Someone I know posted this on Facebook today: carrots being sold from a truck

Names and locations have been changed to protect, uh, identities.


So many questions.

Where did the carrots come from? Where did they go? How was $20 arrived at as the price? Does this fit into someone’s food safety plan?

In unrelated news, CDC estimates that about half of the foodborne illness in the U.S. is attributed to produce.

Food poisoning sickens 80-100 child protection employees in Brantford (Canada)

I remember Brantford, Ontario, Canada, where I grew up, but I’m not sure Brantford wants to remember me.

massey.fergusonWayne Gretzky, Massey-Ferguson, the telephone (my dad may be in this pic, he was head of quality control at the Brantford plant that made combines for the world, and I was always proud of that).

But that’s another discussion, and this is a food safety blog.

So it pains me to write that the good folk of Brantford, all 94,000 and where my parents still live, had more than 80 child protection employees sickened by food poisoning last week, a situation that has decimated working teams at the Brant Family and Children’s Services agency.

Executive director Andy Koster said Thursday staff at the agency has been scrambling to help cover shifts after between 80-100 workers called in sick, beginning last Friday.

“Some people have symptoms that are going on well beyond the regular time associated with food poisoning,” Koster said. “But people are working really hard to deliver our services and those who aren’t ill are doing double duty.”

Koster said staff at the agency plans a once-a-year getaway event where all staff take part. A professional speaker addressed issues of stress management and dealing with the trauma many child protection workers face. This year’s event was held at the St. George Arena and a professional caterer was hired to feed the 200-plus people at the day-long conference. Koster said egg salad wraps, chicken wraps and potato salad were all on the menu for lunch.

“On Friday morning we had people calling saying ‘we’re down four people on our unit’ and people were reporting stomach pains and diarrhea.”

gretzkyWorkers continued to call in sick, although Koster said some employees, knowing their colleagues were more ill, came to work.

Bad idea.

Maybe get a food safety type next year. Not me, but someone who can credibly address food safety issues (without the baggage). Chapman? He’s a Port Hope

Karen Boughner, the unit’s director of health protection said the unit will not identify the caterer at this point, noting the problem may have been totally out of her hands if it was a contaminated product she purchased for the event.

Except caterers should know better, and know their suppliers.

Boughner said the situation wasn’t made public sooner because it didn’t affect the general public.

That’s just embarrassing.

Peel produce rather than brush to reduce pathogens

Consumers are being advised to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables to reduce their risk of chronic disease.

carrot.peelerHowever, to achieve that goal, consumers must be able to implement protocols in their kitchens to reduce their risk of consuming contaminated produce.

To address this issue, a study was conducted to monitor the fate of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella on produce (cantaloupe, honeydew melon, carrots, and celery) that were subjected to brushing or peeling using common kitchen utensils.

Removal of similar levels of Salmonella from carrots was accomplished by peeling and by brushing, but significantly greater removal of E. coli O157:H7 from carrots was accomplished by peeling than by brushing under running water (P < 0.05). Brushing removed significantly fewer pathogens from contaminated cantaloupes than from other produce items (P < 0.05), suggesting that the netted rind provided sites where the pathogen cells could evade the brush bristles. A Sparta polyester brush was less effective than a scouring pad for removing Salmonella from carrots (P < 0.05). In all cases, brushing and peeling failed to eliminate the pathogens from the produce items, which may be the result of contamination of the utensil during use. High incidences of contamination (77 to 92%) were found among peelers used on carrots or celery, the Sparta brush used on carrots, and the scouring pad used on carrots and cantaloupe. Of the utensils investigated, the nylon brush had the lowest incidence of pathogen transference from contaminated produce (0 to 12%). Transfer of pathogens from a potentially contaminated Sparta brush or peeler to uncontaminated carrots did not occur or occurred only on the first of seven carrots processed with the utensil. Therefore, risk of cross-contamination from contaminated utensils to uncontaminated produce may be limited.

Role of brushes and peelers in removal of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella from produce in domestic kitchens

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 9, September 2015, pp. 1624-1769

Erickson, Marilyn C.; Liao, Jean; Cannon, Jennifer L.; Ortega, Ynes R.

Discard produce tainted by flood waters

West Virginia agricultural officials are advising growers to discard vegetables that have had contact with flood waters.

flood.midwestThe advice comes after weeks of rain that promoted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to declare states of emergency in 10 counties this week.

West Virginia extension agent John Bombardiere says the safest way to deal with lettuce, tomatoes or potatoes that have been tainted by flood water is to toss them. He says they should not be consumed by humans or animals.

The advice is based U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, which state there is no practical way to salvage the product.

Iron Cross Blister beetles in imported pre-packaged leafy vegetables in Canada

Never heard of a blister beetle, but they look sorta cool.

cfia.blister.beetleThe Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting an investigation into the presence of Iron Cross Blister beetles (Tegrodera spp.) in imported leafy vegetables following recent consumer complaints of these beetles in pre-packaged salads. There have been no confirmed illnesses or injuries associated with the consumption of these products.

Fresh produce can harbor insects that may be injurious to consumers, but this is rare. The Iron Cross Blister beetle is very distinctively colored, with a bright red head and bright yellow markings on the wings, separated by a black “cross”. This particular beetle should be treated with caution as it may release an irritating chemical called “cantharidin.” This chemical may cause blisters at the point of contact.

Consumers are advised to wash and visually inspect their leafy vegetables thoroughly. The beetle should be removed without touching or crushing it. If found, please advise your local CFIA office.

It’s called a chlorine monitor: If you wash fresh produce, buy one

Maintaining effective sanitizer concentration is of critical importance for preventing pathogen survival and transference during fresh-cut produce wash operation and for ensuring the safety of finished products. However, maintaining an adequate level of sanitizer in wash water can be challenging for processors due to the large organic load in the wash system.

tomato.dump.tankIn this study, we investigated how the survival of human pathogens was affected by the dynamic changes in water quality during chlorine depletion and replenishment in simulated produce washing operations. Lettuce extract was added incrementally into water containing pre-set levels of free chlorine to simulate the chlorine depletion process, and sodium hypochlorite was added incrementally into water containing pre-set levels of lettuce extract to simulate chlorine replenishment. Key water quality parameters were closely monitored and the bactericidal activity of the wash water was evaluated using three-strain cocktails of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes. In both chlorine depletion and replenishment processes, no pathogen survival was observed when wash water free chlorine level was maintained above 3.66 mg/L, irrespective of the initial free chlorine levels (10, 50, 100 and 200 mg/L) or organic loading (chemical oxidation demand levels of 0, 532, 1013 and 1705 mg/L). At this free chlorine concentration, the measured ORP was 843 mV and pH was 5.12 for the chlorine depletion process; the measured ORP was 714 mV and pH was 6.97 for the chlorine replenishment process.

 This study provides quantitative data needed by the fresh-cut produce industry and the regulatory agencies to establish critical operational control parameters to prevent pathogen survival and cross-contamination during fresh produce washing.

 Inactivation dynamics of Salmonella enterica, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli O157:H7 in wash water during simulated chlorine depletion and replenishment processes

Food Microbiology, Volume 50, September 2015, Pages 88–96

Bin Zhou, Yaguang Luo, Xiangwu Nou, Shuxia Lyu, Qin Wang

Nanotech to make produce safer?

Nearly half of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. from 1998 through 2008 have been attributed to contaminated fresh produce. Prevention and control of bacterial contamination on fresh produce is critical to ensure food safety. The current strategy remains industrial washing of the product in water containing chlorine.

(an effective on-farm food safety program helps)

lettuceHowever, due to sanitizer ineffectiveness there is an urgent need to identify alternative antimicrobials, particularly those of natural origin, for the produce industry.

A team of researchers at Wayne State University have been exploring natural, safe and alternative antimicrobials to reduce bacterial contamination. Plant essential oils such as those from thyme, oregano and clove are known to have a strong antimicrobial effect, but currently their use in food protection is limited due to their low solubility in water. The team, led by Yifan Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and food science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, explored ways to formulate oil nanoemulsions to increase the solubility and stability of essential oils, and consequently, enhance their antimicrobial activity.

“Much of the research on the antimicrobial efficacy of essential oils has been conducted using products made by mixing immiscible oils in water or phosphate buffered saline,” said Zhang. “However, because of the hydrophobic nature of essential oils, organic compounds from produce may interfere with reducing the sanitizing effect or duration of the effectiveness of these essential oils. Our team set out to find a new approach to inhibit these bacteria with the use of oregano oil, one of the most effective plant essential oils with antimicrobial effect.”

Zhang, and then-Ph.D. student, Kanika Bhargava, currently assistant professor of human environmental sciences at the University of Central Oklahoma, approached Sandro da Rocha, Ph.D., associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science in the College of Engineering at Wayne State, to explore options.

“In our research, we discovered that oregano oil was able to inhibit common foodborne bacteria, such as E. coli O157, Salmonella and Listeria, in artificially contaminated fresh lettuce” said Zhang. “We wanted to explore the possibility of a nanodelivery system for the oil, which is an area of expertise of Dr. da Rocha.”

The team initially considered the use of solid polymeric nanoparticles for the delivery of the oil, but da Rocha suggested the use of nanoemulsions.

“My team felt the use of nanoemulsions would improve the rate of release compared to other nanoformulations, and the ability of the food grade surfactant to wet the surface of the produce,” said da Rocha. “We were able to reduce L. monocytogenes, S. Typhimurium, and E. coli O157 on fresh lettuce. Former Ph.D. student Denise S. Conti, now at the Generics Division of the FDA, helped design the nanocarriers and characterize them.”

The team added that while there is still work to be done, their study suggests promise for the use of essential oil nanoemulsions as a natural alternative to chemicals for safety controls in produce.

“Our future research aims to investigate the antimicrobial effects of essential oil nanoemulsions in various combinations, as well as formulate the best proportions of each ingredient at the lowest possible necessary levels needed for food application, which ultimately will aid in maintaining the taste of the produce.”

More information: The study, “Application of an oregano oil nanoemulsion to the control of foodborne bacteria on fresh lettuce” appears in the May 2015 issue of Food Microbiology.

It’s there: Salmonella in irrigation water

Here’s a video featuring farmer Jeff from 2003, before youtube existed.

And an abstract from a paper just published.

farmer.jeff.water.2003Same questions, not many solutions.

Irrigation water has been implicated as a likely source of produce contamination by Salmonella enterica. Therefore, the distribution of S. enterica was surveyed monthly in irrigation ponds (n=10) located within a prime agricultural region in Southern Georgia and Northern Florida.

All ponds and 28.2% of all samples (n=635) were positive for Salmonella with an overall geometric mean concentration (0.26 MPN/L) that was relatively low compared to prior reports for rivers in this region. Salmonella peaks were seasonal; levels correlated with increased temperature and rainfall (p<0.05). Numbers and occurrence were significantly higher in water (0.32 MPN/L and 37%) compared to sediment (0.22 MPN/L and 17%) but did not vary with depth. Representative isolates (n=185) from different ponds, sample types, and seasons were examined for resistance to 15 different antibiotics; most strains were resistant to streptomycin (98.9%), while 20% were multidrug resistant (MDR) for 2-6 antibiotics.

DiversiLab rep-PCR revealed genetic diversity and showed 43 genotypes among 191 isolates, as defined by >95% similarity. Genotypes did not partition by pond, season, or sample type. Genetic similarity to known serotypes indicated Hadar, Montevideo, and Newport as the most prevalent. All ponds achieved the current safety standards for generic Escherichia coli in agricultural water, and regression modeling showed E. coli levels were a significant predictor for the probability of Salmonella occurrence. However, persistent populations of Salmonella were widely distributed in irrigation ponds, and associated risks for produce contamination and subsequent human exposure are unknown, supporting continued surveillance of this pathogen in agricultural settings.

Distribution and Characterization of Salmonella enterica Isolates from Irrigation Ponds in the Southeastern U.S.A.

Applied and Environmnetal Microbiology

Zhiyao Luo, Ganyu Gu, Amber Ginn, Mihai C. Giurcanu, Paige Adams, George Vellidis, Ariena H. C. van Bruggen, Michelle D. Danyluk, and Anita C. Wright

12 sick: E. coli leafy greens cone of silence, again

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with federal and provincial public health partners to investigate an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7, commonly called E.coli, with a possible link to leafy greens. A specific product has not been identified yet, and the investigation is ongoing.

lettuce.skull.e.coli.O145At this time, the risk to Canadians is low. However, Canadians are reminded to follow safe food handling practices to avoid illness. (WTF are Canadians supposed to do with leafy greens?)

There have been 12 cases of E. coli with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in Alberta (9), Saskatchewan (1), Ontario (1), and Newfoundland and Labrador (1). The illness onset dates range from March 13 to March 31, 2015.

Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to leafy greens has emerged as a possible source of illness. Leafy greens can include all varieties of lettuces and other green leaf vegetables such as kale, spinach, arugula, or chard. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s investigation into the food source is ongoing. If products are identified, the Agency will inform the public and ensure that they are promptly removed from the marketplace.

The following tips will help you reduce your risk of infection with E. coli or other food-borne illnesses:

Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them, clean counters and cutting boards and wash your hands regularly.

Bullshit. Packaged leafy greens are not to be re-washed.

Australian taxpayers and growers are led up a garden path

(I and others applied for this, but knew it was an inside job. Here is the take from Australian Food News)

lettuce.skull.e.coli.O145The Fresh Produce Safety Centre (FPSC), which is an organisation established with government and industry support in 2013, has announced the winning tender bid for the conduct of a literature review of fresh produce safety research.

The announcement has produced some skepticism from commentators about the whole bureaucratic process involving the Fresh Produce Safety Centre’s role in improving the current Australian food safety regime for fresh produce.

The principal industry sector group supporting the establishment of the Fresh Produce Safety Centre has been the Produce Marketers Association Australia New Zealand (PMA A-NZ), which is the representative body of importers and international traders of fruit and vegetables.

The major supermarkets and food safety audit organisations already follow and monitor their own very strict food safety protocols at all points in the supply chain. Commentators are therefore asking why it ought be necessary for the FPSC to be ‘reinventing the wheel’.

Incidentally, the winning tender bid is a team consisting of TQA Australia Inc, RMCG, and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research in New Zealand, in concert with the Food Safety Centre at the University of Tasmania. The project has the support of the NSW Food Authority, Pip Fruit New Zealand, Golden State Foods and Snap Fresh Foods, and Fresh Select.

In 2009-2010, a process had been initiated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to incorporate food safety primary production and processing standards for horticultural produce into the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (Food Standards Code). However, the PMA and some of the major produce importers opposed the inclusion in the Food Standards Code of a set of food safety standards for their industry sector. Ultimately, the Federal Government relented and the FSANZ process for developing a new mandatory food safety standard was aborted.

The reasons given at the time for the abandonment of the proposals included: the fact that the majority of horticulture product grown in Australia is already grown under a food safety scheme, and that a better understanding of those products that were not grown under a food safety scheme was required before further regulation should be considered.

FSANZ proposed a collaboration between the horticulture industry and government – with suggested measures such as “targeted guidance, codes of practice, education materials and training” and better through-chain traceability measures.

The PMA took the initiative to establish the concept of a ‘fresh produce safety centre’ with government and industry backing.

Some commentators are now consider the whole process a ‘waste of time and industry resources, and taxpayer funds’, especially for growers, supermarkets and other operators in the horticultural supply chain within Australia.