Salami, fermented sausage and risk in Italy

Sorenne loves her salami  — or smallgoods as they are sometimes called in Australia.

soppresseNow its gone all artsy or artisanal but there’s still a microbiological risk.

As of the start of the 21st century, consumers have developed a growing interest in so called “traditional or artisanal” food. The renewed interest in this type of food is explained by consumers’ perception of these products. In fact, traditional food has a general positive image across Europe, and European consumers trade off the relative expense and time required for preparation of traditional food for its specific taste, quality, appearance, nutritional value, healthiness and safety (Almli et al., 2011 and Guerrero et al., 2009). Such food is often produced by small farms, and so the rural economy benefits from the increase in activity and profits through direct sales at local food markets (Berlin et al., 2009 and Carey et al., 2011).

Although the term “traditional foods” is widely used, the concept of traditional food products embraces different dimensions and there are hardly any definitions that clearly define traditional foods. In order to identify “traditional” foods, the EU legislation (EC, 2006a, EC, 2006b and EC, 2012) has defined criteria based on product designations that are linked to geographical origin or traditional production methods. In addition, the EuroFIR FP6 Network of Excellence provided a definition of traditional foods which includes statements about traditional ingredients, traditional composition and traditional type of production and/or processing method (Weichselbaum et al., 2009).

Among European countries, Italy is the lead producer of traditional foods and products such as foods with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), followed by France, Spain, Portugal and Greece (ISMEA, 2013). Additionally, it is estimated that Italy has around 5000 traditional local food products without any certification (CIA, 2015), which could represent an important resource contributing to the development and sustainability of rural areas, providing ample variety in food choice for the consumer and a remarkable income for the economy. With its 371 typical products, Veneto Region is the fourth Italian Region according to number of traditional food products after Toscana, Campania and Lazio (Mipaaf, 2014). In addition, since 2007, Veneto Region has implemented regional legislation which defines a simplified procedure to sell small quantities of traditional food products at local level directly from the producer to the consumer (DGR, 2007 and DGR, 2008). In Veneto Region, many typical fermented sausages such as salami and soppresse are produced with traditional technologies, and so the legislation has been focused firstly on these products and subsequently on other types of meat products (poultry and rabbit meat) and products of non-animal origin (canned food; fruit juices; flour and dried vegetables; bread and bakery products; extra virgin olive oil).

In relation to fermented sausages, the legislation defines the production season, the maximum number of animals that can be reared and the minimum rearing period for pigs on the production farm as well as the minimum hygienic pre-requisites of the work areas used for processing pork meat into fermented sausages. Since these sausages are mainly produced following traditional practice in small processing units, starter cultures are not added to the minced pork meat and ripening is carried out in rooms with less temperature and relative humidity control than that used by industrial manufacturers. Therefore, deviations in temperature and/or humidity can result in insufficient fermentation-drying processes, meaning the absence of pathogens in the final products is not assured. The presence of food-borne pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli O157, and Salmonella spp. in fermented sausages has been reported.

salamiConcerning L. monocytogenes, the pathogen was detected at the end of ripening in 40% of “Salsiccia Sarda” (a traditional Italian fermented sausage) with contamination levels always lower than 100 cfu/g ( Meloni et al., 2012), while a prevalence of 15% was reported in fermented sausages produced in northern Italy (De Cesare et al., 2007). Other studies conducted on traditional fermented sausages at the end of the ripening period showed a L. monocytogenes prevalence of 10% in France ( Thevenot et al., 2005), 16% in Spain (Martin et al., 2011), 42% in Greece (Gounadaki et al., 2008) and 60% in Portugal (Ferreira et al., 2007). The prevalence of Salmonella spp. in traditional fermented sausages is lower than Listeria: the presence of Salmonella was reported in two out of 38 batches of traditional Portuguese sausages (alheiras) ( Ferreira et al., 2007) and in three out of 21 (14%) batter samples of traditional Greek fermented sausages but not in the final products (ready to be sold) (Gounadaki et al., 2008). In relation to verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC), including E. coli serotype O157:H7, for which meat and meat products are considered the main source of infection for humans, an overall VTEC prevalence of 16% was found in fresh pork sausages collected in the southern part of Italy ( Villani et al., 2005).

In addition, food-borne outbreaks associated with the consumption of fermented meats are reported in the literature. In Veneto Region of Italy, in January 2004, a family outbreak of E. coli O157 infection caused by a dry-fermented traditional salami made with pork meat and produced in a local plant occurred ( Conedera et al., 2007). In Norway, an outbreak caused by E. coli O103:H25 involving 17 patients was attributed to the consumption of fermented sausages ( Sekse et al., 2009). Concerning Salmonella, an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium DT104A involving 63 cases associated with the consumption of traditional pork salami was reported in Lazio Region of Italy ( Luzzi et al., 2007). Another outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium associated with the consumption of unripened salami was reported in Lombardia Region of Italy ( Pontello et al., 1998). L. monocytogenes outbreaks associated with the consumption of fermented sausages have not been reported, to our knowledge, even though L. monocytogenes has been implicated in several listeriosis outbreaks linked to the consumption of pre-sliced ready-to-eat deli meats ( Thevenot et al., 2006). The infective doses of the above-mentioned micro-organisms can vary widely according to several factors such as the strain, the susceptibility of the host, and the food matrix involved. In case of L. monocytogenes in susceptible individuals, it is unlikely that fewer than 1000 cells may cause disease ( EFSA, 2007). Concerning Salmonella the infective dose is variable but often low numbers of cells (between 10 and 1000) are sufficient to cause disease, the same for EHEC which is known for its low infective dose ( Strachan et al., 2005 and Teunis et al., 2010). The difference in dose-response relationship between the three pathogens may also, to some extent, explain the difference in stringency in surveillance. In European Regulation 2073/2005 (EC, 2005), tolerance of up to 100 cfu/g of L. monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meat products is accepted at the end of shelf life, whereas usually action limits of absence of Salmonella and EHEC per 25 g are applicable.

In order to avoid the marketing of potentially hazardous traditional fermented pork sausages (Italian salami and soppresse) produced within the Veneto region, this study was initiated by the regional competent authorities in collaboration with the small-scale producers with the following aims: a) investigate the production process of traditional salami and soppresse in Veneto Region of Italy; b) identify the microbiological hazards associated with this type of food, and finally; c) identify control measures easily applicable directly by the Food Business Operator (FBO) with the supervision and control of the regional Competent Authority (CA) in order to manage the hazards associated with this type of traditional meat product.

Artisanal Italian salami and soppresse: Identification of control strategies to manage microbiological hazards

Journal of Food Microbiology

Volume 61, February 2017, p. 5-13

Roccato, Anna. Et al.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0740002015301143

Possums, birds and tank water in Queensland: A microbial risk

As Australians begin the workweek with a hung parliament after yet another federal election, I aptly turn my attention to the politicians of the rodent world: possums.

rainwater.brisbane.feb.14The Australian climate can be harsh, in a No-Country-for-Old-Men sorta way, with temperature extremes, flooding, followed by five years of drought.

So we have new-fangled rain barrels that my grandparents used to have in Ontario (ours, right, exactly as shown and I know there’s possums wandering around there at night because possum poop accumulates).

The rainwater is supposed to be used for toilets, dishes, laundry and other non-potable uses, but is there a risk (no drinking from the garden hose here)?

Here’s the most recent from researchers:

Avian and possum fecal droppings may negatively impact roof-harvested rainwater (RHRW) water quality due to the presence of zoonotic pathogens. This study was aimed at evaluating the performance characteristics of a possum feces-associated (PSM) marker by screening 210 fecal and wastewater samples from possums (n = 20) and a range of nonpossum hosts (n = 190) in Southeast Queensland, Australia.

The host sensitivity and specificity of the PSM marker were 0.90 and 0.95 (maximum value, 1.00), respectively. The mean concentrations of the GFD marker in possum fecal DNA samples (8.8 × 107 gene copies per g of feces) were two orders of magnitude higher than those in the nonpossum fecal DNA samples (5.0 × 105 gene copies per g of feces). The host sensitivity, specificity, and concentrations of the avian feces-associated GFD marker were reported in our recent study (W. Ahmed, V. J. Harwood, K. Nguyen, S. Young, K. Hamilton, and S. Toze, Water Res 88:613–622, 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2015.10.050). The utility of the GFD and PSM markers was evaluated by testing a large number of tank water samples (n = 134) from the Brisbane and Currumbin areas. GFD and PSM markers were detected in 39 of 134 (29%) and 11 of 134 (8%) tank water samples, respectively. The GFD marker concentrations in PCR-positive samples ranged from 3.7 × 102 to 8.5 × 105 gene copies per liter, whereas the concentrations of the PSM marker ranged from 2.0 × 103 to 6.8 × 103 gene copies per liter of water. The results of this study suggest the presence of fecal contamination in tank water samples from avian and possum hosts.

possum.baby.nov.11This study has established an association between the degradation of microbial tank water quality and avian and possum feces. Based on the results, we recommend disinfection of tank water, especially for tanks designated for potable use.

Importance 

The use of roof-harvested rainwater (RHRW) for domestic purposes is a globally accepted practice. The presence of pathogens in rainwater tanks has been reported by several studies, supporting the necessity for the management of potential health risks. The sources of fecal pollution in rainwater tanks are unknown. However, the application of microbial source tracking (MST) markers has the potential to identify the sources of fecal contamination in a rainwater tank. In this study, we provide evidence of avian and possum fecal contamination in tank water samples using molecular markers. This study established a potential link between the degradation of the microbial quality of tank water and avian and possum feces.

Evidence of avian and possum fecal contamination in rainwater tanks as determined by microbial source tracking approaches

Ahmed a, K. A. Hamilton a,b, P. Gyawali a,c, S. Toze a,c and C. N. Haas b

A CSIRO Land and Water, Ecosciences Precinct, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

B Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

C School of Public Health, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia

Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Volume 82, Number 14, Pages 4379-4386, doi:10.1128/AEM.00892-16

http://aem.asm.org/content/82/14/4379.abstract?etoc

Lots of recalls but ‘100 times more likely to detect an outbreak than 20 years ago’

Martin Wiedmann, a professor of food safety at Cornell University’s food science department, told CBC News we really are seeing far more food recalls and outbreaks these days, “But that doesn’t mean our food is less safe. It’s the opposite. What happened over the last 20 years and really accelerated over the last two years is the use of completely new DNA fingerprinting tools to detect disease outbreaks. Today, we are 100 times more likely to detect an outbreak than we were 20 years ago.”

riskHealth officials have developed a system to track the genetic makeup of salmonella, Listeria and E. coli. Once a food-related illness outbreak is identified, scientists can match the DNA from contaminated food with the bacteria making people sick, and potentially trace it to the originating food processing plant.

In light of that long list of recalls, and the fact that we’re detecting more outbreaks, shouldn’t they also be steering us away from salad and cantaloupes? After all, based on the recalls, they might sound like risky foods.

Wiedmann says that’s not really so. He points to the reason we see few cases of issues arising from raw milk consumption as an example of why.

“Much, much fewer people consume raw milk,” he said.

“So we don’t hear much about raw milk outbreaks. But we hear about outbreaks with lettuce, so [people think] lettuce must be less safe. Quite the opposite, because you need to consider the total amount of the food produced — what is your chance of getting sick from eating one of these servings.”

Wiedmann also points out that a recall isn’t the same as an outbreak. In most cases, food recalls are precautionary, and the products haven’t actually made anyone sick.

We call them outbreaks now because we can easily link a specific product in California, for example, with a handful of sick people in separate provinces or states, thanks to the DNA fingerprinting Wiedmann mentioned.

The bottom line, he says, is that those high-risk products health officials advise against, like unpasteurized cheese, are actually riskier than the products making news headlines.

A cheese that’s acceptable in the French countryside isn’t in urban Canada, largely because of our cultural biases.

“The challenge is that risk isn’t binary,” Wiedmann said.

“It’s just not like ‘risk’ or ‘no-risk.’ There’s a gradation… And then somewhere in the middle, someone puts a line. And that line is arbitrary, because no food is risk free.”

Artificial sweetener, Xylitol, risk to dogs

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, sugarless gum may contain xylitol, a class of sweetener known as sugar alcohol. Xylitol is present in many products and foods for human use, but can have devastating effects on your pet.

sadie.dog.powellOver the past several years, the Center for Veterinary Medicine at FDA has received several reports—many of which pertained to chewing gum—of dogs being poisoned by xylitol, according to Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian at FDA.

But gum isn’t the only product containing xylitol. Slightly lower in calories than sugar, this sugar substitute is also often used to sweeten sugar-free candy, such as mints and chocolate bars. Other products that may contain xylitol include:

  • breath mints
  • baked goods
  • cough syrup
  • children’s and adult chewable vitamins
  • mouthwash
  • toothpaste

In both people and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. In people, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. However, it’s different in canines: When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas.

This rapid release of insulin may result in a rapid and profound decrease in the level of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), an effect that can occur within 10 to 60 minutes of eating the xylitol. Untreated, this hypoglycemia can quickly be life-threatening, Hartogensis says.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting, followed by symptoms associated with the sudden lowering of your dog’s blood sugar, such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse and seizures.

If you think your dog has eaten xylitol, take him to your vet or an emergency animal hospital immediately, Hartogensis advises. Because hypoglycemia and other serious adverse effects may not occur in some cases for up to 12 to 24 hours, your dog may need to be monitored.

(A note to cat owners: The toxicity of xylitol for cats has not been documented. They appear to be spared, at least in part, by their disdain for sweets.)

Tumbling dice: Safety sacrificed for profits say former Blue Bell employees

It’s a familiar tale.

SafetySignsProductivity may go down so safety corners are cut.

According to a feature in The Houston Chronicle, Benjamin Ofori sometimes watched a mush of strawberries and pecans flow into an ice cream tank even after his production line at Blue Bell had been scrubbed.

Low water pressure and temperature hampered Sabien Colvin’s cleanup efforts at the plant.

Another employee saw a steady drip, day after day, from a dirty air vent onto Fudge Bombstiks.

They say they all complained to supervisors.

Ofori also groused about a bypassed safety feature on his line. Later, that machine severed three of Colvin’s fingers.

In interviews with the Houston Chronicle, more than a dozen former employees of Blue Bell’s flagship Brenham plant described a company fighting to keep up with its growing customer base while sanitation and safety slipped. Cleanup workers regularly ran out of hot water, making machinery susceptible to pathogens and allergens. Reused packaging brought grime into the factory. Equipment went without safeguards for years, and several workers lost parts of one or more fingers.

The 14 employees have a combined 213 years of experience on the production lines. Their accounts are bolstered by the limited information reported by the Food and Drug Administration, including details about a contaminated machine that kept cranking out products even as a listeria crisis deepened. They’re also backed by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation that blasted the company for failing to protect workers.

Blue Bell officials would not agree to an interview to discuss the ex-employees’ assessments of their operation. Spokesman Joe Robertson offered a one-paragraph response.

“We are a family at Blue Bell and we have always valued all of our employees and want them to feel safe and enjoy working here,” he said via email. “Our employees are our company’s greatest asset and many have spent their entire careers with us. Workplace safety, sanitation, and employee training remain our highest priorities as we continuously work to improve.”

Blue Bell attained a frozen empire with a story of idyllic country roots, old-fashioned values and quality ingredients.

But since 2010, tainted Blue Bell products sickened at least 13 people, including three who died after being hospitalized with other illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Findings by the FDA and a private laboratory showed sanitation failures at Brenham extended to plants in Oklahoma and Alabama.

Nationwide, regulators and ice cream companies are rethinking long-held assumptions about cleaning and product testing.

The full story is a good read.

The trouble with meanings of risk, safety and security

The concepts of risk, safety, and security have received substantial academic interest. Several assumptions exist about their nature and relation.

riskBesides academic use, the words risk, safety, and security are frequent in ordinary language, for example, in media reporting. In this article, we analyze the concepts of risk, safety, and security, and their relation, based on empirical observation of their actual everyday use.

The “behavioral profiles” of the nouns risk, safety, and security and the adjectives risky, safe, and secure are coded and compared regarding lexical and grammatical contexts.

The main findings are: (1) the three nouns risk, safety, and security, and the two adjectives safe and secure, have widespread use in different senses, which will make any attempt to define them in a single unified manner extremely difficult; (2) the relationship between the central risk terms is complex and only partially confirms the distinctions commonly made between the terms in specialized terminology; (3) whereas most attempts to define risk in specialized terminology have taken the term to have a quantitative meaning, nonquantitative meanings dominate in everyday language, and numerical meanings are rare; and (4) the three adjectives safe, secure, and risky are frequently used in comparative form. This speaks against interpretations that would take them as absolute, all-or-nothing concepts.

The Concepts of Risk, Safety, and Security: Applications in Everyday Language

Wiley Online Library, Risk Analysis, 18 AUG 2015

Max Boholm, Niklas Möller and Sven Ove Hansson

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.12464/abstract;jsessionid=9D9F719E466B8B041E72C7163C374D8D.f04t01

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.12464/abstract;jsessionid=9D9F719E466B8B041E72C7163C374D8D.f04t01

E. coli in beach sand: It happens, but is it a risk?

After surveying popular beaches in Hawaii, researchers from the University of Hawaii found that bacteria love the beach just as much as humans do. Turns out, the sand contained high levels of nasty bugs like E. coli.

dingo.beachThe researchers discovered that warm, moist sand provides the ideal breeding ground for bacteria brought in by waste water run-off, sewage, or garbage dumped on the beach. “Beach sand needs to be considered carefully in assessing its impact on public health,” cautioned lead author Tao Yan, Ph.D. The side effect from your perfect afternoon in contaminated sand? Things like diarrhea, vomiting, rashes, and infections, the study authors warn.

But don’t freak out and cancel that trip to Cabo just yet, says Russ Kino, M.D., the medical director of the Emergency Department at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “There’s nothing to worry about from walking or playing on the beach,” he says. “If you have an open wound on your legs or feet then there is a risk of infection, but just walking around the beach? Forget it. You’re safe.”

He doesn’t dispute that there are poop germs (and worse) on beaches, but he says that our built-in safety system—our skin—does a great job of keeping germs out. Even if you’re doing something a little more dirty, like letting your friends bury you in the sand, enjoying a picnic on the beach, or having a romantic (ahem) moment, you’re more likely to get sick from the activity than you are from the sand, according to Kino.

“Honestly, the biggest risk from the beach is a sunburn,” he says, adding that his number one tip for beach safety is to wear a hat and shirt with UPF protection and a good sunscreen, as melanoma is still the number one cancer killer of women under 35 years of age.

But what about listeria risks? FDA says fish consumption in large amount is the best food during pregnancy

Daughter 2-of-5 is pregnant with my second grandson (I’m old).

What I’ve found through all these pregnancies is the enormous amount of conflicting advice provided to the moms-to-be.

jaucelynn.pregnantIt’s stressful enough being pregnant (not that I would know) without having Dr.-this-that giving bogus advice.

The Westside Story (whatever that is) writes that conflicting research works have been done on the nutritional benefits of consuming large amounts of fish during pregnancy and after that. Some studies have shown that fish is among the best foods that a pregnant and breastfeeding mom needs to take for the benefit of her baby and her own. However, some other studies raised questions about fish consumption, citing that some fish could actually have an adverse impact on the brain development of a baby. According to the latest research by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), fish is good and eating large amounts of it is even better.

Good for brain development

What these stories lack is the potential Listeria risk in any refrigerated ready-to-eat foods like smoked salmon.

My kid’s got a biology degree and we’ve talked about this.

There’s a significant risk difference between refrigerated ready-to-eat foods and whole fish cooked to 145F as measured by a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Reported foodborne outbreaks due to fresh produce: US vs EU

Consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a healthy lifestyle. Various international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, encourage the daily intake of at least 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day (excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers) for the prevention of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

lettuce.skull.noroA large portion of this produce is consumed raw, and the number of foodborne outbreaks associated with these products has increased correspondingly. In this context, unpasteurized fruit juices and raw sprouts are also considered high-risk foods. The 2011 Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak from sprouted seeds in Germany gives a clear indication of the emerging relevance of the consumption of these products within food safety issues.

Globalization and growing international trade can also increase the risk, especially if produce comes from countries with lower safety standards. Nevertheless, nutrition educators and healthcare professionals believe that the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables outweigh the risk of contracting a foodborne illness by consuming fresh produce.

The number of reported outbreaks (defined as the occurrence of two or more cases of similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food) reported both in the United States and European Union represents only a fraction of the actual number of outbreaks that occur.

Large outbreaks, outbreaks associated with food service and institutions, and outbreaks that have a longer duration or cause serious disease are more likely to be investigated and reported. Conversely, the data may not reflect what occurs in

sporadic cases. Moreover, there are differences in the sensitivity of the national or state systems in identifying and investigating foodborne outbreaks.

melon.berriesA wide spectrum of pathogens and food vehicles has been documented in produce-associated outbreaks. The occurrence of food-related infections due to fresh produce calls for better control interventions and the need for improved prevention strategies worldwide, since food can be contaminated at any point in the food chain, and interventions must be applied where appropriate at every step. Hence, the future success of global efforts to prevent produce-related outbreaks depends on the understanding of the key contributing factors and the maintenance of best practices to reduce and eliminate contamination.

Reported foodborne outbreaks due to fresh produce in the United States and European Union: trends and causes

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. January 2015, 12(1): 32-38

Callejón Raquel M., Rodríguez-Naranjo M. Isabel, Ubeda Cristina, Hornedo-Ortega Ruth, Garcia-Parrilla M. Carmen, and Troncoso Ana M.

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/fpd.2014.1821#utm_source=ETOC&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=fpd

Abstract

The consumption of fruit and vegetables continues to rise in the United States and European Union due to healthy lifestyle recommendations. Meanwhile, the rate of foodborne illness caused by the consumption of these products remains high in both regions, representing a significant public health and financial issue. This study addresses the occurrence of reported foodborne outbreaks associated with fresh fruits and vegetables consumption in the United States and European Union during the period 2004–2012, where data are available. Special attention is paid to those pathogens responsible for these outbreaks, the mechanisms of contamination, and the fresh produce vehicles involved. Norovirus is shown to be responsible for most of the produce-related outbreaks, followed by Salmonella. Norovirus is mainly linked with the consumption of salad in the United States and of berries in the European Union, as demonstrated by the Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA). Salmonella was the leading cause of multistate produce outbreaks in the United States and was the pathogen involved in the majority of sprouts-associated outbreaks. As is reflected in the MCA, the pattern of fresh produce outbreaks differed in the United States and European Union by the type of microorganism and the food vehicle involved.

produce.vehicle.us.jan.15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

produce.vehicle.eu.jan.15

Infant botulism risks exist with all honey, pasteurized or not

Tragic stories around infant botulism have popped up over the past couple of years and, as a dad, reading them is like a gut-punch.

In 2011, infant Amanda Zakrzewski was diagnosed with infant botulism and had to undergo 9 days of antitoxin treatment in hospital. Amanda wouldn’t eat, her eyes glassed over and she wasn’t able to suckle due to the paralysis the botulinum outgrowth caused. The result was months of rehab.Unknown-18

Also in 2011, 16-week-old Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed from infant botulism. He fully recovered after six months, but at one point the illness was so severe that doctors had discussed turning off life support systems as the toxin was attacking his body.

Related to infant botulism, ABC Research Laboratories blog has an interview with Chief Scientific Officer Gillian Dagan about food safety choices she makes as a food scientist. While I agree with most of what she says, she loses me at honey:

We all have fond memories of our grandparents when we were younger. Dr. Dagan remembers when her grandfather kept bees. She was fascinated by the bee hives and loved it when he would lift one of the trays and break off a piece of fresh honeycomb for her to enjoy on the spot. Now she knows better. As much as she loved that as a kid, she probably wouldn’t do that for her daughter. When she was younger she didn’t know that raw honey is a food at risk for botulism and should be pasteurized much like milk. Pasteurized honey is safe honey.

Sort of.

Clostridium botulinum spores, the stuff I’m guessing she’s worried about are tough to address in honey because they are heat-stable. Once the spores get into the digestive system of an infant, which hasn’t fully developed and has a gastric pH higher than 4.6, they can germinate and outgrow. The result is a cell that multiplies and secretes a toxin as a byproduct. The rub, for the honey industry is that consumption is a factor in almost all infant botulism cases. There is also some evidence that infant botulism may be a risk factor for SIDS.

And pasteurized vs. unpasteurized honey is no different when it comes to Clostridium botulinum spores.

According to the National Honey Board, recommended pasteurization treatments include flash pasteurization (170 °F for a few seconds) or heating at 145°F for 30 minutes.

Neither will do much to inactivate the spores. There’s really nice risk profile that the former NZ Food Safety Authority put together in 2006. The authors explicitly say: “Normal cooking temperatures would destroy vegetative cells, although these would not be expected to be present in honey in the first instance (because of the low water activity -ben). Commercially available honey may be pasteurised but this process is not sufficient to destroy the spores.”

I’m not sure if Dr. Dagan was worried about Salmonella that the industry standard wouldn’t do much for the stressed vegetative cells either (there’s a pretty good literature around low water activity and heat resistance , especially with a dry heat).

Honey is pasteurized for other reasons, but it really doesn’t do anything to reduce the risk of infant botulism. That’s why the industry and health authorities suggest that infants not be fed any honey, pasteurized or not, until after their first birthday.