Cocaine in berry shipment stopped at Canadian border

As if Salmonella and Hepatitis A in frozen strawberries weren’t bad enough, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers recently intercepted 280 pounds of cocaine in a shipment of berries crossing into Canada at Port Huron, Mich. (although the story in The Packer does not specify which kind of berries).

The commercial truck shipment was crossing at the Blue Water Bridge Oct. 21, and CPB officers with the Port Huron Anti-Terrorism and Contraband Enforcement Team selected it for an enforcement exam, according to a news release.

During the inspection and interview of the driver, officers found plastic wrapped packages in some of the berry boxes. The officers conducted a field test of the suspected narcotics in the packages, and confirmed it was cocaine, according to the release.

“This arrest demonstrates the continued effort by our officers, their dedication to our border security mission and the focus on the export of illicit narcotics” Port Director Michael Fox said in the release.

The driver, a Canadian citizen, was arrested and the case was sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. The suspect was turned over to Homeland Security Investigations, according to the release.

Consumed frozen cherry/berry mix from Costco in Canada? You might have been exposed to hep A

The often-missed Bill Keene was quoted in 2013 about using loyalty cards in an outbreak investigation ‘We rely on people’s memories, which are quite fallible, and on our interviews, which are quite fallible; Shopper club cards are a good source of finding out what people ate.’

Cards can be used to connect with members who purchased specific products if those products are part of an outbreak or recall – a tool to overcome the poor memories.

Lots of data is collected by retailers with every swipe of a loyalty or membership card: date, product, lot, location. CDC reported that the cards aided in an investigation into a 2009 outbreak of Salmonella montevideo linked to pepper (which was used as an ingredient in multiple foods).image

And this frozen cherry/berry hepatitis A outbreak at a Canadian membership retailer in 2013 (sounds familiar).

It’s not failsafe though; folks, who, according to PHAC, sampled frozen berry dishes at Canadian Costco outlets recently, may not know they might have been exposed to hepatitis A.

CBC says go ahead and get an IgG shot at Costco quickly. Because it might not work for too long (based on the window of exposure).

Eastern Health’s chief medical officer David Allison is warning people who have eaten or handled contaminated fruit to get vaccinated within 14 days.

Allison said that one person in the province has contracted hepatitis as a result, but no other cases have been found. Twelve other cases have been identified in provinces across Canada.

According to Costco, approximately 1,600 households in the province have purchased the product.

While vaccines “aren’t easy to come by,” Costco is offering post-exposure immunization to those who have come into contact with the berries.

Pattie’s foods gets out of the frozen berries business following hep A outbreak

Here’s a predictable progression: products linked to 34 illnesses, shares tank, can’t sell your berries, get out of the berries biz.

According to Business Insider Australia Patties Foods has sold its frozen berries business to Entyce Food Ingredients for an undisclosed sum.FROZEN BERRIES RECALL

The company says the funds from the sale would generate $1.8 million, a sum which is unlikely to affect its fiscal 2016 results.

Its net profit after tax was down from $16.7 million to just $2.1 million.

At the time of the outbreak, the company’s shares tanked 6.5% to $1.28.

Before the recall, the berries business generated 13% of Patties’ sales.

Checking into your suppliers matters when you sell an uncooked product.

Politicians get involved in NZ hep A in berries outbreak

Supply chains are messy and as products get co-mingled, mixed and distributed tracking down contamination sources gets difficult. An outbreak of hepatitis A linked to frozen berries in New Zealand is getting political as government officials were questioned by law makers, according to Scoop.Unknown-7

Ministry for Primary Industries officials say no link was found between frozen berries from China blamed for an outbreak of Hepatitis A in Australia early this year and fruit finding its way onto the New Zealand market.

Director-General Martyn Dunne and deputies Scott Gallacher and Deborah Roche were appearing before the primary production select committee for the ministry’s annual review and were questioned by Labour’s food safety spokesman Damien O’Connor and Green MP Stefan Browning on why no brands or countries of origin for contaminated frozen berries had been identified yet.

Australia had at least 28 cases of Hepatitis A that were tied to brands of frozen berries imported from China. Gallacher said the two countries shared a lot of information after Australia was able to identify both the strain of the virus and a specific brand, and New Zealand officials did “due diligence” to ensure that brand wasn’t supplying New Zealand and “hasn’t been to this day.” (but were the same farms selling to other brands? -ben)

O’Connor, who has a boysenberry farm at Motueka, asked if there was any reason to think any other source countries were involved, to which Gallacher said stricter screening had been put in place for all imported berries because the information to date hadn’t identified the source country. Dunne added that it was “not fair to that country because we’re not sure.”

“At what stage will New Zealand consumers or businesses know they’ve got contaminated berries in their freezer or what brands they should stop buying,” O’Connor asked, to which Gallacher replied it would hopefully be very shortly as MPI further refines its investigation.

Trust is proven, not with soundbites: Hep A in Aust. berries

We eat a lot of frozen berries. But our protocol is microwave them (boiling) for at least 2 minutes and then cool in the fridge overnight.

FROZEN BERRIES RECALLIt seems complicated, but better than faith-based food safety.

Patties Foods is still feeling the impact of its mass recall of frozen berries amid a hepatitis A scare earlier this year.

The savoury pies and frozen desserts supplier says sales of frozen berries are slowly recovering, but the recall is still hurting its bottom line.

Patties chairman Mark Smith told shareholders that the company’s first half profit is expected to fall to between $7 million and $7.5 million, from $8.2 million in the prior corresponding period.

The company has provided no details on its food safety arrangements.

Hepatitis A in Nanna’s berries; seen and heard

As companies and consumers check their freezers, past menus and, receipts, health officials anticipate that confirmed cases will continue to grow (The Age):

The number of cases of Hepatitis A linked to the consumption of frozen berries imported from China has climbed to at least 14.

Thirty-four government schools have advised the Victorian Education Department that some of their students have consumed berries that have been recalled because of the hepatitis A imported frozen berry outbreak.1424036630491

The number of schools affected suggests that potentially hundreds of students ate berries from one of four lines of frozen berries before they were recalled in recent days by Bairnsdale-based food company Patties Foods.


Another example of questioning the world of epidemiology; gotta be tough to be an epi (Business Insider Australia):

On its website, Patties Foods says “The link between our products and the reported illnesses has not yet been confirmed,” in response to its own question about meeting medical costs.

“This makes it too early to comment,” the company said.

The local-food-is-safer contingent is out – without data (Sunshine Coast Daily):

Long-time Chevallum strawberry farmer Rick Twist, co-owner of Twist Brothers, said he could not understand why people continued to risk purchasing overseas products to save a few dollars when the integrity of local produce was so much higher.

“Why the hell do people buy this stuff from those countries when their standards are so low and ours are so high?” Mr Twist said.

“Australian berries… our regulations are so tight and so strong, I think they’re the best in the world.”

And the outbreak has hit rugby (Yahoo News):

The Tigers confirmed on Tuesday that three senior players had approached club management on Monday with concerns that berries they ate may have been contaminated.

Captain Robbie Farah and veteran winger Pat Richards were later named in news reports as two players who underwent precautionary blood tests for the virus.

[Coach Jason] Taylor declined to name the trio of players but said they had shown no symptoms and the club had no confirmed cases of infection.

“It’s really simple. A couple of guys have eaten some of the berries that have been recalled, and that’s the end of the story,” Taylor said.

“We’re not overly concerned about it. We’re just being really cautious. It’s a smart move to make sure we are ticking all the boxes and all the guys are OK.

“We don’t feel that is going to come to that point (of infection) but we are doing due diligence on it.”

Some good amateur medical assessment there, Coach Taylor.

‘I’m massively jaundice and my liver’s pretty crappy’; hepatitis A victim speaks

Hepatitis A is a pretty nasty foodborne virus, often leading to long term liver issues. According to the Daily Mail, one of the folks in a cluster of hep A illnesses linked Chinese-grown berries in Australia is speaking out.

Trudie Sims, from Ballarat in Victoria, had been using Nanna’s frozen berries in smoothies until Sunday evening, when she was alerted to the health warning which had been issued.

‘I’m really angry … (and) it’s absolutely terrified me’, Ms Sims told Daily Mail Australia.

So far four cases of hepatitis A have been confirmed in Queensland, three in Victoria, and two in New South Wales. Ms Sims’ case could take the national toll to ten.

‘Over the last two to three weeks I’ve been getting quite sick and I just thought it was a flu,’ Ms Sims revealed.

‘Last night I just couldn’t really swallow anymore and I was going to make a frozen drink like I have been for the last four to six weeks,’ she added added.

After her partner Trevor alerted her to the health warning which had been issued when he saw Ms Sims with a packet of Nanna’s berries – he rushed her to hospital.

Since her admission her eyelids have turned yellow and she is exhibiting signs of jaundice.

‘I’m massively jaundice and my liver’s pretty crappy and these are the first signs of hep A from the berries,’ Ms Sims revealed. 

Though still awaiting the definitive results of her blood tests, Ms Sims said her doctor was almost certain she had hepatitis A, news which left her in tears.

The Ballarat woman said she feels betrayed by the food company, and claims she was misled over the origin of the product which she thought were Australian made.

‘I’m really angry’, Ms Sims said before adding ‘It’s disgusting. We’re in Australia – we have our own resources.’ 

She now faces at least a week of unpaid leave from her casual job, is on heavy antibiotics and can’t even kiss her partner.

Ms Sims said she was beside herself when she found out, especially since she and partner Trevor visited his sick mother in hospital just last week. She hopes that she did not pass on any virus.

And the import blame game has started.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey said not all imported food adhered to Australia’s strict guidelines which were some of the best health and safety standards in the world.

Mr Tuohey urged consumers to always buy Australian made products but conceded identifying those products could be quite challenging. 

‘I can only assume that this company is using Chinese berries because they are offering a lower market price,’ he told The Herald Sun. ‘Berries are certainly in season in Australia.’ 

He said that it was likely the berries were contaminated when they were first picked.

‘They may have been placed on the ground where rats and other vermin could have caused the problem,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately, Australian Customs don’t test every batch, they only check a certain percentage of shipments.’

The cost of an outbreak: hepatitis A edition

The folks who run food safety at big companies often talk about the challenges they face when it comes to asking for resources. It’s all about return on investment.

I don’t know much about ROI, an 18% drop in stock isn’t good. According to Reuters that’s what the firm who sells Nanna’s berry mixes are experiencing. falling-stocks

Shares in Australia’s Patties Foods Ltd fell as much as 18 percent on Monday after it recalled its frozen berry products following a hepatitis A outbreak that has been linked to poor hygiene and water supplies in a Chinese packaging plant.

Shares were down 12.4 percent at A$1.20 in early trade, after falling as low as A$1.14.

More cases expected in Australian frozen berry hepatitis A outbreak

Berries are a staple of my diet; I go through about 2 lbs a week of raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. When the fresh berries are too expensive (or don’t look good) I substitute with frozen ones – and often cook them before eating after the multiple noro and hep A outbreaks in the past few years.
According to ABC (the Australian one), another illness in New South Wales has been linked to Nanna’s frozen mixed berries, bringing the number of outbreak cases up to five.
A second case of hepatitis A linked to Nanna’s frozen mixed berries has been confirmed in New South Wales.6099244-3x2-340x227
It follows the identification of three cases in Victoria linked to the same product.
The NSW Health department has issued a warning urging consumers not to eat the product with best-before dates up to and including November 22, 2016.
The department said it was not sure how many others may be affected given the berries are widely distributed and the potential for people to develop the disease in the coming weeks.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard from NSW Health’s Communicable Diseases Branch said there were concerns because hepatitis-A was contagious.
“So far we’ve had two people that have confirmed hepatitis A, that in the weeks to months before they developed hepatitis A had consumed these berries and they’re coming from different parts of the state, so we’re concerned this might be a more widespread problem,” said Dr Sheppeard.
Dr Sheppeard said NSW Health were expecting more cases to arise.
“The incubation period for hepatitis A is between two and seven weeks, so at this stage it’s an early stage of the investigation and we’re still gathering information about how much of the product is in NSW homes but potentially we will be seeing more cases in the coming weeks,” said Dr Sheppeard.

Berries breaking my heart: Risk ranking in fresh produce in Denmark

My friend Miriam Meister writes that the risk of getting a foodborne infection from fresh fruit and vegetables in Denmark is highest from consumption of berries, lettuce, sprouts, tomato and melon. This is the finding of a risk ranking performed by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. The ranking can be used to prioritise initiatives aimed at strengthening food safety.

Frosne-hindbær-700x350Danes eat more fruit and vegetables then they used to. Consumption has increased from 1995-2013 by 30%. Danish consumers also have greater access to fresh produce from all over the world. At the same time fresh fruit and vegetables have increasingly been the cause of foodborne infections – not only in Denmark but in the entire industrialised world. As a consequence of the increased global trade there is a risk that disease-causing microorganisms, which were only rarely or never found in Denmark, are being introduced onto the Danish market through imported goods.

This is the reason that the National Food Institute has evaluated the risk from microorganisms in ready-to-eat fresh fruit and vegetables on the Danish market. A list has been drawn up of combinations of products and disease-causing microorganisms, which pose the greatest risk of disease to Danish consumers. A total of 30 different combinations are included.

The ranking is based on an overall assessment of the risk posed by each of the 30 combinations. The assessment is based on data on the occurrence of microorganisms in the specific products, the dosage of the microorganism needed to cause disease, how severe a disease it causes, average number of cases per year, and how much of the specific product is eaten.

Norovirus in berries ranks highest, followed by salmonella, norovirus and E. coli in lettuce. In general, berries, lettuce, sprouts, tomatoes and melons are at the top of the ranking. The results are largely consistent with what similar European and American risk rankings have found.

The authorities can use the results to evaluate the effect of control measures and changing consumption patterns as well as to prioritise initiatives aimed at strengthening food safety.

For this project the National Food Institute has developed a tool that can be used to rank combinations of products and disease-causing microorganisms for groups of people with different consumption patterns. The tool can also be used to update the risk ranking when new control data is available.

Fresh fruit and vegetables can contain disease-causing microorganism e.g. if they have been watered or washed with contaminated water, or they have been harvested or handled by people who have inadequate hand hygiene. Consumers can minimise the risk of disease by washing produce thoroughly and by following any instructions related to heat treatment

Read more

See the entire report: Risikorangering af sygdomsfremkaldende mikroorganismer i frisk frugt og grønt (pdf – available in Danish only).

The project defines fresh fruit and vegetables as fresh, unprocessed, ready-to-eat fruit and vegetable products, which are typically eaten without any further heat treatment or processing by the consumer. Also included are baby corn and snow peas, which are sometimes eaten without heeding advice for heat treatment. Frozen berries, which have often been associated with outbreaks of disease, are also included.