18 sick: E. coli O157 outbreak in Sweden

(Thanks to our Swedish correspondent for passing this along; something may be lost in translation)

Since September, 16 cases of E. coli O157 have occurred in Sweden, and three have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

As of today, a further two cases have been linked to the outbreak using whole genome sequencing.

Tracking suspect foods are ongoing and relevant infectious disease units, NFA, National Veterinary Institute, Agriculture and Public Health Agency are working together to investigate possible links and causes.

The research has been published where? Forget thawing food in fridge, use water instead

In what could be yet another case of PR before publication, Science Nordic has issued a press release extolling the virtues of thawing meat in cold water rather than in the fridge. The PR does not address issues of cross-contamination, how a consumer would determine if the meat was actually thawed, and most important, fails to cite a peer-reviewed publication, other than saying, “based on the institute’s own experiments with freezing and thawing different kinds of foods.”

meat-thaw-waterIf it has been published, it’s standard to include a link to that research, otherwise, it’s a fluff piece.

But you decide.

Most people know that food should be frozen as quickly as possible, to retain quality and flavour. The same turns out to be true when it comes to thawing frozen food, too —quicker is better.

So says Susanne Ekstedt, a researcher at the Food and Bioscience unit of SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden in Gothenburg.

“This is something food scientists have known to be true for a long time now. But this knowledge is mostly confined to the food industry. Most people don’t seem to be aware of this,” Ekstedt said.

What often happens instead is that people thaw their meats slowly in the refrigerator. While keeping meat cold while thawing is important to limit bacterial growth, it’s possible to thaw food quickly in water. 

Ekstedt’s recommendation is based on the institute’s own experiments with freezing and thawing different kinds of foods. Their conclusion: The best way to thaw frozen meat or fish is to put it in cold water. You have to wrap the food in plastic, of course, to keep the water out of the food, but water will thaw food quickly and effectively.

The reason for this is simple: Water conducts heat better than air. And the faster food is thawed, the better it tastes.

One reason that freezing and thawing foods quickly preserves their quality has to do with ice crystal formation.

When anything, be it snow or food, stays slightly below the freezing point for a long time, it creates the perfect environment for large ice crystals to grow.

In food, the formation of these large ice crystals during freezing can do a great deal of damage to cells, reducing the food’s ability to hold in fluids after it is thawed.

muppets-chef-2The result? Dry meat and flaccid vegetables.

Clarence Birdseye, who is credited with being the founder of the modern frozen food industry in the United States, is said to have discovered this principle himself when he worked in Labrador and was taught by the native Inuits how to ice fish.

He discovered that fish he caught at -40 degrees C froze quickly and tasted quite fresh when thawed.  He went on to invent a series of techniques that allowed foods to be frozen quickly, preventing the formation of large ice crystals.

To this day, the food industry is well aware of the problems posed by ice crystal formation. In fact, it’s not uncommon to buy frozen vegetables with labels that advise consumers to thaw vegetables quickly.

Bjørg Egelandsdal is a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås whose specialty is meat.

“There has never been any good scientific evidence behind the advice that food should be thawed in the refrigerator,” she says.

“Maybe the idea behind this advice is that refrigerator thawing is most hygienic. It is true that meat and other foodstuffs should be stored in the refrigerator if they are thawed, but it is definitely better to thaw food quickly in water if you are going to use it right away,” she said. 

Another potentially quick way to defrost food, the microwave, can be hard on meat, says Per Einar Granum, a microbiologist also at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

He says if you are going to use the meat in a casserole or stew, thawing it in a microwave can be acceptable, because the meat will later become tender as it cooks.

But if you plan to grill your meat, forget the microwave. Even if you use the “thaw” program, it is “a little too brutal for the meat,” he says.

Salmonella-positive ground beef sparks recall in Sweden

Swedish retailer ICA has withdrawn mince and minced beef after a routine check found salmonella in the beef.

The recall applies to ICA Basic among mince (50/50 beef and pork, fat 22%), ICA Basic minced beef (20% fat) and ICA Among Mince (50/50 beef and pork, fat 20%).

Produktbilder från Börje Svensson Studiosvensson ICA EMV KPK Basic Blandfärs 20% 1500g ICA Basic Gris och nöt EAN: 2319113200008

Produktbilder från Börje Svensson
Blandfärs 20% 1500g ICA Basic
Gris och nöt
EAN: 2319113200008

The beef comes from Ireland, pork meat in ICA Basic Among Mince comes from Denmark and pork meat in ICA Among Mince coming from Sweden.

The product may have been sold throughout the country from 2016-02-28. With the recall stopped goods for all sales in the stores’ cash registers. Salmonella bacteria die when material is heated to 72 ° C.

The recall applies to 13 different products, as shown below: 

Product                                                   Weight     Best before date     Lotkod / Batch No.

ICA Basic Among Minced 50/50        1600g        2016-03-07               411639101A

ICA Basic Among Minced 50/50        1600g        2016-03-08               411644401D

ICA Basic Among Minced 50/50        1600g        2016-03-09               411644401C

ICA Basic Among Minced 50/50        1600g        2016-03-10               411644901A

ICA Basic Among Minced 50/50        900g          2016-03-08               411644401D

ICA Basic Among Minced 50/50        900g          2016-03-10               411644401C

ICA Basic peanut 20%                          1600g        2016-03-09               411644401E

ICA Basic peanut 20%                          1600g        2016-03-10               411644401E

ICA Basic peanut 20%                          1600g        2016-03-10               411644401C

ICA Basic peanut 20%                          900g          2016-03-09               411644401C

ICA Basic peanut 20%                          900g          2016-03-09               411644401C

ICA Among Minced 50/50 Import    2500g        2016-03-07               411639101A

ICA Among Minced 50/50 Import    2500g        2016-03-09               411644901A
ICA regrets the incident and urges all customers who have purchased affected products primarily to return it to the nearest ICA store, or contact ICA’s customer contact by telephone  020-83 33 33 (open weekdays, Monday-Friday). Information is also available on ICA.se.

Over 300 sick in Sweden, school kitchens suspect

At least 300 people have fallen ill in a large outbreak of stomach flu that has hit students and staff in Sollentuna. Food preparation kitchens are suspected.

barf.swedenThere is a likely connection to the cooking kitchen in Häggvik School, says Elisabeth Thelin, Director of Administration in the environmental and planning office in the municipality of Sollentuna.

The municipality cooperates with the Infectious Diseases Stockholm to stop the spread of infection and find out what has caused stomach illness outbreak. Among other things, the kitchen cleaned and samples taken.

An investigation is underway. Yet we do not know what is the cause and it is important not to speculate, says Elisabeth Thelin.

I love it when Batz talks Swedish about food safety priority setting and ranking

In Sweden, acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) incidence, severity, impact on productivity, related healthcare usage and associated costs are not ascertained.

Michael Batz RZ ED PART 2We measured these in 2013–2014 using a population-based cohort reporting weekly. We defined AGI as ≥3 episodes of loose stools or vomiting/24 h; or loose stools or vomiting with ≥2 other gastrointestinal symptoms. After each AGI episode, we collected information about perceived severity, healthcare use and absenteeism. We calculated incidence rates, AGI absenteeism and costs comprising direct healthcare costs and productivity loss due to work/school absenteeism. A total of 3241 participants reported 1696 AGI episodes [incidence 360/1000 person-years, 95% confidence interval (CI) 326–395; highest in the <5 years age group]. In the <5 years age group, 31% of episodes were perceived as mild, 61% as moderate and 8% as severe; 9·4% led to primary-care consultations, and 1·4% to hospital admissions. In the ≥5 years age group, 18% of episodes were perceived as mild, 64% as moderate and 18% as severe; 6·4% led to primary-care consultations, and 1·9% to hospital admissions. AGI caused 8 891 000 days of absenteeism (95% CI 6 009 000–12 780 000). AGI cost €1 005 885 000 (95% CI 754 309 000–1 257 195 000) nationally for the year.

In Sweden, a minority of cases perceive AGI as a mild illness. AGI is a burden on the healthcare system and causes productivity loss, with high costs. Countries may consider these estimates when prioritizing health interventions.

Quantifying the incidence and cost of acute gastrointestinal illness in Sweden, 2013–2014

Epidemiology and Infection [early view]

Edelstein, H. Merk, C. Deogan, A. Carnahan and A. Wallensten


Swedish stores recall mince after second Salmonella scare

Axfood, the company which owns Willys and Hemköp said on Thursday that it was taking veal mincemeat with the Garant label off shelves around the country.

42121f3ad70da8761929be3edf9e90b794ffaf39c82e992a1a34e32312d9f2b3In a press statement, it confirmed that suspected salmonella had been discovered in some of the produce.

The recall applies to 15 percent veal mince weighing 500g produced on March 14th this year and with a best before date of March 22nd.

It is the second major salmonella scare in Sweden in just ten days.

Earlier this month, the Ica supermarket group announced that 13 different mince products were being withdrawn across Sweden.

Salmonella can lead to diarrhoea, fever, stomach cramps and cause people to throw up. However most people affected recover without needing medical treatment.

Axfood runs 262 stores around Sweden and collaborates with approximately 820 proprietor-run stores.

Salmonella in mince triggers Swedish supermarket recall

Swedish supermarket ICA Group which has almost 2,000 stores across Sweden announced the recall of meat following salmonella threats.

ICA Group.beef.minceIf you’ve bought minced beef or pork from ICA range since February 28th you should not eat the produce. The supermarket chain has announced that 13 different products are affected by the scare. The batches of meat which are at risk of carrying salmonella are understood to have expiration dates of between March 6th and March 10th.

These include mince from ICA’s Basic and Import ranges which is sold in a variety of sizes and comes from Ireland, Sweden and Denmark. The company said in a statement that it had taken the meat off shelves across the country after discovering salmonella during a routine check.

174 sickened in Sweden from Salmonella in spices

From 24 December to 24 July 2015, 174 cases were reported in a nationwide salmonellosis outbreak in Sweden: 108 cases were connected to a single restaurant. A spice mix, containing dried vegetables from the restaurant tested positive for the outbreak strain.

salm.spice.swedenAdditional spice mixes with similar content from different suppliers also tested positive. The outbreak investigation suggests there could be a risk of contaminated products being also on the market in other countries.

Outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis phage type 13a infection in Sweden linked to imported dried-vegetable spice mixes, December 2014 to July 2015

Eurosurveillance, Volume 20, Issue 30, 30 July 2015

Jernberg C, Hjertqvist M, Sundborger C, Castro E, Löfdahl M, Pääjärvi A, Sundqvist L, Löf



Epidemiology counts: 143 sick with Salmonella in Sweden linked to spice mix

In the latest incident, at least 80 people picked up salmonella at a restaurant on the Swedish island of Öland last week, with Sweden’s Public Health Authority connecting the outbreak to the savoury spice mix, known as Allkrydda, which is sold in supermarkets across the nation.

Sevan AllkryddaIt said the mix was already suspected of making dozens of other people ill, with a total of 143 salmonella cases reported in 17 out of Sweden’s 21 regions since December 2014.

“This is one of the largest outbreaks in recent years,” Jonas Toljander, a spokesperson for Sweden’s Food Standards Agency (Livsmedelsverket) told the TT newswire on Tuesday.

He added that the spice mix, produced by food company Sevan, was thought to be behind the nationwide salmonella scare, although experts had yet to definitively prove a link.

“It is important to say that we do not yet know if our products are linked to this,” the business manager for Sevan, Julia Kronlund, explained to Swedish broadcaster SVT on Tuesday.

“What they [the victims] have in common is that they have consumed the seasoning mix,” she said, but added that other potential causes of the outbreak could not yet be excluded.

A spokesperson for Sweden’s Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) told TT that it was now carrying out tests on similar spices, while Sevan said that it had submitted more samples to be checked over by experts.

But Sevan said it was recalling all Allkrydda products sold since 2014, in order to avoid exposing customers to any unnecessary risks. It advised people who had the spice jars at home to return them to the stores where they bought them from, where they would be granted a refund, with Sevan footing the bill.

The recalled spice products are:

Sevan Allkrydda 900g (serial number 7221217881469)

Sevan Allkrydda 450g (serial number 7331217881452)

Sevan Allkrydda Hink 5kg (serial number 7331217010708)