Listeria and leafy greens

Internalin A is an essential virulence gene involved in the uptake of the foodborne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes into host cells. It is intact in clinical strains and often truncated due to Premature Stop Codons (PMSCs) in isolates from processed foods and processing facilities. Less information is known about environmental isolates.

listeria4We sequenced the inlA alleles and did Multi Locus Variable Number Tandem Repeat Analysis (MLVA) on 112 L. monocytogenes isolates from a 3-year period from naturally contaminated watersheds near a leafy green growing area in Central California. The collection contained 14 serotype 1/2a, 12 serotype 1/2b, and 86 serotype 4b strains. Twenty-seven different inlA alleles were found. Twenty-three of the alleles are predicted to encode intact copies of InlA, while three contain PMSCs. Another allele has a 9-nucleotide deletion, previously described for a clinical strain, indicating that it is still functional. Intact inlA genes were found in 101 isolates, and 8 isolates contained the allele predicted to contain the 3-amino acid deletion. Both allele types were found throughout the 3-year sampling period. Three strains contained inlA alleles with PMSCs, and these were found only during the first 3 months of the study. SNP analysis of the intact alleles indicated clustering of alleles based on serotype and lineage with serotypes 1/2b and 4b (lineage I strains) clustering together, and serotype 1/2a (lineage II strains) clustering separately. The combination of serotype, MLVA types, and inlA allele types indicate that the 112 isolates reflect at least 49 different strains of L. monocytogenes. The finding that 90% of environmental L. monocytogenes isolates contain intact inlA alleles varies significantly from isolates found in processing plants.

This information is important to public health labs and growers as to the varieties of L. monocytogenes that could potentially contaminate fresh produce in the field by various means.

The majority of genotypes of the virulence gene inlA are intact among natural watershed isolates of Listeria monocytogenes from Central California Coast

PLoS ONE 11(12): e0167566. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0167566

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0167566

 

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.

Spread the safe salad message – at retail

The Packer writs in an editorial that the produce industry is justified in being upset about the latest accusation of lax food safety practices, but also acknowledges the industry has a strong food safety message and should be eager to share it.

lettuceIt’s important that retailers and foodservice providers know the industry’s response to the most recent attack, this time from a United Kingdom study that raises concerns about salmonella in bagged salads

How to do that?

Because at retail, the person consumers are going to ask is some minimum-wage kid who is stocking produce when a shopper walks by.

Most people want to go shopping, not do homework.

They are an abundance of tools that have been developed to help support risk communication at retail.

On the front lines.

Where sales are won and lost.

Market microbial food safety at retail rather than offering boilerplates.

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.”

Perilous produce: FDA Import Alert 99-35

This import alert represents the Agency’s current guidance to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) field personnel regarding the manufacturer(s) and/or product(s) at issue. It does not create or confer any rights for or any person, and does not operate to bind FDA or the public.

lettuce-skull-e-coli-o145Produce is vulnerable to contamination with pathogenic microorganisms if exposed to insanitary conditions during growing, harvesting, packing, holding, or manufacturing, processing, or transportation. Multiple foodborne illness outbreaks have been linked to produce items that were likely contaminated as a result of insanitary conditions during growing, harvesting, packing, holding, manufacturing, processing, or transportation. Produce is of special concern because in many instances it is consumed without further treatment to adequately destroy or remove pathogenic microorganisms.

FDA may document insanitary conditions during an inspection of an establishment that grows, harvests, packs, holds, manufactures, processes, or transports produce. FDA may also use analytical evidence or epidemiological and traceback evidence to establish that a produce item was manufactured, processed, prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions.

Guidance:

Districts may detain, without physical examination, produce items from manufacturers, shippers, farms, packers and/or other entities (firms) identified on the Red List of this import alert.

Examples of evidence FDA may use to place a firm on the Red List include:

  1. Inspectional evidence.
  2. Epidemiological evidence and traceback evidence. This should include evidence implicating the particular produce item as a vehicle in a foodborne illness outbreak (including positive test results), traceback evidence demonstrating that the firm grows, harvests, packs, holds, manufactures, processes, or transports the implicated vehicle, and expert opinion that the outbreak was likely a result of insanitary conditions at the foreign firm (e.g., contamination likely resulted from insanitary conditions due to the typical modes of transmission of the pathogen implicated in the outbreak) or was related to a resident pathogen or systemic contamination at the foreign firm, or both.
  3. Analytical evidence. This should include evidence of a resident organism at the foreign firm and/or systemic contamination at the foreign firm, such as an expert opinion that the analytical evidence indicates insanitary conditions at the foreign firm or indicates a resident pathogen or systemic contamination at the foreign firm, or both. Examples include:

* A pathogen that matches an outbreak strain is isolated from an imported produce item;

* Microbial pathogens that are indistinguishable by one or more genetic tests are isolated from two or more lots of imported produce originating from the same foreign firm.

INFORMATION FOR FIRMS REQUESTING REMOVAL FROM THE RED LIST:

In order to be removed from the red list, the firm should submit documentation to FDA demonstrating that the firm has made all relevant corrections to overcome the appearance of adulteration, so that the agency will have confidence that future entries will be in compliance with the Act. Examples of such documentation may include:

  1. Documentation to show that inspectional observations or violations identified by FDA have been corrected. Firms whose produce items appear to be adulterated based on inspectional evidence should submit detailed descriptions of the specific steps taken to correct the violations along with documentation such as (as applicable) written plans, field records, packinghouse or facility records, training records, and photographs.
  2. Root cause analysis to identify potential sources and routes of contamination. Firms whose produce items appear to be adulterated based on analytical or epidemiological and traceback evidence should include a detailed root cause analysis to evaluate all aspects of their operations in order to identify potential sources and routes of contamination. The firm should also provide documentation to demonstrate that corrective actions to adequately control the sources and routes of contamination identified in the root cause analysis have been implemented.

cantaloupe-salmonellaFDA recommends that the firm’s submission be organized according to the following areas, as appropriate to the firm’s practices, processes, and procedures:

– Water adequacy for irrigation, agricultural sprays, cooling, and other uses;

– Soil amendment and biosolids;

– Animal management;

– Worker health and hygiene;

– Sanitary facilities, disposal of sewage and silage;

– Equipment cleaning and sanitation;

– Farm or facility sanitation;

– Transportation; and

– Programs to monitor produce safety practices, processes and procedures and to take corrective actions when measures fail or are not fully implemented.

The firm may wish to refer to FDA’s Guidance for Industry: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, or similar guidance, to assist them in their root cause analysis and corrective action. Additional guidance for produce, including commodity specific guidance, may be found the FDA website at www.FDA.gov.

Safer production of fresh produce in Ireland

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has published new guidance to assist growers with the safe production of fresh produce on farms.

ireland-produceThe guidance and its accompanying simplified leaflet outlines the potential risks associated with fresh produce and provides practical advice to growers to reduce this risk and improve food safety. They were developed in conjunction with an expert working group comprising growers, processors, retailers, State bodies and former representatives. Fresh produce (which includes fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, sprouted seeds, edible flowers and herbs) is an integral component of the Irish diet and its popularity and consumption continues to increase. As such, it is important that growers producing fresh produce in Ireland use good agricultural and hygiene practices to reduce risk and improve the safety of fresh produce for all consumers.

The new guidance comes at a time when outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with fresh produce are increasing. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has identified that fresh produce such as leafy greens; bulb and stem vegetables; tomatoes; melons; fresh pods, legumes or grains; sprouted seeds and berries pose the highest risks to consumers. In 2013, frozen berries caused 240 confirmed cases of hepatitis, with a probable 1,075 further cases across 11 European countries, including Ireland. The FSAI’s advice to boil all frozen imported berries before consumption is still in place, as contaminated berries could still be circulating in the food chain.

According to Dr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive, FSAI anything which comes into contact with fresh produce has the potential to cause contamination and it is vital that growers take the necessary steps to limit contamination of fresh produce in the first instance.

    “A lot of fresh produce is eaten raw such as fruits, vegetables and herbs, so any harmful bugs that may be in the produce will not be removed by cooking. This places a big onus on growers to use good agricultural and hygiene practices to reduce the risk of contamination of fresh produce,” said Dr Byrne.

The guidance makes it clear that anyone producing fresh produce for sale must be registered as a grower with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The guidance goes on to highlight eight key areas which growers should address to help reduce risk and improve food safety, including: 

  • Choose the right site to grow fresh produce
  • Restrict the access of animals, pests and people to that site
  • Use organic fertilisers safely
  • Use pesticides safely
  • Source and use a safe water supply
  • Use good harvesting practices
  • Train staff and provide good staff facilities
  • Put a system of traceability and recall in place

The FSAI acknowledges and thanks the working group* who assisted in developing the guidance document. It was comprised of growers, processors, retailers as well as representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Bord Bia, Teagasc, the EPA and the Irish Farmers Association. The new guidance document and leaflet are available for free download at www.fsai.ie.

Killer of old people and ‘everyone’s too anal’ about produce given awards by Canadian grocers

Pete Luckett (right in photo) and is one of this year’s recipients of the “Life Member Designation”, awarded for lifetime contributions to independent grocery in Canada.

cfig-lifetime-achievment-awardThree recipients for the annual award were announced by the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers on Tuesday.

What a circle jerk.

Luckett, founder of Halifax-based Pete’s Fine Foods, who has been growing and selling fresh produce for more than 45 years, famously said in 2005, when over 700 people in Ontario were sickened by raw sprouts, that, “everybody’s getting too anal about it. I mean, come on now, we’re dealing with living fruits and vegetables.”

Also getting an award this year is Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods. He takes the “Spirit of the Independent Award,” given for his “significant contributions to the growth of the entrepreneurial spirit of Canadian grocers,” said Tom Barlow, chief executive at CFIG.

It was McCain’s deli meats in 2008 that killed 23 elderly Canadians with Listeria.

Way to go, Canada.

 

Cutters: Primary risk with produce

The influence of a selection of minimal processing techniques (sanitizing wash prior to packaging, modified atmosphere, storage conditions under light or in the dark) was investigated in relation to the survival of, attachment to and internalization of enteric pathogens in fresh produce.

breaking_away_promo4Cut Iceberg lettuce was chosen as a model for fresh produce, Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli O157) and Salmonella enterica were chosen as pathogen models. Care was taken to simulate industrial post-harvest processing. A total of 50 ± 0.1 g of fresh-cut Iceberg lettuce was packed in bags under near ambient atmospheric air with approximately 21% O2 (NAA) conditions or equilibrium modified atmosphere with 3% O2 (EMAP). Two lettuce pieces inoculated with E. coli O157 BRMSID 188 or Salmonella Typhimurium labeled with green fluorescent protein (GFP) were added to each package. The bags with cut lettuce were stored under either dark or light conditions for 2 days at 7 °C. The pathogens’ capacity to attach to the lettuce surface and cut edge was evaluated 2 days after inoculation using conventional plating technique and the internalization of the bacteria was investigated and quantified using confocal microscopy. The effect of a sanitizing wash step (40 mg/L NaClO or 40 mg/L peracetic acid + 1143 mg/L lactic acid) of the cut lettuce prior to packaging was evaluated as well.

Our results indicate that both pathogens behaved similarly under the investigated conditions. Pathogen growth was not observed, nor was there any substantial influence of the investigated atmospheric conditions or light/dark storage conditions on their attachment/internalization. The pathogens attached to and internalized via cut edges and wounds, from which they were able to penetrate into the parenchyma. Internalization through the stomata into the parenchyma was not observed, although some bacteria were found in the substomatal cavity. Washing the cut edges with sanitizing agents to reduce enteric pathogen numbers was not more effective than a rinse with precooled tap water prior to packaging.

Our results confirm that cut surfaces are the main risk for postharvest attachment and internalization of E. coli O157 and Salmonella during minimal processing and that storage and packaging conditions have no important effect.

Minimal processing of iceberg lettuce has no substantial influence on the survival, attachment and internalization of E. coli O157 and Salmonella

International Journal of Food Microbiology 238 (2016) 40–49, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2016.07.029

I Van der Linden, KR Avalos Llano, M Eriksson, WH De Vos, EJM Van Damme, M Uyttendaele, F Devlieghere

Know thy suppliers: Seattle restaurant Matador reopens after E. coli outbreak

Following an E. coli outbreak that sickened seven people, the Matador is back open. The favorite Ballard restaurant opened its doors Saturday morning after a week-long closure.

matador-seattleOn Thursday, public health officials inspected the restaurant and found that it had been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

One of the E. coli victims is a 16-year-old girl who was hospitalized after becoming anemic and suffering kidney failure. Her family is suing the Matador for the outbreak.

Elisa Hahn of King 5 reports on Friday, Matador’s chief culinary officer agreed to allow our cameras inside and talk about the investigation.

“We’re proud of the way we operate our kitchen and the cleanliness and sanitation practices that have always been in place,” said Tom Small. “When something like this happens, and you realize there isn’t anything you can do to prevent it, it’s incredibly impactful.”

Back in the kitchen, the staff was deseeding jalapenos and roasted peppers. The prep work in a Mexican restaurant is a time-consuming process. Just like these jalapenos, Matador has gone through a gutting.

“We’re down to zero product, starting from scratch,” said one employee.

After grilling the staff about possible illnesses, investigators are now leaning away from blaming food handling, focusing more on products and suppliers.

At least 200 sicken by E. coli linked to salad in Finland

Some 200 people suffered from a gastroenteritis epidemic in the Helsinki metropolitan area of Finland after eating food supplied by a catering company, media reported on Thursday.

rucola.saladEeva Ruotsalainen, deputy director of the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), told the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat that most of the infections occurred in festive occasions arranged in Helsinki about two weeks ago, and some others occurred in Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen after the events.

Laboratory results showed that more than 80 of the patients were infected by EHEC (Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli) which include Shiga-toxin producing E. coli. said Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.

Officials contacted patients of high-risk groups, such as children under the age of five, elderly people, pregnant women and persons who work in the food industry.

Health officials suspected that the infection originated from an Espoo-based catering company which provided food services for the events.

Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported that the source of the epidemic was traced to rucola or rocket salad sold by Kesko, a major retailer of Finland.

Matti Kalervo, vice president of Kesko, told Yle that the rucola in question was grown in Denmark and packaged in Sweden. The breakout of the epidemic was caused by a single batch of rucola exclusively for industrial kitchens. Kesko has started to perform microbiological tests on the product, said Kalervo. EHEC bacteria, a subtype of Escherichia coli, can cause human hemorrhagic colitis. The infection of EHEC can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, which in turn may cause permanent kidney damage or even death.