E. coli concerns prompt Costco organic beef recall in Canada

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd. are warning the public not to consume the Kirkland Signature brand Organic Lean Ground Beef described below because it may be contaminated with pathogenic E. coli bacteria.

This product has been sold from Costco warehouses in BC, Alberta, kirkland.organic.beef.e.coliManitoba and Saskatchewan.

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

The importer, Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd., Ottawa, Ontario, is voluntarily recalling the affected product from the marketplace. The CFIA is monitoring the effectiveness of the recall.

The following Kirkland Signature brand product, Product of USA, is affected by this alert:

Affected products: Kirkland Signature, Organic Lean Ground Beef, Size: 1.8kg (3 x 600g), UPC: 4 00000 91873 0

More information

For more information, consumers and industry can contact:

Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd., at 1-800-463-3783; or,

CFIA by filling out the online feedback form.

79 now sick; Hepatitis A outbreak continues to grow

Whenever I buy a house in some new town, the first thing I do is plant berries. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, even got some loganberries in Brisbane. They take a couple of years to come in to full production, but after that, easy peasy.

My grandfather had maybe a 30-foot-by-10-food patch of raspberries on his raspberryfront yard, and that produced an endless supply. Guess I got hooked.

So it’s more than disconcerting that the multistate outbreak of Hepatitis A linked to frozen berries continues to spread, with 79 people now confirmed as sick.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that based on epidemiologic investigation of 55 cases:

• 35 (64%) ill people are women;

• ages range from 2 – 84 years;

• illness onset dates range from 3/16/2013 – 6/1/2013

• 30 (55%) ill people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported;

• 40 (73%) of 55 ill people interviewed reported eating “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix; and,

• 40 persons reported purchasing this product from Costco markets; however, the product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores. No cases have been

sorenne.strawberry.13identified that bought the product at Harris Teeter at this time.

Preliminary laboratory studies of specimens from two states suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus (HAV) is genotype 1B. This strain is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in the North Africa and Middle East regions.

This genotype was identified in a 2013 outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries and another 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt. However, there is no evidence at this time that these outbreaks are related.

According to the label, the “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix associated with illness contained products originating from the U.S., Argentina, Chile, and Turkey.

To their credit, Costco is offering to refund the cost of hepatitis A vaccinations or provide the vaccination free of charge at a Costco pharmacy to customers who consumed the recalled frozen berries.

Craig Wilson, Costco’s vice president of quality insurance, food safety and merchandise services, said the company used membership records and receipts to contact customers who purchased the recalled berries since February.

“If anyone has a concern, they should get to their personal health care provider,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he could not confirm that 100 percent of purchasers of the product were contacted, but the company made multiple attempts to inform berry.blend.hep.amembers of the recall and the potential need for vaccinations.

“Wednesday afternoon I sent out another message to 250,000 folks to remind them about the recall,” he said.

Bill Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer, recently filed a class-action lawsuit against Townsend Farms in California. He said his office has been contacted by approximately 400 people who received vaccinations as a result of purchasing the frozen berries, and only about half of those were contacted by Costco.

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today noted the outbreak has seemingly spared children, probably because of routine vaccinations against hepatitis A since 2006.

“The very, very small number of children involved in this outbreak probably reflects the high vaccination coverage as the result of the routine immunization,” said John Ward, who directs the viral hepatitis program at CDC.

The one child who did become ill, a 2-year-old, was not vaccinated, Ward said.

The hepatitis A vaccine is given to children twice, first between 6 and 12 months and then six months later, said CDC’s Trudy Murphy, a hepatitis expert. The vaccine became available in 1996. In 2006 CDC recommended that all children be vaccinated against the virus.

Sorenne’s got that vaccine. So do me and Amy.

Widespread vaccination is having an impact. In 1995 there were 31,582 hepatitis A cases in the United States. In 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available, there were 1,670, according to CDC.

Fail: Hi, I’m from government, here to help; but shopper cards may actually help food safety efforts

If you have a warehouse membership card in your wallet or a supermarket shopper tag on your key chain, you might regard it as a good way to save money. But public health officials say it may be an even better way to save lives.

JoNel Aleccia of NBC News reports that more local health departments — along with state and federal investigators — are relying on the detailed 20100610_124707_bz10shopcard_200information about what went in consumers’ shopping carts to track down outbreaks of foodborne illness, experts say.

Identifying exactly which products were purchased by victims of food poisoning has become a standard tool for public health investigators, said officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are definitely supportive of the use of shopper cards during these outbreak investigations,” said Casey Barton Behravesh, deputy chief of the CDC’s outbreak and prevention branch of the division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases. “The product, the flavor, the lot code, the best by date: That is all tracked with these purchases.”

Store cards are a rich trove for epidemiologists, who often are trying to track down suspect food a month or so after it was consumed because of the lag between when an illness strikes and when it gets reported, said Bill Keene, a senior epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Division. His state has been a leader in using shopper card data, along with Minnesota, but others are joining in, Keene said. 

“We rely on people’s memories, which are quite fallible, and on our interviews, which are quite fallible,” Keene told NBC News. “Shopper club cards are a good source of finding out what people ate.”

Costco has been notifying consumers about food and other products recalls for safety reasons since the late 1990s, said Craig Wilson, the company’s vice president for food safety and quality assurance. But now, they’re being called on by public health officials at every level.

“It happens a couple times a week,” said Wilson. “It’s getting to be more of a norm.”

But it’s not always easy, Keene says. Stores provide data only with the permission — usually written consent — of the consumer and a verified shopper card or membership number. And disclosure rules vary from state to state, making some information more difficult to obtain.

“We won’t just release data,” said Wilson.

Health officials like Keene say they safeguard the data carefully and use it only as a tool to keep more people from getting sick.

“We are the government, but we aren’t that part of the government,” he said. “We’re the good guys.”

Costco’s E. coli-testing procedures rival government inspection efforts

I don’t really know Craig Wilson, but the head of food safety at Costco and I have met a couple of times, and if I ever write something too sanctimonious, he’s one of the first to point it out.

I like that.

According to the Kansas City Star, Costco’s 250,000-square-foot beef plant in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley is not your typical meat plant.

It’s relatively new and spotless. There are high-tech, hand-wash sanitation stations scattered throughout the plant connected to counters that allow plant officials to make sure each employee uses them at least four times daily.

The massive meatball cook room is built entirely of stainless steel. Even the loading docks, where trucks deliver raw beef, is sanitized regularly to prevent contamination.

Plant manager Kevin Smith was a pre-med student in college who majored in physics. And Craig Wilson, who is in charge of Costco’s food quality assurance program, has a long history of working to solve pathogen problems in meat.

“We do not have customers,” explained Doug Holbrook, Costco’s vice president for meat sales. “We have members, and we are responsible to those members, our shareholders and employees to do things differently, to take a different approach.”

The plant has a decided advantage over Big Beef’s slaughter plants because they don’t kill cattle here, so there are no manure-covered hides or intestines to contaminate raw beef products.

But just the same, Costco’s approach is different.

All meat arriving at the Tracy plant comes with a certificate from the supplier pledging that pre-shipment tests showed no E. coli contamination, something other companies are also doing now. But Costco tests it anyway, and if it tests positive, it’s shipped back to the supplier. Less than one percent is shipped back.

Then the finished products — hot dogs, hamburger patties, ground beef, Polish sausages and meatballs — are tested again before they leave the plant.

In fact, Costco officials boast that, until recently, they did more E. coli testing in the company’s lab than the USDA does nationwide at all other beef plants combined.

In discussing the federal meat inspection program, Wilson said, “food safety is an oxymoron…we (Costco) are results-driven and more nimble than the government.” He stopped short of claiming that Costco procedures are more effective than those enforced by federal meat inspectors.

1 dead, over 500 sick in Dutch salmonella-in-smoked salmon outbreak

The Dutch public health watchdog says at least one elderly patient has died and more than 500 people have been sickened in a major salmonella outbreak caused by tainted salmon.

The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said in a statement Saturday tests have confirmed one death and another fatality is under investigation. Both victims were aged over 80.

The institute announced earlier this month that the outbreak had been traced to a Dutch company called Foppen and ordered its products pulled off shelves at stores across the Netherlands.

It now says the number of people sickened by tainted salmon before the recall has risen to at least 550.

CostCo Wholesale Corp., which sells Foppen products in the United States, also recalled salmon products.

E. coli recall expands, CFIA seizes all product from XL Foods; needle tenderized steak to blame, again?

A recall of E. coli O157:H7 contaminated meat from Alberta has been expanded for the eighth time, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has seized all product from XL Packers, while the province has ordered Costco to stop needle tenderizing steaks.

The explosive developments come three weeks after U.S. inspectors initially found E. coli O157:H7 in XL meat crossing the border, and fundamentally undermine the role of CFIA inspectors and Agriculture Minister, Gerry Ritz, who is responsible for CFIA.

CFIA issued a statement last night, stating that to date, the company has not adequately implemented agreed upon corrective actions and has not presented acceptable plans to address longer-term issues.

Therefore, effective immediately, the CFIA has temporarily suspended the licence to operate Establishment 38 – XL Foods, Inc. All products currently at this plant are under CFIA detention and control. These products will only be released after being tested for E. coli O157:H7. The company has also expanded its voluntary recall of raw meat produced on August 24, 27, 28, 29 and September 5.

XL Foods Inc. will not resume operations until they have demonstrated that they have fully implemented CFIA’s required corrective actions.

Meanwhile, four of the eight known cases of E. coli O157:H7 matching the outbreak strain have been linked to New York strip steaks sold from an Edmonton Costco.

And more meanwhile, an Edmonton butcher told iNews880 all their meat is local, coming from farms around the city, and there is no risk of coming into his shop and finding the same beef being recalled everywhere else.

(I don’t know why the text is bold in places; we have really limited resources and our resource is on holiday.)

Additional voices on food safety audits

The Denver Post also weighs in this morning on the role of third-party food safety auditors in the wake of the listeria-in-cantaloupe outbreak – big thumbs up from the auditor just before the outbreak.

It was only the latest incident when a "third-party" audit — slammed as an inherent conflict of interest by safety experts — failed to note deadly mistakes in a food operation.

• Nine people died and thousands were sickened after a salmonella outbreak at
Peanut Corporation of America in late 2008. Investigators found goods were shipped despite positive pathogen tests, as well as rodents, leaking roofs and extensive mold. An auditor before the outbreak gave the company the "superior" nod.

• FDA inspectors found filthy conditions, from overflowing manure to maggot infestations, at two Iowa farms where hundreds of millions of eggs were recalled last year. Court files show "Record of Achievement" audit certificates before the salmonella outbreaks.

• Earthbound Farm regularly got passing audits before an E. coli outbreak in greens was traced to the farm. The 2006 outbreak sickened hundreds and contributed to three deaths.

• In 2007, after an E. coli outbreak was traced to frozen beef patties from Topps Meat in New Jersey, federal inspectors found multiple problems. The company’s vice president questioned "why and how personnel from his company, outside auditors or consultants failed to find these noncompliances," according to a 2007 USDA document.

• And in a 2007 salmonella outbreak linked to Veggie Booty snacks, a third-party audit swabbed the manufacturing plant for salmonella but found none. Federal inspectors later found the bacteria in snack seasoning.

Grocers are re-examining their supply systems in the wake of 28 deaths and cantaloupe’s ruined reputation as a result of the Jensen Farms listeria.

Costco will require its cantaloupes to pass a "test and hold" program before they make it to the produce department, meaning a few sample cantaloupes per shipment will be swabbed for bacteria. The load won’t ship until lab tests clear.

"That is greatly going to improve the overall food quality in the marketplace," said Craig Wilson, head of safety for the retailer.

Costco uses just nine third-party auditors out of the 120 to 130 available, Wilson said. Every food item in Costco stores comes from a producer inspected by one of those nine auditors.

"The real key to this is audit-company responsibility," he said. "Are they going to step in and help sort out the problem?"

Other grocery store chains were less willing to answer questions about their use of private auditors. Walmart and Safeway officials said they were always looking for ways to improve food safety but wouldn’t elaborate.

Try harder: retailer tells cantaloupe growers to improve food safety

As the official toll in the listeria-in-cantaloupe outbreak rose to 13 dead and 72 sick in 18 states, a major retailer said cantaloupe growers need to do more to prevent outbreaks of foodborne disease.

“I don’t think the cantaloupe industry can continue on doing the very same thing and expecting a different result,” said Craig Wilson, the head of food safety for Costco, the Seattle-based warehouse retailer, which is regarded as a leader in requiring food safety measures from its suppliers. “It’s time for companies to get more aggressive. If they know this is going to happen, let’s step up and not let it happen.”

William Neuman of the New York Times reports federal officials on Tuesday that there had been at least 19 previous outbreaks involving more than 1,000 illnesses and three deaths resulting from cantaloupe consumption since 1984. We count at least 36 outbreaks.

Wilson further said Costco would consider setting standards for how melons are grown and how they are cleaned and handled after they are picked. He said the company would most likely require that suppliers test melons for pathogens before shipping them to Costco.

He called on the industry to finance research into the best way to wash or clean cantaloupes to remove contaminants.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said that investigators had yet to determine how the melons became contaminated.

Trevor V. Suslow, an extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, who has done industry-financed research into food safety and cantaloupes, said that the fruit’s rough skin made it more susceptible to harboring unwanted bacteria.

“You have these tremendous hiding places, if you will, nooks and crannies, lots of areas for microbes to get in and attach and hide,” Dr. Suslow said.
It is best to keep cantaloupes dry to reduce the possibility that bacteria will grow on them, he said. In California, growers typically do not immerse melons in water to wash them and use chilled air to cool them.

In other regions, he said, cantaloupes are often washed in a large tank or with a water spray and are cooled with sprays of cold water as well. Those techniques may be more likely to spread bacteria.

Stephen F. Patricio, a melon shipper who is the chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, a trade group, said that sales were plummeting, even though only melons from the farm in Colorado were implicated.

“The entire melon category needs to look at the best practices and research that’s been done by the California industry and others to best analyze their own risks,” Mr. Patricio said. “Or we’re all going to continue to suffer.”

Wal-Mart and Costco want nothing to do with DeCoster eggs (good); multi-million lawsuits between egg execs does nothing for sick people (bad)

 Executives with the Iowa egg farms at the center of last year’s salmonella outbreak that sickened nearly 2,000 and led to the recall of 500 million eggs are locked in a legal battle.

Austin "Jack" DeCoster, the man who owns the egg farms, and his former right-hand man, John Glessner are bickering to the tune of $40 million in lawsuits.

In one lawsuit Glessner claims that the DeCoster family has mismanaged its Iowa egg production facilities and deprived him of more than $40 million, including more than $10 million in rent for use of his Hardin County facility, defaulted on bank loans, been "blackballed" by food vendors and been barred from bidding on contracts with retailers.

Clark Kauffman of The Des Moines Register writes in today’s USA Today that DeCoster’s Ohio Fresh Egg company is suing Glessner, accusing him of looting the company before he was fired this summer.

An executive with Hillandale Farms of Iowa, which was forced to recall 170 million eggs, sent an e-mail to Glessner in August 2010 saying DeCoster had become a liability to Hillandale.

"Unfortunately, Hillandale Farms can have absolutely no association with Jack, anywhere," wrote Orland Bethel, Hillandale’s founder. "We have been told by Costco and Wal-Mart that they will not be doing any business if Jack and his people have any involvement in management."

To test or not: Costco mandates produce testing

“The tests don’t make the food safer, but they do tell us if the vendors’ food safety programs are working.”

So says Craig Wilson, Costco’s vice president of quality assurance and food safety as he told The Packer that the company began requiring its produce suppliers to test finished products for the “Big 6” E. coli strains “a couple of months ago.”

He said the company added the rare strain O104:H4 that recently sickened more than 3,900 people in Europe to its mandatory test list “in the past two or three weeks.”

A related story in The Packer reports that neither Wal-Mart Stores Inc. nor Supervalu Inc. require the tests. Rather, both companies rely on Global Food Safety Initiative certifications and good agricultural practices requirements to make sure their customers are buying safe produce.

“No sampling can prevent, nor ensure, the absence of pathogens in produce,” said Wal-Mart’s vice president of food safety Frank Yiannis. “That’s why Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club … require our produce suppliers to achieve prevention-based certification using one of the GFSI internationally recognized food safety standards.”