Nosestretcher alert: With 74 now sick from Salmonella in bagged lettuce, spokesthingy says, ‘it’s safe.’ Where’s the data

Australians have been assured prepacked lettuce on retail shelves is safe to eat as the number of salmonella cases linked to some products grows.

lettuce.skull.noroFresh Produce Safety Centre technology manager Richard Bennett said consumers shouldn’t worry about potentially tainted lettuce unless it had been sitting in their refrigerators (disclaimer — I gave a talk for this group a couple of years ago; weren’t interested in hard questions).

“Any product on the retail shelf now is fresh, safe and healthy,” Mr Bennett told AAP.

Mr Bennett said Australia was a leader in food safety and systems were usually able to prevent outbreaks of disease.

No, most of it doesn’t get reported.

The Australian Fresh Produce Safety Centre, a bastard child of the leafy greens marketing thingy or whatever they’re called in California, is following the same playbook of saying everything is OK, why are you looking at us?

Consumers deserve better.

54 sick: Salmonella in lettuce spreads in Australia

This is how bad public reporting of foodborne illness is in Australia.

lettuce.skull.noroRetailers, even with crappy Internet, we have cameras, and you’ll be found out.

An increasing number of Queenslanders claim they’ve been made ill from supermarket-bought salads in the wake of salmonella outbreak, but Woolworths and Coles insist there’s no problem with Queensland supply.

“The supplier in question does not supply into Queensland so there is no need to worry,” a Woolworths spokesman told The Courier-Mail.

While a Cole statement confirmed: “None of the recalled products are sold in Queensland, there is no cause for concern.”

It is believed Coles and Woolworths have stopped taking supplies from Tripod indefinitely.

Chelsea Bienke is just one of Queensland consumers who believe a bout of extreme vomiting and diarrhea was sparked after eating Woolworths lettuce.

The Brisbane woman and her sister were extremely ill for days after eating a meal with mixed salad.

“We had diarrhea for days and I was vomiting” Ms Bienke said.

“I felt like complete crap. I couldn’t go to work this week.”

She said she doubted claims that the product wouldn’t affect any customers.

“Well it’s strange how we bought the product last week and by Tuesday we were vomiting and had diarrhea,” Ms Bienke said.

“My niece who doesn’t eat the product is perfectly fine.”

Another Queenslander wrote on Coles’ Facebook page: “Are you sure Qld products are not affected. I bought spinach and rocket mix. My child has been unwell for three days.”

Another Brisbane mum posted on the same page: “You say Qld isn’t affected but my kids have been sick with headache and nausea. We eat your salads all the time and five of my six kids have been sick.

5 things to know about foodborne illness

Julie Jargon of The Wall Street Journal reports that roughly one in six Americans, or 48 million people, get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

happy-vomit1Approximately 128,000 of them are hospitalized and 3,000 die from the illnesses. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. CEO Steve Ells is making an all-out effort to revive his chain’s fortunes after contaminated ingredients caused a spate of such illnesses, as The Wall Street Journal reports in a Page One article.

Here are five things to know about foodborne illnesses, according to the CDC:

  1. Which food items account for the most illnesses?

Produce is the most common contributor to foodborne illnesses, accounting for 46% of them between 1998 and 2008, followed by meat and poultry, dairy and eggs and fish and shellfish.

  1. Which pathogens are most responsible?

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S., followed by salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter spp. and Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria behind the Chipotle outbreak are called Shiga toxin-producing E.coli 026.

  1. How dangerous is E. coli 026?

This strain of E. coli can cause diarrhea and vomiting and sometimes lead to kidney failure. No one who contracted this kind of E. coli infection in the Chipotle outbreak died or was diagnosed with kidney failure, though 21 of the 55 ill people were hospitalized. A smaller E. coli outbreak sickened five more. Kidney failure and death is more often associated with the E. coli 0157 strain, which was the pathogen in the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak that resulted in the deaths of four children.

  1. Is the rate of foodborne disease outbreaks growing?

Infections of E. coli O157 in 2014 decreased 32% when compared with 2006-2008. There has been no change in the number of overall Salmonella cases in 2014 versus 2006-2008. Campylobacter infections increased 13% during that time.

  1. How can I prevent getting a foodborne illness?

Frequent hand washing and washing of surfaces where food is prepared is critical. Cooking food thoroughly is another key way to prevent contamination. A food thermometer should be used to determine when an item is done. Steaks, for example, should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Food should be kept at a temperature of 140 degrees after cooking because bacteria can grow as food begins to cool. Microwaved food should reach 165 degrees or higher. Perishable items should be refrigerated promptly. And raw meat and eggs should always be prepared separately from other foods.

 

 

28 sickened with Salmonella: Lettuce is overrated

I prefer a cut-up variety of fibre-rich vegetables.

lettuce.skull.noroA few years ago I toured my local Coles supermarket with the two heads of food safety – both now gone.

We spent about 2 hours going through the store and I pointed out labeling problems, lack of hygiene, and asked, how were consumers supposed to know what food was safe?

Now there is a problem with bagged lettuce packaged up and served at Coles, Woolies, and elsewhere, with 28 people sick.

This is nothing new.

But it’s tragic that people continue to get sick from the food that should nourish them.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet.

Because they are fresh, anything that comes in contact has the potential to contaminate.

That means food safety starts on the farm.

Washing produce may make you feel better, and government agencies advocate washing, but with fresh produce, washing does little.

It may remove some of the snot that a 3-year-old sneezed on it, but microbiologically, not much else.

lettuceThe key is to have programs in place to reduce contamination.

Twenty years ago, my lab started working with Canadian farmers to limit contamination on fresh produce farms.

Of particular importance: quality of irrigation water, manure, and employee handwashing.

You see a bird, I see a Salmonella factory. We can’t kill all the birds, but we can take appropriate steps to reduce risk.

Fresh produce has been the leading cause of foodborne illness in North America for two decades.

Right now there is an outbreak of Listeria on Dole packaged salads in Canada and the U.S. that has killed two and sickened 20.

Are packaged salads the villain?

Yes and no.

There has been much debate in the food safety community over whether pre-packaged salads are a good thing or a bad thing.

I agree with a scientific advisory committee in the U.S. that said pre-packaged salads are safer because your sink is a pool of germs.

But only if the companies producing the stuff – and making the profit – can prove it.

During one of my many trips to Coles, I asked the store manager if he washes pre-packaged greens.

He replied, “Of course, why wouldn’t I, my wife does it.”

Oh, Australia.

There are no labels with recommendations on pre-packaged salads in Australia.

There are no guidelines.

There is no public disclosure.

If 28 people got sick, there’s a lot more for it to bubble up to Australian media.

Retailers should be clear about practices and sourcing.

And they should market food safety.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety in Canada and the U.S. who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia. And coaches ice hockey.

28 sick: Salmonella outbreak linked to Coles and Woolworths lettuce in Australia

An urgent national recall has been issued for pre-packaged lettuce and salad linked to a salmonella outbreak that has hospitalized two people.

lettuce.skull.noroThe Victorian Department of Health and Human Services said it had identified a number of cases of the infection linked to lettuce grown and packaged by Victorian company Tripod Farmers.

It is sold at Coles, Woolworths, Bi-Lo and other grocers as Coles 4 Leaf Mix, Woolworths salad mix, SupaSalad Supamix and Wash N Toss salad mix.

The affected products have best before dates leading up to and including February 14 and are in all states and territories except for Tasmania and Western Australia.

The health department identified the lettuce after recording an unusually high level of Salmonella Anatum strain infections and traced a number of those back to the products.

“Normally we only see a handful of cases of this strain each year, but so far this year there have been 28 adult cases of salmonella anatum – mostly adults – notified to the department,” the department’s senior medical advisor Dr Finn Romanes said.

“As a result of following up the food histories of a number of people we have discovered a common source – the Tripod Farmers lettuce.

“Tests of three products from two batches have also tested positive for Salmonella Anatum bacterium.”

“We do expect to see more cases,” he said.

“We are working with the company to understand what may have occurred… They have instituted a comprehensive clean-up to make sure any risk is minimized.”

salm.salad.aust.feb.16

LGMA silent on Listeria outbreak

About four times a day I’ll get a tweet from the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement – the folks who set themselves up after the spinach outbreak of E. coli in 2006 that killed four and sickened 200 – blowing themselves about how great they are, and how their products are so safe.

spongebob.oil.colbert.may3.10If you want that kind of PR, then you have to be to take the hits as well.

LGMA never talks about an outbreak linked to leafy greens (publicly).

To me, they’ve succeeded best at lowering the leafy greens cone of silence and intimidating public health types into delaying reports of outbreaks.

LGMA says essentially that epidemiology doesn’t matter, and product must be shown to have the same outbreak strain as someone who is sick.

lettuce.skull.e.coli.O145That happened with spinach in 2006, and it has happened again with Listeria in 2016 – 2 dead, 19 sick, Canada and the U.S., all linked to Dole pre-packed salads.

Sure, it was probably the plant in Ohio that processed the stuff that was the source of the Listeria (and when I think of Ohio, I think salad).

But where’s the tweet, LGMA?

 

Maybe? USDA says antimicrobial wash reduces health risks in fresh produce

An Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, and his collaborators have developed an antimicrobial wash that reduces the risk of foodborne pathogens contaminating fresh produce.

usda.produce.washJoshua Gurtler and scientists at NatureSeal Inc. have found that a combination of lactic acid, fruit acids, and hydrogen peroxide can be used in a produce rinse for commercial food distributors. NatureSeal, based in Westport, Connecticut, already markets an anti-browning wash developed by another ARS team in the 1990’s for sliced apples and 18 other types of produce.

E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens sicken approximately 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) each year. A recent U.S. outbreak of Salmonella associated with cucumbers sickened over 765 people in 36 states and killed 4.

First Step+ 10 is designed to reduce those numbers, and is expected to be used in the commercial flumes and rinse tanks that wash fresh produce, Gurtler says.

The ingredients are all classified as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The wash also has been approved for use in Canada; is U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic; is biodegradable; and does not affect the taste, texture, smell, or appearance of produce.

To save water, some food processors reuse wash water, a practice that can contaminate produce in subsequent washes. Along with reducing the risk of contamination, the new rinse will cut back on waste water because processors won’t have to replace water in their tanks as frequently.

To test First Step+ 10, Gurtler inoculated fresh cut apples, baby spinach, cantaloupe rind, and cherry tomatoes with highly resistant outbreak strains of E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, and Salmonella. He soaked them in the wash for 5 minutes and then measured pathogen levels in the wash water and on the produce. The antimicrobial wash reduced pathogen levels on the produce by 99.99 percent. It also rid the wash water of 100 percent of pathogens, making it safer to reuse.

Along with securing FDA approval, Gurtler and his collaborators at NatureSeal have filed a patent application and presented findings at scientific meetings.

ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.

Read more about this work in the January 2016 issue of AgResearch.

‘Furry lump’ Woman discovers baby weasel in UK salad

A nurse was horrified when she tucked into her Asda salad and discovered a baby weasel.

weasel.jan.16Rifat Asghar, 42, was eating a carrot and sweetcorn meal from the supermarket for lunch when a colleague spotted a “furry lump”.

The advanced nurse practitioner inspected the two inch-long furball and was disgusted to discover a leg and tail – as well as what looked like an eye.

She took the salad back to the shop in Bradford, West Yorkshire, where she claims she was offered a £5 voucher. An investigation later revealed the “foreign object” was a baby weasel and staff offered Ms Asghar £100 in vouchers, which she turned down.

Supermarket bosses claim the furry animal must have been picked up in a field during harvesting and passed through the entire factory without being spotted.

Breakfast in Brisbane

Chapman can keep his turkey breast — although it’s a good idea and I do something similar with whole chickens (note to self — BBQ that chicken for dinner tonight and ensure it’s done with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer reading of 165 F).

This is breakfast in Brisbane: mango, kiwi, watermelon, strawberry and passion fruit, along with some yoghurt and homemade granola.

There are benefits to living in a sub-tropical climate.

fruit.breakfast.dp.jan.16

‘Free fruit for kids’ PR stunt backfires for Australian grocery chain

Woolworth’s in Australia is giving away free fruit to kids.

woolies.free.fruitThis has sparked some sort of hygiene uproar.

But it’s wrong.

As I told Elizabeth Weise of USA Today back in 2012, all washing of produce might do is “remove the snot that some 3-year-old blew onto the food at the grocery store.” Washing “lowers the pathogen count a little, but not to safe levels if it’s contaminated.”

The key to safe produce is food safety protocols – and verification – beginning on the farm through to retail, like Woolies.

But Woolies won’t talk about that, or market it, so I stay away.

Woolies’ “free fruit for kids” initiative has backfired, with shoppers complaining the basket of apples and bananas is unhygienic.

The supermarket giant announced the program in November, claiming it would “help children eat their recommended two serves of fruit a day and is part of Woolworths commitment to inspire a healthier Australia.”

But customers have raised concerns that kids often have dirty hands and encouraging them to touch and eat fruit in-store could spread worms or other infectious disease.

“It’s unhygienic,” Kathy, a customer in Surry Hills, Sydney, told news.com.au. “Parents should be responsible for feeding their kids, having foods there unmonitored is a bad idea.”

On a Reddit thread on the free fruit scheme, Svedka posted, “Seriously though, that’s how you get worms”, while another user added, “Cue fruit peels left in strange places around the store, and kids with pear-juice hands touching things.”

The plan was derided as “cheap advertising” and an effort by beleaguered Woolies to “attract families back to their stores

But other shoppers applauded the plan, with Alex McCowan telling news.com.au: “I don’t think it’s unhygienic. They have fruit sitting there anyway for people to buy and eat. It’s a good idea to get kids to eat more fruit. Food’s expensive, so it helps families.”