it comes into contact with wounds or burns.

“In mastitis, bacteria can be present at very high levels in raw milk,” Associate Professor Cox said.

“Pseudomonas aeruginosa is well known to cause problems with wounds and burns, high levels could be a problem even with topical or cosmetic use — without consumption.”

Pasteurisation removes such a threat.

“Pasteurisation is something we have had in place for a century.” he said.

“It keeps milk at a safe and important part of the food supply.”

Sydney Children’s Hospital department head of paediatric gastroenterology, Dr Avi Lemberg, said people needed to be reminded that infectious diseases are still a risk despite medical advancements.

“People have come to believe that infectious diseases are no longer a risk by things like pasteurization and also immunization, but in fact they are saving millions of lives every year around the world,” Dr Lemberg said.

“The really young and the elderly are those who will be most affected.”

Dr Lemberg also criticised the cosmetic marketing for raw milk.

raw.milk.death.1917“It’s a mask so people can take it home and so-call have a ‘more natural’ lifestyle,” he said.

Bondi man and armchair epidemiologist Bill Tucker is an avid raw milk supporter.

The 55-year-old believes the drink has health benefits and the controversy and health fears surrounding it are unnecessary.

“I believe it’s got good bacteria. They have it everywhere else in the world like Europe. I can’t see a problem with it,” he said outside The Health Emporium in Bondi.

“There are a few germs. I think that’s why people get allergies, a few more germs would toughen people up.”

Fellow shopper Deborah Whitebread also supports the sale and production of raw milk.

She said milk was best straight from the cow and people should have the freedom to choose whether or not they drink it.

A 30-year-old woman, who also did not want to be named, said she was aware they sold raw milk for bathing yet she was suspicious of how customers actually use the product.

“It is mainly health food stores that it is sold in and I guess it is giving people the opportunity if they want to use it for cosmetic purposes that it is there,” she said.

“But I think from people who I know who use it they don’t use it for cosmetic purposes they use it to consume at home.

“It’s a thing that I would not give to children or myself.”


Sounds like a lot of meetings: Additional actions needed to improve planning and collaboration for US food safety

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have taken steps to implement GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements but could more fully address crosscutting food safety efforts. For example, GPRAMA requires agencies to describe in their strategic and performance planning how they are working with other agencies to achieve their goals.

Meeting.1HHS and USDA vary in the amount of detail they provide on their crosscutting food safety efforts. In addition, they do not include several relevant crosscutting efforts, such as the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, which tracks whether foodborne bacteria are resistant to the antibiotics used to treat and prevent illness.

Fully addressing crosscutting efforts in individual strategic and performance planning documents is an important first step toward providing a comprehensive picture of federal food safety performance. However, individual agencies’ documents do not provide an integrated perspective on federal food safety performance. In 2011, GAO recommended that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with the federal agencies having food safety responsibilities, develop a government-wide performance plan for food safety. OMB has not acted on that recommendation. Without such a plan, Congress, program managers, and other decision makers are hampered in their ability to identify agencies and programs addressing similar missions and to set priorities, allocate resources, and restructure federal efforts, as needed, to achieve long- term goals. In addition, without such a plan, federal food safety efforts are not clear and transparent to the public. GAO continues to believe that a government- wide performance plan for food safety is necessary.

HHS’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have mechanisms in place to facilitate interagency coordination on food safety that focus on specific issues, but none provides for broad-based, centralized collaboration. For example, FDA and FSIS are collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration to improve estimates of foodborne illness sources. However, this and other mechanisms do not allow FDA, FSIS, and other agencies to look across their individual programs and determine how they all contribute to federal food safety goals. Nearly all the experts GAO interviewed agreed that a centralized collaborative mechanism on food safety is important to foster effective interagency collaboration and could enhance food safety oversight. The Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) served as a centralized mechanism for broad-based food safety collaboration and resulted in a number of accomplishments, including improved coordination. However, the FSWG is no longer meeting.

A prior centralized mechanism for broad-based collaboration on food safety also was not sustained. Without a centralized collaborative mechanism on food safety, there is no forum for agencies to reach agreement on a set of broad-based food safety goals and objectives. Experts suggested that a centralized collaborative mechanism on food safety—like the FSWG—could provide sustained leadership across agencies over time if it were formalized in statute. Without such formalization, centralized collaborative mechanisms on food safety may continue to be short- lived.

UK food scare of the year: Campylobacter gets the FSA in a right old flap

I’m not sure who talks like that, except the Brits.

campy.grocer.dec.14So while The Grocer blames consumers for Campylobacter outbreaks, Walmart Frank has taken steps to implement enhanced poultry safety measures for suppliers designed to further protect customers against foodborne illnesses. The new guidelines are in addition to Walmart’s food safety program that requires poultry suppliers to achieve prevention-based certification against one of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) internationally recognized standards.

“At Walmart and Sam’s Club, we are committed to providing our customers with safe, quality foods,” said vice president for food safety, Frank Yiannas. “As part of our continuous improvement process, we determined it was important to require additional layers of protection for our customers.”

The new program requires Walmart and Sam’s Club U.S. poultry suppliers to implement holistic controls from farm to fork designed to significantly reduce potential contamination levels, including chicken parts. It also requires suppliers to undergo specialized testing to validate that the measures they have implemented are effective. All poultry suppliers must be in compliance with the new requirements by June 2016.

The enhanced protocol has been reviewed with numerous stakeholders including consumer groups, regulators, academicians, poultry suppliers and industry associations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has partnered with Walmart on this initiative to advance food safety and decrease foodborne illnesses among consumers.

frank.amy.doug.jun.11dDr. Chris Braden, director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases said, “CDC, along with Walmart, recognizes that reducing Salmonella and other pathogen contamination in poultry products is a crucial step towards decreasing the burden of foodborne illnesses. Walmart and CDC working together to protect public health and advance food safety is a great example of a public-private partnership that benefits everyone”  

Dr. Gary R. Acuff, director of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety applauded the company’s work: “Walmart’s implementation of enhanced safety measures for poultry products provides leadership for the food industry and continues a progressive approach to providing the safest possible food. This is a smart, science-supported move that will greatly benefit consumers.”

Campylobacter in petting zoos; we’ve done this

Here’s an example of terrible story-telling.

petting.zoo.handwash.10According to news reporting out of Bilthoven, Netherlands, by VerticalNews editors, research stated, “The significance of petting zoos for transmission of Campylobacter to humans and the effect of interventions were estimated. A stochastic QMRA model simulating a child or adult visiting a Dutch petting zoo was built.”

Our news journalists obtained a quote from the research from National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, “The model describes the transmission of Campylobacter in animal feces from the various animal species, fences, and the playground to ingestion by visitors through touching these so-called carriers and subsequently touching their lips. Extensive field and laboratory research was done to fulfill data needs. Fecal contamination on all carriers was measured by swabbing in 10 petting zoos, using Escherichia coli as an indicator. Carrier-hand and hand-lip touching frequencies were estimated by, in total, 13 days of observations of visitors by two observers at two petting zoos. The transmission from carrier to hand and from hand to lip by touching was measured using preapplied cow feces to which E. coli WG5 was added as an indicator. Via a Beta-Poisson dose-response function, the number of Campylobacter cases for the whole of the Netherlands (16 million population) in a year was estimated at 187 and 52 for children and adults, respectively, so 239 in total. This is significantly lower than previous QMRA results on chicken fillet and drinking water consumption. Scenarios of 90% reduction of the contamination (meant to mimic cleaning) of all fences and just goat fences reduces the number of cases by 82% and 75%, respectively.”

According to the news editors, the research concluded: “The model can easily be adapted for other fecally transmitted pathogens.

For more information on this research see: A Quantitative Microbiological Risk Assessment for Campylobacter in Petting Zoos. Risk Analysis, 2014;34(9):1618-1638. Risk Analysis can be contacted at: Wiley-Blackwell, 111 River St, Hoboken 07030-5774, NJ, USA. (Wiley-Blackwell – www.wiley.com/; Risk Analysis – onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1539-6924)

Going to a petting zoo? People need to be a lot more careful than they thought


The other parents hate me.

Even Amy changed her phone ring to the Debbie Downer noise from Saturday Night Live.

I’m Dougie Downer.

Every time there’s a sausage sizzle, I don’t complain, I cook for the kids and their families, and use a thermometer.

People think I’m weird.

The chicken coop at the daycare is still empty. And while no one will say it, I’m sure they blame me for depriving their little ones of chick interaction (and Salmonella).

This is nothing new; I’ve been causing angst or disgust for about 20 years, going with my kids on those field trips to the farm (the oldest of five daughters is 25; I’m ancient).

Besides, Gonzalo Erdozain did most of the work on this petting zoo paper, and he’s got a little one, so he can torment the parents of Roman’s future classmates.

Kansas State University came out with their version of our petting zoo paper and quoted me, as saying “People have to be careful — a lot more careful than they thought.”

Powell is co-author of the paper “Observation of Public Health Risk Behaviors, Risk Communication and Hand Hygiene at Kansas and Missouri Petting Zoos – 2010-2011″ that was published recently in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health.

courtlynn.petting.zooThe paper’s main author is Gonzalo Erdozain, a master of public health student at the Kansas State University who works with Powell. Erdozain, Manhattan, visited numerous petting zoos and fairs in Kansas and Missouri in 2010 and 2011 and found many sanitary problems at the facilities. Article co-authors include Katherine KuKanich, assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University, and Ben Chapman of North Carolina State University.

When visiting petting zoos, Powell said parents need to be vigilant in watching their children and they need to put a health plan in effect for the visit. In Erdozain’s study, he observed children touching their faces after petting the animals, eating or drinking in the petting zoo, eating petting zoo food and sucking on a pacifier while at the zoo. Children were also seen picking up animal feces.

Another factor to watch for is the presence of high-risk animals — those most associated with zoonotic diseases, including chicks, young ruminants like goats, sheep and cattle.

Zoonotic diseases can be passed from animal to human, or vice versa.

Washing hands before and after encountering animals and the animal feed is one of the most recommended method to fight germs and bacteria from the animals and surrounding area of animal pens, Powell said.

“Hand-washing tool selection may also contribute to the success of hand hygiene as a preventive measure, as some outbreak investigations have reported alcohol-based hand sanitizer was not protective against illness, especially when hands are soiled,” Powell said.

Powell said Erdozain’s study found that visitors were five times as likely to wash their hands when a staff member was present. This observation, Powell said, is consistent with a study published last year that showed the importance of a little encouragement.

To help maintain a safe and healthy environment, Powell said petting zoos should constantly remind visitors to wash their hands when exiting the pens. Keeping clean and useful sinks near the exits of all facilities with a stand by attendant would help decrease the likeliness of a widespread illness due to forgetful hygiene, he said.

Strict governmental regulation and enforcement would be one way to ensure this happens but is an unlikely solution. Powell said that it is up to the zoos to help keep watch on what is happening within their pens and to make sure that the proper facilities are in place and are noticeable to visitors — children and adults alike.

“Providing hand hygiene stations, putting up some good signs, having staff supervise, avoiding high-risk animals and logical facility design are easy and inexpensive — and not doing so is inexcusable,” Powell said.

I’m fine with animal interactions; but people, and organizers, should be a lot more careful than they thought. That’s what I told my 3-year-old’s daycare as they prepared for a chicken coop. They hate me.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/petting-zoos-outbreaks.

Erdozain G, Kukanich K, Chapman B, Powell D. 2012. Observation of public health risk behaviours, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011. Zoonoses Public Health. 2012 Jul 30. doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2012.01531.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Abstract below:

Observation of public health risk behaviors, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011Outbreaks of human illness have been linked to visiting settings with animal contact throughout developed countries. This paper details an observational study of hand hygiene tool availability and recommendations; frequency of risky behavior; and, handwashing attempts by visitors in Kansas (9) and Missouri (4), U.S., petting zoos. Handwashing signs and hand hygiene stations were available at the exit of animal-contact areas in 10/13 and 8/13 petting zoos respectively. Risky behaviors were observed being performed at all petting zoos by at least one visitor. Frequently observed behaviors were: children (10/13 petting zoos) and adults (9/13 petting zoos) touching hands to face within animal-contact areas; animals licking children’s and adults’ hands (7/13 and 4/13 petting zoos, respectively); and children and adults drinking within animal-contact areas (5/13 petting zoos each). Of 574 visitors observed for hand hygiene when exiting animal-contact areas, 37% (n=214) of individuals attempted some type of hand hygiene, with male adults, female adults, and children attempting at similar rates (32%, 40%, and 37% respectively). Visitors were 4.8x more likely to wash their hands when a staff member was present within or at the exit to the animal-contact area (136/231, 59%) than when no staff member was present (78/343, 23%; p<0.001, OR=4.863, 95% C.I.=3.380-6.998). Visitors at zoos with a fence as a partial barrier to human-animal contact were 2.3x more likely to wash their hands (188/460, 40.9%) than visitors allowed to enter the animals’ yard for contact (26/114, 22.8%; p<0.001, OR= 2.339, 95% CI= 1.454-3.763). Inconsistencies existed in tool availability, signage, and supervision of animal-contact. Risk communication was poor, with few petting zoos outlining risks associated with animal-contact, or providing recommendations for precautions to be taken to reduce these risks.

FoodNet Canada not part of surveillance system, but found E. coli-tainted beef that was recalled days after positive test

The federal system designed to keep Canadian food safe to eat failed in December to prevent ground beef contaminated with E. coli from being offered for sale to consumers.

beef.processingCBC News reports that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s December recall of 31,000 pounds of ground beef followed a positive test of a random sample by a federally-co-ordinated public health surveillance program, CBC News has learned. It was not a result of any inspection work performed by the CFIA, whose job it is to prevent tainted meat from entering the marketplace.

The recall also was not widely publicized until the morning of Dec. 2 — three or four days after the “use by” dates of the packaged meat had passed.

That timeline suggests the entire food safety system managed by CFIA failed to either detect E. coli-tainted meat in a federally regulated processing facility or recall the problem batch until after any of the fresh meat had likely been consumed or thrown out.

The details of the recall prompted an angry reaction from NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen.

“That’s not a safety inspection system, that’s actually just a failure,” he said. “If by the time they actually make a recall,  it’s days after the best before date, there’s nothing on the shelf to recall.  

“It’s either been bought, in people’s freezers, been consumed, or the retailer themselves removed it — not because they knew it was unsafe but because the best before date expired and they took it off the shelf themselves.”

The meat was shipped by Cargill Meat Solutions from its Calgary processing plant to Walmart stores across the four Western provinces on Nov. 19 and 20.

That facility is federally inspected, but the systems in place there apparently did not detect any E. coli.

dude.its.beefIn a statement, Cargill said it maintained a “robust food safety program.”

“We are currently reviewing our processing and testing procedures as part of our investigation to determine if any changes are appropriate,” the statement said. 

The CFIA says its investigation is ongoing. It said it was impossible to predict how long that work will take.

“We are taking all necessary steps in order to protect Canadians from the risks posed by E. coli,” the agency offered in a statement.

But those steps appear, in this case, to have not yielded effective results.

Rather, it was the work of FoodNet Canada that revealed some of Cargill’s meat had been contaminated.

The little known organization is a federally-run public health program that performs surveillance for infectious enteric disease caused by bacteria, viruses or other parasitic micro-organism such as E. coli.

It does the work in three so-called “sentinel sites” in Canada, including B.C.’s lower mainland, where it monitors public health, samples water and tests manure from farms where animals are raised for human consumption.

FoodNet also collects random samples of meat and produce from grocery stores, says Dr. Frank Pollari, the program’s manager.

“We’re just trying to see what the end product looks like, what the consumer is getting,” he said. “We randomly select the retailers, and then [staff] go out to those and select the specific package that we get, and they ship it to our labs.”

Recall 3 days after meat tested positive

Pollari says it was one of those samples of Cargill meat from a B.C. Walmart that first tested positive for E. coli.

That early result was sent to the CFIA on Nov. 28. 

That was the first of two consecutive “use by” dates with which the meat had been labelled.

CFIA says it began an investigation immediately. But, the meat was not ordered recalled until after confirmatory test results were known on Dec. 1.

Then the agency asked for a risk assessment to be performed.  The results of that analysis came back late on Dec. 1.

The news release announcing the recall to consumers was dated that same day, but was not sent out by distribution services until the next morning — three full days after the first packages of meat would have begun to pass their best before dates.

In a statement Sunday, CFIA media relations manager Guy Gravelle suggested the recall was the result of a normal process.

steak-groundbeef-istock-300“As a result of the federal system and measures we have in place, the CFIA was able to recall these products based on routine retail sampling,” Gravelle wrote in an e-mail. 

“This food recall was made before any reported illnesses and to date there have been no illnesses.”

But FoodNet, which found the bad meat, is not technically part of the food safety system. 

It is an adjunct — a surveillance program, designed to provide scientific data and public health information to the government and to the food sector.

“Our job is to feed the information back to those who can and do make the difference in putting in interventions,” Pollari said.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose is responsible for the CFIA, and, ultimately, for FoodNet Canada, as well.

In a statement, her office said, “Canada has one of the safest and healthiest food systems in the world.”

Uh –huh.