Deep clean is more than adjectives: it means deep clean

We investigated 543 Listeria monocytogenes isolates from food having a temporal and spatial distribution compatible with that of the invasive listeriosis outbreak occurring 2012–2016 in southern Germany. Using forensic microbiology, we identified several products from 1 manufacturer contaminated with the outbreak genotype. Continuous molecular surveillance of food isolates could prevent such outbreaks.

Molecular tracing to find source of protracted invasive listeriosis outbreak, Southern Germany, 2012-2016

Emerging Infectious Disease, vol 23, no 10, October 2017, Sylvia Kleta, Jens Andre Hammerl, Ralf Dieckmann, Burkhard Malorny, Maria Borowiak, Sven Halbedel, Rita Prager, Eva Trost, Antje Flieger, Hendrik Wilking, Sabine Vygen-Bonnet, Ulrich Busch, Ute Messelhäußer, Sabine Horlacher, Katharina Schönberger, Dorothee Lohr, Elisabeth Aichinger, Petra Luber, Andreas Hensel, and Sascha Al Dahouk

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/10/16-1623_article

Denmark: 1 dead, 4 sick from Listeria in salmon

Joe Whitworth of Food Quality News reports that four people have been sickened and one has died from Listeria in salmon processed in Poland and sold in Denmark.

Dansk Supermarked Group issued a recall after Fødevarestyrelsen (Danish Veterinary and Food Administration) detected Listeria monocytogenes in two packs of cold-smoked salmon.

L. monocytogenes was identified at 240 CFU/g in chilled cold smoked salmon.

Raw milk sucks and is stupid: New Zealand edition

Batches of a brand of raw milk that is delivered in parts of the South Island is being recalled because it might contain Listeria monocytogenes.

The Government’s food safety regulator, the Ministry of Primary Industries, has issued the recall notice on Sept. 1, which applies to certain batches of Go Farming Ltd’s raw – unpasteurised – drinking milk.

The affected products are one litre bottles in baches 32, 33 and 34, with use-by markings of August 18, 20 and 21.

The ministry said the milk is sold online and is collected at the farm or delivered in the Southland and Queenstown regions.

Why some Listeria strains survive good food hygiene standards

Listeria is a nasty bug. With a fatality rate of almost 30 per cent – for those virulent strains – the litanany of outbreaks and its terrible toll are well-known to food safety types.

But why, despite high standards of cleanliness and hygiene in the food industry, bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes can still be found in the food processing environment. In a study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a team of researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna has now shown that certain Listeria strains take refuge on an island.

An “islet” of two genes located in one area of the genome increases the bacteria’s survival under alkaline and oxidative stress conditions. The researchers were able to identify the two genes as a functional unit termed a “stress survival islet”. Understanding this genetic “lifesaver” can help develop new strategies for food safety.

Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen that colonizes and reproduces on diverse food products including cheese or meat. Without proper food hygiene, it represents a health risk. The hygiene standards in food production chains, therefore, are quite high. But Listeria is known for its ability to survive in environmental niches in which other microorganisms cannot.

The key to the bacteria’s survival is its adaptability and persistence in stress situations. Certain genetic mechanisms allow L. monocytogenes to react to and block the effects of cleaning solutions and disinfectants. Researchers from the Institute of Milk Hygiene were able to decipher this function for two of the food pathogen’s genes. They showed that these genes form a functional unit that ensures the bacteria’s survival despite the hygiene standards in the food production industry.

Hypervariable, i.e. easily changeable, regions of the genome contain genetic inserts that help Listeria survive. “These inserts include a unit of gene sequences, the stress survival islet 1 (SSI-1), a ‘genomic island’ that helps the microorganisms to survive certain stress situations,” explains first author Eva Harter. “Depending on the specific bacterial strain, this region accommodates one of three different gene sequences whose function, with the exception of SSI-1, had so far not been known.”

The genes in the stress survival islet 1 confer the bacteria a high tolerance toward acidic, bile, salt and gastric stresses and were characterized years ago. This does not explain how the bacteria can survive the hygiene standards in the food processing industry, however, which involves different, namely alkaline and oxidative, stress situations for Listeria. The researchers therefore concentrated on two neighbouring gene sequences within the same hypervariable region and were able to identify these as the genomic islet that acts as a lifesaver for certain Listeria monocytogenes strains in these situations.

The expression of the two genes and of the proteins which they code is increased during alkaline and oxidative stress. They must therefore have a different function than the genes belonging to the SSI-1. “We were able to assign a function to the two genes. The first gene is a transcriptional regulator, which in certain situations regulates the frequency and activity of the second protein. The second is a protease, an enzyme that breaks down other proteins. Proteases help bacteria break down unfunctional proteins that are created during stress situations,” says Harter.

“If the regulator is not active, then there is no protease. Without the protease, Listeria monocytogenes has a harder time compensating oxidative stress. The two genes therefore make up a functional unit, specifically the stress survival islet SSI-2,” says study director Kathrin Rychli. This islet is predominantly found in L. monocytogenes strains that are specialised for food and food processing environments.

“We were able to identify a specific genome type in which the SSI-2 sequence is always present,” explains Rychli. “This sequence type, ST121, is found almost exclusively in food and the food processing environment and hardly ever in clinical isolates. In strains forming part of the ST121 group, SSI-2 is highly conserved i.e. completely identical.” SSI-2 thus appears to be niche-specific. Most Listeria strains found in clinical isolates do not have SSI-2.” Through the discovery of the new stress survival island, the researchers, with project funding provided by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), were able to describe an important survival strategy of foodborne Listeria. “Knowing the genetic mechanism, allows you to think about new strategies for food safety,” says Rychli.

More information: Eva Harter et al. Stress Survival Islet 2, Predominantly Present in Listeria monocytogenes Strains of Sequence Type 121, Is Involved in the Alkaline and Oxidative Stress Responses, Applied and Environmental Microbiology (2017). DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00827-17

Stress survival islet 2, predominantly present in Listeria monocytogenes strains of sequence type 121, is involved in the alkaline and oxidative stress responses

Appl. Environ. Microbiol. August 2017 vol. 83 no. 16

Eva Harter, Eva Maria Wagner, Andreas Zaiser, Sabrina Halecker, Martin Wagner and Kathrin Rychli

doi: 10.1128/AEM.00827-17

http://aem.asm.org/content/83/16/e00827-17

The foodborne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes is able to survive a variety of stress conditions leading to the colonization of different niches like the food processing environment. This study focuses on the hypervariable genetic hot spot lmo0443 to lmo0449 haboring three inserts: the stress survival islet 1 (SSI-1), the single-gene insert LMOf2365_0481, and two homologous genes of the nonpathogenic species Listeria innocua: lin0464, coding for a putative transcriptional regulator, and lin0465, encoding an intracellular PfpI protease. Our prevalence study revealed a different distribution of the inserts between human and food-associated isolates. The lin0464-lin0465 insert was predominantly found in food-associated strains of sequence type 121 (ST121). Functional characterization of this insert showed that the putative PfpI protease Lin0465 is involved in alkaline and oxidative stress responses but not in acidic, gastric, heat, cold, osmotic, and antibiotic stresses. In parallel, deletion of lin0464 decreased survival under alkaline and oxidative stresses. The expression of both genes increased significantly under oxidative stress conditions independently of the alternative sigma factor σB. Furthermore, we showed that the expression of the protease gene lin0465 is regulated by the transcription factor lin0464 under stress conditions, suggesting that lin0464 and lin0465 form a functional unit. In conclusion, we identified a novel stress survival islet 2 (SSI-2), predominantly present in L. monocytogenes ST121 strains, beneficial for survival under alkaline and oxidative stresses, potentially supporting adaptation and persistence of L. monocytogenes in food processing environments.

Sprouts still suck: FDA sampling shows sprouts a problem

There’s a reason Walmart and Costco and Kroger stopped selling raw sprouts: they suck, meaning that, like raw milk, they cause a disproportionate percentage of illness based on low consumption rates.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wrote in a recent report sprouts are especially vulnerable to pathogens given the warm, moist and nutrient-rich conditions needed to grow them. From 1996 to July 2016, there were 46 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S. linked to sprouts. The U.S. outbreaks accounted for 2,474 illnesses, 187 hospitalizations, and three deaths (and, tragically, many more in Canada, Australia, Japan and Europe).

A table of sprout-related outbreaks is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Sprout-associated-outbreaks-2-23-16.xlsx.

From the executive summary:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set out to collect and test sprouts in 2014 as part of a new proactive and preventive approach to deploying its sampling resources with the ultimate goal of keeping contaminated food from reaching consumers.

The new approach, detailed in the Background section of this report (page 4), centers on the testing of a statistically determined number of samples of targeted foods over a relatively short period of time, 12 to18 months, to ensure a statistically valid amount of data is available for decision making. This approach helps the agency determine if there are common factors – such as origin, season, or variety – associated with pathogen findings.

The FDA issued the sprouts assignment in January 2014 under its new sampling model. The assignment targeted sprouts at three points in the production process (seeds, finished product and spent irrigation water), with the aim of collecting and testing 1,600 samples to determine the prevalence of select pathogens in the commodity. As background, the FDA designed its sampling plan such that if contamination of one percent or greater was present in the commodity, the agency would detect it. The FDA monitored the assignment closely to gather lessons learned and make changes to its sampling procedures if needed to address trends or food safety issues. About one year into the assignment, the FDA decided to stop its collection and testing at 825 samples because it had already collected samples on more than one occasion from many of the sprouting operations known to the agency and its state partners. The sample set acquired was sufficient for the FDA to estimate the bacterial prevalences in the commodity with a 95 percent confidence interval of 0% to 2% for a one percent contamination rate.

The FDA tested only domestically grown sprouts for this assignment because virtually all sprouts eaten in the United States are grown domestically due to the commodity’s delicate nature and relatively short shelf-life. Of note, the industry features a preponderance of relatively small operations.

The FDA tested the sprout samples for three pathogens: Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7. Based on the test results, the FDA found the prevalence of Salmonella in the finished product sprouts to be 0.21 percent. The agency also found that the prevalence of Salmonella in seeds (2.35%) was significantly higher than in finished product (0.21%) and in spent irrigation water (0.54%). Based on the test results, the FDA found the prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes in the finished product to be 1.28 percent. There was no significant difference in the prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes based on point in the production process. None of the samples tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. The agency did not test seed for E. coli O157:H7 due to limitations associated with the test method.

Among the FDA’s other findings, the agency found most of the positive samples at a small number of sprouting operations. Specifically, the FDA found violative samples at eight (8.5%) of the 94 sprouting operations visited for purposes of this assignment. The fact that the agency found multiple positive samples at some of these operations underscores the need for sprouting operations to comply with the agency’s Produce Safety Regulation (published November 2015), which seeks to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness and improve sprout safety.

To address the positive samples, the FDA worked with the firms that owned or released the affected product to conduct voluntary recalls or to have their consignees destroy it, and then followed up with inspections. Of particular note, this sampling assignment helped detect and stop an outbreak of listeriosis while it still entailed a small number of cases, as described in the Public Health Impact section of this report (page 14). This assignment also prompted six product recalls.

The FDA will continue to consider microbial contamination of sprouts and how best to reduce it. Such contamination remains a concern to the FDA given the aforementioned outbreak and the recalls initiated. Going forward, the FDA intends to inspect sprouting operations to ensure they are complying, as applicable, with the Produce Safety Rule, which includes new requirements for sprouts growers. The agency has no plans to conduct additional large-scale sampling of sprouts at this time but may sample the commodity in accordance with its longstanding approach to food sampling, which centers on (but is not limited to) the following criteria:

  • A firm has a previous history of unmitigated microbial contamination in the environment (e.g., human illness, recalled or seized product, previous inspectional history, or environmental pathogens without proper corrective actions by the facility), or
  • Inspectional observations that warrant collection of samples for microbiological analyses.

The complete report is available at https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/ComplianceEnforcement/Sampling/UCM566981.pdf?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

The Australian Institute of Food Safety identifies five high risk food items for poisoning

In the UK each year roughly 20,000 people are hospitalised with food poisoning and 500 people die.
Symptoms are unpleasant and include vomiting, diarrhoea and a high temperature, according to the NHS.
There are a number of causes, including chemicals, toxins and bacteria.
While it’s almost always an accident, food poisoning tends to affect people after they’ve eaten particular foods.
According to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, this is because certain foods are more at risk of bacterial growth than others.
Poultry
Raw and undercooked poultry can be contaminated with campylobacter bacteria and salmonella.
According to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, the bacteria can survive up until cooking kills them – so make sure you cook it thoroughly and don’t contaminate surfaces with raw chicken.

Cook poultry to an internal temperature of 74C (165F) to ensure safety, forget the jargon “cook thoroughly,”doesn’t tell me anything.

Eggs
Last week it was revealed that Dutch eggs contaminated with insecticide may have entered the UK.
They can also sometimes be contaminated with salmonella.
You can avoid being affected by cooking eggs thoroughly, and avoiding foods that purposely contain undercooked eggs, like mayonnaises and salad dressings, according to the Australian Institute of Food Safety.

Leafy greens
Because they are often eaten raw with no cooking process, bacteria like E.coli can easily affect you.
However, according to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, washing them can reduce risk of harmful bacteria as well as chemical pesticides.

Well this all depends if the salad is pre-washed and labelled accordingly, if so, washing lettuce at home will only increase the risk of cross-contamination. Reducing the food safety risk with leafy greens begins well before it arrives in your home.

Raw milk
This is where milk is unpasteurised, meaning it has not been heated up to kill harmful bacteria.
It leaves you at a higher risk than regular milk of consuming bacteria like E.coli, salmonella and listeria.

Raw milk has always left an impression on me ever since I was a food tech in Alberta. The health department submitted a sample of raw milk from a community in Alberta where a significant number of kids became ill. I was responsible in analyzing the milk to determine the etiologic agent and I remember vividly looking at this black, overgrown agar plate, completely taken over by Campylobacter jejuni, poor kids.

Cheese
A bacteria commonly found in cheese is staphylococcus aureus.
It’s heat resistant, so the best way of avoiding cheese becoming contaminated is to store it at or under 5 degrees.

 

Listeria in the news again

 

Food company Ready to Eat has announced a Listeria outbreak in several of their pre-packaged meals.
Ready to Eat, which produces ‘Muscle Fuel’ pre-made meals, said the meals affected are the ‘Vegetarian Chickpea and Pumpkin Rosti on Spinach Salad’ and the ‘Turkish Style Chicken & Rice’ with best before dates of August 4th, August 5th, August 6th, 2017.
Other meals are unaffected, the company says.
Any customers in possession of one of the affected meals are being urged to discard it immediately.
In a statement, Ready to Eat CEO Hamish Coulter said they were horrified when they received the news.
“To learn that one of our trusted produce suppliers has let us down is extremely disappointing.”
The Hamilton-based company was informed on Friday afternoon that its supplier Vegeez had returned a positive result for Listeria in one of its recent batches of cabbage.
On Friday evening the company contacted the 139 customers affected.
Vegeez general manager Glen Reid said it had taken full responsibility for the “very rare” event.
Mr Reid said in total there were 15 companies supplied with the affected cabbage, but all other companies managed to dump the product before using it.
Mr Coulter apologised to the company’s customers and said they were putting in measures to ensure this did not happen again.
The company has discontinued the use of coleslaw for the foreseeable future.
If any customer has consumed what they believe to be a contaminated meal they are advised to seek medical advice.
All customers will be contacted again this week with refunds issued.

I stumbled across an interested paper published in the Journal of Food Protection in February 2017 investigating the fate of Listeria monocytogenes , pathogenic Yersinia enterocolitica , and Escherichia coli O157:H7 gfp+inoculated in low numbers into ready-to-eat baby spinach and mixed-ingredient salad (baby spinach with chicken meat).

A quick synopsis of the study showed that when mixed-ingredient salad was stored at 8°C during shelf life, only L. monocytogenes increased significantly, reaching 3.0 log CFU/g within 3 days. The 8°C reflects maximum refrigerator temperature storage in Sweden.

In plain baby spinach, only pathogenic Y. enterocolitica populations increased significantly during storage for 7 days, and this was exclusively at an abuse temperature (15°C). Thus, mixing ready-to-eat leafy vegetables with chicken meat strongly influenced levels of inoculated strains during storage. 

The authors then translated the numbers into risks of infection. The risk of listeriosis (measured as probability of infection) was 16 times higher when consuming a mixed-ingredient salad stored at 8°C at the end of shelf life, or 200,000 times higher when stored at 15°C, compared with when consuming it on the day of inoculation. They conclude that efforts should focus on preventing temperature abuse during storage to mitigate the risk of listeriosis.

Söderqvist K1, Lambertz ST1,2, Vågsholm I1, Fernström LL1, Alsanius B3, Mogren L3, Boqvist S1. Fate of Listeria monocytogenes , Pathogenic Yersinia enterocolitica , and Escherichia coli O157:H7 gfp+ in Ready-to-Eat Salad during Cold Storage: What Is the Risk to Consumers? J Food Prot. 2017 Feb;80(2):204-212. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-16-308.

Pregnancy food safety messages should probably include Listeria

There’s a lot of pressure on moms-to-be. When I was a dad-to-be, I supplied some of that  pressure. Throughout Dani’s pregnancies I became the food police in our house — no soft cheeses or cold deli meats made it to Dani’s plate, most didn’t even make it in the house. Everything was been temped during cooking.

I read pretty well every paper I could on Listeria, and Doug and I discussed the merits of broad food surveys and listeria growth in blue-veined cheese. It was a bit ridiculous, but I hear that first time parents sometimes can be obsessive.

Over time I’ve become much less obsessive, have been better at employing risk communication even within my own home. My goal is to give folks info that can help them make risk decisions; not tell them what to do.

Tonight I read an article on food safety for moms-to-be. It started promising, except for the yelling (the headline, 4 STEP FOOD SAFETY GUIDE TO KEEP YOU SAFE DURING PREGNANCY) and went further downhill when all the blogger highlighted was the generic, sanitized messages of cook, chill, clean and separate.

Disappointing that there’s no mention of Listeria, the foods that are high risk for the pathogen – and how to manage the risks.

Missed opportunity.

‘It felt as if my heart had been ripped out’ 3-day-old Australian baby dies of

A mother from Queensland has shared the heartbreaking moment she was told she’d contracted Listeria and passed it to her unborn baby.

Jeanya Rush, 20, from Brisbane, was six months pregnant with her second child – a baby boy – when she started to experience ‘excruciating headaches and high fevers’.

The young mum told Katherine Davison of the Daily Mail Australia that she later discovered she had contracted Listeria – from either a pre-cut fruit salad, cream cheese or an ice-cream she had eaten – and had passed the foodborne illness on to her baby boy, who she and her partner Levi had named Zephaniah.

Doctors told her the infection had left her son ‘severely disabled’ and she and Levi faced the agonising decision whether to let him go.

‘I had tested positive for Listeria. It had infected my uterus and also reached Zephaniah’s brain,’ Ms Rush wrote in a heartrending Facebook post.

‘He [the doctor] told us that Zephaniah could not live without the machines that aid him and if he were to survive he would be severely disabled for the rest of his life. 

‘He would show no emotion or understanding he would be basically be in a comatose state. And worst of all, it was our choice whether or not to let him go. Levi and I were broken. Nothing could ever describe the pain we felt in that moment.’

Ms Rush said it was the hardest decision they had ever had to make. 

‘It took a long time to decide. As Zephaniah stayed on life support, we were by his side and it made everything that much harder,’ she wrote.

‘But we both knew what we had to do and eventually Levi and I came to a decision and it was the hardest one we have ever had to make. We chose to let Zephaniah go and relieve him of his pain and suffering.’

Ms Rush had tested positive for listeria – leading their baby to be severely disabled – and the young couple made the devastating decision to let him go.

‘The midwives and doctors arranged everything. We had our loved ones come in to say good bye to our boy, Zephaniah was blessed by the Elders of Levi’s church, and it was one very long emotional day preparing to send our boy off,’ Ms Rush wrote.

‘When the time came, Levi and I were taken to a private room with Zephaniah, accompanied by 2 lovely midwives. 

‘They took out his breathing tubes and we held Zephaniah for approximately an hour until his final breath. 

‘When he turned cold in my arms it felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest. 

‘We held him for a little while longer before the midwives took him away. We returned to our room and sat in silence. I will never forget the pure pain of that moment.’

‘Rockmelon nearly killed my unborn son’ (that’s Australian for cantaloupe)

Jane Hansen of The Northern Star reports that when Amelia Liddy-­Sudbury was pregnant with her third child, she was extra careful with her diet, never eating raw fish or soft cheese.

But she didn’t think twice when she bought some pre-cut rockmelon.

“I bought it, cut up and I think that was the source,” the 35-year-old Mosman mum said.

Thirty three weeks into her pregnancy, Mrs Liddy-Sudbury picked up a Listeria infection – one that could have killed her and her baby.

A fortnight later baby Theodore was delivered – five weeks premature – and would need weeks of intravenous antibiotics to stem meningitis.

“It is a deadset miracle he is alive, once you are diagnosed with listeriosis, that’s usually it, the baby is dead,” Mrs Liddy-Sudbury said.

Listeriosis, caused by the food-borne listeria bacteria, kills one out of every five ­unborn babies it infects.

Two weeks ago another pregnant mother tragically lost her baby to listeriosis.

The woman arrived at hospital with abdominal pain, headache and mild fever. Her baby was ­delivered by caesarean section but was stillborn as a result of the ­infection.

Including Mrs Liddy-Sudbury, it was the third ­pregnancy­-­related case this year in NSW, three times the usual rate.

NSW Health director Dr Vicky Sheppeard said the three cases represented a concerning spike.

“Around the country there have been more cases in the past six months as well,” she said.

Health authorities are now urgently reminding pregnant woman to be extra careful with their food choices.

Listeria bacteria is found in a variety of foods, including cold meats, cold cooked chicken, raw fish, soft-serve ice cream, soft cheeses and unpasteurised milk.

Most pregnant women know to avoid these foods, but the bacteria is also found in pre-cut fruit and pre-bagged salads, products that are highly popular in supermarkets and convenience stores.

“Those products are becoming more common and anything that has been cut and left is a risk, you have to wash and peel fruit and salad yourself if pregnant,” Dr Sheppeard said.

Uh, maybe.

There are benefits to having an abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.

However, the evidence does lean toward pre-cut anything being a heightened risk.

So if cutting up a whole rockmelon at home, refrigerate immediately.

This makes a mockery of the supermarket chains and fresh produce venders who sell half-sliced melons or cut up produce, usually at room temperature, which in Brisbane, is warmer than most places.