Egyptian Basil may contain Salmonella

That basil’s got Salmonella in it. And herbs are a disproportionately high source of foodborne illness.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Shah Trading Co. Ltd. are warning the public, distributors and food service establishments not to consume, sell, serve or use the Spice Kingdom brand dried Egyptian Basil described below because the product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The affected product, Spice Kingdom brand BASIL – EGYPTIAN, 30M, Whole, Fancy, bearing Lot No. 4685/E, was sold in bulk 25 kg (55 lbs) bags to cash & carry outlets, restaurants, bakeries and food service establishments in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

46 sick with Shigella from imported fresh basil in Norway

Eurosurveillance reports today an outbreak of Shigella in Norway that sickened at least 46 people.

Two municipalities were involved. A large cluster (42 cases) was concentrated in north Norway, while a small cluster (4 cases) occurred in the south-east region. Epidemiological evidence and traceback investigations have linked the outbreak to the consumption of imported fresh basil. The product has been withdrawn from the market. No further cases have been reported since 25 October.

On 9 October 2011, the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health was informed by the Municipal Medical Officer and the Local Food Safety Authority in Tromsø (northern Norway) about an unusually high number of cases of gastrointestinal disease caused by Shigella sonnei.

A delicatessen and catering company located in the centre of Tromsø received several complaints from customers who had fallen ill with gastrointestinal symptoms after having eaten food items from there.

On 14 October, a small cluster of cases who had not been to Tromsø were reported and the outbreak was classified as national.

An outbreak case was defined as a person with gastrointestinal symptoms with laboratory confirmed infection with S. sonnei with indistinguishable multiple-locus variable number of tandem repeats analysis (MLVA) profiles in Norway after 1 October 2011.

Traceback investigations of ingredients in the pesto served in Tromsø are still ongoing. The same distributer that provided the fresh basil to the catering company in Tromsø also delivered fresh basil to the restaurant implicated in the second cluster in south-east Norway. The distributor imported this herb from a country outside the European Union and has voluntarily withdrawn it from the market. The National Veterinary Institute analysed samples of pesto and other ingredients from the catering company in Tromsø. Samples available for analysis have been negative. An epidemic intelligence information system (EPIS) enquiry has been posted to determine whether other European countries have observed a similar increase in cases infected with S. sonnei. So far, no other countries have reported any recent increase in cases that can be linked to this outbreak.

100 sickened with cyclospora at Georgia aquarium; it was the Wolfgang Puck food, not the fish

Channel 2 Action News has learned health investigators are looking into why more than 100 people got sick at a major Atlanta attraction.

The one thing everyone had in common was they all ate catered food at the Georgia Aquarium over the summer.

In the week of July 24, three groups had catered events at the aquarium. Two had corporate conferences, and there was a wedding reception, officials said. One or two weeks later people started coming down with week-long bouts of diarrhea.

The Georgia Division of Epidemiology said it is still investigating but told Channel 2’s Jeff Dore that cyclospora made the people sick, totaling well over 100 guests and staff.

Officials said they haven’t pinned the exact cause of the breakout, but did say the common food served at all three events was salad mix, fresh basil and cherry tomatoes.

Basil has a history of cyclospora outbreaks.

Wolfgang Puck catering prepares all the food at aquarium events, and its CEO took an overnight flight from California to talk with Channel 2.

Basil from Florida recalled for salmonella

Sanith Ourn Farm of Indiantown, Florida, is recalling Fresh Hot Basil herb because it may have the potential to be contaminated with salmonella.

The recalled Fresh Hot Basil was distributed to retailers and one wholesale location in WA, OR, and RI on August 23, 2011 and August 30, 2011. Hot Basil has a 5 day shelf life.

Three hundred and ninety pounds (390 lbs) of product was shipped in 10 lb. shipping containers marked with FLT DATE of 08/23/11 and 08/30/11. Retailers may have bundled or wrapped the hot basil in small foam trays prior to placing on retail shelves.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

This issue was identified through routine sampling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Cyclospora associated with Mexican basil outbreak in Quebec, 2005

Milord et al write in the current issue of Epidemiology and Infection about an outbreak of Cyclospora cayetanensis amongst 250 patrons who ate at a Quebec restaurant in June 2005.

Cyclospora sp. was observed in the stools of 20 cases and 122 probable cases were identified.

Contaminated fresh basil originating from a Mexican farm, used to prepare an uncooked appetizer, was identified as the source.


Basil, nutmeg, recalled cause of salmonella

Recalls of basil in Canada and nutmeg in the U.S. again highlight the food safety risks associated with spices and fresh herbs.

Country Herbs is warning the public not to consume the Country Herbs brand and Longo’s brand Thai Basil because the products may be contaminated with salmonella. These products have been distributed in Ontario.

And in response to a recall commenced by its supplier (Mincing Overseas Spice Company, Dayton, New Jersey), Frontier Natural Products Co-op, is voluntarily recalling two products manufactured with non-organic nutmeg that were sold under the Frontier brand and under the Whole Foods Market brand that contain nutmeg supplied by Mincing Overseas Spice Company.

No one is known to be barfing from either of these recalls.

Cyclospora in Sarnia sickens 200, blamed on cool pesto crunch; health types can’t indentify ingredient; try basil

On July 7, 1997, a company physician reported to the Alexandria Department of Health (ADOH) that most of the employees who attended a corporate luncheon on June 26 at the company’s branch in Fairfax, Virginia, had developed gastrointestinal illness (Centres for Disease Control, 1997). On July 11, the health department was notified that a stool specimen from one of the employees who attended the luncheon was positive for Cyclospora oocysts. Many others tested positive. It was subsequently revealed in a July 19, 1997, Washington Post story citing local health department officials that basil and pesto from four Sutton Place Gourmet stores around Washington D.C. was the source of cyclospora for 126 people who attended at least 19 separate events where Sutton Place basil products were served, from small dinner parties and baby showers to corporate gatherings (Masters, 1997a). Of the 126, 30 members of the National Symphony Orchestra became sick after they ate box lunches provided by Sutton Place at Wolf Trap Farm Park.

In May 2001, 17 people in British Columbia (that’s in Canada) were sickened with cyclospora associated with basil from Thailand. In 2005, 300 people in Florida were sickened with cyclospora from fresh basil.

My aunt was part of that outbreak.

So when Lambton Community Health Services says it has closed its investigation of last month’s cyclospora outbreak in Sarnia, Ontario (also in Canada) that sickened more than 200 people and the suspect food was a cool pesto crunch (it was a chef showoff fundraiser), but can’t identify the ingredient, I’m leaning towards the basil.

Dudley Do-Right The Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to investigate.

Cyclospora strikes chefs’ event in Sarnia; almost 200 sick

On June 12, 1996, Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr. Richard Schabas, issued a public health advisory on the presumed link between consumption of California strawberries and an outbreak of diarrheal illness among some 40 people in the Metro Toronto area. The announcement followed a similar statement from the Department of Health and Human Services in Houston, Texas, who were investigating a cluster of 18 cases of Cyclospora illness among oil executives.

Dr. Schabas advised consumers to wash California berries "very carefully" before eating them, and recommended that people with compromised immune systems avoid them entirely. He also stated that Ontario strawberries, which were just beginning to be harvested, were safe for consumption. Almost immediately, people in Ontario stopped buying strawberries. Two supermarket chains took California berries off their shelves, in response to pressure from consumers. The market collapsed so thoroughly that newspapers reported truck drivers headed for Toronto with loads of berries being directed, by telephone, to other markets.

However, by June 20, 1996, discrepancies began to appear in the link between California strawberries and illness caused by the parasite, Cyclospora, even though the number of reported illnesses continued to increase across North America. Texas health officials strengthened their assertion that California strawberries were the cause of the outbreak, while scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said there were not yet ready to identify a food vehicle for the outbreak. On June 27, 1996, the New York City Health Department became the first in North America to publicly state that raspberries were also suspected in the outbreak of Cyclospora.

By July 18, 1996, the CDC declared that raspberries from Guatemala — which had been sprayed with pesticides mixed with water that could have been contaminated with human sewage containing Cyclospora — were the likely source of the Cyclospora outbreak, which ultimately sickened about 1,000 people across North America. Guatemalan health authorities and producers have vigorously refuted the charges. The California Strawberry Commission estimates it lost $15 million to $20 million in reduced strawberry sales.

Cyclospora cayetanensis is a recently characterised coccidian parasite; the first known cases of infection in humans were diagnosed in 1977. Before 1996, only three outbreaks of Cyclospora infection had been reported in the United States. Cyclospora is normally associated with warm, Latin American countries with poor sanitation.

One reason for the large amount of uncertainty in the 1996 Cyclospora outbreak is the lack of effective testing procedures for this organism. To date, Cyclospora oocysts have not been found on any strawberries, raspberries or other fruit, either from North America or Guatemala. That does not mean that cyclospora was absent; it means the tests are unreliable and somewhat meaningless. FDA, CDC and others are developing standardized methods for such testing and are currently evaluating their sensitivity.

The initial, and subsequent, links between Cyclospora and strawberries or raspberries were therefore based on epidemiology, a statistical association between consumption of a particular food and the onset of disease. For example, the Toronto outbreak was first identified because some 35 guests attending a May 11, 1996 wedding reception developed the same severe, intestinal illness, seven to 10 days after the wedding, and subsequently tested positive for cyclospora. Based on interviews with those stricken, health authorities in Toronto and Texas concluded that California strawberries were the most likely source. However, attempts to remember exactly what one ate two weeks earlier is an extremely difficult task; and larger foods, like strawberries, are recalled more frequently than smaller foods, like raspberries. Ontario strawberries were never implicated in the outbreak.

Once epidemiology identifies a probable link, health officials have to decide whether it makes sense to warn the public. In retrospect, the decision seems straightforward, but there are several possibilities that must be weighed at the time. If the Ontario Ministry of Health decided to warn people that eating imported strawberries might be connected to Cyclospora infection, two outcomes were possible: if it turned out that strawberries are implicated, the ministry has made a smart decision, warning people against something that could hurt them; if strawberries were not implicated, then the ministry has made a bad decision with the result that strawberry growers and sellers will lose money and people will stop eating something that is good for them. If the ministry decides not to warn people, another two outcomes are possible: if strawberries were implicated, then the ministry has made a bad decision and people may get a parasitic infection they would have avoided had they been given the information (lawsuits usually follow); if strawberries were definitely not implicated then nothing happens, the industry does not suffer and the ministry does not get in trouble for not telling people. Research is currently being undertaken to develop more rigorous, scientifically-tested guidelines for informing the public of uncertain risks.

But in Sarnia (Ontario, Canada) they got a lot of sick people who attended the Big Sisters of Sarnia-Lambton Chef’s Challenge on May 12, 2010.

The health department has completed interviews with over 270 people who attended the event. Of those people interviewed, 193 have reported being ill with symptoms consistent with cyclospora infection. There are currently 40 laboratory confirmed cases.

Safe and savory spices

A 1997 outbreak of cyclospora in fresh basil prepared at a Washington, D.C. restaurant sickened hundreds. Additional outbreaks have been associated with parsley, cilantro and pepper, among others.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that in the middle of a nationwide outbreak of salmonella illness linked to black and red pepper — and after 16 separate U.S. recalls since 2001 of tainted spices ranging from basil to sage — federal regulators met last week with the spice industry to figure out ways to make the supply safer.

Jeff Farrar, the FDA’s associate commissioner for food safety, said the government wants the spice industry to do more to prevent contamination. That would include use of one of three methods to rid spices of bacteria: irradiation, steam heating or fumigation with ethylene oxide, a pesticide.

"The bottom line is, if there are readily available validated processes out there to reduce the risk of contamination, our expectation is that they will use them," Farrar said. But the FDA cannot currently require it.

Cheryl Deem, executive director of the American Spice Trade Association, said contamination of raw ingredients has long been a problem in the spice industry, adding,

"The vast majority of spices are cultivated outside of the U.S., where processing methods often result in contamination."

Linda Harris, a microbiologist at the University of California at Davis, said,

"In the last 15 years, food safety is just at an increasingly higher level of awareness. We’ve got increased testing, increased detection methods. I don’t think what we’re seeing is necessarily a true increase in prevalence. I think it’s an increase in our ability to detect."

Steve Markus, director of food safety and commercial products at Sterigenics Inc., the biggest food irradiation company in the country, said about half of the nation’s spices are irradiated, but that nearly all companies using irradiation sell to industrial customers. No retail spice company uses irradiation because federal law requires disclosure of irradiation on the label, and the industry thinks consumers will not buy those products.

I’d buy irradiated spices and so would others. No one has tried selling the stuff, so conjectures about consumer behavior based on surveys are meaningless. But, that’s the way many retailers are. Market food safety at retail.

Fresh basil and bird poop

Last year, with Amy’s guidance, was the first year I really started cooking with fresh herbs. Basil and tomato (and formerly cheese, right), fresh pesto, bruschetta, it’s all good.

Except for the bird poop.

Here are a couple of our basil leaves with some semi-fresh bird plops – similar to the ones I washed off the car earlier today. When preparing dishes with fresh herbs, wash thoroughly (which can be difficult) or cook the poop out. Or both.