March 16, 2012
By Megan Bedard
“This is why you shouldn’t trust the government when dealing with what you eat. Your own common sense i smuch more effective.” –KTRN
At a time when news of recalls is hardly news, pinched pennies are going to make keeping the public safe even harder.
Plans to create five new centers to fight foodborne illness will likely be delayed due to a shortage of federal funds, CIDRAP News reported Tuesday. The Food Safety Integrated Centers of Excellence—which are estimated to cost $2.75 million—were included in the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed by President Obama in January of 2011.
CIDRAP spoke with Craig Hedberg, PhD, a food safety expert at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, who explained that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) put the project on hold after examining its 2012 fiscal budget. The independent working group recruited by the CDC to develop criteria for evaluating the centers was informed that the centers wouldn’t come to fruition until more funding is available.
Such news is unlikely to be welcome among the public, whose confidence in their food supply reportedly dropped by 4 percent in 2011, when only 35 percent of Americans agreed strongly with the statement “I am confident in the safety of the food I eat.”
February 16, 2012
By Garance Burke
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget would eliminate the nation’s only program that regularly tests fruits and vegetables for deadly pathogens, leaving public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illness outbreaks.
The budget plan the president sent to Congress Monday would ax the Agriculture Department’s tiny Microbiological Data Program, which extensively screens high-risk fresh produce throughout the year for bacteria including salmonella, E. coli and listeria.
If samples are positive, they can trigger nationwide recalls, and keep tainted produce from reaching consumers or grocery store shelves.
March 3rd, 2011
By: Catherine Donaldson-Evans
Federal safety inspectors knew of contamination problems at a medical supplies plant long before millions of its tainted alcohol wipes were recalled and a 2-year-old Texas boy died from a rare infection blamed on the swabs, according to MSNBC.com.
Now others who used the products made by the Triad Group are coming forward to say that they too, may have been sickened, the website reported.
Government documents obtained by MSNBC.com show that officials from the Food and Drug Administration had flagged the Triad plant for issues with sterilization as early as July 2009.
“Procedures designed to prevent microbiological contamination of drug products purporting to be sterile are not followed,” FDA plant inspectors wrote. But MSNBC found no evidence that the agency did anything about the lapse or tried to enforce compliance with proper safety practices.
The Wisconsin-based Triad Group makes the alcohol wipes used on little Harrison Kothari while he was in the hospital in November to have a tumor near his spine removed. The toddler was recovering normally and was about to go home when he became gravely ill with what was later diagnosed as acute bacterial meningitis.
The infection was caused by a strain called Bacillus cereus that is normally associated with foodborne illness and can be heat- and disinfectant-resistant. The alcohol pads at the Houston hospital where Harrison was treated were found to be contaminated with that bacteria.
Within hours of contracting meningitis — and on the morning he was to go home — the child was brain-dead.
Since MSNBC reported on Harrison’s Dec. 1 death and the subsequent lawsuit his family filed against Triad last week for gross negligence, dozens of others have contacted the Kotharis’ lawyers. At last count, more than 50 people had come forward with concerns that they, too, might have been infected by the tainted pads, the website said.
Among them: a Tennessee man who is suing Triad for $30 million. Donovan Joseph Postich, 55, claims that his Bacillus cereus infection from the alcohol wipes forced him to have heart surgery and left him permanently disabled, according to MSNBC.com.
“That was the most scared I’ve been in my life,” Postich told the website. “They told me about the tainted pads and you just kind of put two and two together.”
None of the new reports of infections and injuries have been confirmed, said Jim M. Perdue Jr., who is representing the Kothari family.
“We’re seeing a wide spectrum of complaints,” Perdue told MSNBC.com. Reports of everything from mild skin infections to serious illness and even another claim of a death have flooded in and are being investigated, he said.
Triad recalled all lots of its alcohol prep wipes, pads and swabs on Jan. 5 over fears they’d been tainted with Bacillus cereus. The family-owned company warned that using the contaminated products “could lead to life-threatening infections, especially in at-risk populations, including immune-suppressed and surgical patients.”
October 19th, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Shoppers who do not regularly wash their reusable grocery bags may be placing themselves and their families at heightened risk of foodborne illness, according to a study conducted by researchers from Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona.
“It is estimated that there are about 76,000,000 cases of foodborne illness in the United States every year,” the researchers wrote. “Most of these illnesses originate in the home from improper cooking or handling of foods. Reusable bags, if not properly washed between uses, create the potential for cross-contamination of foods.”
Researchers asked shoppers at grocery stores in Arizona and California whether they washed their reusable shopping bags, finding that only 3 percent did so regularly. In addition, 75 percent of shoppers surveyed said they did not use separate bags for meat and produce. Another 33 percent said they also used the bags for toting objects other than food.
“[Contamination] potential exists when raw meat products and foods traditionally eaten uncooked (fruits and vegetables) are carried in the same bags, either together or between uses,” the researchers wrote. “This risk can be increased by the growth of bacteria in the bags.”
When the researchers tested 84 bags for bacteria, they found that 83 were contaminated with some variety of bacteria. Fifty percent were contaminated with coliform bacteria, suggesting human feces or raw meat. Twelve percent were contaminated with E. coli.
Fortunately, washing the bags by machine or hand reduced bacterial presence to nearly zero.
The study was funded by the American Chemistry Council, which is lobbying on behalf of single-use plastic bag manufacturers against a bill that would ban those bags from California grocery stores. The bill has already passed the California Assembly, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will sign the bill if the Senate approves it.
Plastic grocery bags have been implicated as the foremost source of beach pollution and a major threat to marine life.
October 15th, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
A proposed law to bring farms more directly under FDA supervision could be the death of small organic farms, natural food advocates have warned.
“How do we trust that the FDA is going to know about things that the San Francisco Bay Area has been very progressive on — the field to fork, fresh, grow local, buy local — all of that?” said Rep. Sam Farr. “The organic people are feeling that the regulations the FDA may promulgate will be so safety oriented, it’ll put them out of business.”
Spurred by recent outbreaks of foodborne illness across the country, Congress has moved to give the FDA direct control over the production, storage, transport, inspection and recall of food products. A bill to that effect has already passed the House of Representatives, while another version is currently before the Senate.
Yet small farmers object that even the more lenient Senate version would be an undue burden on their operations. They are backed up by a recent study from the University of California-Davis, which concluded that new food safety rules consistently impose higher per-acre costs on small farmers.
The farmers also argue that food contamination has not come from diverse, small-scale farms, but from big monoculture fields, from animal agriculture and from newer products such as pre-bagged vegetables, in which crops from a variety of farms are mixed, bagged and shipped over long distances.
“[The legislation] does not take on the industrial animal industry and the abuses going on,” said California organic farmer Tom Willey. “The really dangerous organisms we’re dealing with out here, and trying to protect our produce and other foodstuffs from, are coming out the rear end of domestic animals.”
The first food poisoning outbreak in what would originally become a nationwide problem has been attributed to a strain of E. coli that first appeared in hamburger meat in the 1980s, and had spread to spinach by 2006.
March 3, 2010
By Christopher Doering
Food safety advocates are hoping that the study will boost efforts in Congress to overhaul the nation’s antiquated food safety system.
Dozens of pathogens, many of them unknown, creep into the food supply each year, sickening millions. The price tag includes medical costs, lost productivity and quality-of-life, according to a study from the Produce Safety Project.
“This is significantly more than previous official estimates and it demonstrates the serious burden that foodborne illness places on society,” said Sandra Eskin, a spokeswoman with Make Our Food Safe Coalition, a group of consumer, public health and other groups pushing for stronger food safety laws.
The latest study to delve into foodborne illnesses comes as Congress works to craft legislation that would mark the first major overhaul of the food safety system in 50 years.
The House passed its bill last July and the Senate, which has been bogged down with healthcare and regulatory reform, is expected to act this year.
“My hope… is that the sobering numbers of this report will compel the Senate to act immediately on food safety legislation,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has vigorously pushed for food safety reform. “We literally cannot afford to wait.”
Past official government estimates of health-related costs of foodborne illness have ranged from $7 billion to as much as $35 billion, but they considered only limited costs and pathogens, according to the report.
The new study, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts and Georgetown University, considered more pathogens and health-related costs, pushing the price tag to $152 billion. Overall, foodborne illness costs related to produce total $39 billion per year, the study estimated.
The U.S. food supply has been battered by a series of high-profile outbreaks, many involving produce, such as lettuce, spinach, peppers and peanuts, since 2006 led to a rash of illnesses for consumers and cost businesses millions.
Many firms including Kellogg Co, whose company lost nearly $70 million in products from the recent peanut recall, and ConAgra Foods have been among those affected.
An estimated 76 million people in the United States get sick each year with foodborne illness and 5,000 die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study found Kentucky had the lowest cost per foodborne case at $1,731. Alternatively, greater exposure to higher cost pathogens pushed the price tag to about $2,008 per case in Hawaii. The average cost in the United States was $1,851.
Typical medical costs from a case of foodborne illness range from $78 in Montana to $162 in New Jersey with much of the difference due physician and hospital charges. The average productivity loss from a case of foodborne illness is between $377 in Mississippi and $924 in Delaware.
March 1, 2010
Kroger Co. is recalling two onion soup and dip mixes because of possible salmonella contamination.
The grocer said an ingredient in its Kroger Onion Soup & Dip Mix and Kroger Beefy Onion Soup & Dip Mix may have been contaminated with the bacteria.
The mixes were sold in a number of states and are being recalled from its Kroger, Dillons, Fry’s, King Soopers, City Market, Smith’s, Food 4 Less, Jay C, Scott’s, Owen’s, Baker’s, Gerbes, Hilander and Pay Less stores.
No illnesses have been reported in connection with the products. But eating food contaminated with salmonella can cause salmonellosis, a potentially life-threatening bacterial foodborne illness.
Kroger said customers who purchased the products should not eat them and return them to the store for a refund or replacement.